Sunday, October 26, 2008

Obama's Unprecedented Crowds

The election is still eight days away and despite a substantial Obama lead in most polls it is still true that elections are only won after the polls close. However, the crowds that Obama has drawn throughout the primary and general election campaigns are absolutely astounding. It compares with nothing I have ever seen in my own twenty years of following American presidential politics. Today over a 100,000 people showed up to his rally in Denver, Colorado and this is a state that George W. Bush won twice.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Krugman Wins the Economics Nobel

It was announced today that Paul Krugman, Princeton professor and a New York Times op ed columnist won the 2008 Economics Nobel Prize for his work on international trade. Harvard economist Edward Glaeser explains in this piece why Krugman was honored. As an undergraduate Economics major who was headed to a PhD program before getting diverted to investment banking years ago, I have followed Krugman's career admiringly for at least 15 years. In my "International Economics" class with Professor Noel Farley at Bryn Mawr we used Krugman/Obstfeld which is the standard textbook on the subject.

Krugman is that rare combination of an economist who not only writes well for a popular audience but is highly respected by his peers as a first rate intellect who has made tremendous contributions to the understanding of international trade. As a columnist he is a prolific, reliably liberal and relentless critic of the follies of the Bush administration and its ideological acolytes. As an economist, Krugman is a true empiricist Keynesian, fastidious about facts and evidence and fiercely independent in his judgment. Krugman got his PhD from MIT under Rudi Dornbusch's guidance and that department has produced some of the best non-ideological economists of the last half century (From that group, Larry Summers now rises further up in the list to be honored next). To some degree the awarding of the prize to Krugman this year reflects a tacit recognition by the Nobel committee that market fundamentalism has run its course. This may signal the end of the era of the Chicago school's intellectual ascendancy. The recent spectacular financial market failures indicate the extent to which governments are needed to regulate and stabilize markets. During the current financial crisis Krugman's commentary on his blog "Conscience of a Liberal" has consistently been the "go to" opinion to understand the causes of the crisis and to look for sensible policy prescriptions to stem the rot.

Here are a few interesting Krugman-related links: BBC news announcement of his Nobel here; a comprehensive archive of writings by Krugman here; two of my own prior blog entries that reference Krugman here and here and his Wikipedia entry here.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Sequoia Capital Meeting - Economic Downturn & Startups

Last week Sequoia Capital, Silicon Valley's premier venture capital firm and backers of the likes of Apple, Cisco, Oracle and Google to name a few, held an extraordinary all-hands meeting of all the CEOs of their portfolio companies. Sequoia's partners and invited guests presented to the audience. These facts are known to many but it is an excellent presentation that lays out the facts of how we got here with great clarity and emphasizes the key to startup survival and longer term success in these environments.

You can find the slideshow presentation here .

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Running with Jerry - Jerry Rice that is!

I live a few miles from Stanford University's campus. Often I use Stanford's track for my leisurely evening 5K runs. Sometimes I take my kids with me who like to play on the infield or on the bleachers around the track. Yesterday as I started my run I ran past a lanky, athletic figure stretching on the running strip. I noticed that it was none other than the legendary Jerry Rice. A few minutes later Rice ran past me but he seemed to be merely limbering and warming up and not involved in any rigorous workout. He stayed on the track for another 20 or so minutes and it gave me a great thrill to be running in the same lanes with the "niner" whose enshrinement in football's hall of fame in another three years (when he becomes eligible for induction) is a mere formality.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Anton Chekhov in "Gooseberries"

"There ought to be behind the door of every happy, contented man some one standing with a hammer continually reminding him with a tap that there are unhappy people; that however happy he may be, life will show him her laws sooner or later, trouble will come for him - disease, poverty, losses, and no one will see or hear, just as now he neither sees nor hears others."

Recently reading the excerpt from Anton Chekhov (1860 -1904) above, I was moved by the great Russian writer’s grimly tragic but deeply wise view of life’s essence. Charles Simic quotes this passage from Chekhov’s story “Gooseberries” at the beginning of his New York Review of Books piece on Philip Roth's new novel, Indignation.
You can read the whole, generally laudatory, Simic review of Roth’s novel here.

"The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" - Bob Dylan

On February 9th 1963, a 51 year old black barmaid named Hattie Carroll was murdered at the Emerson Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland by Billy Zantzinger, a young wealthy white tobacco farmer from Charles County. Billy had used a cane to assault Hattie who died 8 hours after the assault possibly from a brain hemorrhage. Billy was eventually found guilty of manslaughter (not murder) and sentenced to 6 months in jail.

It was in the backdrop of this deep injustice that Bob Dylan wrote "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll", considered one of his best songs in a repertory consisting of countless brilliant ones. It was released as part of the 1964 album, "The Times They Are A-Changin". This song is widely admired by critics and Christopher Ricks, the Boston University Professor of Humanities, devotes an entire chapter in his book "Dylan's Vision of Sin" to this song in his chapter on Justice. In an interview on NPR, Ricks described the song as "perfect".

Here's the best version that I found on YouTube:

Below are the complete lyrics of this song. Listen to the song while reading the lyrics and a chill runs down your spine. Also, notice the brilliant repetition of "now ain't the time for your tears" until the very end. Throughout the song, the heartrending images of Hattie's difficult life and the murder itself arouse deep moral indignation but also a simultaneous will to fight for justice. It is only at the end when the struggle for justice for Hattie Carroll is lost that it is "time for your tears".

"The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll"

William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger
At a Baltimore hotel society gath'rin'
And the cops were called in and his weapon took from him
As they rode him in custody down to the station
And booked William Zanzinger for first-degree murder
And you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain't the time for your tears.

William Zanzinger who at twenty-four years
Owns a tobacco farm of six hundred acres
With rich wealthy parents who provide and protect him
And high office relations in the government of Maryland
Reacted to his deed with a shrug of his shoulders
And swear words and sneering and his tongue it was snarling
In a matter of minutes on bail was out walking
And you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain't the time for your tears.

Hattie Carroll was a maid in the kitchen
She was fifty-one years old and gave birth to ten children
Who carried the dishes and hauled out the garbage
And never sat once at the head of the table
And didn't even speak to the people at the table
Who just cleaned up all the food from the table
And emptied the ashtrays on a whole other level
Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane
That sailed through the air and came down through the room
Doomed and determined to destroy all the gentle
And she never done nothing to William Zanzinger
And you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain't the time for your tears.

In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
To show that all's equal and that the courts are on the level
And that the strings in the books ain't pulled and persuaded
And that even the nobles get properly handled
Once that the cops have chased after and caught 'em
And that ladder of law has no top and no bottom
Stared at the person who killed for no reason
Who just happened to be feelin' that way without warnin'
And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance
William Zanzinger with a six-month sentence
And you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Bury the rag most deep in your face
For now's the time for your tears.