Thursday, March 26, 2009

So the NFL is thinking about playing 18 games per season?

The 2009 NFL Meetings just concluded in Dana Point California this week.  A lot of things happened, but nothing more significant than the proposal of an 18 game season.  The consensus says that this is going to happen, but not until 2011.  A collective barganing agreement with the Players Association will have to be hashed out first.

There are many coaches and players objecting to this proposal, so why is it so certain to go through?  There are several reasons, but the solid gold biggie is this:  The Networks are begging for it.  Why?

You have to understand the proposal.  Under the new plan, the NFC & AFC championships will be pushed all the way forward into February.  The Super Bowl will happen toward the end of February.  Feb happens to be sweeps month.  Sweeps determined network ratings for the year.  Network ratings in Feb determine what networks will earn all year long in terms of advertiser money.  Feb is a dead month in terms of sports.  March Madness is a month away.  The NBA is a long way from finished.  There is no Baseball.  Football has packed it in for another year.  This is why Sports Illustrated puts out a Swimsuit issue in Feb.  Sports radio hosts look for any scandal they can find, because there is little or nothing to report.  We hear a lot about verbal gaffs and steroids in Feb.

The Networks want to put the NFC & AFC championships as well as the Super Bowl in sweeps months, knowing full well the power of attraction these events hold.  It could boost network revenues considerably in a time when network ratings are circling the drain.  The Networks will break their megar bread with the NFL, if only the NFL will do them this favor.  Oh, yeah... More games will help the situation also.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Roger Godell's pet project is 1 international game per team per year.  Roger wants to see American Style Football become an international powerhouse.  Roger knows that the NFL must be the leader in this push.  The NCAA will never undertake this project by themselves.

Certain owners, such as Jerry Jones of the Cowboys, objected strongly to this project... at least in the framework of a 16 game season.  Jones sited the fact that he just invested in the Tajmahal of football, and can ill afford to loose 1 home game per year.  It would mess up his entire financial game plan.  On the other hand, Jones won't object to getting an extra home game... every other year.

The 18 game season seems like a deal in the works.  The Networks are begging for it.  It gives Godell the space he needs to undertake his international intiative.  Guys like Jerry Jones won't object to more games and more revenues.

I think this is going to happen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Eight types of movies I like best

1. The pure Science Fiction movie

Bladerunner, Minority Report, Sunshine, 2001, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet, certain Star Trek movies, the Road Warrior, Dark City.

Great science fiction is my greatest love. You might say it was my first love. Serious science fiction attempts to explore the dangers of science or the cosmos, and make serious minded predictions about where the human race & our society are headed... if things do not fare well. Bladerunner is about a population nightmare taking place on Earth, that is its real unifying them. Minority Report is about what the government might do if can prove precognition exists. Sunshine is about what we might do if the Sun begins to burn out. Dark City is about what it might be like to be part of a population of humans taken captive by an alien race for experimental purposes.

These movies are very deep when they are good. They are written by the smartest writers the world has ever known. It is no wonder that so much of this material sails right over the heads of most movie critics and audiences. To understand science fiction, you need a basic understanding of Algebra, physics, chemistry, and maybe even engineering. These subjects play a prominent role in such movies. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of human beings who have passed through this veil of tears have been illiterate, innumerate, and scientifically ignorant. There is not much chance that the typical joe can comprehend Sunshine or 2001.

2. The Science Fiction/Fantasy movie

Star Wars, Stargate, The 5th Element, Stargate, Chronicles of Riddick, The Fountain

Who doesn't like the original Star Wars? Who didn't like the 5th Element? I hesistated to include The Fountain under this heading because it is a deadly serious existentialist tale with serious Buddhist lessons to teach us. However, the mixture of religion, supernatural belief with science is the halmark of Science Fantasy movies. Many programs on SciFi channel freely combine elements of science fiction with religion philosophy supernatural phenomenon and horror. When this blending is done right, you get some of the most potent entertainment the world has ever seen. When you blend these elements poorly, you get nitroglycerine that explodes in your face. Some of the most embraressing disasters in film history have been serious attempts to combine these elements.

3. Adventure

Ghost and The Darkness, Mountains of the Moon, The Man Who Would be King, Apocalypse Now, 1492 Conquest of Paradise, the Last of the Mohicans, Willow.

You know, they never make these movies anymore. Films like these rank among my favorite of all times. Generally, the hero steps out of a state where he is doomed to an ordinary life, and he begins a long journey that changes everything... sometimes for everyone he comes into contact with. The movies above are fantastic tales of adventure, full of thrilling moments and discoveries. I especially favor those movies with a historical tinge to them; the ones that give you a strong sense of the risk the British felt they were taking as they explored Africa, Asia, or North America.

4. Really Smart Comedy

Life of Brian, Being There, Dr. Strangelove, Silverstreak, The (original) Producers, Groundhog Day, Grosspoint Blank, Real Genius, Team America World Police.

These sorts of movies are the rarest gems in Hollywood. One of these films comes along every 8 or 10 years. They are few and far between. Comedians are not often smart people. They rehash the same collection of jokes over and over. They steal like hell from one another. They are dreadfully prone to reach for cliches. Rather than being edgy people, they are utterly controlled by Political Correctness. They often forget to include any point or unifying theme in their movies. Far too many SNL spin offs are utterly pointless, loose collections of bad jokes.

Still, when you get a work of genius [like Dr. Strangelove] it kind of makes you forget the bullshit.

5. The Superhero Movies

Spider-Man (1), X-Men II, Ironman, The Incredible Hulk (2008), Batman Begins, Dr. Strange, The Incredibles, Wonder Woman (2009).

I hesitated to include this category, because Hollywood has done far more bad than good in this category. I am often disapointment by very poor implementations of great comic books. Warner Brothers has never implemented Superman correctly. Spider-Man has been running down the drain lately. I did not like the Watchmen. I believe that the Dark Knight is greatly over-rated. The first two Punisher movies were absolute rubbish. The Daredevil movie disapointed on several levels. The Fantastic Four ranks as one of my greatest film disapointments of all-time. Still, I was an avid comic collector when I was a kid. So was my brother. We always get enthusiastic whenever a Super Hero makes it into a new movie. The good stuff--like Ironman--rank among my favorite movies. Love them Super Heros.

The greatest and most consistent flaw that all Hollywood studios keep recapitualating as they make these movies is that they omit the moral and religious dimension of the Superhero comic book. Superhero comic books are mortality plays. There is always a moral dilema at hand. The hero is always confronted with a moral connundrum which he must solve. The climax is the solutions set to the dilema. In the process, kids of my generation were given a religious catecism in basic morality. Comic books used to embrace classic Judeo/Christian morality and teach it to the kids. Now morality is a dirty word. In no small measure, this sea-change is due to the vast efforts of Hollywood perverts. Naturally, these same Hollywood perverts are making the Superhero movies these days. They are strongly disinclined to teach basic morality or endorse it in any way.

As I mentioned, Warners has never implemented Superman correctly. They may have made plenty of money doing counterfeit Superman movies, but they have never yet done a real Superman movie. Why do I say that? Superman is not a romantic figure. Superman comic books are not Harlequine Romance novels for little girls. In most issues, Lois Lane doesn't get much space. Lex Luther is far from Superman's most dangerous foe. Superman is comic book about smackdown on an epic scale so large it boggles the mind to see & read it. One man--with no technology at his side--turns back entire alien invasion forces. One man turns back foes so powerful that they can literally destroy the Earth more completely than nuclear war. One man defeats foes so dramatically beyond human-scale that we would have no chance of survival if it were not for Superman.
6. The British Gangster Flick

Layer Cake, Rocknrolla, Snatched, The Long Good Friday, The Bank Job, etc.

There is something fascinating about the culture of crime. How these guys operate completely outside the boundaries of society, and yet claim to have order and duty is often beyond me. I suppose the point of all these movies is the same: Although Organized Crime claims to be organized it is not, and although they claim to follow a set of rules, they do not. All of these movies show how unstable the 'equilibrium' is. This is why none of these fellows ever lasts long.

Of course, America is famous for doing Italian style mob movies. While these are fascinating enough, I find the British version to be better and more entertaining.

7. The great spy flick

Borne Identity, Body of Lies, Traitor, The Company, Casino Royale, The Good Shepherd

Great spy flicks are few and far between. We have had some good ones lately. The overwhelming majority of the Bond movies have not been good. When Spy flicks are bad, it is usually for the same reason: Incoherance. It is not clear why a mission begins. It is not clear why the lead spy is chasing someone. It is not clear why he travels from point-a to point-b. It is not exactly clear how the ending resolves the issue at hand. What is the issue at hand anyway? When the movie is clear and precise in its movements, Spy flicks can be a real joy. I believe Quantum of Solice missed the mark because it showed most of these attributes.

If they give you some important historical insights, or interesting insights into the geo-political world today, it is all the better.
8. The Grindhouse movie

John Carpenter's Vampires, Escape From New York, Doomsday, Planet Terror, Shoot 'Em Up, Death Race, Ghost Rider, Dusk Until Dawn

Just what is a Grindhouse movie? Generally, Grindhouse movies are guy flicks that are so bad that they are actually good. John Carpenter's Vampires is unapologetically camp, corny, cheezy and greezy. Everybody is ham acting. I loved it. I though it was very entertaining. Many hard belly laughs are found in this movie. Ghost Rider is not as good, but it is similar. The implementations of the Ghost Rider villains are hysterically bad funny. I think Sam Elliot died laughing trying to recite some of his dialog. In the end, many big laughs were enjoyed by all.

Contrary to what Quintin Tarentino says, the term Grindhouse does not refer to the theater that shows these movies. It refers to the studios and production teams that grind them out. Hollywood used to have uniform military budgets and schedules for the production of just about all movies. Occasionally, they would approve a special movie with a different budget and schedule allocation. Back in the Silver Age of Hollywood, studios ground-out a lot of great cheezy/greezy/corny SciFi & horror movies. I used to love these when I was a kid. KMPH used to have a schedule called Saturday Morning SciFi Theater where they would show 2 or 3 of these in a row. Back in the days before College Football, I used to watch these all the time.

So what is the point of this?

I think a number of valuable lessons can be distilled from my selections. Clear patterns are evident. They are the opposite of most of the rubbish you hear Hollywood types talk about when it comes time to discuss good, popular, succesful entertainment. I would recommend that Hollywood execs take careful note of these notions:
  1. "I relate to the character" is a horrible design principle for entertainment. I don't want to relate to the character. The last thing I want to do is work all week in a cubical in front of a computer and then watch a movie about people doing the same thing. I do not want to see you attempt to do a movie about computer programmers. You will get everything wrong and I will walk out of the theater early on you. Don't even try it. That is no escape from my life. Male waiters do not want to watch a movie about guys waiting on tables. "" is a principle only when designing chick flicks.
  2. "I want to be that guy" is a great design principle. When I was a kid we used to say things like "I want to be Spiderman" or "I want to be Green Lantern". We wanted to the characters we saw. We did not relate to them, we wanted to be them because they were not like us. You need to show me a guy who I wish I was. Tony Stark is a good example.
  3. Adventure is important. We need to get away from our every day lives in film. You may want to call it escapism. I call it adventure. Honestly, I don't need you analyzing the lives of ordinary guys like me and making points about it. You'll get it all wrong, and I will walk out of the theater. Stick to grand adventure. Get away from mainstreet. Go back in time, go forward in time, go into space, go into a different dimension or supernatural reality. Just don't keep us here.
  4. Conflict is important. And I am not talking about two sisters arguing their feelings about one guy. I am talking about a really epic conflict. Think Muslim vs. Christian. Think Braveheart. Think about cops and robbers. Think about predator and prey.
  5. Intelegence is important. Stupid movies are bad movies. If you don't have a solid idea, don't go into production. If you have a half-assed opinion, you are going to make a shitty movie. If you dialog sucks, you movie sucks. If you don't communicate a big point well, your movie is pointless.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The 5 types of movies I dislike the most

1. Saturday Night Live Spin-off comedies

Saturday Night Live is not funny. Saturday Night Live is extremely stupid. People laugh at SNL skits because they smoke dope and drink beer on Saturday Nights. They may also be watching the show after sex, which means that they are in a good mood. In short people laugh at this 'humor' because they are fucked up, not because the comedy is good.

The humor itself is template, stock, off the shelf, re-heated in the microwave, cliche, obvious, non-insightful rubbish. Often it is extremely stupid implementations if cliche & rehash jokes about political figures or events. By no means and under no circumstances does this humor push the envelope. It is completely rule-bound, and governed by the laws of political correctness as handed down by University Professors across the nation.

The foremost practitioner of this crap is Will Ferrel. I avoid his intensely stupid movies like the plague.

2. The Chick Flick

Fried Green Tomatoes, Steel Magnolias, Hope Floats, The Notebook, The Wedding Date, The Wedding Planner, Bride Wars, Serendipity, Hannah and Her Sisters, Micky Blue Eyes, Enchanted, Must Love Dogs, etc.

Did you know that--by Federal law--a movie cannot contain references to brides, weddings, grooms, and dates without officially being a chick flick... under penalty of false advertisement? Chicks like movies that are steeped in dialog. They want dialog in which characters don't decide what is going to happen. Things just happen, and the characters talk about how the feel about it. They also like movies where the guy and girl instantly know that they are going to have sex. The subsequently spend 95% of the movie talking about it, and 5% of the movie doing it... Behind closed doors.

These are chick flicks. Does that sound good to you?

3. JAFECS -- Just Another Fucking English Class Story

These movies include everything and anything written by Jane Austin or including Helena Bonham Carter in it. Essentially, you have a story in which a lower class female marries-up into a higher class family. Much drama ensues. Love usually conquers all. Dady is rich. Mama is good looking. Everybody is finally happy by the end... even if Junior missed his chance to marry a rich woman. Even 65 year old women find these films charming.

There are other forms of JAFECS which follow Marxist lines of social analysis. These are usually more interesting, but far more toxic, as some people think they actually have a strong bearing on reality.

4. Woody Allen Movies

Even proponents of Wood Allen admit that he has 3 basic templates for movies. He keeps making the same 3 films over and over again. Detractors of Woody Allen, like me, will tell you he has 1 template for a movie, and he keeps making the same film over and over again. Every movie Woody Allen has ever made has been a remix of Manhattan and Annie Hall. He is truly a one-string guitarist, sitting in the corner strumming 1 note all day long.

Some New York wise guy should have done the job on him by now.

5. The prestige picture

Honestly, the things the Motion Picture Academy thinks are cool bother me to no end. The things they regard as interesting, I do not regard as interesting. The things they regard as important, I do not regard as important. The things they think are artistic, I regard as rubbish. The strange bandwagons that get rolling in Hollywood are incomprehensible at best. I can dispute most of the best picture nominees and winners for the past 10 years. The last time I totally agreed with a best picture winner, it was 1995 and Braveheart won it all.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Denver is the new Wallstreet. The Broncos the new AIG.

The Denver Broncos are experiencing a meltdown of epic proportions. If there were any chance of them being sold in pieces to the rest of league, I would say that the Denver Broncos rivals AIG as the most dysfunctional corporation in the nation. Since there is no chance of the Broncos folding or being dismembered, I just can't make the AIG comparison... as much as I would like too.

Jaygate: just what the fuck happened?

A few weeks ago, FAF (Free Agency Friday) hit, and the New England Patriots traded Matt Castle to the Kansas City Chiefs. Looked fine on paper. Then all of sudden there is all this gossip circulating around the league from sources inside the Vikings', Chiefs', and Lions' headquarters that the Broncos were shopping Jay Cutler around, trying to trade him out of the Conference and Division. Why? To acquire draft picks. Why? Some of these picks were to be used to acquire Matt Castle, formerly of New England. Some were to be used to rebuilt Denver's sagging defense.

The deal never happened. Why?

Rumor has it that the Broncos were demanding too much of the Lions, who would have loved to build around Culter. Both parties would have liked to do the trade. They just couldn't agree to terms. More specifically, the Broncos wanted both of the Lions' 1st round picks, but eventually fell back to the #1 pick overall, and the 2nd round pick. Neither package was acceptible to the Lions. They felt the first overall pick was more than sufficient gold to seal the deal. Denver did not feel the #1 pick in the draft was good enough for Cutler. Then the Patriots completed their trade with the Chiefs, terminating the affair.

When this deal fell through, the Broncos became increasingly desperate, contacting the Vikings first, and then the Chiefs. This is the first clear-cut sign that the organization knew it had fucked up, and the relationship with Cutler was compromised.

Then the leaks started to flow. Sources inside the Broncos organization--loyal to Cutler--told Jay that the organization had been shopping him around, and trying to acquire Matt Castle. Jay Cutler, known for his passionate temper, hit the fucking roof. Rumor has it that he and his agent had a number of red-hot phone conversations with Pat Bowlen & McDaniels.

This is where the fun begins. Bowlen & McDaniels denied everything. They claimed the Chiefs & Lions contacted them with offers, inquiring if Cutler would be available if the price is right. Bowlen & McDaniels insisted that they told all would-be-bidders to fuck off. Cutler was never on the market, period.

That would have been fine except for the fact that Vikings, Lions, Patriots and Chiefs all broke THE MAN CODE. They confirmed Denver's infidelity to Cutler. They each confirmed that they had been contacted by the Broncos FIRST. None of them ever expected Cutler to be on the block. The whole affair might have died with a well-placed lie. Alas, such was not to be. That was when Cutler really got pissed. First, Bowlen fires his coach and mentor Mike Shanahan, then McDaniels give him a vote of no-confidence by trying to deal him, then they both lie to his face and try to cover it up.

Jay is now declaring that his days in Denver are over. His relationship with the Broncos is irrepairably busted, and he wants to be traded.

So who is right in all this?

I think I speak for the majority of NFL fans--not Bronco fans--when I say that I am absolutely flabbergasted by what has happened in Denver lately. This is almost inconceivable. If a gypsy woman had stared into a Crystal Ball and prophesied this, I would have laughed like hell at her and declared her a fraud.

Let's start with the facts: The Broncos had Mike Shanahan a proven offensive genius who had led them to back-to-back Super Bowl victories. They had Jay Cutler, the man touted as the most promising young Quarterback in the league. He is already a Pro-Bowl QB. Just a little more proof, and everybody was prepared to accept Cutler as an elite NFL QB. The Broncos had the #2 ranked offense in the league by points. I can tell you that they had a smooth rhythm moving down the field which was a true pleasure to behold. They looked like an offensive Juggernaut coming to life last year. Cutler looked totally confident and in control almost all the time. Yes, he had a few bone headed plays, but didn't Bart Starr, Bradshaw and Montana have some stupid plays early in their careers also? Hell yes they did!

Then it kinda collapses. The Broncos don't make the playoffs. The next thing we know, Mike Shanahan has been fired. He has a teary news conference where he declares that Pat Bowlen is still his best friend. Jesus... Speaking as a Ram fan, I was utterly shocked. I wanted to sign Mike Shanahan immediately.

Then Bowlen announces that he has hired Josh McDaniels, OC of the Patriots. Jesus... You fired Mike Shanahan to sign this esquinkly little 32 year old shit with absolutely no credentials to his name? You want Josh McDaniels, not Mike Shanahan? SHIT! Speaking as a Ram fan, I was pretty fucking surprised. I was wondering what the hell was going on in Denver. I thought for sure Bowlen would select a defensive coordinator like Steve Spagnolo, now the chief of my team, to be their head coach. Maybe we screwed them. Maybe they screwed themselves. What ever the case, I was sure that the new administration would leave the offense alone and work exclusively on fixing the defense.

Now Pat Bowlen, one of the most respected owners in the league, nay one of the pillars of the league, allowed this no-name dude McDaniels to break the one working part of his football team? OMG WTF? Unbelievable...

The majority of Hall of Famers on the NFL Network are pretty horrified by these events. They can't believe Denver would give up on Cutler. They have no idea what the hell Bowlen & McDaniels were thinking. Everybody is scandalized.

What every happened to if ain't broke don't fix it?

I really feel bad for the people of Denver. The Broncos were on the rise. I was certain they would win the division and be a contender in 2009. I believe the Chargers are vulnerable, and there is nobody else in the West. Oh yeah... I forgot that the Raiders and Chiefs are there... but that is still nobody. Now McDaniels has done it. He has effectively wrecked the team. He has set them back 5 or 6 years. I think they are toast in 2009.

So how would I fix it?

There are only two courses of action if you are Bowlen:
  1. Complete a trade with Detroit for the #1 pick.
  2. Rollback all the changes made since the season ended.

If you take option #1, expect the Lions to hold you over a barrel. They know you are despirate now. By taking this option, you announce your only real hope is to acquire Matthew Stafford... and pray he is as good as Cutler... eventually. Detroit can stick a gun in your ribs and demand that you give them a sweetener. Maybe one of your two WR. That would hurt like hell.

How the hell can Bowlen execute option #2? It is very simple:
  1. Fire McDaniels
  2. Go on bended knee to Shanahan (who claims you and he are BFFLs) and ask him to return.
  3. Make him responsible for smoothing things over with Cutler
  4. Publicly announce that you fucked up, and are rolling back changes.

Speaking as a computer programmer, I can tell you that we do option #2. When we accidentally write bad stored procedure which garbles data and messes up the DB, we rollback. We put the old data back in place. We put the old code back in place. We clean up the mess. We have to publicly announce that we fucked up. We restore the system. It hurts. Nobody likes to fuck up. Nobody likes to eat crow. Nobody likes to clean up the mess. Yet this is the only way to keep the organization healthy and on track. We gotta fix it.

Both are very difficult paths to trek. I really pity Bowlen. Never give a young fucktard this much control again. That was a serious error. I think the people of Denver will cheer option #2. If you are headed in the wrong direction, turn around

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Top 10 Blu-Ray releases I am looking forward too

So I thought I would take time out from commenting on our sorry economic state and write a blog entry on one of my favorite subjects: Blu-Ray. For those of you who don't know yet, Blu-ray is everything it is cracked up to be and some. Some ardent DVD collectors are not pleased that there collections are outdated, and some pirates are not pleased that it is difficult to rip and trade these disks, but if you rent them or buy them (and I do both) you will love them. A 622% increase in resolution, extension of the color space, and quantum improvements in the audio stream make the Blu-Ray experience better than going to the theater... If you have a nice large screen... preferably a DLP.

So, as the format is just a little more than 2 years old, many many great titles are as yet unavailable. Since I have faint hopes somebody in the big-5 studios may pass by this page, I thought I would publish my wishlist.
  1. The Incredibles: With all due respect to Wall-e, which is a masterpiece, I still think the Incredibles is the greatest movie Pixar has ever made. It is my favorite movie of all time, and it is a damnable shame that this movie is not yet out on Blu-ray. Disney needs to get this out on the double-quick time.
  2. The Exorcist: With all due respect to John Carpenter's Halloween, many will tell you that the Exorcist is the greatest horror film of all time. I am in this camp. The Exorcist DVD stinks. Warners did not do a good job on the digital master. This movie has never enjoyed a good release for the home viewer. A major restoration project should be undertaken here, and a reference quality master should be created.
  3. The Minority Report: Not a big fan of Steven Spielberg, I hate Tom Cruise and everything he stands for, and I believe Colin Ferrel only gets parts because he is a dirty bisexual bastard who sleeps with anything. With that said, I love this movie. Along with Schindler's List, it is Spielberg's finest work. It is another Philip K. Dick masterpiece perfectly communicated on the screen. I just noted that TBS presented a true HD version of this film this weekend, which means the Blu-ray cannot be far away. Incidentally, the HD master TBS showed looked fantastic. The movie could have been vastly improved by replacing Tom Cruise with Mel Gibson and Colin Ferrel with Liam Neeson.
  4. Dr. Strangelove: I regard Dr. Strangelove as the greatest film of all time. No equivocations. Sorry Copola, sorry Orson Wells, sorry Hitchcock. Stanley Kuprick is the greatest director of all time, and this was his greatest masterpiece. Can't say enough good things about it. It is also the finest work in Peter Sellar's stellar career. Like so many older films, a major restoration project will have to be undertaken to restore this film and make a perfect reference master. Still, this must be done, and the sooner the better.
  5. Braveheart: We've been waiting entirely too long for this one. I don't know what is holding up the show. When I left the theater after seeing this one in 1995, I was convinced I had seen the great film ever made. No film ever more justly won the Best Picture award. Time and historical inaccuracy have softened my opinion of this film, but it is still one hell of movie classic. It should be out on Blu-Ray by now.
  6. Aliens: Probably James Cameron's absolute best movie. No, the Titanic was not his best. Very chicky and deathy, but not his best. This absolutely should be out on Blu-ray. I cannot believe that such a crowd pleaser was not in the first wave of movies release on High-def. I am stunned that it did not come out on HD-DVD immediately, and I am stunned that it still has not arrived on Blu-Ray.
  7. True Lies: Arnold Schwarzenegger's finest movie. Also one of James Cameron's best movies, and that is saying a hell of a lot. Can anyone offer any explanation as to why this movie is not out on Blu-ray? I don't think any rational explanation exists.
  8. Star Wars: I am talking about the original, not all the other stuff. Need I make any case for this?
  9. South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut. I personally regard this as the funniest movie of all time. Hysterical, pure comedy. Animation of the type Trey Parker and Matt Stone do scales extremely well. so the DVD still looks good when popped into the PS3. Nevertheless, this movie deserves a Blu-Ray.
  10. Escape from New York: When I was a young man, there were three science fiction flicks that I liked better than all the others. They were The Road Warrior, and Bladerunner, and Escape from New York. The Road Warrior and Bladerunner have long been on Blu-ray. They look terrific. Escape from New York has not yet appeared. Escape from New York is a grindhouse masterpiece from the greatest grandmaster of the grindhouse: John Carpenter. He's made a lot of my favorite films, but this is close to the top. I would say that only The Thing is better.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bill Gates looses $18 billion dollars and becomes the richest man in the world again

Yep, that's right, Bill lost $18 billion and yet he has become the richest man in the world again. So how did that happen? Simple, his top two competitors for the title--Warren Buffett and Carlos Slim--each lost $25 billion apiece. Warren had 62, now he is at 37. I guess that is why he said the economy fell off a cliff. Bill had 58 and he now rests at 40. Carlos lost $25 billion. We don't know how much he's got left. These top three men lost at least $68 billion last year.

This story highlights the grand picture of wealth destruction that has just taken place over the past 6 or so months. It is as if a wild fire swept through a National Park destroying all the trees. Just yesterday, Reuters reported that 40-45% of the world's wealth has been destroyed in this great calamity. You can read it here. Says who? Says Stephen Schwarzman, the CEO of the Blackstone Group LP, a private equity firm with a pretty good rep. Some bloggers dispute this figure, claiming it is exaggerated for effect. They believe Schwarzman wants to short the market and is spreading false reports to promote FUD. FUD is a shorters best friend.

I take issue with these bloggers. The story of the billionaires is just one piece of overwhelming evidence that these claims of wealth destruction are on-track. According to Forbes, the top 50 richest people in the year held $4.5 trillion dollars before this crisis struck. Now they hold $2.4 trillion. That indicates a 47% destruction of wealth.

There were 1,125 billionaires in the world before this crisis. 373 fell off the list. Now there are just 755. 18 of them died. 355 lost tons of money. Just 3 new comers joined the list for the first time during this crisis. The biggest looser in the world is Anil Ambani of India. He lost $32 billion = 76% of his total fortune. The stories go on and on. Jerry Yang, the founder of Yahoo! lost half of his total wealth and is no longer one of the world's billionaires. I doubt he will rejoin the list.

Let's think about how much money has been lost by average guys for just one second. Think about my buddy Jerry who had $80k in Wamu. He lost it all. Wealth destruction. He's just a computer programmer like me. Think about guys who bought Citibank or Wachovia, thinking it was a safe investment. Just think about the ordinary folks who bought into Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme.

Just how bad is this overall? According to, America's Household net worth plunged 18% during the 2008 fiscal year. U.S. Household net worth stood at 62.7 trillion prior to this crisis. It fell to $51.5 trillion. That is another $11.2 trillion of wealth vaporized and destroyed. You can read the report here.

Speaking of Madoff, that little fucker just pleaded guilty today and was ordered to jail. As part of his guilt plea, he opened his books to the authorities. It turns out he accepted a total of $65 billion in investment funds. POOF! Destroyed completely. That is another $65 billion right out the window, into the furnace. This is a picture of wealth destruction.

I used to work for an automotive chemical manufacturing firm named MOC Products of Pacoima. Rumor has it that they are in serious trouble right now. Sales revenues have fallen 30%. They have laid off many workers. They suspended contributions to 401K accounts. Now they are going to shutdown completely 2 Fridays per month. All employees will be furloughed without pay on these days. The only other alternative was more layoffs.

Why is all this happening at MOC? That's a very interesting story. MOC's biggest customers are car dealerships with big automotive repair bays. These guys consume the overwhelming majority of MOC's gross output. Nobody, but nobody is in more trouble than the automotive dealerships in this country. The credit crisis combined with GM & Chrysler's decent into bankruptcy has left these dealerships twisting in the wind. Even the repair bays are suffering as people defer maintenance of their vehicles.

You can call Schwarzman a shorter with an agenda, but I think that's bullshit. I find his figure entirely believable. There is a lot of evidence to back him up.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Is the recovery on?

Well, last night there was a great debate on most of the financial news networks about whether yesterday's lovely stock market gains constitute the start of the recovery. Some said yes. Some said no.

So is the recession over, and is the recovery on-going? I'll give you a short answer and a long answer. The short answer is: No, fuck no. The long answer? Let me tell you about it.

There are two fundamental forces driving this recession.
1. Housing prices
2. De-leveraging

First we have the structural economic problem that the housing in America is vastly overpriced and unaffordable. Go do a housing survey in any region. Go do an income survey in that same region. Just about everywhere in the country, you will find the same relationship. Housing is more than 4 times the total annual income level of the typical family or buyer. In afflicted regions such as Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, it is much worse. A typical family home can be 6 or 7 times the annual income of the typical family.

So what? Old bankers will tell you that (historically) the safe formula for mortgages says write a mortgage for no more than 2.5x the house hold income and ensure that the total cost of housing does not exceed 28% of total income. Insurance, HOA, and Mortgage payment must be less than 28% of household income. We are vastly beyond this safety limit right now, and this is the absolute fundamental reason for this horrible banking calamity we are experiencing. People are defaulting on mortgages because they cannot afford them.

Certain politicians and real estate brokers are attempting to re-cast reality to say that this calamity was brought to us by a bunch of unethical loan sharks who wrote nasty loans. The implication is that housing prices don't need to go down, loan terms just need to be adjusted. What...? As if they could have written a good mortgage for these outrageous amounts? No way. Every mortgage looks predatory if you write it for a party that cannot afford the basic price of sale. The absolute problem is an over-bought, over-speculated, inflated housing market that is fundamentally unaffordable for the people. The variable that must be adjusted is base-price of sale. That figure needs to go way down. All the way down to 2.5x average household income.

This can be accomplished in two ways:
1. You can raise average household income, which is bloody unlikely
2. You can lower the base price of sale through a process of default, foreclosure, auction, and short sale. This process is absolutely in progress right now.

That process of price tatonement must run to completion before the recovery will begin. We are not near the equilibrium point just yet, so forget about recovery. I predict that the equilibrium point will occur when average housing prices = 2.5x average income by region. Once we hit that, recovery will be possible.

The second problem driving this recession is de-leveraging.

When the economy had it's stroke and heart attack on September 15th 2008, the wave of panic that shot through the media was totally unprecedented in my lifetime. The U.S. Presidential election cycle stopped cold for several days and was thrown on the back-burner by the news agencies. Barrak Obama and John McCane suspended their campaigns.

This scared the unholy shit out of the people. At our Thanksgiving Day table, we had not a single conversation about anything other than the economy, job loss, the Great Depression, banking collapse, retirement funds, being under-water, etc. We did not discuse McCane or Obama. Our family was pretty dang terrified. I bet you were too.

The natural response to this new threat was to pay off all debt, store up some savings, and prepare for unemployment, should it strike. Just about all businesses and individuals began throwing all new earnings at debt. Consumption fell off a cliff. Businesses starved for customers and demand. This is about as pro-cyclical a move as the American consumer could have possibly made, but we all made that move together. We did it individually and collectively. The result is a deep, agonizing, downward spiraling recession.

So now we have a problem to solve: When does de-leveraging stop? There are two possible answers:
1. De-leveraging stops when everybody is completely out of debt
2. De-leveraging stops when the American consumer gets tired of austerity and breaks out the credit cards again.

Here, I can sound a bit more optimistic. I have little faith in the fiscal discipline of my people. We Americans like to spend and consume. We don't like zero debt for this reason. I expect our good people to half-step here. They will move their debt loads down considerably, perhaps even to safe levels, and then they will begin consuming again.

But then on the other hand... We should also remember that America's favorite shopping tool is the credit card. Certain credit card firms, most importantly Amex and Chase, are in a lot of trouble with consumer credit. They are playing shutdown defense right now. There are more and more reports of Chase and Amex closing accounts, reducing credit limits, hammering long term customers with massive interest increases.

There are some reports of Citibank doing the same thing. I personally have two Citibank MasterCards and they have done no such thing to me... yet. Let's hope they don't. I like my gasoline cards.

Anyway, presuming that consumer credit largely stays intact. Americans might start spending again by Christmas of 2009.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

So you would really like to understand just what the hell happened to the global economy?

Just thought I would take a moment to line up the two most helpful resources I have found on the topic of the Great Depression II.

The first is an award winning radio documentary by PRI {Public Radio International} called "Giant Pools of Money". You can download the MP3 file or you can listen to it on the web here. This one is just tremendous. I hardly have a critical word to say about it. This is the critical foundation of your understanding of the financial market that was prior to the collapse, and how it came to be.

To understand how the house of cards collapse, you need to have a look at a video documentary by PBS Frontline called Inside the Meltdown. You can view the entire documentary here. The quality of the video stream is very good. This one is very dramatic and powerful, but not as expository and educational as the first. The great difficulty is the bias of the authors. They scarcely deal with the nationalization of Fannie and Freddy. Why? A sharp focus on quasi-public agencies established by a famed Democrat for progressive purposes might be damaging to the authors interests. The focus is sharply on Bear Sterns and Lehman Brothers. This is generally good. These two malefactors are close to the core of the meltdown. In truth, this documentary should have been 3 or 4 hours long. They just didn't have enough time to document this incredible sequence of events that comprised the Meltdown.

Nevertheless, Inside the Meltdown is a powerful history of just what happened in 2008. I strongly recommend it.

This just in: Warren Buffett discovers that the economy fell off a cliff

Evidently, Warren Buffett just went public with his discovery that the economy fell off a cliff recently. NO SHIT!?!?! You don't say? Is this just your finding, Warren, or will anyone step up to corroborate this conclusion?

I am a big fan of the Fast Money show on CNBC. Those guys have only two ironclad rules:
  1. Have a serious take on the market
  2. Don't state the obvious
These guys really hate it when you state the obvious. Why? Because you are being uncooperative and wasting everybody's time. We want to hear something we don't know. We want real material insights. We don't want to endlessly rehash meaningless talking points as worthless politicians do. If you make the mistake of stating the obvious on Fast Money, everybody will scream like hell at you.

When I read that headline grabbing statement by Warren Buffett I had just four thoughts:
  1. I wish you had said that on Fast Money. They would have beaten the hell out of you for stating the obvious.
  2. Buffett must be trying to push the market to the bottom so he can go bottom fishing. Everybody wants to catch the bottom of this market.
  3. If Joe Schmoe says the economy fell of a cliff, nobody will report a thing, and they will yell at him for stating the obvious. Only the world's richest man can get away with this and make it headline grabbing news.
  4. Why don't you tell us what you plan to do at the bottom--in explicit detail--Warren?

Monday, March 9, 2009

One last thought about Watchmen

Yesterday afternoon Bloomberg TV began running a crawler declaring that Time Warner had the best box office opening weekend of the year. Watchmen earned $56 million at the box office. The Hollywood reported adjusted that figure down to $55.7 Million. That is the figure currently reported by and

This is good news and bad news for Warner. Watchmen is #1 at the box office by a long shot. The next closest competitor is Madea Goes to Jail with just $8.8 million. So they ran about 6.5 laps around their closest competition at the box office. However, this figure is substantially lower than the $70+ figure they were quoting originally. You might even say that they were as much as $21 million off the bullseye. These are the North American figures only. I am told you can take the North American figure and multiply by 2 and this is your International + North American box office estimate. This is a good rule of thumb. Real dollars will vary by title. This means Watchmen should have scored $111.4 million at the box office. So where does that put them?

According to this video source, Watchmen cost $150 million to make, $20 million to distribute & promote. Ergo they need to go to $170 to make their capital back. They might have $111 million in the bag right now. The box office may drop as much as 85% next week to just $8.35 domestic, $16.7 internationally. Then the money has to be split between Warners and Fox. The blunt point: They are not on pace to make their money back at this rate. DVD sales and Blu-ray will put them over the top, but they won't do it at the theater.

I expect Fox/Warner to be humiliated as they come in #3 below Miss March and Race to Witch Mountain next week. I am told that the Mann and other theater chains are going to start removing screenings this Thursday night. This will give Warner fewer scheduled times for this 2:43 minute magnum opus, and cut revenues accordingly.

After sleeping on it for 48 hours, I can tell you that Watchmen seems like a curious collection of 1960's hippie predilections and obsessions. You have the JFK assassination conspiracy, Vietnam, Nixon, Henry Kissinger, the doomsday clock, atomic war with the Soviets, the Stonewall rebellion, etc. The audience obsessed with these subjects in now much older (like 60+) and unlikely to be receptive to such an adolescent comic-book musing on the topic of "what if history had been different?" Those cats are listening to NPR for their entertainment these days, and NPR is saying little about the Watchmen. I cannot imagine 20 something kids in South America or Asia getting turned on by this movie. There is no handle on this movie that they might grasp. This is the core reason for the financial failure here.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Watchmen: They are who I thought they were.

Well, I saw the Watchmen yesterday morning at 10:15 AM at the AMC 16 theater in Woodland Hills. What is my first impression? Do you remember the big fit Dennis Green threw after his Phoenix Cardinals lost a 24-7 lead to the (then) undefeated Chicago Bears a couple of years back? He screamed: "They are who we thought they were!" He knew the Bears were not a Juggernaut. He knew they had weaknesses. He knew he could expose them. He did precisely that. Unfortunately, his team let them off the hook. I am not going to let these fuckers off the hook.

This movie is tanking at the Box Office

First of all, let's recognize one thing: This movie is not doing well at the box office. I have a substantial facts to back this claim up.
  1. On Friday night, around 11:00pm, I went to the Magic Johnson 24 Hour Fitness in Sherman Oaks. The Archlight, one of our finest theaters in Los Angeles, is right there beside and on-top of the gym. I heard not a single peep from the upstairs balcony. That is a far cry from the din of conversation I heard for "Sex and the City" and several other big money makers. I decided to check it out. There was no one up there waiting on line for the movie. Nobody lined up for the midnight showing. There were probably some people waiting inside, but this was not a visible crowd.
  2. On Saturday morning, our theater was perhaps 30% to 35% full. I didn't make too much of this at the time, as Woodland Hills is not a great place for morning showings. People party pretty hard around here on Friday nights. They don't often get up early for a 10:15 showing of a movie.
  3. At around 9:00pm, my Dad called me. He saw the 6:30pm showing of Watchmen in Fresno California at the Edwards 21. This is the finest theater in Fresno, and one of the best in the world. It is an IMax. He said his theater was perhaps 20% full. Make no mistake: This is not because Fresno is bad movie town. Fresno hog-wild for movies. Just about all types of movies routinely outperform national averages in Fresno.
  4. Around midnight, I called my buddy Colin. He is becoming senior leadership in one of the large theater chains down here in SoCal. I asked him how the box office for Watchmen was doing? He replied "What's that? Do I hear the sound of toilets flushing? They told us all along that this movie was tracking well and we could expect big crowds. I came out here to $&^%%&* to monitor, and we've sold only 700 tickets for the movie all day long. Worse, we opened it on three screens capable of seating 400 people per showing. The people aren't buying tickets for this turkey."
  5. Let's see 3 x 400 x 5 = 6,000. 700/6000 = 11.667% full. Oh shit...! That sucks...
We don't yet have official boxoffice results from or These will be made public in about 10 hours. I still think Watchmen will be #1, but the money figure will not be anything like the original $70 million I was expecting. This movie will under perform expectations by substantial measures.

The Cult of Alan Moore

There is a cult of Alan Moore out there which hyper-hypes everything he does. He is not what they say he is. He is nothing like what they say he is. He is not a visionary artist. He is not a genius. He is not a great story teller. He is not an insightful psychologist. He is not a great thinker on the subject of power. All of this talk is rubbish, poppycock and blarney. He is a hippy drug user who has experienced a great deal of brain damage due to LSD use. That is all. Only this and nothing more. His work is bizarre for this reason.

I am well aware of the fact that Time Magazine picked Watchmen as one of their Top 50 or Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century. This choice is absolute bullshit, and reflects very poorly on Time Magazine, even to the point of discrediting the entire list. The critical staff discredited themselves by making this choice.

God only knows why Cults get started. I have no idea why weak minded fools follow people like Madonna or Brittaney Spears. Likewise, I have no idea why perfect idiots would lineup behind a guy like Alan Moore. Like Madonna and Spears, he has no merit, and yet he is a pop phenomenon. The bastard isn't even good looking... but then again Madonna wasn't either.

Not Snyder's Fault

The Cult of Alan Moore will certainly try to blame this financial failure upon Zach Snyder. Some will say that this is a D- class implementation of A+ material. Let me make it perfectly clear: That argument is absolute and complete bullshit. I am talking about 100% pure bullshit. Snyder did everything possible to make a great movie. This is an A- implementation of C- or D+ material. Snyder is just working with bad, inferior material here, and that is all. While this movie is not a perfect implementation of the material, even if you came up with a perfect implementation, it would still be the same overblown LSD brain-damaged rubbish Alan Moore wrote in the first place. A perfect implementation of Watchmen would still be a poor movie.

Why would I say such a thing? Well, let me just tell you...

Spoiler Alert

There are some noteworthy issues in this implementation, almost all of which trace back to the graphic novel, but I will lay a few of them out for you. I have already declared that I felt the character design, names, and powers were utterly weak and stupid, so I will not repeat that line. Instead I will focus on the main elements of the story.
  1. As many have observed, this is a piece of Cold War nuclear hysteria. The notion of immanent atomic war with the Soviets now seems totally laughable, and the subject of ridicule today.
  2. The notion that Nixon took over as dictator of the country also seems preposterous
  3. The notion that the CIA used the Comedian to hit JFK from the Grassy Nole in Dealey Plaza is so funny it brought a big laugh in my theater.
  4. What gives with all the strange ass usage of classic rock tunes? I know there were lyrical references in the book. I remember this well, but Synder decides to turn these into Donnie Darrko style mini-music videos. The effect is bizarre.
  5. What gives with Dr. Manhattan's cock and balls hanging out all over the joint? Of course, Moore let it all hang loose in the comic book also. Synder could have made a correction here, but he allowed the LSD brain damage to flow through to the final cut of the movie.
  6. Snyder decides to shoot "a really hot" sex scene between Silk Spectre and Night Owl aboard his nice revolutionary aircraft. I do believe Snyder thought he was pushing the envelope, inserting a red-hot smoker in a super hero movie for the first time. I regret to tell him that the audience was laughing in my showing. My brother and I nearly fell out of our seats laughing at this scene. I got an abdominal cramp I laughed so hard. Make no mistake: This was bad laughter. I am sure Synder did not intend this scene as comedy. Perhaps 14 or 15 year old boys will think it is hot, but frankly, they may not dig it either. They have the internet these days, and there is much hotter material out there.
  7. And then we come to the ending, a concept so bad that I must deal with it in its own section.
The End

Shakespeare says alls well that ends well. Does this mean alls bad that ends bad? If so Watchmen is pretty fucking bad. So what is driving this endless epic tragedy? Well Veidt has decided to unite the world (thus saving us from atomic war) by giving everybody a common enemy to fight.

In the comic, Veidt cooks up a giant octo-squid monster straight out of Godzilla. This thing attacks New York, and destroys the place. This is supposed to signifythat an alien power is prepared to invade the Earth. The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. unite against this Godzilla-ish foe, and we live in perfect human unity & harmony thereafter.

In movie, Synder decided to change this ending. Smart idea. Moore's end was as excruciatingly stupid an idea as I have ever read anywhere at any time. Corn-cheese-whack in the extreme. So what does Snyder give us? Veidt has cloned Dr. Manhattan's power signatures. He destroys 15 major cities around the world, and makes it look like Dr. Manhattan did it. The world unites against Dr. Manhattan. We all live in perfect human unity & harmony thereafter.

So how does Dr. Manhattan feel about all this. Well... he didn't know about the plan ahead of time, but after the fact he thinks it will work. He doesn't approve or condemn, but he goes along with it. He even kills Rorschach to prevent him from telling the world. I would call that an endorsement of Veidt's plan. He decides to go off to some other galaxies and make some life there. Good idea... LSD burnout.

So what do I think?

So what do I think about it personally? The movie is not as bad as I had thought it would be. Because of Snyder's extreme efforts, it is more watchable than I thought. However, this is still a stupid story full of stupid characters and it has a very stupid ending.

The effect is a bizarre trip through 2:31 minutes (if you don't stay for the credits) which results in a big WTF? The audiance I saw the movie with felt the same way I did. Nobody was enthusiastically praising this film on the way out. Most people were shaking there heads saying "What the fuck was that?"

We should note in passing that Terry Gilliam, of Monty Python fame, was originally contracted to direct this movie years ago. He backed out of the deal, declaring that this graphic novel was unfathomable, unfilmable and a non-movie candidate. I think he was extremely wise. That is why I am a fan of Gilliam.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Nothing should be done to support high housing prices

I felt the need to sit down and scribble this out, early this Friday evening, before going to see Watchmen, because there is a gigantic fundamental error circulating in the think-tanks in Washington D.C. Many authorities within the Obama Cabinet are openly declaring that everything that can be done to stabilize housing prices must be done. The free-fall in the value of housing must stop. The reason why the average home owner should buy into the mortgage rescue plan is that it will prevent foreclosures from lowering the value of your home.


Well, this would all be very nice political bullshit if it were a mere excuse for rolling out some aid to stricken families. Unfortunately, of late, I have gotten the impression that Obama's boys and girls are serious about this notion. I think the really want to stop the free fall in the price of housing.

Let me make this absolutely and completely clear so that nobody can misunderstand what I am saying: Nothing should be done to stabilize house prices. Nothing could be more dastardly, more terrible or fundamentally wrong for the American people than stabilizing housing prices at current levels and attempting to get them to rise again.

In all this goddamn hoopla about banking collapse, you are forgetting the absolute fundamental reason for this crisis. Hot leverage dollars bid up the prices of real estate to insane levels. We have reached the point where just about every common house is totally unaffordable to every common American worker. Because housing prices are unaffordable, we are seeing a massive amount of defaults on mortgages. It is not just happening because speculators are abandoning ship. It is not just happening because of predatory loans. It is happening because Joe the plumber can't afford his $550,000USD 1,200 SQFT townhome in Receda California. Any loan of this amount to Joe seems both predatory and foolhardy.

Call me foolish. Call me irresponsible. Call me a dreamer. However, I believe that when every common ordinary home is unaffordable to every common ordinary worker, you have a very serious structural flaw in your economy and society. People can't buy houses when they need shelter. They can't sell when they need to move. They can't build when more housing is needed, because there is no hope of finding buyers.

When wage growth is 0.0% after inflation, year after year, housing cannot continue to appreciate at 7.7% year after year. There are no new dollars in the American wallet to cover this massive increase in cost. Banks like Bear Sterns and Lehman might favor the system of life-long debt peonage, but we common citizens do not. Most of us refused to sign off on this system, and that was when the housing market bubble burst.

To get out of this crisis, the price housing must correct. The market is self correcting right now. Housing values are dropping. This is good. It must continue for some time. Townhouses in L.A. need to go down to the $200k range, not the $500K range. Even at this price they are onerous cost items indeed.

If the Obama administration is serious about stabilizing prices they will
  1. At best, waste trillions of dollars and barely retard the correction process.
  2. At worst, waste trillions of dollars and fuck the very same little people they claim to represent.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The source of all this economic chaos

After carefully considering most of the key elements of the present economic crisis, I think the origins of the problem are incredibly clear; so clear that several things must be said.

  • The formerly fabulous ersatz New York investment banks are at the very heart of this crisis
  • The iBanks were up to no good
  • The Subprime mortgage movement can be interpreted as an attempt to bring back the days of feudal debt peonage, where serfs are vassals of their patrons for life.
  • Selling subprime mortgage backed securities can only be understood as an investor rip-off scheme.

In this piece I am going to state my mind as clearly as I possibly can, so that what I am saying cannot be be mis-interpreted in anyway. I will not soft-pedal.

Richard S. Fuld Jr and his boys at Lehman Brothers were running a confidence game that dwarfs the Enron case in magnitude. It is clear that the damages stemming from the collapse of Lehman Brothers far and away outstrip the damages of the Enron scandal/collapse/bankruptcy. I expect several key players from Lehman to be up on securities fraud charges soon, just as surely as Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling and Andy Fastow were. Just you wait for the FBI to conclude its investigations.

Those are some mighty tall words there, Dave! You got anything to back that up? How else am I supposed to interpret that data? What other conclusion can you draw on careful consideration?

It is already well understood that the subprime market was full of shenanigans. 3rd party mortgage vendors lied about borrower income and forged income documentation. Loan officers with the power to say yes or no performed no due diligence to confirm employment, income levels, residential status or citizenship. Gross sums, totally unaffordable to borrowers, were loaned out on the assumption that the value of the house would increase; a fact which has nothing to do with whether a customer can pay off the loan month to month. Explosive ARM loans were issued with teaser interest rates, sold at high closing costs, and then massive increases in interest were encounters 90, 180 or 360 days later. These interest rate adjustments often turned onerous loan payments into completely unpayable payments. Then you find the "interest only ARM", a super-toxic loan for speculators in which you never pay the principle, only an adjustable rate of interest on the debt. By very nature of the legal structure of the deal, the loan can never be paid off over time. Only a lump sum or bankruptcy ends the loan; all or nothing. Then you have 40 and even 50 year terms for fixed-rate loans. The quantity of interest you would pay on such a long loan is truly astronomical, often making the final cost of the house 3 times the base sales price.

It is clear that groups like Lehman brothers and Bear Sterns kept pushing the envelope regarding just what constituted acceptible loan terms. The terms for the buyers kept getting worse and worse. What can you say about a loan structured in such a way that it cannot be paid off? What can you say about a loan that would make a plumber pay $1.5 million over the course of a 50 year loan on a small rat-infested townhouse in Queens? What do you say about a HELOC? A Home Equity Line of Credit essentially issues a borrower a credit card equal to the perceived amount of potential equity in the house, and then encourages them to go buy groceries, gas and HDTVs, all of which jack up the mortgage balance. This is nothing more than an attempt to re-institute the system of debt-peonage and feudal serfdom; a situation where their homes and land are perpetually owned by the feudal lord. This is an attempt to make every man a financial slave.

The only problem is that the U.S. Federal government has limits regarding how far you can pursue a guy in bankruptcy. I should mention in passing that the financial industry tried to modify our Bankruptcy law many times in the run up to the crisis. They had some ugly successes. Ultimately, they weren't able to clamp people in irons, inside debtor's prisons, in an attempt to force repayment. Thank God for that much.

Worse, groups like Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns clearly understood that these loans were hot potatoes. The second act of their business was to chop up these mortgages into little 'security instruments' or bonds, and sell this right to be repaid to ordinary rank-in-file investors (including guys like you and me). These were high risk instruments, designed to off-load the risk from Investment Bankers to others. Open up these bonds and you would find a motley collection of bad subprime loans. Good security for the bad bankers. Bad security for the gulible investors. Bake a hot potato in the Microwave and then toss it to an unwary investor. You charge him for the hot potato and you burn his hands also.

I still have no idea why Standard & Poors would give these shit-bonds Tipple-A ratings. Perhaps it had something to do with the Mortgage Default swaps issued by Bear Stearns and AIG... But this is a story for another day.

What should I conclude when I see an organization like Lehman Brothers borrows billions from Citigroup et al to issue subprime loans, only to turn around and sell these rubbish loans as shit-bonds to benighted investors? The scheme is clear:
  1. Don't risk any of your own money
  2. Borrow from groups like Citigroup
  3. Pocket large fees from originating mortgages to people who can't get them any other way.
  4. Give those subprime borrowers money from institutions like Citigroup
  5. Don't hold the hot-potato. Chop it up with other hot-potatoes and sell it as a security to benigted investors.
  6. Get Standard & Poors to rate your bonds as Tripple-A when they are not.
  7. Get AIG to ensure the bonds.
What I see is a group of bandits inside Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns orchestrating a disaster, and largely taking personal fortunes away from the deal. Richard S. Fuld Jr is not a poor man today, despite the fact that Lehman is bankrupt, and the world burns.

Monday, March 2, 2009

So have you heard the economic news of the day?

The news just doesn't get any better. It keeps getting worse. The markets are crashing again.

  1. The European Markets lost 3% over night.
  2. The IRS & Treasury revised their GDP figures this weekend. The U.S. economy shrank 6.2% in the 4th quarter of last year and is expected to shrink another 6% this first quarter of 2009.
  3. The Dow, Nasdaq and S&P 500 fell through the frickin' floor quickly this morning. The Dow, in particular, is now trading below 7000 which is going to set off a wave of panic.
  4. Nourial Rabini, the only economist to correctly call this recession, said we would finish 2009 at DJIA=6400. Rabini clearly declares that this will be an adverse market reaction to the Government taking control of the banking system, and forcing them to eat all their losses. This could produce 3 years of zero dividends and famine.
  5. As I write this we are approximately 14 minutes shy of the close on 3/2/2009. The Dow currently sits at 6,763.29. That is down 299.64 points or 4.24%. The Euros lost 3% last night. We beat that by one and a quarter. We are now at a low we haven't seen in 12 years, since April of 1997.
  6. This sudden plunge is largely a consequence of AIG's latest loss figures: 61.7 Billion USD in the 4th Quarter of 2008. This is the largest corporate quarterly loss in history.
  7. GM, AIG, and Citibank seem to be in a perpetual vegetative state.
  8. The U.S Government is the defacto owner of Citigroup right now, and won't admit it. Also the Government is refusing to assume control of it's new holding and reorganize the house.
  9. I heard former labor secretary Robert Riche on the Radio yesterday, retracting his condemnations of the D word. That is, Depression. He formerly said that no economist should use the D word related to this present recession, as there was no chance of us hitting 25% unemployment. He is now saying that those were hasty words, and he may have to eat crow for saying that. He still says that we are at only 8.9% unemployment vis-a-vis 25%. Unfortunately, the technical charts are forecasting 15% unemployment soon. That is downright nasty.

The latest most interesting analysis says the following: Every recession since the Depression has been caused by the Fed jacking up interest rates in an attempt to cut off inflation. This is the first time since the Great Depression that a major down turn has been caused by out-and-out banking collapse. Of course, the banking collapse was triggered by the explosion of a massive speculative bubble in Real Estate.

I thank God I never bought a house during that time, and that I just had my employee review meeting, and I scored all 90s and 80s, and they are going to give me a 3% cost of living increase in pay. I'm a damn lucky guy.