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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Markets Shudder. Carry Traders shake? 

The Clarion’s home to no economists, literally. However, we have been reading some disturbing commentary about risky positions held by hedge funds. Positions so large they threaten market stability, not global market stability, hopefully. But they appear to risk at least regional market stability, as in when Russia defaulted in 1998, followed shortly by huge hedge fund Long Term Capital Management nearly collapsing. (Economically, unless your primary method of commerce is barter, this matters to you, trust us.)

The specific issue of concern here at the offices of the Clarion today, is termed the “Carry Trade.” This position bets on the continued low value of the Japanese Yen.

You may not have noticed. You could be forgiven. Yesterday, the Dow Jones Industrials and the S&P 500 lost their respective year-to-date gains. Losses in these American markets were their greatest since the first day of trading upon re-opening after the September 11th, 2001 attacks. While Asian stockmarkets also declined between 4% and10%, you might have missed that the Japanese currency, the Yen, actually gained 2.3% during this surge of volatility.

This is bad if you been making the “Carry Trade.” The “Carry Trade” works like thus: borrow the Japanese Yen at very low interest rates. The central Bank of Japan’s interest rate is currently 0.25%. That’s not a typo, 1/4 of 1%. You don’t get that rate, but you can still borrow for super cheap in Yen. If you're a hedge fund or a household making a "Carry Trade" you then you take your low interest Yen and buy higer yielding assets, like American bonds, or riskier, but even higher yielding, emerging market debt. All is well, unless...

The Yen goes up sharply. 2.3% today. Tomorrow?

Estimates based on Chicago Mercantile Exchange numbers say the Yen “Carry Trade” may be worth as much as $1 trillion. However, most “Carry Trades” are off-balance sheet. You may recall that delightful phrase, off-balance sheet, popular both with Enron executives and for miscellaneous War expenditures. It is often translated as, “This here is so ugly you don’t even wanna see the numbers on it bleeding all over the balance sheet.”

NY Times summary

Bloomberg Asia

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Colossal Squid Caught in Commercial Fishermen's Net 

The Clarion was disappointed to read of the catching
of a colossal squid in Antartic waters by a New Zealand fishing boat.

Despite the triumphant posture of the fisherman and the scientific community, it is still a magnificent creature rendered dead by our devices. Specifically a humongous fishing net, weighing as much as 15 tons, trolling extra deep, approximately 5,000 feet down. These tremendous creatures are thought to form a goodly part of the sperm whale’s diet. They have both large eyes and large brains. The reason so few of have been seen is they live so far from mankinds environs. These fishermen were not looking for colossal squid, but rather Chilean Sea Bass, which itself is being over fished into relative scarcity by the globalized pallette, thus the need to go deeper and deeper with the massive nets. This process has been compared by biologists to cutting down the old growth forests of the ocean.

Who is celebrating the extending of humanity’s reach to include scooping colossal squid from their homes deep beneath the ocean’s surface and tossing them on the decks of boats to suffocate? Why celebrate? Because now humanity gets to see one, to know what it looks like? This extension of human dominion, even for the claim of scientific knowledge, has the look of specious benefit acheived at much cost. A cost of at least one life, much more likely many other wasted lives. These deep nets are notorious for how many unintentional kills they bring up. Remember these were commercial fishermen, not scientists on an expedition. This cloaking of an occurrence which so blatantly demonstrates the depths of humanity's exploitation of the planet in the shroud of joyous discovery is what most mortifies here at the offices of the Clarion.


Monday, February 19, 2007

Mickelson collapses late at Riveria 

Mickelson collapses late at Riveria. Wow! Before the Clarion could even give him props for gutting it out and winning in the final round of the Pebble Beach pro-am. Only last week, here he was winning on a tough, U.S. Open style course, where he had the lead and all the pressure.

Bam a week’s gone by, the situation’s arrived again, and the Hefty Lefty has blown it. Golf is some mental game. Last Sunday Phil Mickelson took a close tournament late and ran away with it. His first victory since he snatched a U.S. Open defeat from the jaws of victory.

A mere seven days ago Mickelson was quoted saying, “Winning today gives me satisfaction. I believe I can take what happened at Winged Foot and make it a plus for the rest of my career.”

"I think I'm going to be a better driver of the golf ball for the rest of my career. At least that's the goal."

This week he was ripping another one of those patented 18th hole drivers into trouble. This week he was losing a final round lead on a tough U.S. Open style course, to a guy who had no shortage of hard luck himself. Winner Charles Howell III had been a runner-up ten times since his last victory, which, itself occurred at a tournament that is now defunct. Howell better known for his talent and driving length, than finishing skills may be off the schneid, but he’s no rival to Tiger. And ultimately, that’s the question for Phil; is he Tiger’s rival or is Tiger his Daddy? (As Pedro would say.)

Now with Masters coming, Phil can no longer banish thoughts of the blown Open at Wing Foot. Sunday, Phil once again jerked a driver off of 18 tee in the final round, with the lead, into the rough and bogeyed. Perennial bridesmaid Howell triumphed in a playoff. Phil hasn’t won in competition against Tiger since his mortal meltdown.

But, Tiger’s wife is pregnant. How focused will Tiger be on golf at the Masters? This is what we have to go through in this era of golf. Last year we had a major where Tiger wasn’t focused. Who would have been so soon after their father/mentor passing? He didn’t make the cut. But then, by the next one, the sport’s strongest willed competitor, was dialed in, result, he won going away. Now? Will Mickelson have a say? Or will it be all about whether or not Tiger’s wife is sleeping soundly? Are there any golfers who can beat a focused Tiger Woods in a major? ‘Cause the Clarion knows this about Tiger, he is gonna take care a da wife, major or no major. Gonna be a lot more majors, only one wife. Tiger gets it. If all is well, and we hope it will be with Elin Nordegren's pregnancy, Tiger will be focused on the golf course. It says here, if Tiger's focused, he’s unstoppable at Augusta.

If he’s not, Phil won’t be the guy grabbing the green jacket. Keep your eyes on previous champs Vijay and Jose Maria Olazabal...or a dark horse, with only 3 wins in 329 starts, but always seemingly on the Master’s leaderboard, Chris DiMarco.

Remember, it may be a Gators year.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

NASCAR Season Opens 

The NASCAR season opens today with the Daytona 500. NASCAR is a sport long near and dear to the Clarion’s heart.It used to be packed with fascinating contradictions. One holdover, but likely to change to ere long, continues to be running the biggest race of the season first. No other major American sport kicks off its season with its biggest event.

This tradition has its roots in an era when winning the Daytona 500 was as big as winning a season long points championship. Heck, winning the Southern 500 was big as winning the points championship in the day. The Winston Cup was about winning races, each and every race. They went all out to win every Sunday, but Mother's Day. In the era the Clarion was weaned on, Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough and Daryl Waltrip won races, and it was about how many races they won, yearly and in their careers. The era at which points championship points became central was the Dale Earnhardt days.

Now NASCAR has moved on to, and through a playoff system, to an expanded playoff system. It is a whole eon back that North Wilkesborough lost its race and they decided to race at the Brickyard in Indy. In this next generation, Darlington, South Carolina loses Labor day weekend. And Rockingham, North Carolina loses its last race; instead they are racing in Kansas City, Chicago and New Hampshire. Rockingham was always the second race of the season after Daytona. It made sense after opening with a couple of weeks in Florida, the drivers wanted to get back home to North Carolina to see their families. Today, even though most teams are a still based there, no more do most drivers come from North Carolina. Not only has bootlegging faded into ancient history, but all week the headlines have been on NASCAR harshly enforcing the rules. Who even remembers the maxim, “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.”

There are far more than half a hundred other changes the Clarion could recount to you to demonstrate the relentless globalization of a once Southern phenomenon. Each one seemingly achieving another level, a Busch Race in Mexico, a switch of series sponsors from cigarette makers to cell phone networkers; this year it is the first foreign car maker, Toyota, to compete in the NASCAR’s headline racing series in fifty some years. Toyota’s trucks have been doing exceeding well in NASCAR’s equivalent to double-AA baseball, the Craftsmen Truck Series. As an ardent free trade advocate the Clarion has no problem with Toyota competing, no objection. We do think they will suck for a couple of years and that no matter when it happens it will sound exceeding weird to hear some one say, "He won that race in a Camry."

The other less noticed, but equally interesting foreign flavor coming to the series is ace Columbian driver Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya has one Indy 500 and seven Formula One racing wins to his credit, as a CART series title as a rookie. He will be racing the #42 car for Chip Ganassi racing. Says here he finishes higher than gravy-training loser Michael Waltrip. The gravy-training loser, Michael Waltrip, is now running his own team and driving a Toyota. No one else wanted him to drive for them. As you may know ,Waltrip has been docked a 100 points in the championship series standings. Meaningless, except for the negative publicity it has garnered Toyota, since he never finishes higher than 20th anyway. Waltrip has won a stunningly awful four times in 676 career starts. He is currently maintaining a two year streak of more Did Not Finishes than top ten finishes. Waltrip nevertheless has managed to ride his brother’s coat tails and his own goofy looks to many, many endorsement dollars above and beyond his career $32 million in racing earnings. His brother was never beloved by NASCAR nation either. He was the Jeff Gordon of his era, a disliked, upstart, usurper, stealing from the end of King Richard’s career, trying push aside Junior Johnson’s last great driver, Cale Yarborough.

The Clarion’s from the heart prediction Kevin Harvick.

The Clarion has rooted for Richard Childress Racing ever since King Richard Petty retired. Loyalty is still possible in NASCAR. (in a way in which veteran readers and associates know the Clarion has lost it in the NFL and baseball. No matter how much we still follow and enjoy those sports.)

Kevin Harvick took over driving for Richard Childress Racing (RCR) the season Dale Earnhardt was tragically killed at Daytona. The Clarion was a huge Earnhardt fan. Rather than switch our loyalty to a different team, even if it was one Earnhardt’s son, Junior was driving for, we stuck with RCR guys. They were the team that lost their driver, our driver.

Harvick had the Clarion when he stuck the #29 on the side of the car. The analogy of #3 minus something was clear as day. Harvick has run moderately well since then, he made the chase last year, he has won ten cup races total. One caution RCR has not done well at restrictor plate races in recent years.

We be watching and rooting.

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The Clarion loves Britney Spears shaved head 

The Clarion loves Britney Spears shaved head. She looks great. It brings all the doe-eyed innocence of her original beauty back to her face. She hasn’t looked this good since, "Baby One More Time."

After writing on Anna Nicole Smith all week, no one around here wants to see Britney angle anywhere near that vector. That is why shaving her head was such a great move. Clearly Britney is upset. In and out of rehab in a day is a dangerous course for anyone. However, when down, out, frustrated, angry, self-loathing and/or depressed a hair style change is often a great comfort. See our theory on the malleability of face. Head shaving feels great and carries a certain amount of ritualistic power.

Follow this link for a fascinating anecdote on what Christina Aguilera has been up to lately. She is a woman who's career will always be measured along side Britney's. It ain't over yet, but to simply say Christina has the better voice would quite the understatement of the differences to date. She has a graceful beauty on her worst day.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Jay Bilas should run for office 

Jay Bilas should run for office. This semi-radical idea, proposed by local North Carolina sports talk show personality, Eleanor Murray follows along a drift the Clarion has been mulling for a while. Namely the drafting of otherwise non-political persons of strong character into running for public office. Some of our possible candidates for consideration to date have included Mo Cheeks, Herman Edwards and Oprah Winfrey. Think outside the box with us for a moment. What American politics needs, almost more than anything, is high achievers with sound moral standards not beholden to lobbyists, insiders, or power brokers. Outsiders with their own successes and charisma would be ideal. (if a bit fantastic, not to mention, hit or miss, depending on the individuals’ personality) Having followed wrestling in the early 80’s, we were never supporters of Jessie the Body Ventura. Nor are we supporters of Al Franken’s Minnesota Senate bid.

Jay Bilas, in addition to being a terrific and insightful basketball analyst, is a practicing attorney. The Clarion knows absolutely nothing about Bilas’s politics, but his ethics and morality as he represents them on the air are beyond reproach. The anecdotes that others tell about him, from Dick Vitale to David Glenn are full of nothing but praise of his persona and character.

Bilas's Wiki bio

some of Bilas’s charitable works

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Anna Nicole Smith an American tragedy? 

All week here at the Clarion we have been following the Anna Nicole Smith story from a distance. With sadness both, for a life that ended apparently unhappily, and because of the stupefying circus that has followed.

There was something in Anna Nicole that drew America toward her. She couldn’t act, sing or dance, yet, she drew American in...like insects to the light? She was the quintessential new millenium superstar. If you don’t have it,(talent) flaunt it.(your booty, your personality, and anything and everything else, including family, self-respect, ad infinitum, ad naseum in an effort to raise your Q rating.) Anna Nicole Smith was reality TV before the word was coined. Her life was America watching it’s mythos made true. A small town, nowhere girl who goes from the stripper pole to the penthouse. She was Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. She was living the American dream, or at least trying to once the old geezer croaked. Her lawyers were making a career out of her. The pursuit of money was their highest end. Means were no matter.

Her real life reality story was thoroughly covered by the tabloids and the TV news magazines. When she flipped the tables and did the meta meta thing (Life as Art imitating Life) on American culture and starred in actual reality TV show, she became more human, and ultimately, take your pick, a more sympathetic or simply pathetic character.

She said she was going to live like Marylin and the Clarion has seen other commentators say she didn’t, that there was no where near as much substance about Anna Nicole, nowhere near as much talent as Marilyn in Anna Nicole. But maybe that’s fundamentally because, they were both metaphors for their times.

best of other commentators

best of other commentators

other commentators, the courtroom angles

Meanwhile elsewhere and elsewise

Congress continues it’s important work

a 371 year old glass ceiling shattered

better late than never the Chargers get with it


Saturday, February 10, 2007

Dallas Cowboys coaching hire 

The Clarion doesn’t love Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys hiring of Wade Phillips. We hear that neither does the fan base.

See the Dallas Fort-Worth Star Telegram

The last three candidates besides ol’ Wade all seemed like better choices. There were very few on field leaders in Mike Singletary’s class. Cerebral, but super intense, he led by example. Ron Rivera also would have been an excellent choice. Even Norv Turner at least has a track record of modest success. Wade Phillips was run out of Denver and Buffalo leaving both franchises worse than he found them.

Our suspicion here at the Clarion is that Jerry Jones liked Wade Phillips because he was the biggest yes man. Jerry has always had a hard time co-existing with hard headed winners, ala Jimmy Johnson and more recently Bill Parcells. And with this hire, Jones was going to foist assistant coaches he chose on his new head coach. Many of the best of the best won’t stand for that, apparently this was Turner’s ultimate objection. Don’t forget one of those assistant coaches, former back-up QB, Jason Garrett, is designated the heir apparent as head coach. Garrett’s hiring first made this coach a lame duck before he even came on board.

Now you gotta be a suck up to be willing to take that. But Wade Phillips was a guy who hadn’t been a real coach in seven many years. (He did have a half season stint with the Falcons in ‘03 as an interim guy.) His career record in the playoffs is 0-3. He knew if not this one, he might never get another shot. The trend as we have discussed in these pages is toward young head coaches.

See Len Pasquarelli on this trend.

The veteran Parcells final falling out with Jerry Jones was over T.O. Parcells didn’t want T.O. Jones insisted. Things were ultimately never repaired, and still Dallas came within a bobbled snap of the second round of the playoffs. As for the Phillips hiring, yes, there is some talent in Dallas, maybe Garrett is a terrific offensive mind, but from Parcells, this can only be viewed as a step backward for the franchise. Too safe a choice, his lame duck status is like Jones telling the fan base, in three or four more years, we are going to go with the guy we think will win big. For now, we are going to hand the keys to the kingdom over to the safest choice possible as regent. Three or four more years?? What?!! would be our reaction, were we Cowboys fans. Best thing about Wade Phillips is that his old man, former Houston Oilers coach, Bum, came to the press conference.

Incidentally, it certainly doesn’t help Marty Chokinheimer and San Diego to lose both of their coordinators. Phillips was coaching the defense, and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron split to coach the Dolphins. Can Schottenheimer lure his own son away from the Jets? Perhaps with the title of assistant head coach? And/or worse, for the franchise, the promise to succeed him?

Quick NCAA notes

Sleeper Final Four teams
Gonzaga (if trouble with the law doesn't derail'em.)

The Hoosier’s despite a tough loss on the road at Iowa, continue to look good.

Indiana wins again, over Illinois.

Texas Tech on the other hand has gone into a tailspin. Their latest loss a heartbreaker to Nebraska on a last second three pointer. We know how Coach Knight feels about the three pointer.

two weeks ago...Knight on the 3 pointer after Texas Tech’s win Wednesday over then #6 Texas A&M... “That doesn't make me feel any better about 3-point shots," Knight said. "I don't like it, didn't like it, not going to like it. It was good tonight, though."

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Simpson’s rumour 

Are the Simpson's about to be over?

The Clarion continues to hear the persistent rumour that the Simpson’s will wrap it up with the movie. After eighteen epically entertaining years, this May will see the show’s 400th television episode air.

Despite a dearth of facts or insider sources, the rumor will not be deterred. We keeping hearing that the movie will be the end for the Simpson’s. The plot will be holistic, rather than 3 or 4 television episodes crammed into one vehicle. The Simpson’s creators, Matt Groening and James L. Brooks, have had all this time and opportunity to do a movie. Why now? Why not at the peak of the shows ratings and revenue? The reason we are hearing is because they, Groening and Brooks, want to tie things together. Do a grand finale, a story about the family and the town of Springfield that brings resolution to our dear Marge, Homer, Bart, Lisa and Maggie.

In fitting with that theme, the creators are promising that all of the Simpson’s recurring characters will appear in the film, from Disco Stu through Comic Book Man, Principle Skinner, Aunt Thelma and more...will Sideshow Bob be back?

The upshot, we’re not upset. We have loved the Simpsons, but all things, even good ones must come to an end. Better to go out Calvin and Hobbes style than to hang on too long, getting staler and staler.

Simpson’s cast and creators give a group interview

from the LA Daily news, Groening and Brooks

more Groening on the movie


Sunday, February 04, 2007

A Final Super Bowl thought or two 

All week the Clarion has hesitated to pick this Super Bowl, casting about for a gut feeling. It is a game, where we have no rooting interest, no allegiance.

The Bears have a terrific fan base. Both coaches are class acts. Wouldn’t it be awfully spiteful to root for Payton Manning to fail on the big stage? After all his Dad, Archie, never even got this shot.

But then all week, it has been all Manning, all the time. SportsCenter this morning had little brother, Eli on to comment about big brother, Payton. ESPN Radio last night, had Dad, Archie talking to Rex Grossman’s Pop about the trials and tribulations of being a Super Bowl Dad.


Now we are hearing reports that the weather could be dicey. At least dicey for Miami, thunderstorms and wind are potentially in the mix. That kind of weather would sure help the plodding Bears, who would prefer to run the ball, and hurt the dome team Colts, who would prefer precision passing. Recall, too that only once has a dome team ever won the Super Bowl. (The St. Louis Rams)

You know we love better quarterback theory, here at the Clarion, but we’ll spin it for you this way, although Payton Manning seems the quarterback far more likely to have an excellent game, he and Grossman seem equally likely to throw up a clunker. While we could only see Manning throwing for 350+ and 4 TDs, either QB could blow up, screw up and have a four turnover game.

Bill Simmons says when everyone is going one way on a football game, you are better off going the other. Well, the overwhelming majority surely likes the Colts.

And if one was looking for a reason to detest one franchise or the other, the Colts did disloyally slink out of Baltimore in the middle of the night. Ditching a loyal fan base, and eternally skewing the classic movie "Diner" for future generations.

Finally, there is the, “Do the Gators rule the sports world theory?” we threw at you early this week...

At this paper, well, we are advocates, guess we’ll root for 'da Bears.

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Follow up to Dubai Ports World notes 

In 2006, the Clarion published one letter written to several American senators regarding a proposal by Dubai Ports World to invest ports in America and later a follow-up screed about the inconsistency of allowing another Dubai based company to buy a maker of American tank components.

see those posts:

post 1, letter

post 2, follow-up

The story continues...

Most obviously it is not a zero sum game, but Dubai Ports World which was summarily run off by the xenophobic American Congress last year in its effort to invest in American ports, this week announced it was dropping $450 million to build and operate ports in the People’s Republic of China. More specifically, D.P. World, according to the Wall Street Journal, is going to invest $448 million in Qing-dao in northeastern China to build and operate four ports in a city that is most famous in America for its beer, Tsing-Tao.

While this paper, believes there should be a robust discussion about the limits to growth, both within each country and globally, a dangerous precedent was set by running off Dubai Ports World from the bully pulpit before the deal could even be reasonably discussed. The rationale about American security was an outrageous exaggeration rooted in race based fear mongering in the on-going aftermath of 09.11.01.

Anti-Arab sentiment caused this huge multi-national corporation based in Dubai to take their money elsewhere.

Almost co-terminously with the vituperative attacks against D.P. World, another foreign takeover attempt was scuttled by abject political interference. This one, however, was a much bigger deal. A Chinese oil company, China National Offshore Oil Corporation bid over $18 billion dollars for the California based oil company, Unocal. This was $2 billion more than Unocal had been offered by Chevron. Insted of accepting this far more lucrative offer, American politicians got involved and again, ugly fear mongering, xenophobia and jingoism reined supreme. The bid was scuppered.

It is not a zero-sum game. The benefits of growth are not absolute. But the wisdom of these decisions and the pattern set by them is discouraging. They show an American state moving in the direction of scelrotic Europe, where embedded and beholden national champions like Gaz de France and Alitalia must be preserved at all costs.

China is willing. America must be, too.

Racism of any stripe hurts America is the message of this outcome. Anti-Arabism and Sinophobia will serve America equally as poorly. More, not less, contact is what America needs. Don’t fear, engage. That should be the lesson of the fall of the Berlin wall, and franky, Vietnam, too, better to engage. Why fight when you can trade?


Dubai Ports World in China

Unocal bid

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