Sunday, April 18, 2010

Alternative Energy Fuel Arrives to General Aviation:

In what is a breakthrough in general aviation fuel, Swift Enterprises Ltd of West Lafayette has introduced a non-oil fuel to an experimental aircraft, a twin engine Piper Seminole at the Sun 'n Fun International Fly-in and Expo (April 13-18 at Lakeland, Florida). No engine modifications are needed

The fuel consists of biomass such as sorghum and switchgrass to produce a high-octane fuel that could replace leaded avgas in general aviation planes. The gas produces 15 per cent more volumetric energy while eliminating lead, ethanol, toluene or oxygenates and produces a 20% drop in pollutants over current 100LL.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University plans to introduce this non-lead fuel to its fleet of more than 40 Cessna 172's.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Thomas Jefferson: President, Patriot and Populist

Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State, Portrait by Charles Willson Peale, 1791

Today is the birthday of our third president, Thomas Jefferson. (April 13, 1743-July 4, 1826)

This blog is my 75th and thus represents a milestone for me, since my first entry in January 2009 on National Mentoring Month. People overcoming disabling circumstances, physical, mental, environmental and spiritual, etc is a source of great inspiration to me. I blogged about how Steven Hawking, the noted physicist and author, stricken with Lou Gehrig's disease for nearly 50 years, manages to communicate orally to his audience by means of a voice synthesizer.

Fifteen months later, I have a unique opportunity to share some insights on another role
model, Thomas Jefferson. Besides being a lawyer, architect, inventor, writer and public servant, he stands out as a wonderful nation builder simply by doubling the size of our country through the Louisiana Purchase of 1803--all for a trifling 15 million dollars.

Map of the United States Showing the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and also the
Three Annexations during the Administration of James Polk: Texas, 1845,
Mexican Cession 1848 and Oregon Territory, 1846 (Treaty with Great Britain)

My impressions of Jefferson are many. He is best known as the author of the Declaration of Independence. Yes, he lived the life of a dilettante at times. For instance, he loved wines and while ambassador to France from 1785-1789, he had the chance to experience many French varietals. When he returned to the states, he, continued to order his favorite Bordeaux for his wine cellar at Monticello. He is reputed to have spent $7500 on wine purchases in his first term in office (the equivalent of about $125,000 in todays coin of the realm). He was America's premier wine connoisseur of his day.

There is another contrasting notion about this aristocratic squire of Monticello that intrigues me: namely the strong populist streak that formed the kernel of his political philosophy. It amazes me that this patrician figure could have such sympathy and faith in the wisdom common man.

I just stumbled upon Jefferson's populism while reading Robert Merry's A Country of Vast Designs (Simon and Schuster, New York: 2009) which is an engrossing account of the one term administration of President James Polk (1844-1848). In this short span this remarkable man was instrumental in expanding the territory of our fledgling democracy from sea to shining sea by annexing the territories comprising Texas and all lands north and west of the Lone Star State- completing the vast design of Manifest Destiny started by Jefferson. (see map above)

The early chapters in the book explore how Polk rose to power by being President Andrew Jackson's (seventh President of the United States, 1829-1837) man in Congress rubber stamping the former's aversion to a strong central federalist government (originally championed by Alexander Hamilton founder of the Federalist Party), protective tariffs and National Bank and nullification. Jackson and Polk were of the same political philosophy as Jefferson.

Mayberry relates that Jackson, along with Jefferson "distrusted any elites or concentrations of power, particularly if they were insulated from the reach and passions of the broad electorate. Power corrupts, he believed and the best protection against tyranny was to bring the masses into the process to the fullest extent possible. In this view, the people possessed a collective judgment and wisdom that would guide the nation to its destiny in a manner that would be appropriate and just... Providence, he (Jackson) said had 'pronounced . . . that the people are virtuous and capable of government.' " (page 34)

Jefferson's view of government was in direct contrast to that of Senator Henry Clay (1777-1852) of Kentucky and Representative John Quincy Adams of Massachussets (Sixth President 1825-1829 and Member of Congress from 1831-1848) who both held fast to the belief that once elected to office, officials were a brand of elites who should run the government in the manner in which they thought would represent the best interests of the people. They were anti-populist and insulated themselves against the notion that the general population could be trusted to govern themselves.

As the father of Republicanism, Jefferson protested against the British aristocratic system which he said was inherently corrupt. He envisioned an agrarian nation of yeoman farmers tending to and fully capable of managing their own affairs. This was in contrast to the practical politics of Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804, First Secretary of the U.S. Treasury) who envisioned a country of commerce and manufacturing and succeeded in the establishment of the First National Bank.

In his letter to George Logan, Jefferson foresaw the burgeoning power of British corporations to control and bend government to its will. He says: "I hope we shall take warning from the [British] example and crush it its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country."

How well Jefferson saw the power of monied capitalism which we witness today on Wall Street.

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Buffet Looked 'Into the Abyss': The Best Financial Reportage in the Wall Street Journal for 2009

We are all following the financial crisis spurred by Wall Street for two years now. And I, like everybody else, have followed with intense interest the Madoff scandal, the subprime mess, the failure of Lehman, Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, GM and Citibank, and the government bailout called TARP.

The title of this article, written by Scott Patterson is 'In the Year of Investing Dangerously, Buffet Looked 'Into the Abyss.' occupies three columns on page one and continues to page A16 in the Weekend Edition of December 12-13, 2009.The first time I read it, I underlined half of the article, starred many parts and immediately placed it in a file that reads Blogs.(I have , perhaps 20-30 articles in this file, on all subjects that interest me from ski-bumming, to Stamford's ex-Mayor Molloy from our downtown sculptures to aviation--but none underlined as much as this one.)

What fascinates me is that here is the financial whiz and oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet--admittedly one of the richest guys in the world, who is approached by many of the above mentioned firms with requests to inject from $4 billion in the case of Richard Fuld of Lehman Brothers to $25 Billion for the entire Propery and Casualty business of AIG. Truly astronomical figures, but hardly so for one whose estimated wealth is close to $50 billion.

What is impressive is that Buffet is your down to earth, 'everyman' character; here's an example: he's flying up to Edmunton, Canada to see a concert with Seal and Paul Anka as the headliners and he gets a phone call in his hotel room from Barclay's PLC President Robert Diamond, Jr. and an advisor who were urgently trying to broker a last-minute deal to save Lehman which was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. Patterson describes the circumstances: "U.K regulators wouldn't approve such a large deal without shareholder approval, they told Mr. Buffet, which could take several days or even weeks. Regulators were worried that Lehman's trading partners would panic, refusing to do any more business with the bank . Would Mr. Buffett, for a fee, guarantee Lehman's trading positions until a shareholder vote." (Buffet asked them to fax him the terms of the deal as he had to leave for the concert. When he returned after the event, there was no fax; so there was no deal.)

Buffet is portrayed as a man on the move who eschews his cell phone but clearly accessable to the head honchos of the big Wall Street firms.

One offer after another, he turns down: First Lehman, then Freddie Mac, then Wachovia (later gobbled up in a fire sale by Wells Fargo), then AIG, then Morgan Stanley. Along the way, Patterson reports that Buffet "....felt that this [finanacial credit crisis of illiquidity] was something like I've never seen before, and the American public and Congress don't fully understand the gravity of the problems. I thought we are looking into the abyss." (italics mine)

Buffet is being pitched counteroffers by each firm after he initially turns their first offer down. Goldman is in need of cash and Buffet turns down their pitches. "On September 23, 2008, Goldman banker Byron Trott, who had long worked with Mr. Buffett, called to ask what it would take to do a deal. Mr. Buffett laid out his terms. Hours later a deal was struck. Berkshire purchased $5 Billion of Goldman preferred shares with a 10% annual dividend , as well as warrants to buy $5 billion worth of Goldman shares for $115 apiece. The shares now trade at about $166." ( He also invested $3 billion in GE preferred shares on similar terms)

What a great deal for Buffett and he 'saves' Goldman.

Meanwhile hats off to Scott Patterson and his excellent job of reporting.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hail to Coach Geno Auriemma: U Conn Ladies Basketball Team has 78 Straight Wins

Head Coach Geno Auriemma in 2008

I am fascinated by winning numbers and by winning coaches. (see my blog on Mike Ditka's enviable coaching record of 65-12--an 85 percent win record-- in the mid -eighties). These coaches possess a certain charisma and magic that often lasts for many years as in Auriemma's and Ditka's tenures and just briefly as in Buff Donelli's scenario (see below)

Auriemma just finished his fourth perfect season: 1994-1995 (35-0), 2001-2002 (39-0), 2008-2009 (39-0) and 2009-2010 (39-0).

In 25 seasons with the Huskies, his team won seven NCAA Champion Titles.

Auriemma's winning percentage of .857 (735-122) is highest among active coaches.

Note: the team has played a total of 857 games which is fortuitously matched by his winning percentage. That's as perfect as perfect can be!

Aldo Buff Donelli starred on the Football Team of Duquesne University

In passing, I must mention another outstanding coach of my era of with Italian roots. Coach Aldo Buff Donelli molded and inspired a bunch of tough athletes at Columbia during his tenure from 1957-1967. His magic came to fruition in one great year and dynamite team: his 1961 team won the schools's only Ivy Title. His record was an enviable 6-1 or a winning percentage of .857.

Does that number-- .857 sound familiar? It sure captures my attention as if written in the stars--linking two fantastic coaching personalities.

Buona Fortuna, Coach Auriemma. You have extended Coach Donelli's feat many times over!
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Thursday, April 1, 2010

John Donne and Andrew Marvel: Celebrating Two Great Metaphysical Poets and Statesmen

John Donne: Attended Cambridge,
Doctor of Divinity, Dean of St. Pauls Cathedral,
Member of Parliament, Poet,
Originator of the Metaphysical Conceit

To tell the truth is not exactly in keeping with April Fools Day--a day that is marked by pranks and practical jokes. And to say that Donne and Marvel share some things in common on April the first, is, perhaps stretching the truth and making a fool of my reader.

Verily, for these two masters of the 17th century metaphyscial abstruse verse, it is the yesterday, namely March 31st that we commemorate. On this very day 389 years ago, Andrew Marvel was born in Winestead-in Holderness, East Yorkshire, (31 March 1621-16 August 1678); on this day 379 years past, John Donne (21 January 1572-31 March 1631) passed on and was interred in St. Paul's Cathedral, located on Ludgate Hill--the highest point in London-- where a memorial statue was erected in his honor.

Andrew Marvel: Graduated from Cambridge University,
Tutor to the daughter of the Lord General Thomas Fairfax,
Poems in praise of Cromwell,
Latin Secretary to Cromwell's Council of State
along with John Milton, Member of Parliament,
Wrote Prose and Poems: political, satirical and metaphysical

Tune into later blogs where I discuss in greater depth, the contributions of both these remarkable personages.

Also, check out my introductory blog on John Milton, perhaps the most dominating writer and political figure of the 17th Century.