June 29, 2009

Attack on your wallet

With the news dominated by Wacko Jacko and Bernie Made-off-with-your-money, I was pleased to have a lead story for today's OBJ Market Wrap radio report -- thanks to my colleague Steven E.F. Brown in San Francisco -- that hadn't already reached the saturation point: Oil over $71 a barrel after Nigerian attacks.

But then I started to wonder: Why, with the SEC filing charges against even more Ponzi scheme operators and troop movements in Iraq and Nigerians blowing up oil rigs, did our local daily devote a large portion of page A1 to a story about a woman whose car has 600,000 miles on it?

I'll admit this is mildly interesting. And it is local. And an attempt was made to make it relevant to the reader by including a list of tips on how to keep a car running for a long time. It surely would have made a better inside feature than another of the one-size-fits-all Tribune features packaged in Chicago for distrubution to every market in the country. (You can spot these because the writers are identified as being with "Tribune Media Services" instead of as staff writers for the local paper.) But local or not, a person driving the same gas-guzzler since the Johnson administration is not A1 news.

The destruction of oil rigs in Nigeria is. Need I explain why?

I don't know at what hour the local daily is printed, but Bloomberg had the Nigerian oil story at 3 a.m. EDT. At that time, it said "Crude oil for August delivery rose … to $69.41 a barrel."

By the time I did the OBJ Market Wrap for WLOQ-FM this afternoon, crude was up to $71.50, a 3 percent increase from yesterday's close. In after-hours trading, it's up further still, at $71.87. This means all of us will be paying more for gas, no matter how old our cars are.

June 13, 2009

Taking stock of the market

My friends no doubt think I'm crazy, reading Peter Lynch's 15-year-old investment book Beating the Street. Anything about the stock market that's printed on dead trees must be outdated, right?

Not entirely.

Certainly many of the individual stock recommendations are no longer applicable, because companies, industries, and most importantly, regulations have changed. This book predates Sarbanes-Oxley.

Nevertheless, the book is informative on two counts. First, as a sort of professional biography, in which Lynch recounts his experiences as a stockpicker. And second, as a manual describing how to research public companies.

One can always learn from history, and Lynch's observations about what he calls "The Great Correction of ’87" are instructive for those wondering how to invest in the current climate. Chapter nine is called "Prospecting in Bad News."

People, companies, and stock portfolios grow by learning from mistakes. But it's equally important to learn from other people's successes. The Great Correction of ’87 did not herald the end of civilization, nor did any of the 33 recessions identified by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The lessons on how Lynch and others prospected their way to success through the recessions of the ’80s and ’90s are still instructive to us today, even though we are no longer able to follow his suggestion to buy Chrysler. Even if we wanted to.

June 8, 2009

Fitting a book into your boot

Grant Barrett, a lexicographer and co-host of the National Public Radio show A Way With Words, has posted an e-book version of his The Official Dictionary of Unofficial English on his blog as a free download.

He has done this because the book, which is no longer being printed by the publisher, has shown up on bootleg e-book sites. Barrett figures he'd just as soon have the traffic to his site as someone else's. He also says he's "resigned" to the bootlegging of his book.

Which is sad, really. No person should have to resign himself to the theft of his work.

Unfortunately, there isn't much that can be done to stop book bootlegging. Or movie or music bootlegging or other forms of intellectual property theft, for that matter.

And it can't all be blamed on computers and the Internet, either. On an episode of Masterpiece Classics earlier this season, host Laura Linney mentioned that Charles Dickens's books, though immensely popular in the U.S., earned him little money here because most of the editions were bootlegged.

Now, as then, most people give little thought to copyrights. It would be laudable if the citizenry would consider it their bounden duty to uphold copyright law. But I hold out little hope for this, given a society in which we can't stop our own co-workers from taking their colleagues' sodas from the company fridge. Perhaps resignation is the less stressful response.

June 7, 2009

Of big hats and knitting in public

I was going through some old issues of Knitter's Magazine, and re-read Perri Klass' Winter 2003 column "Knitting Fantasies," about places she'd like to knit but wouldn't. Klass wrote: "Am I the only person who has ever thought about how well knitting would go with religious services? Has anyone ever tried it?"

I read that column back in '03, and the idea of knitting in church germinated. I started knitting in church several years ago. Also, one of my fellow congregants crochets in church. We have yet to be chided for this activity. Keeping the hands busy producing something useful not only aids concentration, it prevents sleepiness. If only my teenage boy would take up knitting...

Klass also wrote that she would not take knitting to a business banquet. I have tried this a couple of times, but these were luncheons, not dinners. It seemed those who saw me doing it were smiling. I suspect they wished they had something to occupy their hands, especially when the speaker was dull. Those with Blackberrys didn't seem to notice me knitting.

I admit to feeling a bit self-conscious, but I didn't let that stop me. I suppose I am willing to be considered eccentric. I also once wore a wide-brim church hat to a business luncheon, but I haven't dared the hat and the knitting at the same business event. Yet.

June 2, 2009

When do we get to the last "first?"

I long for the day when the first deaf Jewish female president nominates the first quadriplegic Buddist of Kazakh descent as a supreme court justice, and the only thing the media mentions is ... you know, the nominee's actual judicial record.