Archive for January, 2008
Earlier today, I read about the astonishingly hedonistic lives of male walruses:
“The males show off in the water for the females who view them from pack ice. Males compete with each other aggressively for this display-space; the winners in these fights breed with large numbers of females.” – (Wikipedia Entry for Walrus)
“Each herd of estrous females is attended by one or more large adult males. According to one study, the ratio of males to females averaged 1 to 23.” – (Seaworld.org on the Walrus’s mating)
Walrus bulls sure have it good.
Then, Dealbreaker buzzed about a Jeffrey Epstein sighting at Time Warner Center (in New York, for you non-initiates). From what I remember of the article, Mr. Epstein lives a life much more similar to the male walrus than you and I, or anyone we happen to know. He just can’t keep his hand out of the cookie jar (remind you of anyone? *cough* R. Kelly *cough*), and that’s why he’s going to jail (unless he pays the judge/jury a commensurate amount so as to keep this billionaire out of the throngs of the penal system).
Really, Jeffrey Epstein and walrus bulls have NOTHING on Porfirio Rubirosa:
Mr. Rubirosa was a Dominican diplomat, polo player and race car driver who competed in the 1950 and 1954 24 Hours of Le Mans,” in addition to a playboy who bedded starlets Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, and Ava Gardner, in addition to (oddly enough) Eva Peron, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and billionaire heiress Doris Duke (who, in the divorce, gave Porfirio half-a-million dollars, several sports cars, a 17th-century home in Paris, and a B-25 bomber). Yes, that’s right — playboy hustled a military bomber out of his ex-wife. This guy is a genius.
Rubirosa, with Zsa Zsa Gabor at Paris Orly airport.
His next marriage to Woolworth’s heiress Barbara Hutton (previously married to actor Cary Grant) lasted only 75 days, and he managed to hustle from her the following: a coffee plantation in the Dominican Republic, another B-25 bomber, and $3.5 million in the divorce settlement. His last marriage was at age 56, to then-19-year-old French actress Odile Rodin, which lasted until his death, when he — you guessed it — crashed his Ferrari on a joyride through Paris.
James Dean — make room for Porfirio Rubirosa, our new grandmaster of hedonism.
New York Magazine – The Fantasist
Wikipedia – Porfirio Rubirosa
The New York Times – A Jet-Set Don Juan, Right Up to the Final Exit
Wikipedia – Barbara Hutton
Wikipedia – Doris Duke
Are Walruses Efficient? – Long or Short Capital
Anna Loginova ran an agency for female bodyguards, some trained by the ex-KGB, to give discreet protection to Moscow’s high-profile billionaires, their wives, and even mistresses. She trumpeted claims such as the fact that her female guards would be allowed into posh restaurants and clubs, while traditional male bodyguards were made to wait outside. She protected people in addition to their valuables.
Anna is now dead.
She was guarding a Porsche Cayenne when she was carjacked. Not wanting to give in to the thief, she clinged to the door handle of the Cayyenne and was dragged along the street at high speed as the car screeched away. She died from head injuries at the scene.
Last year, 50 Porsches were stolen in Moscow, including 12 within the last two months. Only three were ever found.
“Anthropologist Pascal Boyer, who studies the psychology of religion, argues that our brains have evolved with an overactive agency-recognition system: We look for—and find—individual intention and design behind any pattern, even when none exists. After a bad harvest, we wonder how we have angered the gods; after a trend goes viral, we wonder what special person could have made it happen.”
There are so many examples that fit this ‘agency-recognition system’, it’s ridiculous.
For instance, conspiracy theorists. The conspiracy theorist is confronted with an event (JFK shot) and their brain will concoct an explanation (it wasn’t Lee Harvey Oswald), and they’ll misguidedly attempt to prove their contention with any data point that fits their story while ignoring any data point that doesn’t.
Scientists often do the same. Instead of searching for an undetermined truth, whatever that truth may be, the cocksure scientist designs his experiments in order to achieve a certain preconceived outcome at experiment’s-end. The experiment is not truth-finding; it’s not science. It’s manufactured opinion masquerading as science.
Perhaps we should focus on logic and reason, and leave behind our predisposition to irrationally hypothesize about what could have been.
(click to enlarge)
Whenever NTT DoCoMo or KDDI au launch new phones, I crack a smile. Their handsets have fantastic design and are executed perfectly. About a year ahead of handsets that make their way to this side of the pond.
Engadget’s got a good rundown of the new goods.
KDDI au Announces Spring 2008 Collection – Engadget
Bill Gates was surpassed in wealth last year by Carlos Slim-Helú, the Mexican billionaire most famous for his position in America Móvil, a Latin America wireless provider. Instead of putting all his resources into a non-profit foundation, as has Gates, Slim believes that he can wield the power of his businesses to best foment positive change for the lowest quartile of the world’s income. For instance, building out a wireless network to serve underserved populations might allow fisherman from deep in the Amazon to find out about fish prices downriver, enabling commerce to better serve the local and regional population, as well as allowing communication to facilitate commerce and even payments. Many people in the third world will experience their first bank account as a wireless payment-enabled cellphone.
Bill Gates has taken a different approach, instead funneling his wealth to the Gates Foundation, which spends money on global health and poverty programs. Critics berate the Foundation for owning equity positions in firms that aren’t socially responsible. For example, consider a health clinic sponsored by the Gates foundation in wartorn Chad. The Foundation might also own a toxic-gas-spewing oil refinery 10 miles away, in-effect poisoning the same people the Foundation wants to help.
This conflict of interest is a tricky situation for any large foundation that invests money. Socially responsible investing is not black and white, and finding every little conflict in an investment takes a lot of effort and is, at some point, incrementally futile. The more you dig, the more dirt you find, and the less possible candidates for investments there are. Not easy when your foundation needs to invest some $40+ billion.
Today, in a speech in Davos at the World Economic Forum, Gates outlined his belief that business can do more to help the underserved, essentially stealing a trick from his pal Slim-Helú.
Perhaps Mr. Gates, in being passed up by the Mexican billionaire, has had a sort of epiphany.
But don’t expect Bill to rock a sombrero anytime soon.
Research In Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM), the Waterloo, Ontario-based maker of BlackBerry smartphones is one of my favorite firms, and I’m addicted to their products. They always seem to make the right moves.
One area that RIM could improve on, however, is customization and luxury stratification. The 8800-series phone for executives/enterprise customers along with the more consumer-focused 8100/Pearl are their bread and butter, and their 8300/Curve is their entry on the modern design front. Of all these, the 8800 series carries the most cachet; it makes a statement that the user is an important person who needs to be constantly in touch. No wonder business-savvy stars like Paris Hilton, John Mayer, and Lindsay Lohan are die-hard fans.
However, more could be done here. The 8800 series is pretty boring…it’s metallic/black/grey reflective finish is all business, and RIM could take cues from Vertu in the styling/materials department and offer BlackBerries made from carbon fiber and leather to satisfy the highest-echelon of luxury buyers. It could be a halo product, just as we see in automobiles.
Goldstriker just answered my prayers with its platinum and nightfire leather edition housing for the BlackBerry Pearl. It’s not cheap, however, at $1,600.
Really, RIM, you should jump at this. Think Black MacBook (charge more just for a subtle design change that only a few will notice), but in your pocket. Instead of $1,600, charge $100, and mint money with it.
I was vacationing in Whistler last weekend, luxuriating in a hottub overlooking beautiful mountain vistas, while residents of Gaza had their electricity and water cut off. Quite the striking dissimilarity of situation, no?
Today, hundreds of thousands of Gazans broke through the border to Egypt with the help of Hamas’ explosives, allowing them to flood into Egypt to stock up on necessities in border towns to return home. Luckily, Egypt allowed their safe passage. This comes as a victory for Hamas (as interpreted by Gazans, at least): it solidifies the view of Hamas as the protagonist and Israel the antagonist. Really, this recent conflict is too complex to be summed up in a sentence (or even a paragraph), and even taking sides is difficult because both sides are seemingly so culpable. It all depends on which side of the fence you sit.
Israel is in a really tough position here. They’re at war (both ideologically and militarily) with Hamas. If they allow Hamas to fire Qassam rockets without retaliation, it would signal an admission of weakness. If they retaliate strongly, with a ground invasion force, they’d be labeled a brutal invader. And if they attempt to starve Hamas by closing the borders, Gazans will find a way through and Hamas will claim victory.
This episode shows that you can’t fight an idea, a belief, or a religion with a blockades or bullets. And that’s not good news for Israel.
I can’t believe the laws in some parts of the globe. In Afghanistan and ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, you cannot print out documents off the internet that are anti-Islam without being punished with the death sentence. In Saudi Arabia, women aren’t allowed to drive, vote, or testify in court.
One of these injustices is about to change.
Courtesy of MotorAuthority:
“The Saudi government has succumbed to public outrage and is now planning to lift the ban [on women driving]. The ultra-conservative law was first introduced when the Saudi Kingdom was established back in 1932 and it’s still being supported by the royal family.
But women have been protesting the law for years by driving through the Islamic state in full defiance of threats of detention, reports the Daily Telegraph. Those against the lift say the move “will only bring sin” and that the “evils it would bring – mixing between the genders, temptations, and tarnishing the reputation of devout Muslim women – outweigh the benefits.” Government officials, however, have confirmed the landmark decision and plan to issue a decree by the end of the year.
Other asinine laws making it harder for women to start their own businesses or to own certain assets will also be overturned.”
Let’s hope this goes over without a hitch.
Posting from Whistler so I’ll keep it brief:
As I’ve argued before, WiMAX is going to see the most success in emerging markets, and areas in which wired broadband doesn’t see big penetration (i.e. outside of cities). In those situations, WiMAX’s property of having 1/10th the network build cost gives it a big advantage.
This is no secret to DigitalBridge Communications, whose WiMAX network in Rexburg, Idaho is already producing cash-flow-positive results according to CEO Kelley Dunne. In an interview with GigaOM’s Paul Kapustka, DigitalBridge’s CEO describes their strategy of building around Clearwire and Sprint, aiming at underserved markets with 150,000 residents or less. This means little to no competition in both wired and wireless broadband services, as 3G data networks still haven’t done the buildout to small towns.
This strategy is blatantly superior to that of Clearwire’s, who is swinging for the fences by taking on hundreds of millions in debt and has yet to see profit. Investors seem to agree with DigitalBridge – they’re just raised a B series round of funding of $20 million to fund its buildout to 15 more small towns.
In defense of Clearwire, their coverage map shows that they’re also taking a shot at second-tier cities, with places like Roseburg and Medford, Oregon.
Clearwire, XOHM, DigitalBridge: game on.
Hopefully, Amazon can strike down ridiculous laws like this one and allow the free market to deliver to the people what they demand.
Courtesy of Ars Technica:
A French appeals court in Versailles ruled that Amazon.com was violating the country’s 1981 Lang law with its free shipping offer. That law forbids booksellers from offering discounts of more than 5 percent off the list price, and Amazon was found to be exceeding that discount when the free shipping was factored in.
The company was told to discontinue the offer within ten days or pay a daily fine of €1,000, and an additional €100,000 to the French Booksellers’ Union for the court battle and for the losses it had apparently caused them. With the ten-day grace period over, Amazon has officially announced its plan to ignore the court order and pay the fine instead.
Amazon can do so for 30 days (€30,000), but after that time the court will review the fine. They could raise it, or they could lower it, but given that Amazon has chosen to flip the justices the bird, guess which outcome is more likely? At some point, if Amazon doesn’t change its ways, the fine will probably be jacked up so high that the company has no choice but to comply.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, has taken to the virtual airwaves to rally the French public in support of Amazon’s free shipping. He sent out a recent e-mail to French customers in which he claimed that “France would be the only country in the world where the free delivery practiced by Amazon would be declared illegal.” He then asked people to sign an online petition that has so far garnered more than 120,000 signatures.
It’s a bold and potentially antagonistic move for an American company to make, but Amazon is serious about its free shipping. Judging from the response to Bezos’ e-mail so far, so are Amazon’s customers.
This car is simply beautiful.
It’s got classic new-CTS flavor, attitude, and even some G35 Coupe proportions at the rear quarter panel.
Also, they’re going to be rolling out a 550-hp CTS-V Coupe, which is going to blow the doors off just about everything on the road.
Kudos to Cadillac for building cars that people will buy. Other manufacturers ought to learn something from this.
Restaurants charging inflated prices for wine could be doing their customers a favor: a study has found that people who pay more for a product enjoy it more.
Researchers discovered that people given two identical red wines to drink said they got much more pleasure from the one they were told costs more. Brain scans confirmed that their pleasure centers were activated far more by the higher-priced wine.
Zacks, a respected equity research house and fund manager with a stellar track record for performance, recommended on December 28th buying Chipotle Mexican Grill shares, which have since fallen more than 26% value in only 7 trading days.
Here’s their admittedly short recommendation:
“Aggressive Growth – Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (NYSE: CMG) Chipotle Mexican Grill is serving up spicy earnings. Its latest quarter registered 75% earnings growth as more customers visited its burrito restaurants. Same-store sales grew at an awesome 12.5% rate during the quarter. This year’s earnings estimates have increased 13 cents to $2.15 per share over the past 60 days. Analysts expect over 27% growth next year in earnings.”
Now, because this only covers two weeks’ as a sample, it’s not entirely representative of Zacks and their overall record. However, this buy call on CMG shows the downfall of buying what Zacks calls”Aggressive Growth”. Being valued into the stratosphere and approaching the sun, it’s easy for the wax holding your wings together to melt.
Let’s learn more about the Zacks Rank:
“Since 1988, the Zacks Rank has proven that “Earnings estimate revisions are the most powerful force impacting stock prices.” Since inception in 1988, #1 Rank stocks have generated an average annual return of +32.2%. During the 2000-2002 bear market, Zacks #1 Rank stocks gained +43.8%, while the S&P 500 tumbled -37.6%. Also note that the Zacks Rank system has just as many Strong Sell recommendations (Rank #5) as Strong Buy recommendations (Rank #1). Since 1988, Zacks Rank #5 stocks have underperformed the S&P 500 by 129% annually (+5.3% vs. +12.1%). Thus, the Zacks Rank system allows investors to truly manage portfolio trading effectively.”
Sounds impressive. Let’s see how they got their numbers:
“The performance of the Zacks Rank portfolios shown above for annual and year-to-date periods [...] assume monthly rebalancing and zero transaction costs. These are not the returns of actual portfolios.”
Wow. Zero transation costs. How genius! Zacks’ modeling of real portfolios is just SO accurate, because everybody knows that trading stocks is free! Wait-
So Zacks assumes monthly rebalancing to come up with these theoretical returns. Monthly rebalancing is great as a risk management tool. It scoops up your gains monthly, limiting downside exposure to high-flying growth stocks, and scoops up more value by doubling-down on positions that have lost money. However, this increases your turnover and your transaction costs, which are-SURPRISE!-not even taken into consideration by Zacks.
They’d have more credibility if they modeled their portfolio’s historical/theoretical return with conservative average transaction costs for each period. Obviously, transaction costs have gone down since 1988, but they’d make a very big difference on the final results, especially when adjusting for the compounding of the transaction costs on performance.
I wish everyone were that straightforward, but it appears Zacks is more interested in getting attention and generating buzz than being honest about their theoretical historical returns.
I sure do love when I see stocks dropping into the red; for me, that irrational selling only represents more opportunity for me to scoop off the table. I believe equity markets have bottomed, and that a perfect storm for equities has formed.
Why are equities poised to outperform their historical returns in 2008? First, we’re lucky enough to come into the new year amid a huge selloff. On January 4th, 2008, the S&P 500 was already down 3.86%, its 2nd worst start ever. Pundits fear recession, economists point to sour jobs reports, and the non-treasury debt market’s gridlock has derailed private-equity financings and corporate debt issues alike.
Risk-averse investors have fled equities and just about everything else for the safety of treasuries. When the desperate hordes mob the 30-year and concurrently bring down its yield, they form the basis of a Slingshot Effect: at some point, those who flocked to treasuries will inevitably chase higher returns in a mass exodus to underpriced equities, slingshotting equity prices higher along with treasury yields.
When equities show signs of health, vanilla bonds (and later exotics) will start trading again, then finally at some point, banks will be able to hawk debt for private equity deals again.
These financial crises are always temporary.
Will you be prepared when the Slingshot Sheriff comes to town?
Note: My prediction that we’d reached the bottom of the price slide was well timed; the next day after my note was published, the indices were in positive territory for most of the day, when they collapsed and ended up closing down 2.36% (Nasdaq) and 1.84% (S&P 500). It just shows how notoriously difficult it is to call a top or a bottom, and how difficult it is to predict the future in general. Noted.
Here are some of the sweetest things intro’d today at CES:
Sandisk 12GB MicroSDHC card, instantly turns your MicroSD-slotted mobile phone into 1.5 iPhones, in storage at least.
Motorola gives us the scoop on two phones (widely expected, but nevertheless cool devices). The Z10 banana-slider, the first of its form-factor, was made famous recently when used in the highest-altitude call made on Earth, atop Everest.
Nothing of importance really from Nokia or Sony Ericsson, but Panasonic made up for them by intro-ing a 150″ plasma. Hotness.
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