Monday, September 09, 2019

Viva Espana

John Maddente photo
My wife and I recently returned from a vacation in Spain.  I haven't posted in months and so it's a pleasure to share some beauty, humor and love that we witnessed. 

Let's start with the Spanish people themselves.  They are as warm and courteous as I'd heard and tolerant of Americans (like me) trying to ask for assistance.  They are also quite well dressed! 

A word about our tour guide, Mr. Federico García Barroso.  Mr. García Barroso is, and I don't often use this word to describe people -- amazing.  He's the kind of man who can affect lives simply by doing what he loves to do, which is sharing his knowledge of Spain's rich history and art.  An accomplished guide, Mr. García Barroso is a lover of music and a fine tenor.  At the closing dinner for our travel group, he sang four songs.  One in French, one in Spanish, one in English and one in Italian.  Here's a taste...CLICK HERE.

The treasure trove of art in Spain including sculptures, paintings and of course, their architecture, has always been a source of pride for the Spanish.  An example; the Basilica known as the Sagrada Familia the construction of which, began in 1882, is one of the most remarkable edifices I've ever seen.  Spanish authorities are working diligently to complete construction in time for the 100th anniversary of the death of its renowned architect Antoni Gaudiby 2026.

Below you'll see a photo -- unretouched and taken only with natural light -- of the interior.  I was amazed by the columns, which resemble trees in a forest.  The tops of the columns literally "branch out" to support the top structure.  (Gaudi's work contains rich symbolism including a marriage of the natural world to the divine and these columns are part of this expression). 

If you have the opportunity, please visit Barcelona and Madrid.   

John Maddente photo 

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

T.S. Eliot and a Christmas wish

And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. -- T. S. Eliot

About 15 years ago I discovered an exceptional documentary called, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara.

Directed by Errol Morris, "The Fog of War" walks the viewer through most of the 20th century as told by former U.S. Secretary of Defense and World Bank President, Robert S. McNamara.  Mr. McNamara reflects on his life's lessons and uses the Eliot quote above, at a particularly moving stage of the film.  His heartfelt and detailed ruminations, the film clips, music by Phillip Glass and still photos all work together to vividly and memorably capture the American experience.

"The Fog of War" was an Academy Award Winner for best documentary feature in 2003 and I'll recommend the film for the rest of my days.  In the meantime, Merry Christmas.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

A new book from Jonathan Hoenig

This coming November, Capitalist Pig Hedge Fund manager and business media figure, Jonathan Hoenig will release A New Textbook of Americanism: The Politics of Ayn Rand.  The book, edited by Mr. Hoenig, contains a collection of essays from notable writers in the Objectivist school, including one from Mr. Hoenig himself ("On Property Rights").  

Cover page image courtesy of J. Hoenig
Public Twitter Image - Jonathan Hoenig

Monday, May 28, 2018

A local hero to recall on Memorial Day

Somehow I missed this local news article about two years ago on the 72nd anniversary of D-Day.  The details of a D-Day jump with the 82nd Airborne Division (and subsequent trip back to Normandy 72 years later) is told in this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article by Meg Jones.   Yesterday, I met the gentleman who was the subject of that piece, Mr. Ralph Ticcioni of New Berlin, Wisconsin. (Disclosure: Ralph is Uncle to one of my brothers-in-law).  

French Legion of Honour recipient, Ralph Ticcioni
John Maddente photo
As I listened to the 95 year old veteran speak about his experience, I marveled at his deep humility.  As a paratrooper that fateful day, Ralph along with thousands of his comrades were dropped behind enemy lines.  Unlike his comrades, he landed smack onto a farm rooftop in Cherbourg, France whereupon he had to cut himself loose from his own parachute which was entangled on a weather vane.  Some history readers and viewers of the movie, Saving Private Ryan will recall that Cherbourg was a location of importance during the invasion.  Speaking of the movie, Ralph told me that when he viewed the first twenty minutes of the film; he thought he was watching an actual news reel of the event.  (Many D-Day veterans have expressed a similar reaction to that segment).   

Ralph could easily recall the gear he carried that day, including the amount of ammunition and all the weapons he was issued which included a sidearm (.45 caliber semiautomatic pistol), several hand grenades and a Thompson sub-machine gun (which was swapped for an M1 Carbine rifle after paratroopers reunited with American supply units).  

So pleased to have met this man yesterday.  To all like him, living or not, God bless and thank you for defending freedom!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

More than a napkin

Below is a humble cocktail napkin from a recent flight.  The inscription -- which I failed to notice at first -- has a richer significance. 

John Maddente photo
After I buckled up, a man next to me begin to banter with our flight attendant who obviously loved her work (I'll call her Laura).  Although he gave me permission to identify him for this post, I recall only his last name -- Weingarten.  Back to the flight...

Laura and Mr. Weingarten appeared to know one another rather well.  When Laura left to serve other passengers, Mr. Weingarten pointed out that both of our napkins contained this friendly, hand-written, greeting and that she had produced one for him on a previous flight.  What I learned next was my inspiration for this post.

Mr. Weingarten explained that on a previous flight, two other flight attendants took notice of Laura's gracious attitude toward her customers and criticized her napkin gesture (not knowing they were within earshot of Mr. Weingarten) because it made them look deficient. 

Shortly after Laura's colleagues finished upbraiding her, Mr. Weingarten motioned Laura to come over for a private word which he concluded with this counsel... "Don't let them crush your spirit".

The story continues.  A busy executive who travels over 150 days per year, Mr. Weingarten found a portal the airline uses to garner customer feedback.  He supplied his flight details and Laura's real name in order to extol her exemplary service and attitude. 

Airline managements take these passenger inputs quite seriously.  Laura was commended as a result.  I know not whether the other two attendants were cited in Mr. Weingarten's message, but this post is dedicated to all the Laura-types in our midst.  Don't let them crush your spirit.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Of small plates and anxious diners

Restaurants matter!  I’ve harbored an almost religious attraction to places serving tasty Chinese food, Italian food, steaks, etc. since childhood.  Now in my 50s I’m speaking out against a form of dining that started to proliferate across the U.S. about 10 years ago. 

I dislike a restaurant concept called, “small plates”. It’s not the portion size that bothers me.  OK, part of the problem is size-related, but one can obviously consume as many little bites as one wishes and leave satisfied.  Nor is the problem entirely due to flavor (I've enjoy tapas and tiny treats served at other small plate eateries).  The problem is the convoluted experience of a small plate "dinner".  For me, there are several problems with this dining style, but here's a taste of what I mean...
Small plates photo -- Wikipedia
After eying a group of baby plates spewed across a table that's invariably too small to accommodate them -- I’m drawn to some of these gastronomic strip teases more than others.  Now -- how many pieces of the great stuff shall I eat?  I want to be mindful of my fellow diners, but if I ignore the less appetizing small plate items I'll leave hungry.  Wait, did he order those marinated artichokes as his main dish?  OK, how many small plates shall we order for the next round?  One?  Two?  Twenty?  Who votes for which plates to order?  You going to finish those artichokes?   

I hear a sharp rebuke coming from Small Plate devotees, “Just order more small plates that you like, Bozo and don't sweat the rest!”   No.  Thanks for the appetizers, but I’ll go elsewhere to enjoy an entrée in simple, adult-plate bliss.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Economics 101 for the rest of us

Warren Buffet and Carl Icahn are familiar investors.  Fewer people may know Ray Dalio.  Mr. Dalio founded an investment firm 40 years ago called Bridgewater Associates.  With $160 billion under management, Bridgewater runs one of the largest hedge funds in the world.
Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio, Bridgewater website

I recently discovered (after about 3 million other people) a thirty minute YouTube video that Mr. Dalio produced to explain fundamentals of what he refers to as the economic machine

This video, which he narrates, has been translated into several languages and viewed over 3,200,000 times.  The content begins slowly with concepts that could be embraced by most eighth graders, but progresses to explain the primary levers that policy-makers use to manage and stimulate the economy.  You can find it here.  

There are numerous lessons cleverly and clearly explained here.  Example: I hadn't appreciated why economists seem obsessed with Wage Growth until I watched this simple animated video.  (The importance of wage growth has less to do with the oft-used and sometimes politically-charged phrase, "income inequality" and more to do with the masses ability to consume and thus deflate credit bubbles).

Also, you may come away thinking differently about the notion of Credit, which Mr. Dalio asserts, " the most important part of the economy and probably the least understood".  Finally, what Mr. Dalio refers to as a "beautiful deleveraging" is the type of soft landing we all pray for to avert the "social disorder" some have worried about for years.  The antidote, according to Mr. Dalio, is for policy makers to apply the correct mix and emphasis to each of the four economic forces illustrated below. 

YouTube video, "HOW THE ECONOMIC MACHINE WORKS" by Ray Dalio
Spending cuts, are generally what people think of when they hear about "austerity" measures exercised by government, individuals and businesses, to lower spending on goods and services.  The image second from the left refers to a combination of debt defaults and debt restructuring by and between banks, businesses and individuals.  Wealth redistribution occurs primarily through higher taxation on upper income Americans.  Finally, the money-printing image refers to Federal Reserve purchases of government bonds and other financial assets ($2T since the Great Recession).
So what's the correct mix and emphasis of lever-pulling required for a soft landing?  Perhaps a more prescriptive video from Mr. Dalio, to address that question will appear on this same platform at