Out of Service

Hello, I must be going now
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said:—Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.


— Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Ozymandias”

Look on my works, ye mighty, and take care:
Introduction
Table of Contents
Preface to the occasional reader
Oop. Time, She’s Up
Cheerio.

~ THE END ~

© 2015 The Epicurean Dealmaker. All rights reserved.

Uncle Warren Explains It All to You

Time for Daddy’s little dividend
“Sure, sure.”

— Sidney J. Mussburger, The Hudsucker Proxy

Apparently some doddering old fart in Omaha, Nebraska published a celebratory letter yesterday in connection with an obscure anniversary some of you might have heard about. Something to do with a mid-range furniture store or failed textile mill or something. Anyway, I felt compelled to read it, if only because every financial pundit in the Western Hemisphere has been recommending its salutary virtues to me with a fervor approaching the evangelical. Personally, I found it more hokey and self-congratulatory than illuminating, but then again I tend to prefer my moral fiber to come unencumbered by six cups of refined sugar and smug self satisfaction per serving. I know, I know: I am downright un-American.

If you care about the content of this man’s nattering—and the compl(i/e)mentary nattering of his partner in cast iron cheer—I would refer you to Matt Levine, who offered a very serviceable summary unburdened by the usual encomia breathlessly showered on this duo by all and sundry. He points out that the success of the business purchasing part of this entity can be neatly reduced to the skill with which the principal buys and sells said businesses, and not hands on management and supervision thereof, which said demiurge studiously avoids. This strikes me as essentially correct. He also calls attention to an aspect of the jolly old elf’s behavior that tends to be overlooked by his cheerleaders: he is a ruthless allocator of the bounteous capital at his command. Far from his image as a genial rich uncle offering cozy and undemanding shelter from the withering blasts of shareholder capitalism to skittish families and corporate management teams in search of a few shekels to renovate their yachts, Mr. Buffett drives a hard bargain going in and, in the event the bloom comes off the rose, delivers an even harder kick in the pants going out.

Warren buys cheap, and then he owns your ass in perpetuity, unless he decides to dump you. Which is just fine, by the way: it’s what his shareholders want him to do, and he has been very successful at it. It just amuses me this incontrovertible characterization seems to elude almost everybody who has gushed about him in the past.

* * *
Aaannnyhoo, Warren Buffett is a serial acquirer of companies, inter alia, and he is indisputably good at it. And this explains (if does not condone) the snarky barbs he sends my direction, railing against investment bankers, to which my response is the entire point of this peroration. Now everybody knows, your defensive correspondent included, that nobody likes investment bankers, so I do not anticipate my remarks will undermine the regard in which the Great Man is held by anybody. Nor do I begrudge a beloved financial celebrity and multibillionaire a little fun in kicking the mangy village cur everybody hates, but I do hope to persuade at least a few of you that Mr.
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Goldman Sachs Doesn’t Care What You Think

Meow
A cat may look at a king.

— English proverb

So, in an apparent effort to raise its rank in the Most Recognized Polling Firm in America Sweepstakes, Harris Poll recently published a survey of 27,278 individuals across this fine land to determine America’s 100 most- and least-loved corporations. Bloomberg Business subsequently took time out of its busy day to gleefully report that Goldman Sachs, investment bank and über squid of the global financial markets, finished dead last:
People hate Goldman Sachs more than oil spills and the Koch brothers.
Well, far be it for me to rain on Bloomberg’s and Harris Poll’s parade, but I am here to tell you children, with complete confidence, that Goldman Sachs just doesn’t care what you think.

Now this does not mean there isn’t some poor (relatively) underpaid slob scurrying around Goldman Sachs’ Public Relations Department pulling out his or her hair, fretting that you and your Aunt Millie in Rochester think poorly of his or her employer. After all, big corporations like Goldman Sachs have to employ people like that whose job it is to care, if only for appearances’ sake. Generally conveying to the public at large that you don’t give a fuck tends not to play well and can introduce all sorts of petty annoyances and frictions in the conduct of one’s business, so spending a few otherwise forgettable millions on PR can work out to be a good investment.1 This is common knowledge.

But deep in the bowels of Goldman’s money spinning machine and high in the corridors of the executive suite at its West Street headquarters, you may safely assume the people who matter do not give a flying fuck in a rolling donut that you don’t like them. Sorry to be harsh, but there it is.

* * *
Now I realize such indifference to negative public opinion may strike you as odd, given that our culture’s highest aspiration seems to be getting Kim Kardashian to “like” your Facebook post gushing over her latest dress, so I am happy to take a few hours from my Saturday morning to explain.

First of all, of course, there is the fact that Goldman Sachs does not sell soda pop. The Bloomberg article ventures:
A bad reputation can affect a company’s bottom line. Harris Poll says 36 percent of adults have decided not to support a business because of something questionable they learned about its conduct. And more than half of consumers now do some research on the businesses they’ve either heard about or are about to spend money on. The findings suggest that companies aren’t as immune from moral blunders—be it expired meat or toxic mortgages—as they once might have been. “The American public strongly believes reputation matters and acts on that belief,” said Carol Gstalder, Harris Poll’s reputation and public relations practice leader.
How, pray tell, do you and your Aunt Millie intend to act on your disgust with Goldman? Do you intend to boycott their supermarkets, buy your cell phone from another manufacturer, or drive a mile out of your way to get gas from a less despicable energy company? Oh, I know: you’ll refuse to invest in their mutual funds or use their mobile trading app to make $9.
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Passing Fair

Change can be beautiful
What though the sea with waves continuall
Doe eate the earth, it is no more at all ;
Ne is the earth the lesse, or loseth ought :
For whatsoever from one place doth fall
Is with the tyde unto another brought :
For there is nothing lost, that may be found if sought.


― Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene

Municipal bond market maven, government official, and longtime Twitter fixture Kristi Culpepper penned an interesting riposte yesterday to Leon Wieseltier’s recent jeremiad against the disruptive cultural effects of technology in The New York Times. Leon, you may recall, laid about rather vigorously with his rhetorical cudgel in defense of humanism against the allied evils he sees arrayed against it today, including technologism, scientism, data fetishism, and commerce. He declared—correctly if rather dramatically—that “A culture is an internecine contest between alternative conceptions of the human.” And he, if I may be so blunt, came down on the side of writing, art, and Western cultural patrimony and against the forces who wish to strip, devalue, and denature same in the name of technological progress and efficiency.

Now, being as I have consistently declared myself an amateur and aficionado of such arty, literary, cultural-y things, I am sympathetic to Mr. Wieseltier’s arguments, although I do think he lays it on a bit thick in the straw man department. I also have reservations that his full-throated defense of writers and thinkers against the commoditization, devaluation, and impoverishment of a certain sort of careful, deeply informed thinking and writing by the forces triumphant of digital and social media is a bit overblown. For one thing, I would observe Mr. Wieseltier himself seems to have had no problem securing a soapbox at the paper of record for the liberal intelligentsia to spout his opinions, mere weeks after the implosion of his prior perch at The New Republic due to the machinations of the sort of technologist philistines he decries. Second, I utterly fail to see a shortage of intelligent, hardworking writers pontificating on important matters and sundry throughout the English speaking opinionsphere. It seems that everybody and his brother and his brother’s three-legged cat are scribbling as journalists, bloggers, opinion editors, MFA students, novelists, and nonfiction writers nowadays. When I walk into the ground floor of my local 50,000 square foot Barnes & Noble bookstore, I am not struck by any dearth of written material for my perusal, and the ground floor of my store is not filled with the works of dead white men (those are in the basement). Speaking as an acolyte of microeconomics (and a minor unpaid contributor to the general oversupply of published dreck), it strikes me that writers face a supply problem in the market for their wares, not a lack of demand. Maybe if writing weren’t so popular as a lifestyle choice, rather than an actual calling for a dedicated few (as it has been for most of recorded time), fewer professional writers would be bemoaning the parlous state of their bank accounts.

Be that as it may, Ms Culpepper takes issue with our Cultural Cassandra from another direction:
First, innovation presents new opportunities to define oneself for those that are willing to invest the time and effort. The same is true for society as a whole. That Wieseltier doesn’t want the character of society to be determined by engineers overlooks history. Feats of engineering have been a conduit for conversations about the public good and the ambitions of civilization from ancient Rome to NASA. I don’t understand the temptation to hold art or poetry above these endeavors.
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Nerd Intersectionality

Are we having fun yet?
Infancy is not what it is cracked up to be. The child seems happy all the time to the adult, because the adult knows that the child is untouched by the real problems of life; if the adult were similarly untouched he is sure that he would be happy. But children, not knowing that they are having an easy time, have a good many hard times. Growing and learning and obeying the rules of their elders, of fighting against them, are not easy things to do. Adolescence is certainly far from a uniformly pleasant period. Early manhood might be the most glorious time of all were it not that the sheer excess of life and vigor gets a fellow into continual scrapes. Of middle age the best that can be said is that a middle aged person has likely learned how to have a little fun in spite of his troubles.

It is to old age that we look for reimbursement, the most of us. And most of us look in vain. For the most of us have been wrenched and racked, in one way or another, until old age is the most trying time of all.


— Don Marquis, “The Almost Perfect State

I was browsing the online portal for the My Emotional Wounds Are Bigger Than Your Emotional Wounds Victims’ Society1 this morning, O Dearly Beloved, when I encountered an essay by feminist firebrand Laurie Penny in which she took MIT Professor Scott Aaronson to task for justifying nerds’ insensitivity to male privilege in the technology industry. Notwithstanding some hyperbolic posturing about what Penny calls the “disaster of heterosexuality” [sic], it reads as a sensitive and revealing first person demolition of the notion that white male nerds faced some sort of unique hell growing up that can possibly justify their current behavior. I’ll let you go ahead and read it, if that’s your sort of thing.

If it is not, or you are back already, I would prefer to direct you to an earlier essay by computer nerd Pete Warden, cited approvingly by Penny and unfamiliar to me until now. In his essay, Warden, a die-hard, early adopter hacker type übernerd, correctly points out (in inimitable nerd fashion) that technology nerds, far from being the underdogs they so painfully remember being in their adolescence, are now Kings of the Hill:
We’re still behaving like the rebel alliance, but now we’re the Empire.
This is spot on. But then Warden goes and ruins the ride when he corrects Marc Andreessen’s assertion that nerds and bros are natural enemies with this:
Sure, we used to be picked on or ignored by the bro’s, but that was when we had no money or power. Now we have status, bro’s are happy to treat us as buddies instead of victims, to the point that we’re unlikely to think of them as bro’s. I’ve pitched most VC firms in the Valley at one time or another, and a lot of the partners come from business or finance backgrounds. There are nerds in there too of course, and they do control the culture, but they also get along perfectly well with the preppy MBAs.
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The Morning After

Wakey wakey, eggs and bakey
Frans Hals, The Laughing Cavalier, 1624
There is an inn, a merry old inn
beneath an old grey hill,
And there they brew a beer so brown
That the Man in the Moon himself came down
one night to drink his fill.

The ostler has a tipsy cat
that plays a five-stringed fiddle;
And up and down he runs his bow,
Now squeaking high, now purring low,
now sawing in the middle.

The landlord keeps a little dog
that is mighty fond of jokes;
When there’s good cheer among the guests,
He cocks an ear at all the jests
and laughs until he chokes.

They also keep a horned cow
as proud as any queen;
But music turns her head like ale,
And makes her wave her tufted tail
and dance upon the green.

And O! the rows of silver dishes
and the store of silver spoons!
For Sunday there’s a special pair,
And these they polish up with care
on Saturday afternoons.

The Man in the Moon was drinking deep,
and the cat began to wail;
A dish and a spoon on the table danced,
The cow in the garden madly pranced,
and the little dog chased his tail.

The Man in the Moon took another mug,
and then rolled beneath his chair;
And there he dozed and dreamed of ale,
Till in the sky the stars were pale,
and dawn was in the air.

Then the ostler said to his tipsy cat:
“The white horses of the Moon,
They neigh and champ their silver bits;
But their master’s been and drowned his wits,
and the Sun’ll be rising soon!”

So the cat on his fiddle played hey-diddle-diddle,
a jig that would wake the dead:
He squeaked and sawed and quickened the tune,
While the landlord shook the Man in the Moon:
“It’s after three!” he said.

They rolled the Man slowly up the hill
and bundled him into the Moon,
While his horses galloped up in rear,
And the cow came capering like a deer,
and a dish ran up with the spoon.

Now quicker the fiddle went deedle-dum-diddle;
the dog began to roar,
The cow and the horses stood on their heads;
The guests all bounded from their beds
and danced upon the floor.

With a ping and a pong the fiddle-strings broke!
the cow jumped over the Moon,
And the little dog laughed to see such fun,
And the Saturday dish went off at a run
with the silver Sunday spoon.

The round Moon rolled behind the hill
as the Sun raised up her head.
She hardly believed her fiery eyes;
For though it was day, to her surprise
they all went back to bed!


— J.R.
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Greatest Hits of 2014

I’m always happy to show you people a little leg
“I think it’s just elegant to have an imagination. I just have no imagination at all. I have lots of other things, but I have no imagination.”

— The Seven Year Itch

Yes, O Dearly Beloved, it’s that time of year again. Time to dust off the circuit boards of the dedicated Google Analytics server farm for this two bit opinion emporium and determine which of my 37 beautiful children attracted the most attention from you delightful readers, spambots, and web crawlers in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Fourteen. As I have explained before, this may be the last year I bother to conduct such a shameless exercise of self-congratulatory back patting—and I have already graced these archives with an All Time Greats victory lap—but I am nothing if not attentive to the proclivities of the three obsessive compulsives among you who could not rest if I did not. (And of course that little jolt of ego gratification I receive from enticing a few hundred more of you to click on these links one more time.)

Anyway, the way these things work should not be a mystery to you by now, so I will stand discretely in the back while you explore TED’s very own People’s Choice awards. I hope you enjoy them, but if you do not, well, you’re probably not my demographic anyway.

THE CANON, 2014 Edition:

1) A Fine Disregard for the Rules (January) — A cabal of the largest investment banks on the planet joined together this year and last to institute policies designed to limit and control the near-legendary workloads imposed on their most junior professionals. In this post, your Guide to All Things Workaholic, Finance Edition explains just why it is these poor slobs work such long hours. I won’t give away the punchline here, but you may safely assume it has something to do with client service.

2) Where Did He Learn to Negotiate Like That? (August) — There are right ways and wrong ways to employ investment bankers when you want to sell your company. The idiot savants at online real estate company Trulia gave us a master class in the latter, while simultaneously demonstrating that it can be dangerous to negotiate with professional negotiators.

3) A Cure Worse Than the Disease (August) — A lawyer took to the pages of peHUB.com to explain, among other things, when and why to hire a mergers & acquisitions advisor to sell your private company. I took to my own to provide what I believe to be a more comprehensive, helpful, and only mildly self-promotional gloss.

4) Touring Test (June) — A tendentious screed prompted by more idiocy emanating from the incontinent bowels of Silicon Valley, some of whose boosters and visionaries continue to argue, against all evidence and two decades of wasted technology spending to the contrary, that in-person business meetings can and should be dispensed with in favor of remote, virtual, “telepresence” substitutes. I calmly remind my readers that meetings—and indeed business itself—still actually do involve those pesky entities known as people, most of whom continue to prefer to interact with their counterparts in person, rather than in the pixellated confines of World of Warcraft.
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