Monday, May 20, 2019

May 20th Links

  • Now with the UBER IPO, the Ponzi Sector may finally be peaking. On Friday, May 9, we saw conclusive proof that there simply isn't enough dumb money left to fund endless operating losses, while simultaneously absorbing all the VC shares that are desperately seeking exits before their various Ponzi Schemes detonate. Remember, a Ponzi Scheme dies when more money goes out than comes in. This is especially true of schemes that rely on greater fool theories where most purchasers feel that they are "in on the scheme," and will sell out to someone stupider than them in the future. When it becomes obvious that there are no more "bag-holders," look out below. [AiC]
  • Nate Silver correctly predicted one presidential election where the losing candidate took a dive and another where the losing candidate correctly predicted that he would lose because there was a winning majority already on the payroll of the incumbent. [CBS]
  • He notices simple things that some might call innuendo, but any gay man will instantly recognize, like the fabulous interiors of the gay cardinals' palaces, always with their "assistants" or young "relative" on hand. Or he simply describes Burke's appearance: "The 70-year-old cardinal [is] sitting on an asparagus-green throne twice as large as he is, surrounded by silvery drapery. He wears a fluorescent yellow mitre in the shape of a tall Tower of Pisa, and long turquoise gloves that look like iron hands; his mozzetta is cabbage-green, embroidered with yellow, lined with a leek-green hood revealing a bow of crimson and pomegranate lace." [NY Mag]
  • Below is a compare and contrast photo to help illustrate what I mean by nice homes being replaced by extravagant ones. It's difficult to explain the size and length of this home under construction. To get a better understanding, I included an average sized beach house in the picture (to the right). I've labeled these monster residences "Quantitative Easing Beach Homes," as many were built after the Federal Reserve implemented its asset purchase programs and expanded its balance sheet. While I need to do further research, I suspect the average size of a new beach house has grown commensurately with the Federal Reserve's balance sheet. [Cinnamond]
  • PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that the hearing to consider approval of the Disclosure Statement for Joint Chapter 11 Plan of Sears Holdings Corporation and Its Affiliated Debtors scheduled for May 16, 2019 at 10:00 a.m. has been rescheduled to May 29, 2019 at 1:30 p.m.. The Disclosure Statement Hearing will be held before the Honorable Robert D. Drain, United States Bankruptcy Judge, at the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, Courtroom 118, 300 Quarropas Street, White Plains, New York, 10601-4140. [Prime Clerk]
  • Oklahoma City was born in an event called, with extreme dramatic understatement, the Land Run. The Land Run should be called something like "Chaos Explosion Apocalypse Town" or "Reckoning of the DoomSettlers: Clusterfuck on the Prairie." It should be one of the major events in American history — dramatizations of it should be projected onto IMAX screens with 3-D explosions, in endless loops, forever. Because the Land Run was, even by the standards of America, absurd. It was a very bad idea, executed very badly. It would be hard to think of a worse way to start a city. Harper's Weekly, which had a reporter on the ground, called it "one of the most bizarre and chaotic episodes of town founding in world history." [NY Mag]
  • The Art Institute's famous western entrance on Michigan Avenue is guarded by two bronze lionstatues created by Edward Kemeys. The lions were unveiled on May 10, 1894, each weighing more than two tons. The sculptor gave them unofficial names: the south lion is "stands in an attitude of defiance," and the north lion is "on the prowl." When a Chicago sports team plays in the championships of their respective league (i.e. the Super Bowl or Stanley Cup Finals, not the entire playoffs), the lions are frequently dressed in that team's uniform. Evergreen wreaths are placed around their necks during the Christmas season. [Wiki]
  • I was shocked at how over-hyped this museum was in relation to the awful curating and presentation of what is without a question a world class collection of impressionist masters, along with other genres. Famous works of art stacked on top of each other, some hung above doorways near the ceiling of small badly lit rooms so that it was impossible to even see, much less appreciate those works. As other reviewers have observed, there are many rules that the staff take a special delight in enforcing like Nazi guards. My friend was not allowed to bring her small handbag, though while waiting for the elevator, we saw one women with a handbag large engough to carry her laundry. The walls are covered with a hideous burlap material, with many paintings missing and in their place are left ugly nails and other items. There is no space in between paintings so that the visual experience is cluttered. [Trip Advisor]
  • American gave all its boarding groups numbers, even the premium ones, and "Group 1" became "Group 5." Citibank had to send an email to American co-brand cardholders telling them they'd now be boarding in "Group 5," but that this wasn't a demotion because they'd really been in the fifth group all along. Actually, "Group 5" is the sixth group — American still allows its most elite Concierge Key fliers to board before "Group 1," as a sort of Group 0 — but who's counting? (Just kidding: These people are definitely counting.) [NY Mag]
  • High in the Andes, La Rinconada has an alpine / tundra climate, with no month having average temperatures even close to the 10°C threshold that would permit tree growth and a subtropical highland classification for the city. Far above the tree line, La Rinconada is unique in its high elevation and population, with the highest city of comparable population (Cerro de Pasco) being over 700 m (2,300 ft; 0.43 mi) closer to sea level. Owing to the extreme elevation of the town, climatic conditions more closely resemble that of the west coast of Greenland than somewhere only 14° from the equator. The town has rainy summers and dry winters with a large diurnal variation seeing cool to cold days and freezing night time temperatures throughout the year, with common snowfalls. [Wiki]
  • The couple spent hours soaking in natural hot springs in Oregon's Owyhee Canyonlands and swimming in the Burgdorf Hot Springs in central Idaho. In Washington, Kathy said, the Goldmyer Hot Springs, near Snoqualmie Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail, were magical. "You actually step into a narrow cave in the top pool," she says. "You feel like you're in a womb." They lodged with hunters near the Wilderness Gateway Campground in Idaho, staying in cozy canvas tents with wood stoves. A detour took them on a 55-mile walk along an abandoned railroad. [Outside]
  • The third-generation edition of the Buick Roadmaster line, made from 1994 to 1996, is especially coveted. That one packs the same 5.7-liter LT1 V8 engine that GM also put into its Corvette. At 260 horsepower and with a top speed limited to 108 miles per hour, the wagon's engine had been detuned to produce less power than the 300-horsepower Corvette, but that didn't hamper enthusiasm for it then nor has it now. [Bloomberg]
  • I'm not debating the political merits of Cash for Clunkers. I was just saying that these qualified for the program right about the same time as 1) they hit the bottom of the depreciation curve and 2) a lot of people needed money. Thus, many otherwise good vehicles were scrapped, making them more scarce now than they would have been. [Bring a Trailer]

Friday, May 17, 2019

Modern Art is a Giant Tax Scam

Our correspondent from Louisiana:

Maybe you saw this news story and thought, "what idiots," to pay $91 million for a balloon animal any clown could make. Actually, the joke's on you, the American taxpayer.

The entire modern art industry, except for the rubes who get conned into thinking it's real art, is a giant tax scam. Being from Louisiana, I have a superpower in that when I see things involving large amounts of money that make no sense, I know someone's running a scam (people from other states, except NY/NJ, very gullible and trusting in my observations). I figured this out years ago reading about aggressive tax strategies, but this one felt too dishonest to pursue. Here's how it works:

To run a great tax scam, you need something that is cheap to produce, has no inherent value, but can plausibly be marked up to ungodly prices for no reason whatsoever. Modern art checks all those boxes. It's legal monopoly money.

Step One: Find a chain smoking degenerate who thinks he or she is an "artist." Whatever random trash they've put together as their art doesn't matter. The main thing is that the artist will play ball, and is charismatic and can convince others that he or she is a genius through clever and elaborate verbal descriptions of their art. You need a number of true believers as your useful idiots to keep the scam going.

Step Two: You and your friends in on the scheme buy up most of the artist's work directly from the artist. Because you're on the board at a museum, preferably one in NY, you pull strings to get your artist featured with an exhibition. Maybe you use your influence on the board to have the museum buy a few pieces at a significant markup to your cost. Now, boom, by social proof, random starving artist is now a BIG DEAL.

Step Three: You send a piece or two from your collection to auction. Your buddies bid it up and let's say they sell for $1 million each. You probably don't directly reimburse your buddies for their sham purchase - that would be my first thought if I were running this, but Louisiana people get in trouble because they're too honest when pursuing a scheme - there's just an "understanding" among collectors that you help each other paint the tape at auction.

Step Four: You say you have 10 pieces in your collection from this newly minted million-dollar artist. You only paid $5,000 each for them (cost basis $50,000), but through the beauty of the tax law that doesn't matter. They are now worth $1 million each, and even better, you can get an appraisal that they're worth $1 million each - because a similar piece just sold for the same amount thanks to your friends! With your appraisal in hand, you now own art worth $10 million. Amazingly, the law allows you to write this off at the appraised value, not the cost basis. Friends of yours in some flyover modern art museum influence their board to accept all 10 pieces as a donation. The rubes at this museum are very impressed with their new collection of work from the hot new artist in NYC. High school students with marginal talent come see the exhibit and seeing the art requires no technical skill, convince themselves they could become an artist too. The cycle begins anew.

Do the math: if you're from New York, you have an effective marginal tax rate of 55%. A $10 million tax deduction is worth $5.5 million to you, all on an investment of $50,000, 100x return. You can write off up to 30% of your income each and every year this way under the tax law.

Modern art is unique in that no other asset class allows something nearly worthless to arbitrarily become worth millions in a thinly traded market. A lot of the social pressure to accept this stuff as art is about keeping the scam going.
Previously on CBS, The $12 Million Stuffed Shark. Now that you've read this post, no reason to read the book.

Monday, May 13, 2019

May 13th Links

  • One shareholder asked if Steak n Shake would introduce "vegan hamburgers." Another questioner asked for applause for the company's management, a request which was greeted with awkward silence. One shareholder was displaying a copy of John Carreyrou's Theranos book "Bad Blood" and was asking if people thought Biglari Holdings' board was like Theranos' board and if Sardar Biglari was like Elizabeth Holmes (and another shareholder then referenced this in a question). My perception of Sardar Biglari's attitude towards Biglari Holdings shareholders reminded me of John Updike's great line about Ted Williams refusing to respond with a hat-tip to the pleading ovation of Red Sox fans after Williams' home run in the last at-bat of his career: "Gods don't answer letters." [Seeking Alpha]
  • You attain the Tao by avoiding all grains. You will never again have to follow the rhythm of the moon and plant or harvest. Now, the people of mysterious antiquity, they reached old age because they remained in leisure and never ate any grains. As the Dayou zhang (Verse of Great Existence) says: "The five grains are chisels cutting life away, making the five organs stink and shorten our spans. Once entered into our stomach, there's no more chance to live quite long." [Wiki]
  • In the San Fernando Valley, for instance, you can tell the neighborhoods where the ex-Soviet Armenian newcomers are pushing out the old Chicanos because the Armenians disdain the Mexicans' glass shards and instead invest in elaborate iron fences with lethal finials to impale intruders. [Sailer]
  • They are firm believers in walls and fences! It was controversial when some razor wire was rolled out on the US border, but I have never seen so much razor wire as down there in my life. Houses and apartment buildings in the best neighborhoods will have 10 foot tall fences topped with spikes and the spikes will be crowned with razor wire. Sometimes above the razor wire there are four or five strands of electric fencing too. Schools and government buildings are fortified with fences like this, and sometimes sandbags in front, the way military bases in Afghanistan and Iraq are set up. Everywhere the buildings present a totally armored face to the street. [CBS]
  • "Grand Canyon is remarkable not for its bigness but for its smallness. The Grand Wash trough just below the GC is much bigger in terms of sheer volume removed by erosion, but it is nowhere near as impressive to look at because it's too big. And for real size, consider what the Mississippi River has done. It has eroded a volume of material that would fill the GC many times over. Yet no one stands in Denver and looks out to the east thinking what an amazing erosional feat has been performed between the Rockies and the Appalachians. [...] Canyons, as opposed to valleys or larger landforms, are created by a tension between erosion and the lack of erosion. They are features of arid regions, where a river or stream works at the bottom, but there isn't enough erosion to widen the sides. This is best illustrated by slot canyons, where walls actually overhang and in places block one's view of the sky." [CBS]
  • You might also be wondering which non-alien phenomena might be accounting for these strange observations. Wouldn’t it be interesting, for instance, if a foreign power were tracking our military missions with a new secret weapon? Or if the eyewitness reports of our service members were so unreliable and in such systematic ways? [Cowen]
  • People hate paying for shipping. They despise it. It may sound banal, even self-evident, but understanding that was, I'm convinced, so critical to much of how we unlocked growth at Amazon over the years. People don't just hate paying for shipping, they hate it to literally an irrational degree. We know this because our first attempt to address this was to show, in the shopping cart and checkout process, that even after paying shipping, customers were saving money over driving to their local bookstore to buy a book because, at the time, most Amazon customers did not have to pay sales tax. That wasn't even factoring in the cost of getting to the store, the depreciation costs on the car, and the value of their time. People didn't care about this rational math. People, in general, are terrible at valuing their time, perhaps because for most people monetary compensation for one's time is so detached from the event of spending one's time. [Less Wrong]
  • It sure looks like the Industrial Revolution was a big deal. But Paul Christiano argues your eyes may be deceiving you. That graph is a hyperbola, ie corresponds to a single simple equation. There is no break in the pattern at any point. If you transformed it to a log doubling time graph, you'd just get the graph above that looks like a straight line until 1960. On this view, the Industiral Revolution didn't change historical GDP trends. It just shifted the world from a Malthusian regime where economic growth increased the population to a modern regime where economic growth increased per capita income. For the entire history of the world until 1000, GDP per capita was the same for everyone everywhere during all historical eras. An Israelite shepherd would have had about as much stuff as a Roman farmer or a medieval serf. [SSC]
  • My memories of Zaragoza, Spain, remain very strong. It's the 5th largest city in Spain (650K people according to Wikipedia) but so compact you can easily walk from the city centre to the edge of town. And when you reach the edge of town it just stops. Literally one side of the road is seven storey apartment buildings and the other side is just countryside. Who needs suburbia when you can have that? [Marginal Revolution]
  • Caro himself says he was influenced by the 'small is beautiful' movement in city planning when he wrote the book, and upon later reflection was a bit unfair to Moses. [Marginal Revolution]
  • Robert Caro's biography of Moses, The Power Broker, gives only passing mention to this event, despite Jacobs's strong influence on Caro. In 2017, Caro told an interviewer about the difficulty in cutting more than 300,000 words from his initial manuscript: "The section that I wrote on Jane Jacobs disappeared. To this day, when someone says: "There's hardly a mention of Jane Jacobs," I think, "but I wrote a lot about her." Every time I'm asked about that, I have this sick feeling." [Wiki]
  • We look at an international universe of stocks beginning with the first month of 1990 until December 2011; we compute the volatility of total return for each company in each country over the previous 24 months. Stocks in each country are ranked by volatility and formed into deciles. In the total universe and in each individual country low risk stocks outperform, the relationship with respect to Sharpe ratios is even more impressive. We believe this anomaly is caused primarily by agency issues, namely the compensation structures and internal stock selection processes at asset management firms which lead institutional investors on average to hold more volatile stocks. The article also addresses the implications for how corporate finance managers make capital investment decision in light of this evidence. The evidence presented here dethrones both CAPM and the Efficient Market Hypothesis. [SSRN]
  • I've been fascinated recently by the longevity of men with high-status, intellectually stimulating jobs. Charles Munger (still doing Q&A in public at 91), Judge Robert Patterson (who died last week, at 91). I'm sure it didn't hurt Armen Alchian that he lived in LA and had a flexible schedule for golfing. [CBS]
  • BIG's proposal for protecting New York is really a proposal to protect the most valuable real estate in lower Manhattan. The rest of the city that's vulnerable to floods is evidently out of luck. That includes half of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, the Bronx, and big chunks of New Jersey. If the Dry Line actually gets built does the entire region chip in to pay to save the wealthiest inhabitants of the city? Does the city create a special parcel tax for just the properties served by the Dry Line? Or does the city build the cappuccino versions in some places and plain concrete walls and sand bags in others? Anyone want to guess how things turn out in the South Bronx? [Granola Shotgun]
  • DJT’s fortune has always been highly leveraged long commercial real estate, like a stubborn ass. Characters in the biz like Sam Zell repeatedly got in and out of the same trades over the relevant time period to better profit. [Phil G]
  • Testosterone treatment was initiated in 398 men during routine clinical care. The mortality in testosterone-treated men was 10.3% compared with 20.7% in untreated men with a mortality rate of 3.4 deaths per 100 person-years for testosterone-treated men and 5.7 deaths per 100 person-years in men not treated with testosterone. After multivariable adjustment including age, body mass index, testosterone level, medical morbidity, diabetes, and coronary heart disease, testosterone treatment was associated with decreased risk of death (hazard ratio 0.61; 95% confidence interval 0.42–0.88; P = 0.008). [JCEM]
  • Although several population studies have reported an association of increased mortality with low testosterone, the effect of TRT has not been studied. When we reviewed those patients who received TRT for 1 year or longer, we found a beneficial effect improving survival in men with hypogonadism. The data showed that the survival curve followed a similar course to that of the normal testosterone group, whereas the untreated group had a worse prognosis. It is important to note that all patients treated with testosterone had careful adjustment of testosterone to achieve levels within the mid to upper normal range for healthy men. This is the first time any study on men with type 2 diabetes has shown that TRT may improve long-term survival outcome. [EJE]

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Ciudad de México

The food is good, and cheap. This is one of the only reasons a person would visit Mexico City. There are many different Mexican regional cuisines that are worth knowing, and they are all available here since like any capital city it draws people from the provinces. CDMX is close to both coasts and gets good seafood. There's a notable international food scene: Italian, Japanese, Israeli for example. The famous restaurant Pujol is a ridiculous $175pp for the taco tasting menu and it’s hard to even get in. It's located by the foreign embassies and Fortune 500 offices in Pulanco so it must be expense account dining. Saw Contramar mentioned in Bon Appétit magazine, the food is good and service is excellent. It was full of rich locals, not so many tourists as other places. A meal (or something like a latte) costs about half of what it would in U.S. Note that the massive Mexican diaspora in the southwest has fully recreated its cuisines so you can eat about as well in the Hispanic parts of Los Angeles or Phoenix.

Great climate. People aren't aware of the vastly superior climates of high altitude Latin American cities. The record high in CDMX is 93 degrees. The afternoon is hot but mornings and evenings are cool. There's no air conditioning in older buildings - people leave their windows open. The air is still pretty smoggy. You can just barely make out the 4000 meter (13,000 foot) peaks that are 10-15 miles away. Back when the air was worse, it must have been unbreathable.

Off the radar. Don’t see many tourists. Not like going to Barcelona or Iceland. There may just not be enough here for the city to make it as a major tourist destination. This despite the proximity, closer than people realize. Seattle is closer to Mexico City than New York City. Is Mexico City in some sense the emerging capital of the American West? (Note that Hispanics in Florida, the NYC metro, and Chicago are not Mexican - only the West has Mexican Hispanics.) Mexico City shows a possible future, or at least tendencies and trends, for some parts of the U.S.

As far as I could tell, there is not one good bookstore in the best neighborhoods of the metro area of 20 million. (The biggest in the western hemisphere.) At the few mediocre bookstores, the books are shrinkwrapped so that you can't page through them. The quality of retail merchandise in general was low, like a former Communist country. No wonder rich Mexicans come to the U.S. for all of their big shopping runs.

Noisy. In Muslim lands they have the call to prayer; in Mexico they have the call to tamales. There are trucks that drive around looking for metal to recycle, and they blast a recording of a child listing names of metal appliances. Trash pickup is done in a peculiar way: the trash truck parks on your street, one of the trash men walks around ringing a handbell, and you (or probably your doorman) brings out trash and the trash men sort it.

Very shabby: buildings are dirty and decaying, and everything looks gritty. Building foundations are crumbling. Sidewalks buckle and heave unbelievably - don't try walking if you have poor vision or are elderly. (You don't see any old people out in public though.) The road infrastructure is very dated. It seemed like they might be consuming capital - not keeping up with deferred maintenance. They would probably reset to an even lower standard of living without oil or without remittances. Sailer's theory is that the shabbiness is an anti-gentrification measure, keeping gringos out by making them uncomfortable. However, they are actually eager to have tourism and trade. They are very friendly to visitors. I think this level of development and maintenance is just what they are able to maintain with their human capital. The neighborhood of La Condesa has impressive Art Deco apartment buildings (from the 1930s) in admirable quantity. There are neighborhoods in Nashville and Seattle that have more cranes than the entire CDMX city center.

Cheap labor. Businesses are much more heavily staffed. Hard to believe the number of people working at small cafes and restaurants, or at department stores. Street vending is ubiquitous. Sidewalks and park boulevards are lined with people in tents selling things like snacks and newspapers, or street food. Far more of them than you would think the market could sustain. People walking into traffic jams trying to sell snacks or cigarettes. Organ grinders looking for donations. People playing music outside restaurants looking for donations. Overall there is just a glut of Mexicans - and that's after having sent so many people north via the population safety valve.

They are firm believers in walls and fences! It was controversial when some razor wire was rolled out on the US border, but I have never seen so much razor wire as down there in my life. Houses and apartment buildings in the best neighborhoods will have 10 foot tall fences topped with spikes and the spikes will be crowned with razor wire. Sometimes above the razor wire there are four or five strands of electric fencing too. Schools and government buildings are fortified with fences like this, and sometimes sandbags in front, the way military bases in Afghanistan and Iraq are set up. Everywhere the buildings present a totally armored face to the street.

At the same time that private spaces are so unwelcoming, the parks are very pleasant. In nice neighborhoods, streets are lined with tall trees and the understories in the parks are planted with trees and flowers. The jacaranda is popular, and colors like the color of the jacaranda flower are popular colors for buildings. 

Whatever is causing the abundance of passive security measures also leads to active ones: heavily armed guards. Office Depot and Radio Shack had guards with 12 gauge shotguns. A department store along the lines of Macy’s had armed police at every entrance, the parking entrance, and the loading dock. One was carrying a submachine gun. Watching a cash pickup from a small business, the armored car had three carriers who all went into the store. When returning, one of them walked point with a 12 gauge shotgun.

Monday, April 29, 2019

April 29th Links

  • We're talking about a spectacular amount of carbon. Biochemist Nick Lane guesses that the rate of coal formation back then was 600 times the normal rate. Ward and Kirschvink say that 90 percent—yup, 90 percent!—of the coal we burn today (and the coal dust we see flying about Beijing and New Delhi) comes from that single geological period, the Carboniferous period. [National Geographic]
  • It has always fascinated me that no matter what book you read, movie you watch, game you play, etc. there are several million people who were affected by it in precisely the opposite way as you. If you hated it, many people loved it. If you loved it, many hated it. This is one of the worst books I've ever read. The characters were unbelievable, their actions unrealistic. The writing was tedious and almost wholly lacking in excitement (not to mention paragraphs). It goes on, and on, and on, probably since Russian writers of this period like Dostoevsky were actually paid by the page, which of course would encourage you to write as much as you could, regardless of quality. I read it on the strength of recommendations from people who loved it, and I stuck it out until the very end hoping that there might be something on the last page that redeemed it. There was not - when I finished this book I threw it across the room. [Goodreads]
  • Negative EBITDA. That's right, Tesla produced negative EBITDA in the first quarter. Forget about free cash flow and EPS, the company's $57 million in negative EBITDA (a good proxy for cash flow from operations) makes me wonder if this entity is even -- to use Elon Musk's favorite word -- sustainable. Tesla's loss on the EPS line puts to rest any hope that the company will be added to the S&P 500 this year (four quarters of consecutive profitability is one of S&P's criteria for inclusion), but the bigger issue here is Tesla's loss-making. I would venture to guess that none of the 505 companies that actually are in the S&P 500 produced negative EBITDA for the first quarter of 2019. Also, I don't believe there are any other car makers in the world that produced negative EBITDA In the first quarter, certainly none of the top 20 players did. [The Street]
  • Scotty Veenis, one of the coaches, had offered to get me onto the course during inspection. He felt that it was important for a civilian to see the Streif up close. Another coach said, "Show him a picture of the last guy you took down." On his phone, Veenis called up a photograph of a middle-aged man, in a helmet, with his face covered in blood. It was the father-in-law of Ted Ligety, the American giant-slalom star, whom Veenis had brought along on the inspection of the downhill in Bormio, an icy track in Italy, the month before. On a shadowy pitch, the father-in-law lost an edge and rag-dolled a hundred yards down into the fencing. "Your edges better be sharp," McBride said. "It's the real deal." It occurred to me that a headlong slide into the netting would be less than ideal for a fifty-year-old flatlander with a long list of wonky ligaments and disks, and a recent spate of concussions. [New Yorker]
  • When you see a mezcal for under $30, it is rarely good (though there are exceptions). Comments like that usually draw out some criticism that I am being elitist or worse, but it is simply a reality. It is VERY EXPENSIVE to produce a good, artisanal mezcal. Just a fact. [link]
  • There are sounds in the city that vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. The city's trash collection is remnant of the past and completely inefficient. Trucks saunter down neighborhood streets in the middle of the afternoon heralded by this noise and residents are expected to be home that very minute to take out their trash to the street and hand it to them. They then sit for about 15 minutes to sort and organize the area's trash into sellable and non-sellable piles. It's a mess and ridiculously inconvenient, even for people who work from home, but the trash guys always have big smiles on their faces and have become like yet another set of neighbors for me. [link]
  • Cindy and I visited the Frank Lloyd Wright workshop/school Taliesen West (in Scottsdale) over the Christmas holiday. Our nephew, Los Angeles architect James Diewald, was in town, as were Cindy's parents. I had heard that Wright was influenced by ancient Maya architecture, so we looked for evidence of this at Taliesen West. It didn't take long to find. Several of the buildings exhibit a sloping exterior wall in a form common in the architecture of ancient Mesoamerica. The outward-sloping panel is called a "talud" by Mesoamericanists. It is most famous at Teotihuacan, where the sloping panels alternate with vertical framed panels called "tableros." But Wright used the talud without the tablero. [link]
  • The first Americans had to be more savage than the Indians to overcome them, but then civilization settled in, so that by 1783, Benjamin Franklin could already quote an Indian elder complaining, "Several of our young People were formerly brought up at the Colleges of the Northern Provinces; they were instructed in all your Sciences; but when they came back to us they were bad Runners ignorant of every means of living in the Woods, unable to bear either Cold or Hunger, knew neither how to build a Cabin, take a Deer or kill an Enemy, spoke our Language imperfectly, were therefore neither fit for Hunters Warriors, or Counsellors, they were totally good for nothing." [link]
  • Republicans should figure out ways to pose questions to Democrats in public and stimulate extremist contagion: Do you support allowing non-citizens voting rights? Do you believe all abortions should be paid for by taxpayers? Do you believe that border walls should be torn down? Do you think it would be okay for presidents to unilaterally institute bans on fossil fuels to save the earth if Republicans had "refused to act"? Let's have a conversation! [link]
  • There has never been a simple definition of Texas barbecue. Cooking methods, wood types, and seasonings vary across the state. And now things are getting even more complex. Motivated by the competitive barbecue scene and inspired by the foods they eat out or at home, pitmasters are enlivening their menus with ingredients and cooking styles from all over the world. New spots in the Austin area are serving brisket banh mi, barbecue gumbo, and kimchi instead of pickles. A single joint in Houston does all those and more. Even in Waco you can find a bowl of brisket ramen. Moroccan-style carrots and Armenian coffee share the stage with Tex-Mex touches like pico de gallo sausage, barbacoa, and elotes. But don't worry. The chopped-beef sandwich isn't going anywhere. [Texas Monthly]
  • Ever notice that the degree of gaudy ostentation of the rich is directly proportional to the pauperism and breadth of the underclasses within their societies? It seems you don't see this sort of thing in predominantly middle-class societies where the upward strivers are always threatening to crash the ranks of the upper classes. [Unz]
  • Apart from the obvious problems of traffic and transportation, the growth created other confusing complications. Today, out of the city's eighty-five thousand streets, there are about eight hundred fifty called Juárez, seven hundred fifty named Hidalgo, and seven hundred known as Morelos. Two hundred are called 16 de Septiembre, while a hundred more are called 16 de Septiembre Avenue, Alley, Mews, or Extension. Nine separate neighborhoods are called La Palma, four are called Las Palmas, and there are numerous mutations: La Palmita, Las Palmitas, Palmas Inn, La Palmas Condominio, Palmas Avenida, La Palma I y Palma I-II Unidad Habitacional. [Marginal Revolution]
  • Look for time-specific food. In San Miguel for instance, there is barbacoa [barbecue] from 8-10 a.m., carnitas from about 11-4, and wonderful chorizo after 8 p.m. In Mexico, if the food is available only part of the day, it's almost always good. It's for locals and there is no storage in these places so it's also extremely fresh. Often the best meals are served in places which have no names. In San Miguel the "brothers Bautista" run the best carnitas stands, but there is no sign and no marking. The stands are simply there on the side of the road, with some plastic tables and chairs, at a few places around town. Everyone in town knows about them. Ask around with taxi drivers and be persistent. Ask the older taxi drivers. Throw away your guidebook, no matter which one you have. Use breakfast and lunch for your best meals; dinner is an afterthought. Almost everywhere good is closed by 8 p.m. or often long before then. Always visit a place that closes by 1 p.m. [Marginal Revolution]
  • I've seen some growing evidence of this here in Dallas. Maybe I'm just noticing it more recently, but I've been seeing a fair number of young, well-dressed early twenty-somethings from Mexico that stand out. They're more blonde/blue-eyed and speak Spanish a little differently - different accent/pronunciation/vocabulary or something. They often drive pretty decent (to outright fancy) cars with Mexican license plates (usually from Neuvo Leon or Cuahuila) and hang out more in the "yuppie" neighborhoods (and definitely not in the traditional Hispanic neighborhoods). Both their choice in clothes and cars seem to be more "European" in style and origin. I most often see them hanging around more upscale shopping centers and cafes, relaxing, shopping, chatting, laughing, smoking, and enjoying a cool drink. They seem to live pretty leisurely lives. I've joined a few groups on occasion when sitting near them at a cafe (I love having an excuse to practice my Spanish), and they strike me as pretty well-educated (often having gone to universities here in Texas), and are often quite witty and funny. They definitely seem to keep to themselves though, not interacting too much with either the gringos or other Hispanics in town - definitely their own tight-knit little group (and maybe a tad snobby). [Marginal Revolution]
  • I thought the anthropology and archaeology museum in Mexico City (I forget the exact name) was amazing, perhaps a top 10 history museum in the entire world. It has all sorts of artifacts from the Aztecs and Mayas, as well as all sorts of native peoples of Mexico that you've never heard of. In the middle of Mexico City is the fortress of Chapultepec, which has at various times served as a presidential palace or the Mexican equivalent of West Point. Its capture by US forces marked the end of the Mexican-American War. Its in the middle of Mexico's equivalent of Central Park, on top of a high, steep hill. You climb the hill to get up there and there's a museum with stuff about Porfirio Diaz, the dictator of Mexico for much of the latter half of the 19th century. As I climbed up it, I thought about what it must have been like for the US forces storming it, which is commemorated in the "halls of Montezuma" lyric in the Marines hymn. Teotihuacan is, as you would say, self-recommending. There is an extensive market in guys with vans who will drive you there for a day quite cheaply. [Marginal Revolution]
  • "I've lived in some crappy places in my life, but I never had to look out my bedroom window at razor wire," noted Orca in the comments last week. Reading this reminded me just how extensively barbed wire and security gates have become the dominant aesthetic of working-class housing in the Valley to the point one hardly notices anymore. Chanteclair is a chichi hotel in Cannes. In Panorama City it is the whimsical nom de domicile affixed to a dingbat apartment surrounded by battlements of black spikes defending neglected shrubbery, metal gates shutting off the courtyard from the street and a baleful troll to ward away non-keyholders. And that's just the front entrance. Head around back to the carports, the usual ingress point after work, and it gets angrier. The carports of Panorama are especially well-defended, and there's a reason for that. Ironically it is the beautifiers of Los Angeles: the gardeners, the maids, the house painters, the granite fabricators, the trowelers of smoothset stucco who live in these buildings. Vehicles double as tool chests, necessitating defenses for every parking space. These apartment blocks went up in the 1960s when the trend in Southern California architecture was to evoke through detail and design choice the mood of an exotic locale, preferably the South Seas. If security considerations have displaced aesthetics this is the clear preference of the residents. Steel spikes metal grills razor wire iron bars makes a man feel he has done right by his family, and his hard-earned $1800 a month well spent. Everyone's safe. I have defended my own. A wanderer in the neighborhood might dismiss all as blight, but beneath the brutalist overlay similarities to buildings one has seen before in West Hollywood and Sherman Oaks abound. The same era, probably same floor plans, perhaps same architectural firm, but different tenants and therefore different upkeep. [Up In the Valley]
  • Policy decisions in Madrid, and in Catalonia, encouraged a boom, and framed it as an economic-survival strategy, especially after the global financial crisis of 2008. City officials successfully sold Barcelona to the international market as an especially fun European destination, with good weather, pretty beaches, lively night life, and just enough in the way of museums and architecture to provide diversion without requiring an onerous cultural itinerary. [New Yorker]

Monday, April 22, 2019

April 22nd Links

  • Thus the multiplication of chiropractors in the Republic gives me a great deal of pleasure. It is agreeable to see so many morons getting slaughtered, and it is equally agreeable to see so many other morons getting rich. The art and mystery of scientific medicine, for a decade or more past, has been closed to all save the sons of wealthy men. It takes a small fortune to go through a Class A medical college, and by the time the graduate is able to make a living for himself he is entering upon middle age, and is commonly so disillusioned that he is unfit for practice. Worse, his fees for looking at tongues and feeling pulses tend to be cruelly high. His predecessors charged fifty cents and threw in the pills; his own charges approach those of divorce lawyers, consulting engineers and the higher hetaerae. Even general practice, in our great Babylons, has become a sort of specialty, with corresponding emolument. But the chiropractor, having no such investment in his training, can afford to work for more humane wages, and so he is getting more and more of the trade. Six weeks after he leaves his job at the filling-station or abandons the steering-wheel of his motor-truck he knows all the anatomy and physiology that he will ever learn in this world. Six weeks more, and he is an adept at all the half-Nelsons and left hooks that constitute the essence of chiropractic therapy. [Mencken]
  • The Polanco district was my favorite, all named after famous authors west of the Parque Lincoln (I feel pretty sure that was named after Abe) and famous philosophers and scientists east of that. To the west: Dickens, Moliere, Ibsen, Tennyson, Oscar Wilde, Julio Verne, Alejandro Dumas and Edgar Allen Poe. To the east: Galileo, Aristoteles, Hegel, Newton, Schiller. [link]
  • The French writer Theophile Gautier called it a 'picture of the corner grocer who has just won the lottery' and it has sometimes been believed that Goya was in some way satirising his subjects. [Wiki]
  • The book is structured around six more or less hostile environments: Cape Foulweather, a headland near the author's Oregon home and the site of Captain Cook's first landfall on the American mainland; Skraeling Island in the high Canadian Arctic; the Galápagos islands; western Kenya's Turkana uplands; Port Arthur in Tasmania; and, finally, the dizzying isolation of the central Transantarctic mountains. [The Guardian]
  • Often referred to as sauces, moles are actually the main act, eclipsing whatever protein or vegetable they're ladled over. One most often hears about "the seven moles of Oaxaca," some denoted by the color their combined ingredients acquire—red, yellow, green or black—though there are actually dozens of varieties. Some, like the yellow or the green—lush with fresh herbs, tomatillos and chiles—can come together quickly with little more than a blender. Others, like the fearsomely complicated Oaxacan black mole (or mole negro), can demand two or more days to make, calling for upward of 30 ingredients (including chocolate). [WSJ]
  • The mansion was built as a summer "cottage" between 1888 and 1892 for Alva and William Kissam Vanderbilt. It was a social landmark that helped spark the transformation of Newport from a relatively relaxed summer colony of wooden houses to the now-legendary resort of opulent stone palaces. The fifty-room mansion required a staff of 36 servants, including butlers, maids, coachmen, and footmen. The mansion cost $11 million (equivalent to $307 million in 2018; $660 million in Gold-dollar equivalence (1890 $20 Double Eagle)) of which $7 million was spent on 500,000 cubic feet (14,000 m³) of marble. [Wiki]
  • Moscow to Beijing via Mongolia: This is arguably the most interesting Trans-Siberian route to take. The weekly Trans-Mongolian train (train 4 eastbound, train 3 westbound) leaves Moscow for Beijing every Tuesday night. The 7,621 km (4,735 mile) journey takes 6 nights. This train crosses Siberia, cuts across Mongolia and the Gobi desert, then enters China. Westbound, it leaves Beijing every Wednesday morning. This train uses Chinese rolling stock and has deluxe 2-berth compartments (with shared shower), 1st class 4-berth compartments & 2nd class 4-berth compartments. Booked through a local Russian agency, journey costs around $805 or £555 one-way in 2nd class 4-berth or $1130 or £780 in 1st class 2-berth. [seat61]
  • Tesla is taking a path which the others are highly familiar with and have rejected. They could be right, but it will be because they took a gamble, not because they know better. At Alphabet, which employs the likes of Geoffrey Hinton and the DeepMind team and many others, who invented the technologies Tesla is using, they are quite aware of what they can do and Waymo has access to those resources. Sometimes the people who invent a technology can get hidebound. It happens. But there's no particular evidence that Tesla has a breakthrough skill here. I drive with Autopilot regularly. I've seen a hundred demos of doing a nice drive on such roads. The path from where Autopilot is now to where it needs to be to run a taxi service is wide. They are 1/10,000th of the way there and mistakenly think they are 99% of the way there. [r/SelfDrivingCars]

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Sears Files Plan of Reorganization

Highlights:

*The Plan contemplates a Wind Down of the remaining assets of the Debtors’ estates—primarily litigation claims—and a distribution to creditors in accordance with the absolute priority rule and certain settlements, as described herein. Specifically, the Plan provides for the approval of the settlement with the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (the “PBGC” and, such settlement, the “PBGC Settlement”).

*On the Effective Date of the Plan, all of the Debtors’ assets will be transferred to the Liquidating Trust (defined below) and the Debtor legal entities will be dissolved. A Liquidating Trustee and board of directors will be appointed to carry out the terms of the Plan. The Plan constitutes a single chapter 11 plan for all of the Debtors and the classifications and treatment of Claims and Interests therein apply to each of the Debtors separately. The Plan does not propose to substantially consolidate the Debtors.

*On the Effective Date, all Existing SHC Equity Interests shall be cancelled. Each such holder thereof shall: neither receive nor retain any property of the Estate or direct interest in property of the Estate of SHC on account of such Existing SHC Equity Interest.

*Disclosure Statement Objection Deadline: May 9, 2019 at 4:00 p.m.
Voting Record Date: May 9, 2019
Disclosure Statement Hearing: May 16, 2019 at 10:00 a.m.
Plan Confirmation Hearing: July 23, 2019 at 10:00 a.m.