from Love Me Tonight
Jane Russell, who died this year, did some great duets with Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
In my experience, price-earnings (PE) ratios are the most efecvtive way to evaluate common stocks. Here's an oversimplification for the beginner. The price of a stock is what it's listed for on the Big Board or Nasdaq or whatever stock exchange you choose. The number varies from minute to minute -- actually from nano-second to nano-second -- simply because the market arrives at the figure by the oldest economic model, that of supply and demand. The former (the number of shares available for purchase on any given day) can fluctuate, but is the latter -- the demand for a stock -- that can gyrate dizzily, for it depends on a whole range of factors, starting with earnings reports, continuing with rumors, modified or accelerated by news particular to the company, macroeconomic trends, or world events, and ending with the most volatile factors of all, investor sentiment and mass psychology. The earnings of a stock are the company's profits for the most recent three-month period divided by the number of shares outstanding. This, too, is an unstable figure. If the profit line rises, relative to the same quarter one year ago, then the price-earnings ratio should narrow, making it a more attactive stock to buy, unless the price has already gone up in anticipation of this blessed event.
Even this brief summary shows the difficulty of using P-E ratios. In addition to the instability of the figures, there are further variables you need to adjust for. There are industry-specific factors: for example, historically a blue-chip bank would have a lower P-E ratio than a manufacturer of electronic equipment. But the history of bank stocks since the collapse of my Fictional Uncles' investment house on September 15, 2008, refutes even the loose application of P-E theory that suggests that a low ratio correlates to a relatively safe investment. Then there are "earnings surprises" -- spikes or drops in profit -- that have an immediate effect on the price of a stock, and that no P-E ratio, however sophisticated your calculations, will prepare you for. Let Burton G. Malkiel, author of A Random Walk Down Wall Street, a real pro and no con, have the last word: "God Almighty does not know the proper price-earnings multiple for a common stock."
This is the segue I needed to justify tagging the previous post -- "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm," as sung by Ivie Anderson (and also as performed in the Marx Brothers' Day at the Races) -- in the category of "Financial Market Report." Faith in the Lord is the single best guarantor of good stock market perofrmance especially if expressed with the hassidic abandon of the singers and dancers of "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm." You can read about the song here, with special reference to the scene in the Marx Broithers movie. For a discussion of the song as a jazz standard, click here. Did you know that Gus Kahn ("Love Me or Leave Me," "I'm Through with Love") wrote the lyric? Happy new year! -- DL
I came as a surprise to my parents. The product of a champagne brunch (must explain my bubbly disposition), I am the youngest of four children and the only girl. Understandably, I was simultaneously spoiled and benignly neglected. I got away with a lot and my parents were never hesitant to pass me on to any willing party.
My mom's best friend is the founder and director of the Children's Chorus of San Antonio. When I was finally old enough to join, my mother promptly signed me up and bought herself a couple of hours of peace and quiet in the dimly lit corridors of the rehearsal space. While she caught up on reading and breathing, I was caught up in a collective of small voices learning how to sing. My memory's ability to perfectly recall words and melodies from eight seasons of music-making reflects the positive valence of the experience and is a testament to the thoroughness of the teaching and the malleability of young brains. Oh, what I would give to absorb and retain as I once could...
But I think words set to a tune attach themselves to memory more readily. Singing is learning that is auditory, visual, and kinesthetic - reinforcement on multiple levels. Why would we eliminate this type of learning from our schools??? I lament, but I digress. I am not a researched defender of the Arts, only a grateful beneficiary of them. What I want to share is a gem of a poem. A text set to music in 1934 by Benjamin Brittan that I learned my very first season with the Children's Chorus. Thanks to the interwebs, I learned something new about this favorite carol.
A New Year Carol
Here we bring new water from the well so clear,
For to worship God with this happy new year.
Sing levy-dew, sing levy-dew, the water and the wine,
The seven bright gold wires and the bugles that do shine.
Sing reign of fair maid with gold upon her toe.
Open you the west door and turn the old year go.
Sing levy-dew, sing levy dew, the water and the wine,
The seven bright gold wires and the bugles that do shine.
Sing reign of fair maid with gold upon her chin.
Open you the east door and let the new year in.
Sing levy-dew, sing levy-dew, the water and the wine,
The seven bright gold wires and the bugles that do shine.
Tonight, I will raise a glass (levez a Dieu = levy-dew???) of the beverage that led to my being here and look forward, with hopeful anticipation, to the joy of newness. Happy New Year everyone!
Marian McPartland's radio show is a treat -- immortal, though she herself has retired. I'm listening to her 1994 interview with Stephen Sondheim. Terrific.
A friend of a friend recently coined the term “the privileged poor,” for those who have learned to live well on less. Our group includes teachers, free-lance writers, editors, temps, the underemployed artist underclass. We are used to getting a bargain, shopping at thrift stores, and, in retrospect, had the traits of “recessionistas” before the recession hit. Wiktionary (we’re not in the “real” dictionaries yet) defines the recessionista as “a person who is able to stick to a tight budget while still managing to dress stylishly.” Recessionistas, I imagine, also like to have a good time—otherwise why bother dressing well? On my recent trip to New York, to give a reading on Staten Island, I learned that even the members of the frugal artist class, the girl-gang with whom I run, have tightened their belts—the ones they’ve found at Salvation Army. Any nervousness I had about over-spending in NY “to keep up with the Janes” was quickly erased. I flew into NYC on a free frequent flier ticket, took the AirTrain from Newark ($15) and only spent $6 on a Metrocard my whole trip.
I stayed with a friend for the first two nights —a fellow recessionista who cooked amazing omelets rather than order takeout, as we did on my visits in the past. She found us a $42 (less than what it would cost me had I taken a cab from Newark) hour-long massage in the east village. Recessionistas still like to treat themselves, if possible. And our “massage” was really “body work” as the women who work in the storefront aren’t licensed. There was no face-cradle, just a paper towel over the sheet. There were no showers, no coat hangers or hooks for your clothes, no private rooms—just curtains between massage tables. But the women who worked there were strong and amazing and walked on our backs. It was the best “body work” I ever had.
Later that night we went to see another friend in Brooklyn who had just furnished her stylish apartment with furniture she’d bought on Craigslist. We supplied ice cream, wine, and flowers. She made us a salad with tuna and green beans and vinaigrette. It was delicious—and cost barely anything compared to a restaurant.
The Staten Island reading was hosted by a most glamorous recessionista who treated me to Starbucks, then bought us water (for the reading) at the gas station next door, avoiding the overpriced ethos water at Starbucks. The recessionistas I know do what they can to help the poor—and many a recessionista I know give to charities, donate their time and used items to various organizations. The recessionistas I know are aware of their “privilege” and know they are not truly “poor,” as so many in our country and in the world are. But they may not fully trust the impact they can make buying overpriced ethos water.
The next day I went to the movies—no matinee prices, I’m afraid, in Manhattan —with another friend. Pre-recession I might have splurged on a fountain drink—just for the ice. This time I smuggled in diet
From Aldous Huxley's The Perennial Philosophy:
"Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die." This is not a very noble, nor even a very realistic kind of morality. But it seems to make a good deal more sense than the revolutionary ethic: "Die (and kill), for tomorrow someone else will eat, drink and be merry."
Quick: for the pleasure of being absolutely correct, what have they just sung?
-- "You say tomato, I say tomato"
-- Let's Call the Whole Thing Off
-- I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm
-- Shall We Dance (Gershwin & Gershwin))
-- Shall We Dance (Rodgers & Hammerstein)
-- They Can't Take That Away from Me
For extra credit which if any won the Academy Award for best song of the year? Three were eligible.
Marv Levy, when he coached the Buffalo Bills, was asked whether an upcoming game was a "must win." Levy paused, then said, "World War II was a 'must win'." -- DL
(Yup. What follows is a Christian, Christmas sermon. You've been warned.)
A couple of weeks ago I was on a flight from Palm Springs, returning home from the December residency of the MFA low-res program in which I teach (UCR-Palm Desert: The Hottest MFA in the Country—no, it’s true; our posters say so). I’m not a brilliant flier. Airplanes make little sense to me and thus, they terrify. Sometimes I take a valium. Sometimes I white-knuckle my way through the turbulence and the beverage service. And sometimes, as in this instance, I strike up a conversation with the poor sap sitting next to me.
My seat mate was young and very handsome. He worked as a supervisor on an herb farm in the Coachella Valley. He was traveling to Miami with his boss. His hometown was Jerusalem. His name was Mohammed.
We had a nice chat, us. I inquired after the herbs he farmed. What’s the best one? I asked. The chive, he replied. It's the hardest to grow. I asked about his family. Ten years ago a brain tumor killed his father. My own father's been dead a little over a decade, and I said as much. We offered each other the condolences of paternal loss.
Like other anglophiles who spent a few years in England and understands the heroic significance of World War II (Dunkirk, blackouts, Hail Brittania! pomp, circumstance, and the bulldog at Ten Downing Street!) to the English sensibility, I am a sucker for period dramas that English TV wizards put together for delighted consumption on both sides of the pond. I enjoyed the inaugural season of "Downton Abbey" on PBS last winter and, knowing that the second season played to even greater acclaim in London, look forward to its arrival in the States starting in a week or two. The last episode of season one left us in a garden party interrupted by a telegram announcing that "we" are now at war with Germany. The arc of the first season has taken us from the Titanic to the guns of August, and we're ready now for the endless war to end all wars. All well and good, but BUT and it's a big but please, I beg of the fates, do not allow the producers to do anything as cheap as they did in season number one when they shamelessly lifted a great scene from Mrs. Miniver, the 1942 movie starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon that won the year's best-picture Oscar. When Maggie Smith as the dowager garciously, and against her own egocentric impulses, gives the award for best locally-produced rose to a commoner, she is repeating Dame May Whitty's gesture at a climactic instant of Mrs. Miniver. It was the cheapest act of unacknowledged plagiarism that I have seen in many a day . . . unless they plan to make such acts of theft a recurrent feature of the feature, in which case I guess we can chalk it up to postmodernism in action. In any case, here's the theater trailer for Mrs. Miniver, which you should see. -- DL
It snowed overnight. . . but we've got brand new snow tires and Mr Sinatra to croon the words by Sammy Cahn, the music by Jule Styne.
A poem without punctuation is female. – Pauline Ambrozy
The comma is female,
The exclamation point male,
The semi-colon is fem bi-curious sub 29 Virginia.
The apostrophe is prosperous, possessive (femme)
The colon looks both ways before crossing the street (m).
The fast-running dash can’t make up his mind
about the curvaceous question mark lurking in the lobby. What to do?
The parenthesis (f, 30) needs attention and keeps interrupting.
Thus the sentence moves
from the solace of day
to the lunacy of night
in a dependent clause beginning “although.”
Although it is past curfew,
the nouns in the woods
conjugate the verbs
unattended by adjectives and adverbs.
And the sentence drives to a climax
and ends in a classic final male full stop.
-- David Lehman
One of my favorite holiday television moments. Hokey 1970s Christmas special set-up, but worth it when you hear how sweetly Bing's baritone and David Bowie's crystal-clear tenor blend together, and when you realize that this was Bing Crosby's last television appearance. The special, "Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas," was first shown on November 30, 1977; Crosby had died of a heart attack on October 14.
The lover of parodies, convinced that an expert aping of someone else's distinctive style conveys not only a chortle or belly laugh at that poet's expense but a deep respect for that writer as well, may cite J. K. Stephen's sonnet on Wordsworth as exhibit A. -- DL
Two voices are there: one is of the deep;
It learns the storm-cloud's thunderous melody,
Now roars, now murmurs with the changing sea,
Now bird-like pipes, now closes soft in sleep:
And one is of an old half-witted sheep
Which bleats articulate monotony,
And indicates that two and one are three,
That grass is green, lakes damp, and mountains steep:
And, Wordsworth, both are thine: at certain times
Forth from the heart of thy melodious rhymes,
The form and pressure of high thoughts will burst:
At other times--good Lord! I'd rather be
Quite unacquainted with the ABC
Than write such hopeless rubbish as thy worst.
-- J. K. Stephen (1859-1892)
Thanks to Margaret J. for this one. Proof that there are no small parts, only small performers.
And now, for your holiday listening pleasure, the Marimba Ponies:
Patrick Kavanagh (1904–1967) continues to inspire conflicting feelings and opinions. John Nemo, writing in The Dictionary of Irish Literature, puts it this way: “His followers, a varied but vocal group, speak of him admiringly as an important force in Irish letters, second only to Yeats. His detractors, fewer in number but every bit as vocal, dismiss him as a loud-mouthed, ill-mannered peasant who disrupted rather than advanced the development of modern literature.” As a loud-mouthed, ill-mannered peasant myself, I will take my place among Kavanagh’s followers.
One of his most ardent admirers was my old friend James Liddy, an Irish poet who spent most of his adult life as a professor at the University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee until his death in 2008. Many years ago (in the ‘70s sometime), James sent me a copy of an Irish journal called The Lace Curtain, which included his “Open Letter to the Young about Patrick Kavanagh.” Describing Kavanagh’s work (and, really, his own as well), Liddy writes, “Or there is a poetry in which real ideas from living come at us. This kind can be direct statement with a reference behind to the story of what happened to the poet. It relies on the mind staying alive, on the man making the statement keeping his emotional intelligence alive.”
Kavanagh brings that emotional intelligence, I think, to “A Christmas Childhood,” a poem one encounters regularly this time of year in Irish circles on both sides of the Atlantic. As an Irish accordion player, I relish the mention of his father’s melodeon (pronounced melojin), which is a single-row button accordion.
The poem introduces us to the thrumming imagination of a six-year-old Irish farmboy, ca. 1910, who is perfectly in tune with the magical world around him.
One side of the potato-pits was white with frost—
How wonderful that was, how wonderful!
And when we put our ears to the paling-post
The music that came out was magical.
The light between the ricks of hay and straw
Was a hole in Heaven's gable. An apple tree
With its December-glinting fruit we saw—
O you, Eve, were the world that tempted me
To eat the knowledge that grew in clay
And death the germ within it! Now and then
I can remember something of the gay
Garden that was childhood's. Again
The tracks of cattle to a drinking-place,
A green stone lying sideways in a ditch
Or any common sight the transfigured face
Of a beauty that the world did not touch.
My father played the melodeon
Outside at our gate;
There were stars in the morning east
And they danced to his music.
Across the wild bogs his melodeon called
To Lennons and Callans.
As I pulled on my trousers in a hurry
I knew some strange thing had happened.
Outside the cow-house my mother
Made the music of milking;
The light of her stable-lamp was a star
And the frost of Bethlehem made it twinkle.
A water-hen screeched in the bog,
Crunched the wafer-ice on the pot-holes,
Somebody wistfully twisted the bellows wheel.
My child poet picked out the letters
On the grey stone,
In silver the wonder of a Christmas townland,
The winking glitter of a frosty dawn.
Cassiopeia was over
Cassidy's hanging hill,
I looked and three whin bushes rode across
The horizon. The Three Wise Kings.
An old man passing said:
‘Can’t he make it talk’—
The melodeon. I hid in the doorway
And tightened the belt of my box-pleated coat.
I nicked six nicks on the door-post
With my penknife’s big blade.
There was a little one for cutting tobacco,
And I was six Christmases of age.
My father played the melodeon,
My mother milked the cows,
And I had a prayer like a white rose pinned
On the Virgin Mary’s blouse.
At his wedding in April 1967; Kavanagh died in November of that year.
One final note: Kavanagh’s best-known poem is probably “On Raglan Road,” which was written to the tune of an old march called “The Dawning of the Day.” Many singers have recorded the song since the ‘60s, including Van Morrison and Sinead O’Connor.
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.