Sunday, April 25, 2010

Microfiction Monday

The picture below is the inspiration and a 140 character limit sets the parameters. Susan at Stony River is the host of this Microfiction Monday. Please click here to check out Susan's excellent site and learn more about Microfiction Monday.

Here is this weeks Microfiction Monday picture and my 'micro' short story.

Remaking ‘Twister’ with goats flying around, I guess. I knew the T-Rex snack scene in ‘Jurassic Park’ was a big mistake. I need a new agent!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

beware of the bogeyman-again

Over the past couple of weeks, I have squeezed in some time for two important tasks. In preparatory fashion, I have cleaned out and organized my golf bag to ready myself for a new season of play. In proactive fashion, I have reallocated funds and changed future contributions within the retirement plans for myself and my wife, as we attempt to keep vigilant, focused and intent on making up ground from the financial horror of 2008.

Doing this has reminded me of a post I originally presented October 31, 2008. In the post I offer a comparative view of how a few poorly scored holes during a round of golf and a few poorly returned annual retirement statements can mean disaster.

And, in light of the extensive news coverage this week, regarding accusations of possible investment fraud at the illustrious Wall Street firm, Goldman Sachs, perhaps some of you may also be thinking about the persistent need to monitor our potential perils.

So, here is the re-run from October 31, 2008.

Besides running, one of my favorite activities is golf. I do not play as often as I desire. I play just frequently enough to maintain the status quo. That is to say, as reflected by my scorecard, I get no better or worse from round to round. Two things are consistent with my rounds of play: I usually score in the low 90's and I usually par 4 or 5 holes. But once in a while, to my bitter consternation, I am forced to pencil in a total in the low 100's back at the clubhouse. How does this happen?

There are a few ways to dissect the missteps. I could site poor course management, wrong club selection, an unbalanced stance, wayward putts and bad tee shots. But the basic reality, more often than not, comes down to having had two bad holes verse four good holes. The rest of the holes can be bogey, double bogey or may I say average for those of you less familiar with the game of golf. Lets say, for example, on my typical day there are 4 holes on which I score pars of 4 each. The total for these 4 holes is 16. If the remaining 14 holes are split between bogey and double bogey I will score 77 on the remaining holes. That makes the round of 4 par holes equaling 16, plus the 14 average holes equaling 77 add up to a total of 93.

The math of the bad round is similar, but with different results. If I have 2 disaster holes of 8 each, that will equal 16. If the balance of 16 holes are average (split again between bogey and double bogey) they will equal 88. That would make this unpleasant outing of 2 holes equaling 16, plus 16 holes equaling 88 add up to a total of 104--yikes!

Bluntly, a couple of bad holes can have a profound effect on the final tally. Rarely occurring, but known to happen, a one hole meltdown can have a powerful effect on a final score as well. Business conventions held at lavish resorts are a good place to witness this malady. I have seen this kind of blow up several times in this past couple of decades. Players at these events tend to be inebriated, unfocused and are often up against a very difficult course with which they are unfamiliar. The most common ingredients to spur this abomination include a par 5 hole on the back nine when fatigue sets in on the unfocused golfer. The hole may start with an errant out of bounds shot from the tee box, then overcompensation of a swing to plunk a ball in the water, a flub(a poorly hit ball that goes nowhere), a swing and a miss, balls getting buried in the lip of a sand trap, more angry miss hits, shank a wedge (a home run when you wanted to bunt), four putts and penalty strokes. All this can harden into a 16 on the scorecard for just one par 5 hole.

What does a 16 on a single hole do to a scorecard? Well, if the rest of the 17 holes are split between 1 and 2 over par they will equal 94. The math then becomes 16 on one hole plus 94 on 17 holes adding up to a total of 110. I call that--double yikes!!

Why do I shine a light on these golf escapades knowing that many of you reading this post may have little in common with these experiences? The answer is because many of you reading this post may be planning for retirement with the help of 401K's, or other market related investments. And I fear that for many people this one investment year of 2008 will be like a 16 on a par 5 hole.

In the past few weeks, people I know and some I barely know have been telling me of their woes of financial loss. I am not referring to wealthy (or now semi-wealthy) individuals who may have lost millions. I regularly hear from middle class people that tell me of their $200,000 dollar to $300,000 dollar losses. Some of theses losses are in retirement plans, some are self picked stocks and commodities and some are day trade accounts. Many pundits say that these are paper losses now and that over time the markets will recover. And for many people this may be true. But, for some investors, their money may be lost forever or at least very difficult to recapture.

Recently, while I was waiting for a business appointment, an anonymous gentleman that I never met before felt the need to share with me his story. He was in his 50's and lives in middle class suburbia. Perhaps because I draw people out or because he had so much to vent, he opened up his laptop to show me his trading account. He told me that he started about 2 years ago with $100,000 dollars. He reached his high of $197,000 dollars midway last year. He didn't stay on that point for more than an instant. He vigorously began to recall the stocks that he thought would be his salvation. Then he told me about his margin account, and about buying stocks on loaned money. As the market began to head south, instead of getting conservative, he saw buying opportunities. He took on more stocks and more margin and more risk. In the few weeks from late September to early October his picks began to plummet and the margin calls came fast. He directed me to the lower left corner of his screen. The balance read $3400 dollars. He kept telling me the same story, repeating items over and over. He could dissect the missteps, point out his mistakes, and acknowledge the occurrence. However, the surrealism of the incident prevented him from feeling anything. In a sort of therapeutic role, I just nodded and listened, as if to transmit that awareness is the first step toward recovery.

Maybe Tiger Woods would be able to come back from a 16 on a par 5 hole to have a respectable round. And maybe Warren Buffett would be able to resuscitate $3400 dollars back to $197,000 dollars in 5 or 10 years. For most of us though, it would seem to be an unlikely prospect. Still, we must try our best. The topography ahead will be rough. Stay sober and focused when handling your money. Choose investments carefully and apply good asset allocation management. Do not make important decisions in haste. When it is needed, ask for advice. And remember, average scores from this point may deliver a final retirement statement inked with the revelations of a double yikes.

If so, you may want to head straight for the clubhouse--others there will be waiting to listen.

© 2010 Christopher’s Views

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Microfiction Monday

The picture below is the inspiration and a 140 character limit sets the parameters. Susan at Stony River is the host of this Microfiction Monday. Please click here to check out Susan's excellent site and learn more about Microfiction Monday.

Here is this weeks Microfiction Monday picture and my 'micro' short story.

Okay guys, good input and not a bad template. But we’ll need more cleavage in order to attain the ‘Unload Some Moldy Stogies’ bonus award.

a 5-kilometer detour

I have been an enthusiastic runner for the past 10 years, and a New Yorker for the past 50 years. So, when a friend recently made me aware of an annual 5K run that takes place on a runway at JFK Airport (surprise to me), I thought that’s a great novelty.

I went straight to the web page of the JFK Rotary Club to register. After all, watching Bruce Willis, as John McClane, manhandle some impossible tasks out on the runways of Dulles Int’l Airport in Washington D.C. during Die Hard II is about as close as I’ve ever been to a ground level view.

The run took place this morning and the weather conditions were excellent. An early morning temperature of around 45 degrees, along with partly sunny skies provided an ideal race environment.

Unfortunately what was supposed to be a “5K Runway Run” turned into an airport roadway run. We heard a few different reasons for the change of plans. Security reasons, construction on an adjacent runway, and backlog from the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano were the top contenders. Gate A, B, C, all or none of the above-I don’t know.

Overall, the organizers from the JFK Rotary Club put together a worthy event. Hopefully though, next year, I will be able to savor the novelty of the experience, instead of the usual bag of trinkets.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Microfiction Monday

The picture below is the inspiration and a 140 character limit sets the parameters. Susan at Stony River is the host of this Microfiction Monday. Please click here to check out Susan's excellent site and learn more about Microfiction Monday.

Here is this weeks Microfiction Monday picture and my 'micro' short story.

Some like to catch the worm. Some hang with Hans Christian Andersen. But this old early bird is all about primo seats and waterfront access!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

time to stop passing the buck within the Catholic Church

I was planning to fulfill my vow of not joining in on the latest round of criticism against the Roman Catholic Church during Holy Week. Unfortunately though, that will not happen. In fairness, I suppose I need to reveal that I was raised Catholic, have grown increasingly disappointed with how the hierarchy of the Church functions (or dysfunctions I think) and have not attended Mass or other Catholic services in about seven years.

I was driven over the edge of non compliance however, when I read an ad placed in the New York Times, on Tuesday of this week, by Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. I was reminded that even as an altar boy, in the late sixties and early seventies, I was well beyond the degree of denial and insult to intelligence which often encircles the Catholic Church to this very day. I am appalled by the inability of some defenders of the Catholic Church to understand the serious nature of abuse. And I am completely disgusted by spin that tries to lay blame on the era, suggesting that society didn’t know how to handle child molestation accusations until somewhere around 1996.

Mr. Donohue’s message was quite disturbing in my view. He titled the ad “Going For The Vatican Jugular”. Much of the ire seems to stem from a New York Times article published on March 24th, which brings attention to the case of Father Lawrence C. Murphy, who was accused of molesting possibly as many as 200 boys at a Wisconsin boarding school for the deaf from about 1952 to 1974. And yet, prior to Father Murphy’s death in 1998, the Catholic Church hadn’t defrocked him or recommended him for prosecution.

Mr. Donohue stated “The Times says repeatedly that Church officials did not report accusations of abuse to the police. The common response of all organizations, secular as well as religious, was to access therapy and reinstate the patient (I prefer the term offender). Today it is obvious that a more hard-line approach is necessary, though therapy is still popular in many quarters.”

Just from my own memories, I disagree with that notion. By the time I graduated elementary school I was aware that child molestation was a police matter. And I believe most other people knew that as well. Shamefully though, for too many abused children, help did not come soon enough.

As for the above mentioned therapy policy that Mr. Donohue sites, it rings incomplete and strange to me. And I would like to know why he is so concerned about therapy for the predator and makes no reference about the therapeutic needs of the victims.

Mr. Donohue then advances another absurd contention. He states, “The Times continues to editorialize about the “pedophilia crisis,” when all along it’s been a homosexual crisis. Eighty percent of the victims of priestly sexual abuse are male and most of them are post-pubescent. While homosexuality does not cause predatory behavior, and most gay priests are not molesters, most of the molesters have been gay.”

I picture wheels coming off and Mr. Donohue’s line of reasoning hitting the wall here. Homosexuality is not about having sex with minors, in the same manner that heterosexuality is not about having sex with minors. Pedophilia however, is by definition, a sexual perversion involving children as the object of desire. I am also unaware of a term that would better describe the "priestly sexual abuse" of around eighty percent males (twenty percent female evidently), where the victims are minors, and mostly post-pubescent (but not exclusively evidently), other than calling this pedophilia. Certainly it is off the mark to label such behavior a "homosexual crisis".

The ad doesn’t reference a source for where Mr. Donohue gathers his statistics from regarding the "Eighty percent of the victims of priestly sexual abuse are male and most of them are post-pubescent." breakdown, and by not addressing the abuse of the other twenty percent of the victims, they seem to be minimized along the way.

I am not an advocate for the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI over these matters. But, regarding allegations of abuse, the leaders and supporters of the Roman Catholic Church must begin demonstrating extra concern for the victims. In short, a whole lot more validation and contrition is needed.

Forgiveness flows more readily to those who accept blame, than to those who continue pointing fingers.

© 2010 Christopher’s Views