Monday, January 31, 2011

The Altarpiece: An Update

The mild weather Saturday permitted me to use my table saw and get some work done on the altarpiece. The piece that became the 2 doors was cut. The buildup and hinges were attached to the doors, and now the doors are ready to be hung. Once the doors operate smoothly, then it will be time to remove the doors and the hinges and begin the primer coat of paint. Some cosmetic work needs to me done and that will take some time too. All in all I am pretty satisfied with how my little project is coming along. Projects drawn on paper are much different for me when they take form. This picture shows the case with some of the molding I created from 1/4 inch plywood that I put around the inside of the case that will give the painting a frame. The doors will be framed also on the inside as they too will be painted. Little by little the altarpiece takes shape.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saturday is For Art: Three Gold Fish

These three gold fish I painted on canvas in acrylic for a bathroom wall in July, 2008. Yes, you got to start somewhere and I guess I can work my way up from the bathroom to the kitchen to the bedroom to the study to the picture over the sofa. Having your painting over the sofa is when you know you have made it as an artist. Unfortunately, I am still trying to get out of the bathroom, but I am sure once I am not around to paint more pictures, that my paintings will find a place above the sofa or over the sideboard in the dining room.

Stay tuned.

Facts Are Not A Shield Against Stupidity

A friend sent me an article to read Friday, and I read it. It was about the man that invented the neutron bomb. At the end of the article was this comment that I thought answers a lot.


There is a lot of wisdom in that statement. It explains so much, but it hardly unlocks any doors.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Let's Get Rid of All Federal Regulations!

Why do we need regulations for the financial services industry? You know we could save a lot of money if the Federal Government would just leave it up to each individual to settle their score with their broker or money manager if they are cheated. Think of all the money the Federal Government could save if we applied that kind of reasoning to all facets of our life. Why bother with an FDA, FAA, FDIC or any other effing government agencies? In fact, why bother having air traffic controllers as they just sit on their asses all day telling planes when to land and take off. If someone is smart enough to be a jet pilot, then they should know when to land or take off without being told by someone sitting in a control tower at some airport. Hell, didn't that pilot land that plane in the Hudson River and he didn't need permission to land or an air traffic controller to tell him what runway to land on. We can cut the Federal deficit if we just get back to some basics and let people slug it out for themselves.

If an investment banking firm wants to sell pension funds, foundations, endowments and mutual funds a "bag of shit" then let them!! When people see they have been cheated, they can then decide not to deal with that company again. But, what happens when that company is bought by another company and they continue to sell "bags of shit", what do we do then? Cry? Yes, the mantra today is buyer beware. If you don't understand what fuck is in the bag, then stick your money in a bank savings account. When inflation eats up your purchasing power from inflationary pressures 30 to 40 years later, be glad you haven't lost it all with the next Bernie Madoff or some other greedy SOB. But, you can feel good about the fact that we aren't wasting our tax dollars supporting the SEC, Securities & Exchange Commission. Banks need to be free to separate people from their money and if we get rid of all forms of federal regulations then banks can be profitable again. And, personally, I am all for banks being profitable again and real soon too.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Two Problems To Address Now

Tonight, President Obama gives the State of the Union message. The big focus is on federal government spending. Just about everyone thinks there are programs that are not needed and are a waste of the taxpayer's dollars. I am sure there is a lot of waste as the challenge for centuries has been, "how do I get my hands on other people's money?"

Wall Street gets their hands on other people's money by rigging the game. This takes some help from the federal government by passing laws that permit cheating people out of their money that they invest. The SEC, Securities & Exchange Commission has been weakened over the years by the federal government so that it has become an ineffective watchdog of Wall Street's behavior. Making people marks and taking their money out from under them like shooting fish in a barrel is only made possible with the help of the federal government. The people working in the investment securities business don't like financial services regulation from the federal government because they can't fleece people without the federal government turning a blind eye to their lack of good business ethics.

The economy is going to be talked about in the State of the Union message by the President, but since the first oil embargo in 1973, the federal government and the people who elect our representatives have been unwilling to reverse our dependence on foreign oil, and just plain oil - petroleum! The United States has gotten itself into two wars because of our dependence on foreign oil. And yet, we as a nation are not serious about reducing our dependence on oil. Foreign oil is taking billions of dollars out of our domestic economy. The dollars leaving the United States from the purchase of foreign oil is only making the situation worse in as much as we have a huge imbalance with China called a trade deficit.

Two sectors of our domestic economy that I think need to be changed are: First, tighter accountability and transparency in the area of investment securities and investment management. There are far too many people being fleeced of their hard earned money by investment security firms and so called money management firms. Better enforcement is needed. And second, a serious program to get the United States off foreign oil and eventually all petroleum based fuels. The first one can be done now and the second one, while a longer term project, needs to be started.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Altarpiece: Slow progress

I finally got the case for the altarpiece put together with the help of my friend Stert. Now I am going to have to wait for some dry weather so I can get my table saw out of the garage and continue the project. So, this will be the last picture of the altarpiece for a while. The next step will be cutting the doors and putting on the hinges. Once this is completed, I will take the doors off and remove the hinges and begin painting. The first coats will be latex primer, and I may even use gesso before putting down the drawings that will be painted with acrylics. I have had a number of ideas for what I will put on the outside of the doors, but since they will be open when the piece is displayed, I think I know what I want to do. My ideas for the inside of the 2 doors has also evolved. In the meantime, I need to put together an assembly table in the basement.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Facebook, Goldman Sachs, & American Investors: Why Not?

The Obama Administration talks a good game about getting our domestic economy back on its feet and getting people back to work, and yet, the IPO (initial public offering) of Facebook, an American corporation created by an American is being offering exclusively to overseas investors! Why?

After the American taxpayer bailouts Goldman Sachs, and the AIG bailout was in actuality a Goldman Sachs bailout, Goldman Sachs decides that it can make better clients of its best and wealthiest clients overseas by taking the Facebook IPO overseas. Where is the Obama Administration on this one? What better way to build confidence in our domestic economy after the hit investors took in their IRAs, 401-Ks and mutual funds, than be given the opportunity to invest in Facebook and perhaps make a little money?

Here is a clear example of the American people being called upon to help out Wall Street with a taxpayer bailout, but then being shunned when the opportunity comes along for the little investor to invest in an American idea and an American corporation.

Where is the media coverage on TV? Is almost everyone brain dead, or am I making too much of this lost opportunity to invest?

Stay tuned.

The above two paintings in acrylic by F.D. Zigler, 2009.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Down Grading U.S. Treasuries? Is This A Joke?

There has been talk lately that the credit rating agencies may lower their rating on U.S. Treasury Notes and Bonds. I find this such a joke. Just a few years ago, these same credit rating agencies placed their triple-A rating on some of the biggest junk mortgaged-backed bonds that ever came out of Wall Street, but now they are going to come down on U.S. debt obligations and possibly lower them to double-A?

The three major credit rating agencies should have been prosecuted years ago for their corrupt culture of selling credit ratings to maintain their growth in earnings. I still think they should be prosecuted today.

The problem is that credit ratings system is not widely understood, and its function in the debt markets is really only appreciated by those that deal with it on a day to day basis.

I have written several times over the years (2008, 2009, 2010), that without the triple-A credit rating, Wall Street investment bankers could not have sold the mortgaged-backed bonds to portfolios around the world and that without access to institutional investors (pension funds, foundations, endowments, mutual funds and sovereign wealth funds) that the housing bubble would have been unlikely. Bubbles require a substance to inflate them. For the housing market, that substance was the money that was invested in mortgaged-backed bonds. Without the buyers of these bonds, housing could not have produced the bubble that eventually burst when the investment bankers started betting against the very mortgage-backed bonds that they were selling to the public. These bets against the mortgaged-backed bonds became known as credit default swaps. This then lead to the meltdown of the mortgage-backed bond market, which lead to the financial panic for liquidity and finally the economic recession. With all the reform measures that have been taken, nothing has changed as to the way the credit rating agencies to business.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Saturday Is For Art: Two Old Wood Pieces

Continued to work on the altarpiece with my friend Stert yesterday afternoon. A few saw cuts and a few drilled holes and assembly with glue and screws is next. Pilot holes with a 1/16" drill bit and more glue and a few nails and the case will be one piece, and ready for the next step. With snow on the ground, table saw work will have to wait, but research for this piece and possibly others can proceed. We picked up the hinges that were backordered on Friday. Work on the 2 doors is next. Since I did not take any pictures yesterday I will post a couple of pieces I made before 1992. Both of these pieces were exhibited at the Carnegie Art Center in Covington, KY in May, 1992. The paintings were done in oil on masonite board and the gold frame is covered with gold metal leaf.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Little Help From My Friend

Not having a space with an large assembly table is no fun. When I had it, I took it for granted, but I always appreciated my shop. When the weather gets warmer, I am going to make some room in my garage so I can work. My art work revolves around wood and I need to build another table so I can build things. Above is a picture of my old friend Stertmeyer cutting some angles for me on his electric miter saw.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Saturday Is For Art: The Altarpiece Early Stage

This week I started work on a new art project as the weather on Monday was so nice and warm that I could not pass up the opportunity to visit the lumber store and buy some wood. Now the weather has turned cold and I am drilling holes in the wood in my kitchen. I guess I can sweep up all the sawdust and put it in my next batch of meatloaf as a binder. Just kidding, I don't eat sawdust unless it has been aged in brandy. The altarpiece will be a case 42" in height and 29 1/2" in width. There will be 2 doors and they will swing open on 4 brass hinges. Friday I visited the Woodcraft store in Tri-County on Princeton Pike to see if I could find the right kind of hinges. Well, I found them with some help from a fellow named Dusty. Dusty is an appropriate name for a guy working in a Woodcraft store. These little brass hinges will permit me to continue with my plans as I originally drew them. There is just one minor problem. The hinge takes a board 3/4" thick and I am using 1/2" plywood, so, I will be creating what will look like a frame around the inside of the door out of 1/4 plywood. Cutting 1/4" plywood on my table saw outside in this weather will have to wait as there is snow on the ground here.

This week I was reading an old copy of The New Yorker magazine and came upon an article about the Ghent Altarpiece and its restoration. This magnificent piece was started in the early 1420s and finished in 1432. It was started by Hubert van Eyck and after he died, it was finished by his brother Jan van Eyck. If you google Ghent Altarpiece, you will see why it took around 10 years to finish. The article was mainly about the process of restoration and the methods used today as compared to the mistakes made years ago. I remember seeing an altarpiece at the Getty Museum in LA. Getty bought only the very best and he had the money to buy the very best. I remember the first time I saw this altarpiece and how impressed I was with the excellent condition it was in period. The piece looked like it had just come out of the workshop that built it.

I hope my altarpiece will not take 10 years as it is quite modest in size and while I enjoy taking my time with my art projects, I think it should be completed before the end of the year.

Stay tuned.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Economic Equation Is Out of Balance

If you view the economy as an equation as I do, then you might also understand why I continually call for a more level playing field. There must be a balance between those that invest and those that create and trade those investment products. When there is no balance there is a meltdown and the game grinds to a halt. But, that is only one piece of the equation.

Energy is a most important piece of the economic equation, and that part that is dependent on the price of oil, which is then made into gasoline, is very important for two reasons. First, the price of oil and gas acts like a tax in that it takes purchasing power out of the system. When you are going to be paying $3, $4 or $5 for a gallon of gas, you will have fewer dollars to spend on consumer durables. This will slow the growth of our gross domestic product.

Second, the dollars that are leaving our economy as a result of our oil purchases, and going to foreign corporations and countries, is taking with it the life blood of our domestic economy. It too is a form of a tax.

We say we want to grow the pie, but everything points in the opposite direction. The size of the economic pie of the United States has a huge rock tied to it. That rock is the price of oil. The fact that so many of those dollars being spent on gasoline are leaving the country is holding the economy back. When you couple that with the fact that we import far too much stuff from China and other countries, that limit what we are allowed to export to them, we have an equation that is seriously out of balance. This is not rocket surgery or that hard to understand, and yet no one talks about this. Why?

Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

When Will All The Investment Frauds of Our System Disappear?

So, there is a shake up in the White House. Perhaps this is a good thing, but unless the new people can see beyond the present and the past, then there is not much hope that the rules of the game will change. Financial reform is, in my opinion, a significant piece of the reform of our economic system. Borrowing is just the flip side of investing. While the financial reforms are necessary, they are only one of many pieces to the economic puzzle. I still believe that monetary policy needs to include what happens to everyone that is part of the monetary system and not just commercial/investment banks. Since the Glass-Steagall Act is now dead and relegated to a footnote of 20th century American Economic history, I guess it is no longer necessary to differentiate between commercial banks and investment banks. I guess now since the investment bankers have access to the Federal Reserve Bank to borrow and bail themselves out if they have no liquidity, there really isn't any difference between them.

I think the Chairman of the Fed, Ben Bernanke, is most likely a very bright, capable and decent man, but if he accepts the flawed way in which monetary policy is practiced in the United States, then there is little hope that strategy, or the way the investment game is played from Wall Street is going to change. Investing under the present monetary system and policies is not a choice, but rather a necessity for financial survival. Unfortunately, the game is compromised time and again, as first the small investors, and more recently the large public pension funds and other institutional investors saw their funds decimated by the frauds that are permitted to control the investment game.

Wall Street has tremendous financial influence in Washington among the Congress, The White House and our central bank - The Federal Reserve Bank. Positive change, as I would define it, is going to take place over many years, and, it will not happen in a straight line. But, as more people become aware as to why it is in their best interests to make the investing game clean, then the frauds that appear far too often will ultimately disappear, for the most part.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Happy Birthday Joah!!!

Today my grandson is one year old! Happy Birthday Joah!!!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Altar Piece: The Early Stage

Here are three photos from yesterday after I got started on my first art project for 20-11. The materials at this point are: 1/2" birch plywood (good both sides) and 4x1 popular. The weather here was so nice yesterday that I could not pass up the opportunity to visit Doppes Lumber and buy some wood for this project. January in Cincinnati isn't known for warm sunny days. While I have drawings of what I am making, they change and already have. At this point, I have just made a few cuts on my table saw. From time to time, I will post photos of my work in progress.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A New Year To Invest? Save? Spend? Be Taken?

Today starts a new year on Wall Street and everyone that has a few coins to rub together can have at it. There are all the institutional clients of the Wall Street bankers and money managers that really have no choice but to invest in the investment game. Why do they have no choice? They have no choice because they either hire and/or have in house actuaries that tell them how much they need to make on their investments in order to meet their fiduciary obligations in the year and years to come. Those that are managing in the billions of dollars, as many public funds are, have a number of "games" they can get involved. But, since it is the beginning of a new year, let us review a few of the more popular "games".

Well, we all know about the stock market and investing in common stock of corporations both domestic and international. Several of the large pension funds realize that there are economies growing at a faster rate than our own and have directed their portfolio managers to invest a piece their equity allocation into international equities. Then there is the fixed-income market and all the various fixed-income products on the shelf. Treasuries, government agencies, corporate bonds and then those asset-backed bonds that gave everyone so much trouble in 2007-2008. But, the fun part of investing if you are investing billions is the private equity market. Here large funds can put their money to work with some of the smartest people in the room. Private equity is a game that permits these large funds to get involved with new and up and coming companies and technologies where the potential, if they hit a home run, is high rates of return, or as it is referred to as return on equity or total rate of return. These private equity funds may invest here in the United States or around the world. And then there is the infamous hedge fund that has been maligned in the press. Hedge funds can make lots of money, but they can also lose lots of money in a very short period of time. Then there are all the alternative investments that the mind can think up. Yes, we forgot to mention real estate and forestry, coins and gold, and beanie babies and baseball cards, but the one I like best is the art market.

Paintings have become for those that can play at the upper levels of investing, a market that, so long as you don't put your hand through it, will retain some value. The art market will fluctuate like any other market that from time to time gets over priced. But, with the art market, you simply hang the painting(s) on your wall and wait for the market to bounce back. And, in the mean time, you look at your art purchases that may run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. You know, the neat thing about the art market is that new young and old artists are being discovered every year, and with their discovery, the price of their works go up at auction. You can be a small player or a large player, but regardless of the size of art you buy, you can enjoy what you buy until you sell it. You sure can't say that about the money you lose in stocks, bonds, hedge funds or private equity.

Stay tuned.