Daily Archives: March 28, 2009

Uh oh – anyone know whether George Lindemann, Jr. is still in Miami?

alysheba Alysheba injured in stall last night, euthanized. 

Momma Lindemann is stiff with worry.


Oh, Monica, don't laugh! Georgie didn't come home last night!

Oh, Monica, don't laugh! Georgie didn't come home last night!


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Celebrate Civilization Hour coming up!

I have to go out for awhile (I’ll have my headlights on) but don’t forget to turn on all your lights tonight from 8:30 -9:30. Say thank you to Thomas Edison and for that matter, my great grandfather John Caldwell, who spent his career with the Westinghouse brothers and helped bring prosperity to this nation.

UPDATE: Back! I was off at Greenwich Hospital, unplugging respirators that just swallow huge amounts of energy. I stuck “Earth Hour” stickers on the deceaseds’ beds to bring some comfort to their loved ones. It was only right.

Driving home, I can’t say I noticed any darkened houses. Here in Greenwich, anyway, Edison must still be revered.


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Walt’s Round Hill Rd neighbor, Frederick Bourke

A couple of readers have sent along new developments in the Bourke bribery case.

His lead lawyer has withdrawn from the case. I can only speculate, but the first reason that comes to mind as to why I’d withdraw from a case is if my client insisted on testifying falsely (well there’s always the matter of payment, of course, but Mr. Bourke seems to have that matter under control). But perhaps the two just don’t get along.

And in the Bahamas, Bourke’s codefendant Viktor Kozeny has settled his own cilvil case with various plaintiffs, thereby freeing up millions of dollars in frozen assets. Bourke and Kazinsky are scheduled for trial in New York this June. Kozeny is not expected to attend. If the Bahama’s don’t have an extradition treaty with the U.S., perhaps Mr. Bourke might want to go down to visit his friend.


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What? Obama’s questioners at his “Town Hall” meeting were pre-selected supporters?

For heaven’s sake, it’s one thing to duplicate Bush’s policies in Iraq and Afganistan, but using the same ruse that he used at meetings with the public? Even the Washington Post is amazed. Why, why, he promised change!


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This crap gives Realtors and energy saving both a bad name

If it’s green, we’ll hype it! Here for your reading pleasure is an example. I’ve highlighted the bullshit.

The outlook sounds bleak for both buyers and sellers, but Realtor Michael Kiefer sees a silver lining in all of that – a green lining, to be precise. As people tighten their belts and try to live frugally, property that’s eco-friendly is becoming hot. Green real estate – which includes energy-efficient design, cost-saving appliances and long-lasting Earth-friendly or recycled materials – is increasingly sought, Kiefer says.

“This housing crisis has people thinking more closely about their utilities and being more conscious about how they operate a home,” says Kiefer…. Kiefer is an example of a new breed of real estate agents, professionals who have earned special credentials as experts in eco-friendly homes. Though there are currently only a handful of “green” real estate agents working in the District, the ranks of these planet-conscious pros are growing.


“When I started out four years ago [advocating green real estate], people would say ‘Green what?'” says Kiefer. Now, however, homeowners know enough to not “leave a light on in every room.”

Kiefer boosted his green smarts by becoming trained and certified as an expert in sustainable and environmentally friendly design by EcoBroker International (EcoBroker.com) in 2006. EcoBroker has been certifying professionals since 2002 through its courses in topics such as solar thermal energy, environmentally friendly paints and window finishings. In November 2008, the 1.3 million-member-strong National Association of Realtors launched its own Green Designee program (Greenresourcecouncil.org) to educate Realtors in green property and practices. Both the NAR and the EcoBroker programs require 18 hours of training; EcoBroker’s is completely online; NAR’s requires some in-person course work.


Courtney Poulos, a Realtor with the Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage-affiliated Reishman Group in Dupont Circle, was the only local Realtor who had been certified by the NAR as a green designee by mid-March, according to NAR’s Green Resource Council.

Poulos, 31, had already become an EcoBroker in 2007 but says she wanted to learn even more about green residential properties. The NAR’s program taught her more about topics including “green communities, smart growth and design, public awareness and utilities, water consumption, efficiency, vendors and energy audits,” says Poulos.

“There are two reasons to go green in this market,” Poulos says. “One is to save money on your utility bills.” Small tweaks such as insulating a water heater or adding extra insulation to leaky walls can help homeowners save $40 or $50 per month, Poulos says.

The second reason to make a home more energy-efficient is simply to improve its desirability on the market down the road.“Buyers want to save money [on utilities], too,” Poulos says, noting that Montgomery County recently passed a disclosure law that requires the sellers of owner-occupied homes to provide utility bills as part of their disclosure package to potential buyers. “If that’s not proof of awareness of utility costs and energy in the real estate market, I can’t imagine what is”.

Anyone with brains isn’t going to throw money away needlessly and a well insulated house is more comfortable to live in. Energy efficient boilers can make sense, over a long enough ownership, as do windows, wall insulation etc., all with the same caveat: if you stay there long enough to recoup the expense. None of this is cheap.

But this whole “Green Certification” program is a bunch of hooey dreamed up by the National Association of Realtors to add another look -good, meaningless “certification” after an agent’s name. Eighteen hours of on-line training? Wow, an expert!

My personal opinion is that an agent unwilling to keep abreast of new building techniques, including energy saving ones, without the help of an on-line course and without the lure of a silly new certification is probably not qualified to sell real estate to begin with. We’re supposed to be providing value for the money we receive. Blissful ignorance isn’t value.

Buyers have not and are not paying more for eco-friendly houses (they probably do in Seattle and Berkley, but those are in a different country). That fact drives eco-nuts crazy and explains why they keep enacting ever more onerous laws on builders. If something makes economic sense, people will respond. If it doesn’t, they won’t. Example? The compact fluorescent bulbs discussed earlier today. The Greens insisted that they save money so consumers should be forced to pay $15 each for them. Instead of being grateful, the rest of the country is discovering what those of us wh tried them before already knew: they give out lousy light, take forever to warm up, don’t last anywhere close to their advertised life and spew toxic dust when they break. So much for other people deciding what’s best for you. And so much for “Green Certification”. We don’ need no stinkin’ badges!

UPDATE: As mentioned previously, this stuff is no more valuable in Tucson than it is here.


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Republicans: dumb as a box of rocks

Says here that  Republicans are still fretting over the Democrats’ plan to ram their pet bills through Congress without allowing Republican input.

Republicans are in a tizzy because Democrats are threatening to use the budgetary procedure known as reconciliation — it reconciles policy with fiscal guidelines — to overhaul the health care system, possibly enact climate change legislation and rewrite education policy.

They have good reason to fret: If Democrats successfully invoke reconciliation, such major bills could pass by a simple majority vote, denying Republicans the filibuster, their sole remaining weapon to influence federal policy given the Democratic grip on government.

Dumb or unprincipled, take your pick. If Republicans really think that these laws will work, then they should join in enacting them and it’s unprincipled to oppose them. If they believe, on the other hand, that the laws will wreak havoc on our country, then they should stand back and let the Democrats take full credit, and remind voters of who was responsible the next election. Instead, these losers are whining that they want “input”, a chance to add their signature to these disasters, so that they can share the blame with the Democrats when it all blows up. That’s dumb, I say.

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This should give a certain builder in Greenwich pause

Vast computer spy network discovered – made in China

The malware is remarkable both for its sweep — in computer jargon, it has not been merely “phishing” for random consumers’ information, but “whaling” for particular important targets — and for its Big Brother-style capacities. It can, for example, turn on the camera and audio-recording functions of an infected computer, enabling monitors to see and hear what goes on in a room. The investigators say they do not know if this facet has been employed.

The Toronto researchers said they had notified international law enforcement agencies of the spying operation, which in their view exposed basic shortcomings in the legal structure of cyberspace. The F.B.I. declined to comment on the operation.

Although the Canadian researchers said that most of the computers behind the spying were in China, they cautioned against concluding that the Chinese government was involved. The spying could be a nonstate, for-profit operation, for example, or one run by private citizens in China known as “patriotic hackers.”

A spokesman for the Chinese Consulate in New York dismissed the idea that China was involved. “These are old stories and they are nonsense,” the spokesman, Wenqi Gao, said. “The Chinese government is opposed to and strictly forbids any cybercrime.”

Well if the Chinese government says it isn’t them, that’s good enough for me. Perhaps they just farm out the work to Google.


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Taxpayer Tea Party in Stamford

Who knew? At least one reader has suggested that we throw one here in Greenwich but I wasn’t so inclined, partly because my protest days went by sometime in 1970 or so and also because I figured Greenwich taxpayers protesting taxes would be so stereotypical that we’d be the laughing stock of the country.

But I’m reconsidering: the people rallying at these events are exactly the type who don’t “do” protests, and in view of the main stream media’s studied refusal to cover these demonstrations, maybe the magic name of Greenwich, plus the concept of the geese that lay the golden eggs threatening to go on strike would force the press to take notice. Maybe.

In the meantime, here’s a picture of the Stamford protest. I’m astonished to see Democrat activist and local politician Frank Farricker there. He’s the one in the pink bunny suit. The bicyclist way, way back on the fringe? Franklin Bloomer.



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There oughtta be (another) law!

Demonstrating once again that no man’s women or cattle are safe while the Legislature is in session, a Connecticut lawmaker wants to extend our drunk driving laws. Drive a car drunk, lose both your driver’s license and your boating license. Too many beers on the old Sea-Ray? Lose both licenses too.

[Usual blather here about  how I am aware of the danger of drunk drivers, the horrible tragedies they cause, how they should be tied up and burned, twice, until sent to Hell by an angry God]. BUT:

Our legislature seems unaware of what these little alcohol law extensions do. I know of a minor, 18 years old, who was caught buying a six pack of beer to share with five of her friends. They weren’t driving but, because they’d used a car to get to the liquor store, they were charged with possession of alcohol by a minor and the loss of their driver’s licenses for three months. $25 fine, so big deal, right? Wrong. A suspension of a license dumps them into the assigned risk pool for three years, at an extra premium of $3,000 per year. That’s a $9,000 fine for one unconsumed beer, and our local State’s Attorney will not plea bargain on this crime. I defy you to (a) deny that you had a beer when you were 18 and (b) find an 18 -year-old who knows of this provision of the law. No knowledge, no deterrence.

Similarly, while I am aware of drunk boaters out there (even the police, who love this proposed law as they love all proposed criminal laws, admit that drunk boating is a rare occurrence) but is there any evidence that a fisherman who has too many beers in the sun will also drive our streets drunk while on land? None was mentioned in this article.

I don’t drink, at all, so please don’t send me clippings of horror stories – I’m aware of them. My point is that we need a sense of proportion here. Just as banning convicted sex offenders from our beaches goes too far, in my opinion, hitting a drunk boater with the loss of his car driver’s license, thousands of dollars of insurance premiums and possibly the loss of his job seems uncalled for, excessive and too harsh.


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They’ll always have the Bolivar

U.S. freezes accounts of Miami money-launderer, cuts off Venezuela’s source of black market dollars. Trouble is, it seems nobody in Venezuela, including its nationalized oil industry, likes the “Strong Bolivar” Chavez has introduced. No dollars means the country’s economic system will have to run on a currency worth less than a plate of refried beans. Too bad.

By the way, assuming that this Justice Department move started before January 21st, this salutary move comes courtesy of that befuddled cowboy, now retired to Texas. Thank you, Mr. President.

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Freon and ac units

Reader Wally reports that the company that sold him a new HVAC system three years ago has now informed him that the freon in it has been banned by the EPA and he’ll need a new system. I suggested that, since the freon ban has been discussed at least since 1986, enacted in 1993, with an effective date of 1996, any company that sold him a system dependent on the stuff in 2006 should probably be sued.

But I did a little Googling and this fact sheet from the EPA seems to suggest that Wally need not worry – except about the honesty of his HVAC company, who appears to be blowing smoke and trying to stir up business in a slow time.

I know nothing about the subject but the fact sheet I linked to is a good starting point if you have questions about your own system.

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How’s the low end doing? Not so bad

6 Ernel Dr

6 Ernel Dr

This was (is) a nice cape, renovated around 2003, that sold for $780,500 in May, 2005. Ernel is a small dead end off Sound Beach Drive Ext. and the houses there – all 5 or so of them – have decent yards. So it wasn’t astonishing to see the new owners ask $850,000 for this house in March of ’08. Ambitious, but not astonishingly so. But the market didn’t cooperate until they knocked it down to $770 and yesterday it sold, for $750,000. That’s not what the sellers hoped, I imagine, but a 4% hit in this market is not too painful – in fact, I think it’s a good result.

One sale that was not reported before the close of business yesterday is that of a new spec house, rumored to be going for an excellent (for the builder) price. Maybe next week. The buyer is also rumored to be somewhat other than the typical Greenwich buyer but then, life is change. Should be interesting.


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Byram Library reopens today

Only 16 years over-due but welcome news all the same. I’m still puzzled, though: as recently as last week the head of Greenwich Library refused to even guess at a completion date when, it turns out, that happy day was just a week away. Was she that clueless about its status or was she simply continuing the lack of communication with residents that’s plagued this project since Moses threw down his chisel and walked off the job? Regardless, I’m delighted for Byram. I hope the residents there still remember their reading skills.

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Public housing in Greenwich

The power plant’s ours -now, where’s that public housing we promised to build?

In an interview in his Town Hall office, Mr. Tesei said that local sentiment simply does not support the use of town resources for affordable housing. “Many people would argue, ‘Who’s subsidizing my housing?’ ” he said.

Contrary to popular media portrayals of Greenwich as a place inhabited solely by the rich, he added, the town has an economically diverse population as well as diverse housing stock. To support his point, Mr. Tesei printed out a list of about 100 properties available for rent at $1,050 to $2,500 a month. The list is maintained on the town’s Web site to aid municipal employees looking for housing.

As a percentage of its housing inventory, Greenwich actually has a higher level of affordable housing than some of its Fairfield County neighbors. About 5 percent of the housing inventory, or 1,230 units, qualifies as permanently affordable under state guidelines because it is either subsidized or subject to an affordability deed restriction. That’s about twice the percentage that exists in New Canaan or Darien.

Mr. Tesei is beginning to grow on me. And, although they’ve tried, low income housing advocates have never explained to my satisfaction why I should be taxed to accommodate another person’s choice of occupation, be it school teacher, policeman or welfare mom.

UPDATE: well I’ve heard from policemen, teachers and, assuming he is one, Fred the welfare mom. All are hurt that I don’t want to subsidize their housing. My point is, do what you want to do in life: be a cop, a teacher, a real estate agent or even an investment banker or welfare sponge. Each has its rewards: real estate agents and welfare moms have a lot of leisure time, for instance as do IBrs, these days, and each has its costs. Like, salary. You want to be an artist? Go for it, man, but don’t ask Fred to pay out of his pocket for your choice. Buy your own paint, rent your own garret.


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This sounds familiar

I blame bloggers!  NYC brokers start admitting reality – the real estate market has tanked.

THE incredible shrinking real estate market has arrived right here inManhattan, and now that the first quarter is over, not even the most ebullient broker will be able to dispute it. Now everyone will have no choice but to adjust to a market where buyers aren’t buying and sellers aren’t selling, new developments have stalled and mortgages remain scarce.

Tina Fineberg for The New York Times

The evidence of this decline is likely to arrive later this week when a series of market reports are released, documenting in detail the decline in sales in every type of apartment in every neighborhood.

Last year, the Manhattan real estate market was an $18 billion business. So far this year, sales are off more than 60 percent, according to a preliminary review of first-quarter figures. That is steeper than the year-to-year decline in auto sales in February in the United States.

The drop-off in activity, especially among the most expensive apartments favored by the barons of Wall Street, led to steep drops in city real estate transfer taxes, forced brokerage firms to close offices, led to soaring inventory and left buyers and sellers uncertain about how to proceed.

For now, it seems, the market will be left to people who really need to move and who really need to buy. “If you are going to be there long term, and you need a place to live, go for it — if your time horizon is five or more years,” said Dolly Lenz, a broker at Prudential Douglas Elliman.

Right now, she said, there is a standoff in the market, with buyers expecting huge discounts and sellers resisting. “The buyers and sellers have gotten different memos of what the price should be and no one is budging,” she said.

Michelle Kleier of Gumley Haft Kleier said her firm was still making sales, but of smaller apartments at lower prices than she was used to, typically to first-time home buyers and parents buying apartments for their children.

In the 1980s, a glut of unsold Manhattan apartments in failed projects undermined the market for years. No one knows whether this will be the pattern this time around or whether the market will rebound more quickly if the economy, the stock market and the banks bounce back later this year.



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Bad news for Madoff fleecees – trading unit’s worth just $15 million

That’s the highest (and only) bid received for the trading arm of Madoff’s phony empire – the one run by the boys, Andy and Mark. For reasons that escaped me, the receiver and other experts had estimated its worth at $400,000,000 and had included a large part of that figure in determining that there was $800 million available to pay creditors. Yet, it turned out, the operation never made money and was subsidized by Bernie’s thefts from his own investors. The one bright spot? Andy and Mark have been fired and now have time to go fishing with Hooper.


Who needs money, Andy, when we can live on love and bonefish?

Who needs money, Andy, when we can live on love and bonefish?

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Woes for Goldman Partners continue

It was already reported that Goldman Sachs offered loans to 1,000 of its lower-tier partners to help them meet margin calls (from Goldman!) and bail out of outside investments gone sour. Now it turns out that senior partners aren’t much better off.

The executives are not the only Goldman employees who have faced a liquidity squeeze. Goldman also offered loans earlier this month to more than 1,000 employees who invested in its internal investment funds. About 10 percent of those employees have indicated interest in the loans, according to a person briefed on the matter. The employees will use the loans to meet their contractual obligations to put more money into the bank’s internal investment funds.

Few banks were as high-flying as Goldman when Wall Street was riding high. In 2006, the bank paid more than 50 people more than $20 million each. But longtime partners at the firm, like Mr. Palm and Mr. Winkelried, have been particularly stung by the slide in its stock, and Goldman has been among the banks that have made margin calls on their own workers.

Goldman was the last Wall Street firm to go public, and many partners there, current and former, have held onto their stock since the offering 10 years ago because they did not want to pay the large tax bills attached to the profits that would accrue from sales of their shares.

Some partners and other employees there borrowed against their stock for living expenses or to make other investments in areas like hedge funds and private equity funds.

In a much-noticed sign of the times, Mr. Winkelried, a former investment banker, put his estate in Nantucket on the market last fall for $55 million. He has since lowered the price. He also owns a home in Short Hills, N.J., and a horse farm in Colorado.


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Domes leak; CFL’s suck

The observation about domes was Stewart Brand’s (“The Whole Earth Catalogue”) summation of the failed “back-to-nature” movement by the late 60’s hippies. The conclusion about compact fluorescent bulbs is reported today by The New York Times.

SAN FRANCISCO — It sounds like such a simple thing to do: buy some new light bulbs, screw them in, save the planet.

But a lot of people these days are finding the new compact fluorescent bulbs anything but simple. Consumers who are trying them say they sometimes fail to work, or wear out early. At best, people discover that using the bulbs requires learning a long list of dos and don’ts.

Take the case of Karen Zuercher and her husband, in San Francisco. Inspired by watching the movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” they decided to swap out nearly every incandescent bulb in their home for energy-saving compact fluorescents. Instead of having a satisfying green moment, however, they wound up coping with a mess.

“Here’s my sad collection of bulbs that didn’t work,” Ms. Zuercher said the other day as she pulled a cardboard box containing defunct bulbs from her laundry shelf.

One of the 16 Feit Electric bulbs the Zuerchers bought at Costco did not work at all, they said, and three others died within hours. The bulbs were supposed to burn for 10,000 hours, meaning they should have lasted for years in normal use. “It’s irritating,” Ms. Zuercher said.

Irritation seems to be rising as more consumers try compact fluorescent bulbs, which now occupy 11 percent of the nation’s eligible sockets, with 330 million bulbs sold every year. Consumers are posting vociferous complaints on the Internet after trying the bulbs and finding them lacking.

Experts say the quality problems are compounded by poor package instructions. Using the bulbs incorrectly, like screwing low-end bulbs into fixtures where heat is prone to build up, can greatly shorten their lives. [like your recessed lighting and overheads – ed]

Some experts who study the issue blame the government for the quality problems, saying an intensive federal push to lower the price essentially backfired by encouraging manufacturers to use cheap components.

“In the pursuit of the holy grail, we stepped on the consumer,” said Michael Siminovitch, director of a lighting center at the University of California, Davis.

Compact fluorescents once cost as much as $30 apiece. Now they go for as little as $1 — still more than regular bulbs, but each compact fluorescent is supposed to last 10 times longer, save as much as $5.40 a bulb each year in electricity, and reduce emissions of carbon dioxide from burning coal in power plants.

Consumers are supposed to be able to protect themselves by buying bulbs certified under the government’s Energy Star program. But experts and some environmental groups complain that Energy Star standards are weak, permitting low-quality bulbs with too high a level of mercury, a toxic metal contained in all compact fluorescents.

“The standard essentially establishes a floor, which sorts out the junk, with the expectation that the rest is good,” Mr. Siminovitch said. “It’s not.”

The government, which will begin enforcing tighter specifications this year, [Congress has banned incandescent light bulbs, beginning in 2010 – ed] says it must seek a balance between quality and affordability to achieve its goal of getting millions of additional consumers to install the bulbs.

“Something that is perfect but not affordable wouldn’t serve the broad interests,” said Peter Banwell, the Energy Department’s manager of product marketing for Energy Star.

Here’s a hint for the idiot politicians who have banned them: there is already a product that is perfect and affordable and has worked successfully for over 100 years – it’s the incandescent bulbs. Voters may not revolt over paying high taxes, although I hope they will. When they have to deal with these Congressionally mandated bulbs, find that they’re junk and then discover that they can no longer buy incandescents, we may finally see the anger at Washington I’ve been dreaming of for years.

UPDATE: Don’t forget “Celebrate Civilization Hour” tonight at 8:30 PM! Turn on all your incandescent bulbs!



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