Author: LM/Archives

One Art- Records

Reading One Art, a huge collection of poet Elizabeth Bishop’s letters. I notice this, written
from Key West in l938:

“I have a little Victor record player that attaches to the radio.  It is quite good; and a lot of records I got from Sears, Roebuck… the Negro ones are the best: “That Bonus Done Gone Through,”  “Riding to Your Funeral in a Ford V-8″… but it is almost impossible to find anything about who is composing them. (They appear all over the South within three days of any major news event, it seems.)”

Sounds like an early version of twitter.  I’ve never heard of this before, have you?

Poem to Financial History

Barron’s this week interviewed an institutional money manger named Jeremy Grantham.

They asked “Do you think we will learn anything from all of this turmoil?”
His answer:

We will learn an enormous amount
in a very short time
Quite a bit
in the medium term
And absolutely nothing
in the long run.
That would be the historical precedent.

A CDO Sub-Primer

[Mr. Massett explains why the media explanations of the mortgage crisis explain nothing.]

When the US credit markets began to blow up last year, every newspaper in the country served up two explanations for the mess: “sub-prime mortgage” and “collaterized debt obligation,” or “CDO.”

A sub-prime mortgage sounds bad on the face of it, so no problem there. But CDO has no obvious meaning. Only a few days ago I watched an NPR journalist try to figure it out from the words themselves (“let’s see, ‘collateralized’ refers to ‘collateral,’ so there must be a thing like a house or a car someplace, and ‘debt’ means, well, debt, and an ‘obligation’ means, um, you have to do something, right?”) The usual fudge is to drape the riddle with adjectives like “opaque,” “complex,” and “hard to understand,” as if these were explanatory principles. The phrase “complex and opaque financial instruments known as CDO’s” doesn’t tell you anything, really, but at least it sounds bad. Dern near as bad as a sub-prime mortgage. Moving right along, in other news…

The trouble is CDO’s were never meant for the average investor, or the average journalist. They are Wall Street inventions designed for the big players, investment banks like Citi or Merill or Bear Sterns. To understand them you have to think like an investment bank. This is no harder than thinking like a Martian. More…

Royalty at the Crate and Barrel

Last night I drove to the local Crate and Barrel to buy sheets. Normally I don’t buy sheets or anything else at that overwrought emporium, but it’s nearby and it was Time, time to buy some damn sheets.

The clerk was sad to learn I wanted plain white sheets. “Perhaps the Clarendon?” He suggested, pointing out a lime-green fabric with cherry stripes “Or the Ogelthorpe?” Mustard with pistachio rhomboids. “Or….”

And then he shut up. Everyone did. Because a little old Japanese woman walked into the room. She moved slowly, on account of her age, also because she was bearing the burden of great wealth. You could tell. Impeccably dressed in shades of black- a bit too much jewelry-but still- this wasn’t just the wife of some millionaire. This was an Ambassador’s wife at the very least. Or even one of the Royals…

She eased Herself onto a display couch and began to speak. Her English was correct but indistinct, she spoke in a whisper so everyone around had to strain to understand. She was used to this. She spoke of rugs:

“We have these…sort of white….carpets…you know …that were made for us …and sometimes they get a spot on them…and that’s all right….you just spray them with a can of that wonderful Ovo…” (Novo? Blovo? ) “….you just spray them… and the spot comes out….so that’s all right…”

But now it seems her daughter has a carpet and it got a spot on it and the Wonderful Brand Name doesn’t want to work. So that’s not all right. So what she’s wondering is, what do you spray on a carpet so it doesn’t get spots in the first place?

“Jesus Christ, lady, this isn’t a hardware store!” the clerk screams.

Oh no he doesn’t. He thinks it for a second, we all do, but then of course we realize a Lady can’t distinguish a hardware store from a flower shop from a dog pound. To her they’re all just


So, helpfully, the clerks calls over the other clerks and they put their heads together and somebody remembers there’s a web site called or something and they get on the computer and surf around till they find it. There’s no indication Herself is going to get off the couch to look at the computer, so the clerk writes the address on a card and hands it to her.

She’s ever so slightly miffed. “Well….that’s all right…” she murmurs “…but I’ll need two cards…since….of course…. my daughter doesn’t live with me.”

When I left with my plain white sheets (the Ku Klux Kla) she was still sitting on the couch. Just waiting. Waiting, apparently, to see if there was going to be anything else on her mind tonight…

Get Rich on Diarrhea

There’s a story in the Wall Street Journal about some guy in Georgia making a fortune selling sub-prime mortages. The link may not work unless you subscribe but never mind, here’s the money quote:

As a teenager, Mr. Barnes says, he paid local farmers $1 apiece for calves suffering from diarrhea, then fed them a mixture of powdered milk and flour to “gum them up.” The ones he saved, he says, could be sold for more than $100.

Such an un-public-radio notion! Yet how many local stations could improve their lot by buying up sick animals and feeding them, say, CPB grant applications…..

See the Other Side

Good story in the March 12 NewYorker: “See the Other Side” by Tatyana Tolstaya. Actually not just a good story, it’s a great one-especially considering how short it is. The first paragraph or so you think probably it’s just another one of those boring New Yorker stories about nothing. But her train picks up speed mighty quick, and at the end she freaking nails it. Never read anything quite like it. Raymond the Russian says one of the best -known writers in Russia right now. And yeah, she’s related to Leo Tolstoy.

Once you read that Tolstaya story, re-read it asking “how the fuck does she do it?” It’s honest, of course. But technically it has to do with repetition, that is, repetition-with-variations., and with each repetition a deepening echo. This is a technique more common in music and poetry than prose. I’m thinking it might work in radio too. Imagine the story as a radio piece.

“The tomb of Dante, exiled from his native Florence. The tomb of Theodorich. The mausoleum of Galla Placidia, sister of Flavius Honorius, the very man who made Ravenna the capital of the Western Empire. Fifteen centuries passed. Everything changed. Dust gathered; the mosaics crumbled. What was once important is now unimportant; what once excited has vanished in the sands. The sea itself has receded, and where merry green waves once splashed there are wastelands, vineyards, silence.” –Tatyana Tolstaya