Archive for the 'journalism' Category

Tweet I wonder if Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success is going to inadvertently create a popular misunderstanding about success similar in form to my previously stated fear about what a superficial reading of Gut Feelings and The Wisdom of Crowds would do for effective decision-making. In a few Twitter exchanges yesterday, the notion […]

French Horn Close UpWhat has the French Horn to do with the science of uncertainty? The Economist review of journalist Jasper Rees’s book I Found My Horn may have nailed it.  The book chronicles Rees’s mid-life crisis in which he picked up his childhood instrument rather than running a marathon ;-) .  It’s now being published in the US as A Devil to Play: One Man’s Year-Long Quest to Master the Orchestra’s Most Difficult Instrument.  More pertinently, a play starring co-writer Jonathan Guy Lewis opens this very night on the London stage.

What makes the horn quite so hard to play is the length of tubing necessary to produce its tonal range; despite three valves, it is very easy to hit the wrong note, or fall off the right one. There’s a level of doubt about each outcome that does not trouble other musicians to quite the same degree.  Even professional orchestral players are more exposed than most to public musical catastrophe, because of the horn’s expressive value to composers.  For this, among other reasons, horn players are considered a breed apart.  This is how Simon Rattle puts it:-

You never eyeball a horn player. You just don’t. They’re stuntmen. You don’t eyeball stuntmen when they’re about to dice with death.”

Given the Knackered Hack’s quest for antidotes to hubris, perhaps mastery of the horn (if that is not a contradiction in terms) should be considered an essential qualification for public or corporate office?  I’ve noticed that this website seems to attract a disproportionate number of horn players (at least two).  Perhaps there’s a connection? You can purchase a CD by one of those readers below.

[By way of full disclosure, the Knackered Hack was placed first in the under 12s brass section of the Harrogate Festival in 1976, performing the second movement of Mozart's Fourth Horn Concerto K495, cough... :oops: ]

Photo credit: vtengr4047

Donate and help me buy back my Fender ('About' tells you why)

Tags: , , , , ,

no dice

14Nov08

When I read Michael Lewis‘s book Liar’s Poker a few years ago, I was left with the uncomfortable feeling that the entire edifice of modern finance might just have become nothing less than the mother-of-all Ponzi schemes. And that the mutant moment could possibly have been the day Salomon Brothers’ Lewis Ranieri invented the mortgage-backed security, based on what amounted to a salesman’s whim. The securitisation business would transform itself over the next 30 years, until its unfortunate reconnection with reality in the mother-of-all Minsky moments. This is how BusinessWeek described Ranieri in 2004, celebrating him as one of the leading innovators of the previous 75 years:-

A less likely financial engineer would be hard to imagine. Ranieri, a Brooklyn native, set out to be an Italian chef until asthma ruled out work in smoky kitchens. A part-time job in Salomon’s mail room set him on the path to trading. A large, volatile man, Ranieri built the firm’s mortgage desk in his own image: “fat guys,” as author Michael Lewis described them in Liar’s Poker, promoted from the back office, who indulged in feeding frenzies and practical jokes while selling strange new bonds to doubtful investors.

Ranieri’s own mortgage bank, Franklin, was closed last week by regulators and has now been taken over by the FDIC.

Michael Lewis, who worked for Salomon Brothers in the 1980s–an experience on which the Liar’s Poker was based–has just written a piece this week in Portfolio in which he is, in effect, calling the end of an era on Wall Street. This is how it starts:-

To this day, the willingness of a Wall Street investment bank to pay me hundreds of thousands of dollars to dispense investment advice to grownups remains a mystery to me. I was 24 years old, with no experience of, or particular interest in, guessing which stocks and bonds would rise and which would fall. The essential function of Wall Street is to allocate capital—to decide who should get it and who should not. Believe me when I tell you that I hadn’t the first clue.

If you did not see the Portfolio article, it’s worth reading all nine pages. It tells the story of a handful of people who saw that there was a wider problem, even if the full scale of the potential catastrophe eluded them too. Guys like Steve Eisman, of FrontPoint Partners, who did not play the standard Wall Street game and, when they had the chance, traded aggressively against the prevailing wisdom. It also paints a granular picture of what a short-seller really looks like, and why we should perhaps see them as the canaries in the coalmine rather than demonise them (as everyone from government to clergy did a few months ago here in the UK). There is a more interesting vignette in there too about how his short-selling was egged on by Wall Street firms for their own purposes. In all, it’s a great article. Lewis reveals, in the actions of his protagonists, some of that concept called bounded rationality, as identified by economist Herbert Simon and others. The following also stood out for me, highlighting the scale of the debt markets versus the more familiar stock markets which journalism, print and TV news, tend to focus on:-

By the spring of 2005, FrontPoint was fairly convinced that something was very screwed up not merely in a handful of companies but in the financial underpinnings of the entire U.S. mortgage market. In 2000, there had been $130 billion in subprime mortgage lending, with $55 billion of that repackaged as mortgage bonds. But in 2005, there was $625 billion in subprime mortgage loans, $507 billion of which found its way into mortgage bonds. Eisman couldn’t understand who was making all these loans or why. He had a from-the-ground-up understanding of both the U.S. housing market and Wall Street. But he’d spent his life in the stock market, and it was clear that the stock market was, in this story, largely irrelevant. “What most people don’t realize is that the fixed-income world dwarfs the equity world,” he says. “The equity world is like a fucking zit compared with the bond market.”

This reminded me of some of my own fish-out-of-water experiences, begging for some capital allocation from the selfsame Wall Street in 2001. I was in the middle of a management buyout attempt for the news agency that employed me, the parent of which had been plunged into a Chapter 11 bankruptcy administration. Unsure that this editorial cost centre would work in any other organization, we formulated a set of independent online subscription news services, slicing and dicing our coverage into what we hoped would be viable longterm businesses. The biggest slice had the world of credit derivatives at its core. But at that time the labyrinthine and mushrooming world of the credit markets was one that most journalists or news companies would not have heard of, nor wanted to touch. And so it was. When I offered it to the board of one major company (let’s call them Thomson Financial) I was advised I’d be more successful focusing the business on sectoral equities, because that was “what the market really needed”. Thomson was then aligned in some peculiar defensive editorial content strategy with Dow Jones (now owned by News Corp) against Reuters, now owned by err… Thomson.

Ah well, no dice.

Donate and help me buy back my Fender ('About' tells you why)

Tags: , , , , , ,

Jake Thackray was a Yorkshireman and troubadour (no, really), inspired by Georges Brassens. Good hunter-gatherers should be in bed early, but because of a journalistic (if not civic) duty to watch the US election coverage, allied with a bit of US jet-lag, I was accidentally around when the BBC aired a late night documentary on Thackray last Monday. I remember him from my childhood, when he did a regular turn on a consumer rights/light entertainment show called That’s Life, famous for finding dogs that could say “sausages”: the lolcats of its day.

A fortnight ago, the BBC’s highest paid presenter (Jonathan Ross) was suspended, and one of its rising stars (Russell Brand) fired, for an offensive prank phone call to ageing Faulty Towers comedy actor Andrew Sachs concerning the night-time activities of his granddaughter. One defence, I think from a BBC type, suggested that their misdemeanour was perhaps an inevitable part of a risk-taking comedy culture. Despite a Facebook support group set up to defend the two overpaid scallywags’ human rights, and despite the fact that some of my Twitter chums think what happened to the two is a travesty, I am a bit more hard-nosed. Watching Jonathan Ross’s performances over the years, it seemed increasingly likely that there would be a blow-up at some stage, which is now unfortunately squandering BBC goodwill just as it tries to defend its public service remit.

Ironically, self-deprecating Thackray offers a perfect lesson to managers in general, managers of “The Talent” in particular, and the talent itself in this wonderful song entitled The Bull. There might even be a message in there for bankers, central and otherwise. The contrast between the talent of Thackray and Brand/Ross looks quite stark, when it comes to pushing the boundaries of taste and decency for comedic effect.The clip has a slight hiatus, so hang on in there.

And if you’re wondering what that missing verse contains, curiously, I can’t find a CD including this song.  However, a boxed set of Thackray is available below (with a number entitled Black Swan – I wonder what that’s about? ;-) ).
    

Donate and help me buy back my Fender ('About' tells you why)

Tags: , , , , , ,

Tweet OK, now that we have the demise of Lehman, Merrill and AIG, and with HBOS teetering on the brink (and remembering that we don’t do anniversaries here), let it be noted that it’s just over a year since Northern Rock collapsed, and it’s also a year to the day since I coined the phrase […]


the knackered hack

Tim Penn
Alltop, confirmation that I kick ass

free updates by email

t-shirts for tired writers

Support This Site

knackered eye view

www.flickr.com
This is a Flickr badge showing public photos from knackeredhack. Make your own badge here.

Kino’s Viktor Tsoi

Kino's Tsoi
Close
E-mail It
Socialized through Gregarious 42
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported
This work by Tim Penn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.
make PrestaShop themes