Daily Archives: February 15, 2009

Get rich by failing

Here’s a deal for you, as detailed by Saturday’s New York Times. First, borrow $10 million from a bank to run a gas station/casino chain. Default on the loan, then have your lender fail and the FDIC take over the loan. Now buy back your debt for less than 50 cents on the dollar and there you are: last week you were $10 million in debt with a creditor breathing down your neck. Today you own your business again, freed of half that debt. It’s a fresh start – a “stimulus” to coin a term, and it’s all paid for by U.S. taxpayers. This all just keeps getting better.

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Cilantro Wars update

I was just sent this essay on Cilantro by its author, Josh Kurz. It appeared on NPR but not, I assume, on Fox News. I think he says everything Minnesota Peg and other cilantro lovers need to know to permanently change their minds.

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26 Circle Drive

I wrote the following about a new house on 26 Circle Drive a month ago:

I toured it today. It’s, okay, as  spec houses in this price range ($2.1 million) go, and has a very large back yard (with a drain smack in the middle of it, suggesting the presence of water – then again, drains are supposed to take care of that sort of thing). I think it’s a pre-fab but I don’t have a problem with that. Nice trim work and floors, a cheesy, to my taste, Palladium window in front and a fair bit of noise from I-95; Circle Drive is, as they say, “convenient to transportation”. I wish the builder had spent the extra money to run some steel I-beams in the basement instead of using pillars which break up what would otherwise be a ton of usable space and I have a prejudice against acrylic bathtubs – no particular reason, I just prefer porcelain. All that said, the biggest impression I took away from this house was how the market has changed. Its price just a year ago or maybe two, wouldn’t have seemed outrageous. But as I drove around the neighborhood I noticed at least four more houses under construction all or most of which, I imagine, are spec houses. If so, then there is a lot of competition to this house about to come on the market and a careful shopper can probably find the one builder in the most trouble and get a house here for a really low price. And if that happens, just to reopen the debate we’ve all so enjoyed here on these pages, the other 4 house’s prices will have to chase it downward.

Or that’s what I think. Your opinion may differ.

A fan of the building has just today noticed that post and takes umbrage:

You have terrible taste and obviously know nothing about construction. You should check your facts before you post this inaccurate garbage on the internet. Aren’t you in the business of selling homes and not in the business of making up stories? Or do you think that inventing problems with your competition will help boost your sales?

I can’t figure out where I went wrong here so I ask you readers, if you’ve seen it: what did I get wrong? Are there really no beams in that basement? Did I-95 get moved further south while I wasn’t listening? Did I confuse plastic for porcelain? I don’t think I trashed the house at all and was just trying to answer a reader’s request for my observations but if I’ve disparaged the place, let me know – the angry reader didn’t give specifics.

UPDATE: The reader has written again. I may have the wrong house. He says the property was bought from an estate, not another builder, that it’s under contract (I believe that’s true) and that the builder is to be commended for building the best house in the neighborhood and placing the garages behind the building. It’s this latter comment that makes me worry about my having the right house. The picture of the house I toured and wrote about shows a two car garage facing the street. Picture here: Tmorrow I’ll recheck the MLS records. If I had the wrong house, I will certainly correct the original posting. Otherwise, I’ll let my comments stand.


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This Nut might as well have operated in China

mr-peanut-maskThe Bernie Madoff of food?

The peanut factory shut down for salmonella contamination was a filthy mess and everyone in the industry knew it.

Parnells found success by operating a low-cost business that relied on the cheapest peanuts they could find. They used minimum wage labor and a bare-bones front office.

“The old man used to look for distressed situations: Someone over-inventoried or had peanuts from last year that they had to move,” said David Brooks, who was a buyer for a snack company that refused to purchase from Parnell because of concerns about sanitation and what he called the “culture” of the family business. “He would aggressively look for these, making phone calls, hunting people down. Stewart grew up in that and was the same way.”

On three occasions in the mid-1980s, Brooks inspected PCA’s Gorman plant to determine whether to buy its peanut products, he said. Each time, he gave the plant a failing grade.

“It was just filthy,” said Brooks, who has since retired from the food business. “Dust was all over the beams, the braces of the building. The roofs leaked, the windows would be open, and birds would fly through the building. . . . It was just a time bomb waiting to go off, and everybody in the peanut industry in Georgia, Virginia and Texas — they all knew.”


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Trading Places – The ultimate Greenwich movie?

Reader  MSL writes :

Home sellers circa 2009 channeling the spirit of Randolph…or was it Mortimer [it was Mortimer. Ed.] …Duke in Trading Places. “Turn those machines back on! TURN THOSE MACHINES BACK ON!!”.

While making sure it really was Mortimer who said the above, I came across this bit which ties in both with yesterday’s post on expensive watches and conversations no doubt happening at Betteridge’s Jewelers on the Avenue as I write:

Pawnbroker: Burnt my fingers, man. 
Louis Winthorpe III: I beg your pardon? 
Pawnbroker: Man, that watch is so hot, it’s smokin’. 
Louis Winthorpe III: Hot? Do you mean to imply stolen? 
Pawnbroker: I’ll give you 50 bucks for it. 
Louis Winthorpe III: Fifty bucks? No, no, no. This is a Rouchefoucauld. The thinnest water-resistant watch in the world. Singularly unique, sculptured in design, hand-crafted in Switzerland, and water resistant to three atmospheres. This is *the* sports watch of the ’80s. Six thousand, nine hundred and fifty five dollars retail! 
Pawnbroker: You got a receipt? 
Louis Winthorpe III: Look, it tells time simultaneously in Monte Carlo, Beverly Hills, London, Paris, Rome, and Gstaad. 
Pawnbroker: In Philadelphia, it’s worth 50 bucks. 
Louis Winthorpe III: Just give me the money. 
Louis Winthorpe III: [looking in display case] How much for the gun?


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National Public Radio and its Magic Negro

NPR has asked Fox News to stop identifying Juan Williams as an NPR reporter (which he is, and a good one) when he appears on Fox. It seems that liberal listeners of NPR – and I’m shocked to discover that there are some – go absolutely nuts when the man leaves the NPR plantation and says what must sound like conservative ideas on television. “But he’s ours! We discovered him! We made him! We pay him with tax dollars we coerced from, from, well from everyone! How could he be so ungrateful?” 

Fox has agreed to go along with this, which is too bad. I’d rather he wore a paper bag over his head that reads, “Not an NPR Reporter”.

Update: lest you think I’m making this up, here’s the NPR Ombudsman herself:

Williams brings a valuable viewpoint to NPR. Sometimes it is that of an African-American, but it is also that of someone with a long track record of covering politics. Some think he is a conservative because he’s on Fox. Others think Fox uses him as a liberal voice because, whether true or not, a perception exists that NPR is liberal. [really? Ed.]

The assets that make Williams valuable to NPR are his knowledge, his perspective and that he is rarely predictable.

But in the end, NPR must decide — as it apparently already has — whether giving its listeners the benefit of Williams’ voice is worth the cost of annoying some listeners for his work on Fox.

As a result of this latest flap, NPR’s Vice President of News, Ellen Weiss, has asked Williams to ask that Fox remove his NPR identification whenever he is on O’Reilly. 

There’s no need for me to make this stuff up when the liberals do it so well on their own.


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Update on Property tax cards going on line

I linked earlier to a Greenwich Time article about the town’s plan to put tax data on line and the Round Hill Association’s opposition to letting them do any such thing. Here’s part of that article and the Association’s spokesman’s reason for opposing the plan:

Dying to know who owns the starter castle down the street?

Does it have a squash court?

How many bedrooms?

The answer to these questions and many more could soon be found on the town’s Web site, much to the consternation of members of the Round Hill Association.

Representing 1,200 households in Greenwich’s plush mid- and backcountry, the homeowner group is trying to fight a town plan to post detailed assessment information on the Internet.

“This is not only going to be a boon to the real estate industry. It looks to me like it would be a boon to the burglary business,” said Keith Felcyn, the association’s president.

Mr. Felcyn apparently doesn’t realize that the real estate industry already knows his exact address, the fact his house sits on XX acres in an RA-2 zone, the number of rooms, bedrooms and baths, whether there’s a barn, a pool, and/or  a stone wall around its perimeter, the style of the house, when it was built and its general condition. And its size (rather modest – sounds very nice).  So much for keeping that information from realtors. What about burglars?

A quick Google search of Mr. Felcyn again yields his exact address and even his telephone number, the amount he contributed to Jim Himes’ campaign, the name and date of his daughter’s wedding, his own occupation and employer, an article he wrote for Greenwich Magazine detailing his jury duty and the court case that ultimately arose from that article, and more. And that was without trying.

My point is not to embarrass the gentleman which is why I am deliberately withholding the details that I found so readily on the Internet. And I sympathise with his desire to keep his affairs private. But as he must know from his own occupation, there is very little privacy left these days, and property tax information isn’t included behind that last bulwark. It’s always been public information: Felcyn and his fellow association members just want to keep that information a little cumbersome to retrieve. I don’t think that is a sufficient argument – not these days.

And by the way, a maps search of that address will provide a satellite shot of the property showing every little detail of the house, its approaches, possible get-away routes and whether any neighboring houses look wealthier and thus more tempting to rob. We live in a strange new world.


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Early July 4th rehearsal?

harbor_seal_face02They usually arrive by helicopter and only on July 4th but yesterday we received a visit from a SEAL. Came up the harbor and got stranded in Mill Pond off Strickland Road, possibly while searching for a latte from Starbucks. Refused entry because of that store’s “No shoes, no shirt, no service” policy, he left with the next high tide.

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Our New Congressman Himes – More money needed!

The Stimulus bill was just a start, according to our own Wall Street Wizard whom we have sent to Washington. Mr. Deeds he is not. Interesting, now that he’s cashed out on his own Goldman Sachs bonuses and grabbed that house in Greenwich, he’s all for cutting the pay of those he left in his dust. Hey, we taxpayers are majority shareholders now, and we call the shots. Considering his and his colleagues’ plan to become majority shareholders in every large business in America, this should give some of my Greenwich readers pause – they’re coming after you, next.


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Property assessment details to go public in Greenwich?

Not if certain Round Hill objectors have their way, but that’s the plan. The Back Country set is upset, fearing that if lawyers figure out that Walt and Monica have 16 squash courts in their basement or that Kathy Fuld has $3,000,000,000 in bedsheets and futons stuffed under the eaves, the sore losers from the  Madoff/Lehman/Merrill Lunch/Bear Stearns investment plan will come knocking. I’d relax, if I were them. The information is already out there and any enterprising lawyer has it. We realtors already have access to the information through an enterprise called Searchgreenwich.net (whose proprietor was upset when I used the information I’d paid for and threatened all sorts of things unless I removed my post – gee, do you think he was scared of offending certain other agents?) and that guy is probably against the idea – hard to make a living charging for what’s being given away free. But other than that poor fellow, who cares? Every other municipality posts this kind of information on line and if the Back Country folks are embarrassed at the idea of their nosey fellow citizens finding out how large their houses are well, perhaps a more modest house is in order.

And folks who think our tax collector has given himself a sweetheart of an assessment or that their neighbor got a break while they themselves were screwed can go on line and see for themselves whether any of that’s true. Stops (some) arguments.

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Who will feed us while we wait in the dark?

The government. But who will feed the government? Ah, now that’s a poser.

RONALD REAGAN started it, Bill Clinton finished it and last week Barack Obama was accused of engineering its destruction. One of the few undisputed triumphs of American government of the past 20 years – the sweeping welfare reform programme that sent millions of dole claimants back to work – has been plunged into jeopardy by billions of dollars in state handouts included in the president’s controversial economic stimulus package.

As Obama celebrated Valentine’s Day yesterday with a return to his Chicago home for a private weekend with family and friends, his success in piloting a $785 billion (£546 billion) stimulus package through Congress was being overshadowed by warnings that an unprecedented increase in welfare spending would undermine two decades of bipartisan attempts to reduce dependency on government handouts.

Robert Rector, a prominent welfare researcher who was one of the architects of Clinton’s 1996 reform bill, warned last week that Obama’s stimulus plan was a “welfare spendathon” that would amount to the largest one-year increase in government handouts in American history.

Douglas Besharov, author of a big study on welfare reform, said the stimulus bill passed by Congress and the Senate in separate votes on Friday would “unravel” most of the 1996 reforms that led to a 65% reduction in welfare caseloads and prompted the British and several other governments to consider similar measures.

Though some researchers have questioned the true impact of Clinton’s “workfare” reforms, they were wildly popular with millions of US taxpayers tired of subsidising what many saw as a generation of slackers.

Despite dire warnings that reduced benefits for single mothers and deadlines on entitlement would create a social calamity – one liberal senator warned at the time that children would be “sleeping on grates” – the 1996 reforms cut welfare rolls from more than 5m families in 1995 to below 2m a decade later without a discernible increase in hardship.

In the American political lexicon, welfare has since become a dirty word – often referred to as the W word – and nothing arouses US tabloid ire more than the hint that taxpayers’ money is being wasted.


Supporters of the bill argue that the current crisis is so grave that intellectual quibbling about the nature of welfare has to take second place to the upheaval transforming millions of American lives.

“How can you tell someone who has lost his income to look for another job if there aren’t any more jobs?” asked one Obama backer.

While some scholars are beginning to suspect that Clinton’s welfare reforms were fatally flawed – or at least viable only during an economic boom – Republicans are not alone in fearing that Obama’s hastily concocted package is the first step towards the creation of a quasi-socialist welfare state.

Even Mickey Kaus, a prominent liberal blogger, has denounced what he describes as the “get more people on welfare” provisions of Obama’s bill. Writing at Slate, the political website, Kaus said: “Lack of jobs isn’t a reason to loosen work requirements . . . Have the Dems never heard of ‘workfare’?

“Give recipients useful community service work, and if they do the work, then they get the [welfare] cash.”

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True to his word, Obama, Harry Reid and the usual suspects are preparing to kill King Coal.

With concerns over climate change intensifying, electricity generation from coal, once reliably cheap, looks increasingly expensive in the face of the all-but-certain prospect of regulations that would impose significant costs on companies that emit large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

As a result, utilities’ plans for new coal plants are being turned down left and right. In the last two-and-a-half years, plans for 83 plants in the United States have either been voluntarily withdrawn or denied permits by state regulators. The roughly 600 coal-fired power plants in the United States are responsible for almost one-third of the country’s total carbon emissions, but they are distinctly at odds with a growing outlook that embraces clean energy.

A new campaign against coal by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a prominent environmentalist, and the Waterkeeper Alliance is called “The Dirty Lie.” Other clean-energy advocates are equally passionate.

“If you care about being a leader on solving global warming problems, you don’t build new coal plants, especially ones that don’t have a way to capture carbon,” said Stephen A. Smith, executive director of the Southeastern Alliance for Clean Energy. (Mr. Smith’s group was not involved in the decorating of the Duke executive’s lawn. That was the handiwork of a small group called Rising Tide, in Asheville.)

This green chorus also includes Al Gore, the former vice president ….

I don’t know anyone except those who use electricity who supports coal-fired power plants. Most people can’t wait to don solar propeller beanies and enjoy all the clean energy they need but here’s a news flash for Robert “No fucking windmills off my compound’s front porch” Kennedy: There is, as of today, nothing to replace coal. Nothing. We have great ideas about solar farms in the Mojave (stalled by environmentalists’ suits) nuclear power (ditto) and harnessing the tides, but there is nothing currently available (bad pun; sorry) to run our economy or even the new economy envisioned by you people. Nothing. 

So do we just shut down and wait in the dark for genius to strike? That seems to be the plan.

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The New York Post discovers our housing woes

Leave it to the Post headline writers to indulge in just a wee bit of hyperbole: “Greenwich Ghost Town” . Well not quite, but it was nice here last week with the schools closed and everyone gone for vacation – I don’t think the writer was referring to that temporary absence of soccer moms and their broods, though.


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