Mr. Sensitive

April 30, 2013

Is My Son Autistic?

Filed under: Uncategorized — lbej @ 14:52

Brinkley is twenty-eight months old and he doesn’t talk or point at objects to indicate interest.  He loves to play with string, dental floss, and even spaghetti noodles, wrapping them around his fingers in elaborate, intricate patterns; nothing captivates him so completely.  These characteristics—repetitive behavior and lack of communication—are, according to developmental psychologists, two key autism markers.  The third primary marker—impaired social interaction—could not fit Brinkley any less.  He loves to make eye contact, he laughs and smiles all the time, he’s very friendly when he meets new people, and he’s not the least bit shy or reserved in social situations.  So is my son autistic?  More importantly, do I give a damn if he is or he isn’t?

What is autism?  The fact that Katie and I have read about it and discussed it as much as we have and I still can’t give a definitive answer is, to me, more telling than any answer I could give.  As I understand it, there are three major autism markers—impaired communication, repetitive behavior, and impaired social interaction.  Brinkley clearly meets the first two requirements and just as clearly does not meet the third.  So then he isn’t autistic, right?  Not so fast.

It seems now that we have an autism spectrum, and a child can be placed on that spectrum if he or she meets some of the requirements to some degree or another.  This is, to my knowledge, a fairly recent development; certainly the extent to which parents are aware of the ‘autism spectrum’ is new.  Now you can have a diagnosis for your weird kid no matter what—if you don’t know what else to do, you can place him or her on the ‘spectrum.’

Well, I think that’s a load of crap.

As far as I’m concerned, my kid is weird.  He’s weird, but he’s healthy and he’s happy.  As my friends and family know, I’m an alcoholic.  I’ve been sober for more than four years now, and I bring it up in this context only because this ‘autism spectrum’ brings to mind a maxim I heard when I was in rehab: if it causes problems, it is a problem.  I had a lot thrown at me in rehab and not all of it stuck, but that one did.  Long-time alcoholics are masters of denial, and one of the most common things we do is create our own criteria for classifying a person as an alcoholic—criteria that we then conveniently fail to meet.  For example, I told myself that alcoholics drank all day (many do, of course), and since I didn’t start drinking until after work, I was not an alcoholic.  Did I drink too much?  Yes.  But was I an alcoholic?  No, because I didn’t drink in the morning.  Driving drunk was another criterion I used: alcoholics drive drunk, I never drove drunk, therefore I wasn’t an alcoholic.  I could admit that I drank too much, but not that I was an alcoholic—why did that classification matter so much?  It mattered because alcoholism is a disease—at least how I reckon it—whereas drinking too much is simply a bad habit.  Habits are quirks that a man can deal with on his own and in his own time; a disease is something else entirely.  If I was an alcoholic, it meant that I was sick and that I needed help.  It meant coming to terms with the terrible things I’d done to myself and to others, and accepting my weakness and failure.  There’s another false criterion for you: alcoholics fail, and I’d never failed, so I wasn’t an alcoholic.

What does this have to do with autism?  I’m getting there.

As an inveterate alcoholic I was driven to avoid that definitive diagnosis at all costs.  Why?  Because if I accepted the diagnosis, there would be no question of what I had to do: stop drinking immediately and get help to do it.  The ambivalence and uncertainty I’d used to avoid taking responsibility would be stripped away, and there’d be no more hedging or equivocating.  That stark certainty was scary as hell, and I didn’t face it until my family forced me to.  But what if the tables were turned?  What if the uncertainty was what frightened me?  In my case, there was no uncertainty.  My mind, my body, my family—it was all coming apart.  Soon I would be alone, and soon after that I would be dead, and I knew why.  I knew exactly what my problem was.  More importantly, I knew that I had a problem.   Only the disease allowed me to repress, deny, and project.  But what if I didn’t know?  What if I wasn’t sure?

Brinkley isn’t doing everything his sisters did when they were his age, and he’s doing some things they didn’t do, mostly weird things.  But they were day care kids; he’s stuck here with me.  They’re girls; he’s a boy.  They’re two-and-a-half years apart; Brinkley is seven years younger than his closest sister.  Moreover, I’m in a position to notice things now that I might have missed before, back when I worked for the bank every day and drank every night.  My gut feeling is that my son is fine—peculiar and obstinate, but fine.  I trust my instincts as a parent, but I can imagine what I might do if I didn’t.  If I didn’t know that my son was going to grow up to be happy and healthy—and let’s face it, no doctor can promise me that about any of my children—and I didn’t trust my own character and judgment as a father, would a diagnosis of autism make me feel worse, or would it be a relief?  It would be a challenge, of course, but the next steps would be clear: behavioral therapy, psychological evaluation, possibly some medication or another.  More importantly, I wouldn’t have to figure it out on my own, because the doctors would guide me.

What I’m hinting at is uncomfortable to suggest, but here it is: I suspect that the autism spectrum has, in some instances, been extended and improperly applied to children because their parents can’t handle having a weird kid that doesn’t act like every other kid.  Parental micro-management relying on cookie-cutter developmental milestones and unsubstantiated Facebook boasts (‘my eight-month-old is fluent in three languages!’) is a fast track to madness.  Worse still, it can make you overreact to developmental lags that would otherwise correct themselves, inviting the medical community to slap a label on your child for no reason other than that you can’t be happy if your kid doesn’t hit the proscribed milestones when your friends’ kids do.  If my son is happy doing things his way, but I’m bent out of shape about his way of doing things, is he really the one with the problem?

That brings me back to the rehab maxim: if it causes problems, it is a problem.  What the counselors there said was that it doesn’t matter what name you give it, if alcohol is destroying your life, it’s a problem.  You can’t hide behind semantic distinctions and arbitrary criteria: you’re miserable, everyone you care about is miserable, and alcohol is the cause of that misery.  You only need the one criterion: if it causes problems, it is a problem.  Well, the inverse is true as well: if it’s not causing problems, it’s not a problem.  If Brinkley is autistic, the disease will disrupt and degrade his life and mine to the point that I won’t need a doctor to tell me things are very, very wrong.  If you have to ask a doctor if there’s a problem—not what the problem is, but whether there is a problem at all—with an otherwise healthy and happy child, the child may not be the one with the problem.

None of what I’ve said should be interpreted to mean that I don’t believe that autism is a real disease—of course it is.  It is a disease, but it’s slowly becoming a catch-all diagnosis for weird kids.  I don’t want my kids to be like everyone else—everyone else is already like everyone else.  In a world like that, a little weirdness can take Brinkley a long way.

April 27, 2013

FSX Friday Update

Filed under: FSX — lbej @ 19:06

So I just couldn’t get into the update this week and Katie graciously stepped up to write it.  It takes her about 20 minutes to do the whole thing as opposed to the three or more hours I take.  I have issues.

The market overall this week? Well, I checked CNBC for a wrap-up of the week, and it said this:


(Ignore all those Sporcle tabs. Unless you want to challenge us on some Sporcle quizzes, which we would love. Because we would win.)

So the stocks were mixed. Boring. Amazon tumbled. Apparently because of slowing international business. Whatever. I still love Amazon.

JC Penney surged. I mean JCP. Also whatever. I assume that’s because they got rid of that sucky Apple guy who was trying to turn JC Penney into an Apple store. I wasn’t really a fan of JC Penney before he was there, and I probably won’t be a fan after.

So that’s the market. Exciting, right? On to the FSX.


  • S&P 500 +1.7%
  • FSX +2.9% (new all-time high Thursday) – Go us! Yay for proud members of the FSX!


  • Zondro (ZQK) +11.2%. – Um, the market thinks good things are coming for Zero when he turns 30 in a couple weeks, I guess. Sure.  (Mr. Sensitive: Katie read this as Zero instead of Zondro because she’s been falling asleep on the couch all afternoon.  Ask Jenny if you want to know the truth because Katie lies about her Machi drowsiness.) (Katie: I’m back to say “Whatever, rudeface.” I read it wrong because of some other reason. I only almost fell asleep once this afternoon and I hardly ever do that anymore. I accidentally read it as Zero, okay? And then I said, “Well, Zondro relatively recently celebrated a birthday, and he’s getting close to 30 in dog years. So there.)
  • LULU +8.4%. – Fat cat Lulu. She’s been sleeping with Brinky sometimes at night, which is so much less annoying than her creeping creeping up on us in bed. Yes, I meant to say creeping twice. Because she creeps and creeps and then creeps some more until she’s pretty much on top of my face.
  • Namilita (NL) +6.8%. – I just don’t know anything about the Charlotte and Zero cats. Maybe they’re not creepers.
  • Jenny (JNY) +6.0%. – Jenny is actually starting out with good grades this quarter. I don’t mean to sound surprised, but the previous two quarters didn’t start so well, so it’s pretty awesome. She likes the substitute she has for the rest of the year – she actually told me she looks forward to math class every day, and we definitely weren’t hearing that before. I mean, really she’s up because she started watching Dawson’s Creek.
  • Brinkley (BCO) +5.5%. – When Lee asked me earlier in the week what would be causing Brinkley to be up, I sent him the following email as explanation: My beloved baby boy is up because he’s had some bonus time with me this week while we share allergy misery with each other in the middle of the night.   Also, he is a smart boy and is getting closer and closer to talking. He has started saying “MOM MOM MOM MOM” in a voice that can only be called Gremlin.   And just today he’s also started saying Dada again, in not quite as Gremlin-y a voice, so maybe he’s for real ready to talk.
  • Justin (SCI) +5.4%. – Uncle Science will be here next week for a visit, so of course he’s up.
  • Marcus (MCS) +5.2%. – And Uncle Teacher won’t be here next week, but he will be celebrating a birthday. I get the feeling Jodi Ann does a good job with birthdays, so I’m going to go ahead and say it’s going to be a great day for him. We will hopefully remember to at least call.
  • Lee (TGI) +5.0%. – Toogie’s up because I’m going to finish reading his book in the next 3 days and it’s cool stuff. And because Brinky’s kinda sorta calling him Dada.
  • Jodi Ann (JOY) +4.4%. – Because she had her own birthday this week, and hopefully it was awesome. Reagan thinks Jodi Ann would like to know that she’s decided to start speaking Italian because, you know, Jodi Ann’s Italian.


  • Lisa (LNCE) -0.2%. – It’s been a rough week in Blacksburg, clearly. And it’s true. Lucas’s first hospital stay (I think it’s his first as far as I remember) has been rough on the whole family, I’m sure.
  • Nicole E. (NICE) -0.6%. Poor Nicole won’t be visiting us next weekend (I don’t think).
  • Lucas (LEI) -0.8%. – I swear you won’t miss your appendix, Lucas. I’m doing okay without mine. At least I think I am. I hope you’ve had a sandwich by now.
  • Dustin (DST) -1.3%. Who knew Lucas’s hospital stay and surgery were hardest on Dustin? The market knew.

P.S. For real, challenge us on Sporcle. We would love it. Our username is euresrule. Because, you know, we rule.

P.P.S. My Microsoft Office doesn’t recognize Brinky as a word. It should. So I’ll be adding it to my dictionary. We all should.

Name Ticker 4/26/2013 Change
Brinkley BCO $26.46 +1.39
Charlotte ICE $159.51 +5.13
Dustin DST $68.53 -0.88
Ghost Marisa MOLXA $22.84 +0.12
Icarus FAST $49.47 +1.33
Jenny JNY $14.07 +0.80
Jodi Ann JOY $56.60 +2.39
Justin SCI $16.46 +0.84
Katie CATY $19.45 +0.54
Lee TGI $79.80 +3.81
Lisa LNCE $24.76 -0.05
Lucas LEI $1.27 -0.01
Lulu LULU $74.14 +5.76
Marcus MCS $12.70 +0.63
Mario T.E. MGEE $55.34 +0.52
Mario T.Y. MAR $41.57 +0.23
Namilita NL $11.19 +0.71
Nicole E. NICE $34.23 -0.20
Nicole M. COLM $58.92 +0.42
Reagan REGN $216.60 +4.02
Ruby RJET $11.38 +0.36
Wilson WILC $6.87 +0.08
Winston ED $62.84 +0.36
Zero ZAGG $6.83 +0.23
Zondro ZQK $6.47 +0.65

April 26, 2013

FSX Friday Nope-date

Filed under: Uncategorized — lbej @ 15:17

There will be no update tonight, in the unlikely event that it matters to folks out there.  Brinky’s sick and so am I, and it’s hard to say which of us is being a bigger baby about it.  If my head clears tomorrow I’ll write it then; if Brinky feels better first I’ll make him do it.

April 19, 2013

FSX Friday Update

Filed under: Uncategorized — lbej @ 16:49

This was a rough week for a stock market coming off all-time highs: gold and silver prices collapsed on Monday, with gold suffering its largest one-day drop in over three decades; the Dow Industrials slid 250 points on Tuesday, with most of the losses registered even before news of the Boston terror attacks crossed the wires; the widely-followed VIX (volatility index for the S&P 500) jumped 40% through Thursday; and then there were the ugly earnings reports.  Again and again, this was the story: Company X beats profit expectations; Company X misses sales/revenue expectations; Company X stock gets crushed.  From eBay to Bank of America to IBM to GE, the street wasn’t buying the expense management/margin expansion/ cost cutting story.  Listen to the market, S&P 500 CEOs: corporate America is lean enough, and if you can’t grow your business, the market will punish you no matter how carefully you stage-manage quarterly earnings.

As an investor, I wouldn’t touch the big banks with a ten-foot pole.  Why?  Let’s see: fairy-dust balance sheets; broken lending cultures; arrogant, overpaid executives (I’m talking about you, Jamie); contracting net interest margins.  Is that enough?  How about this narrative: banks are too timid and/or incompetent to lend, so they can only boost revenues by taking operational and market risk, and they can only goose profits by cutting non-revenue-producing staff in areas like operational and market risk management.  Add to that the aggressive push-back against any and all banking regulation (I’m talking about you again, Jamie) and you have an industry that is less profitable and less capable than it was in 2007, but hardly less risky.  Get ready for TARP: The Sequel, coming sooner than anyone thinks.

The Family Stock Index underperformed the broader market this week, pulled down by long-time laggards (Zero, Brinky) and bull-market leaders (me, Justin) alike.  Decliners swamped advancers by a margin of 22 to 3, and eight of those declining stocks suffered losses greater than four percent.  The FSX ended the week at 14,884, down 2.9%, even after a 148-point rally on Friday.  After a long period of relative quiescence, volatility is back in a big way: the FSX was down 422 on Monday, up 172 Tuesday, down 265 Wednesday, down just 80 Thursday, and then up 148 today.  Is it time to panic?  Always.


  • Ruby (RJET) +4.6%.  Grandpa drove to Richmond and then to Philadelphia; Boo-boo didn’t.  I’m told that Grandpa sings along with his bad music when he’s driving; I’m told he doesn’t sing well.  These rumors might be baseless, of course, but the market’s buying.


  • Justin (SCI) -4.2%.  I don’t know what this is about.  Justin’s coming to the Pfaff in a couple weeks for his NCSA board meeting, and you know the Pfaff is always jumpin’.
  • Ghost Marisa (MOLXA) -5.3%.  If Marisa is still haunting Brinky’s room, she’s got to be jealous of his light-up turtle and dog—who wouldn’t be?
  • Brinkley (BCO) -5.4%.  A consensus is building here that Brinky’s something of a doofus, with his devoted mother the only holdout.
  • Jenny (JNY) -5.7%.  Jenny’s been spending more time with her parents this week; is the market trying to say we’re not cool?
  • Zondro (ZQK) -6.9%.  Still an outside dog.  Still not convinced he should be.
  • Lee (TGI) -7.0%.  I was due for a pullback after hitting an all-time high last week.  Besides, my cheek swelled up for no reason on Monday and I’m not convinced the spiders didn’t lay eggs in my face when I was clearing the thorn forest last weekend.  Reagan has another theory.  When she asked how her stock was doing, I told her she was about the same as the market, and she replied, ‘well, you’re about the same as a snarket.’  I think that’s code for ‘spiders laid eggs in your face.’
  • Zero (ZAGG) -11.5%.  Quoth the Reagan: ‘Zero doesn’t have long hair right now and I really need a picture of him with long hair.’  So there you have it.
  • Nami & Lita (NL) -14.9%.  It was a tough week for the cats.  Here’s an artist’s rendering:


Name Ticker 4/19/2013 Check
Brinkley BCO $25.07 -1.44
Charlotte ICE $154.38 -3.82
Dustin DST $69.41 -0.93
Ghost Marisa MOLXA $22.72 -1.27
Icarus FAST $48.14 -1.35
Jenny JNY $13.27 -0.80
Jodi Ann JOY $54.21 -0.26
Justin SCI $15.62 -0.69
Katie CATY $18.91 -0.30
Lee TGI $75.99 -5.68
Lisa LNCE $24.81 -0.45
Lucas LEI $1.28 +0.05
Lulu LULU $68.38 -1.22
Marcus MCS $12.07 -0.46
Mario T.E. MGEE $54.82 -0.90
Mario T.Y. MAR $41.34 -1.25
Namilita NL $10.48 -2.03
Nicole E. NICE $34.43 -0.63
Nicole M. COLM $58.50 -0.62
Reagan REGN $212.58 -3.26
Ruby RJET $11.02 +0.48
Wilson WILC $6.79 -0.05
Winston ED $62.48 +0.57
Zero ZAGG $6.60 -0.85
Zondro ZQK $5.82 -0.43



I Just Won the War, Unless I Just Lost It

Filed under: Uncategorized — lbej @ 15:49

I opened the pond for the season two weeks ago, and there were two major surprises awaiting me.  The first surprise was that the filtration system worked on the first try; the second surprise was that the thorn forest behind the pond was hiding a large tree growing sideways into my fence.  One surprise was obviously more welcome than the other.

This was a big tree.  I’m talking six inches in diameter at the base—not the sort of flora that could have gone undetected without the assistance of the thorn forest.  Not only did the thorns hide the secret tree, they also pushed it down, channeling it to the side and into the fence.  My first thought: how could the Yard Dominion of the Spiders possibly be behind this dastardly attack on my fence?

My second thought: how could the spiders not be behind it?

We are now three years on from the Great Basement War and the Yard Dominion has had ample time to recover from that historic defeat.  Last summer passed without incident, and the spiders adhered to the 2010 treaty with uncharacteristic zeal (a few kitchen interlopers notwithstanding).  I don’t believe they are aware that their basement hunting privileges will be revoked when the Apple Floor Room is turned into Jenny’s room next summer, and at any rate, the losses should be minimal; after all, their insect prey won’t be welcome in the finished basement any more than they will.

As an aside, I promised Jenny her own room when she turned 13.  She turns 13 next summer.  Holy crap I’m old.

As I said, neither I nor the spiders mounted any major military operations last summer.  I executed my seasonal bleach-blitz in the Apple Floor Room in March, then again in October, both times without encountering notable resistance or inflicting significant casualties.  I even made a show of helping a fairly large web-spinner of the non-widow variety out of a dust pile and into the yard before I unleashed the bleach in October.  I’m not a butcher, regardless of what the Dominion propagandists insist.  Alas, I had no idea that the Dominion had developed the technology to transform trees into living battering-rams.

We are exiting what has doubtless been a deep and difficult winter for the spiders, with overnight freezes continuing well into April.  As a consequence, their customary spring mobilization was delayed, and I was ready to open the pond for the year well before they were ready to defend its approaches.  The pond is positioned in the far southeast corner of the yard, between Jenny’s birth-tree and the furthest point of the fence; it is sovereign Imperial territory, an exclave of the Empire fully encompassed by the Yard Dominion.  The triangle of land between the pond and the fence is covered entirely by massive, thorn-covered blackberry plants—or it was.  The stalks of those plants were as thick as two-thirds of an inch in diameter and as long as twelve feet, easily able to grow over the fence.  The wind blows steadily to the southeast here, and the thorn stalks thus grew away from the pond and into the fence.  When I’ve open the pond each year, I’ve cut back the thorns to create a path for walking around the edge of the pond, but I’ve left the thorn forest alone.  It was when I was clearing the perimeter two weeks ago that I discovered the spiders’ arboreal fence-wrecking apparatus.

Why would the spiders want to knock down my fence?  I don’t know the answer, but my sense of foreboding as I considered the question was answer enough.

The thorn forest was old and formidable.  A thorn stalk is like a stiff, barbed cat-o’-nine-tails; the smaller, more numerous thorns at the end of the stalk hook clothes and skin and pull the dagger-thorns behind them.  These things are nasty, and I’ve long suspected that the capital of the Yard Dominion must lie in the heart of the thorn forest.  I had no desire to enter the forest, and no reason to do so—until this year.

This past Saturday, I prepared a preemptive attack on the secret tree.  I meant to leave most of the forest intact, really I did.  I put on pants for the first time since we went to Jill’s wedding last fall—not suit pants this time, but the camouflage canvas pants I bought at the Dollar General three years ago.  I sharpened my machete and my axe for a solid half-hour.  I double-gloved my rending hand and single-gloved my sword hand.  I attacked from the west.  I was forced to cut down far more of the thorn forest than I’d intended in order to gain access to the tree’s trunk and then to pull its branches from the ensnaring bramble complex.  I forgot sunscreen; an hour passed; I became bewildered.  By the time I’d cut the tree loose and chopped it down, a third of the thorn forest was gone.

And that made it lopsided, which was no good at all.

I decided to even things out, circling around to assail the eastern ramparts.  Another hour passed.  At some point, the thorns made the mistake of slashing my chin and cheek.  What could I do?  I pressed the attack.  After four hours, the secret tree and the entirety of the thorn forest were piled up on the curb in front of the house.  To my amazement, my legs had been protected.  To my chagrin, my arms had been shredded.  I returned to the house, drank a pitcher of water, coated my arms with antiseptic spray, and reflected.  This might work out nicely; I’d wanted to plant a garden with the girls, and the area behind the pond should be an ideal spot.  And yet, something wasn’t right.

I had not seen a single spider.

I don’t know what to make of it, really.  The thorns themselves put up no less resistance than I’d expected, but where were the spiders?  Did they evacuate ahead of the onslaught?  It seems unlikely; they couldn’t have known that I was planning to clear the thorn forest since I wasn’t planning to clear the thorn forest.  Was the forest not the Dominion capital to begin with?  It may not have been the capital, but it was certainly held by the spiders, and held in strength, as recently as last October.  Where did they go?  Why did they leave?

I don’t like it.

It’s possible that the depredations of winter made my preemptive strike extraordinarily effective.  Preemptive strikes can be spectacularly successful; when Israel launched its preemptive attack against the massing forces of the Arab League in 1967, it was able to destroy the Egyptian air force on the ground, achieving such complete air supremacy that it won the subsequent war in just six days.  On the other hand, a preemptive strike that fails to destroy the enemy’s second-strike capability can be tantamount to long, slow suicide—witness the fate of Japan’s nascent Asian empire when the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor missed all three American aircraft carriers.  So I could be Israel, I could be Japan, or I could be Frederick the Great’s Kingdom of Prussia.  Prussia invaded Saxony in 1757, preempting an attack by Saxony’s powerful allies, France and Austria.  What followed was the Seven Years’ War, a conflict which Prussia was able to survive only because of the timely death of Russian Empress Elizabeth.  I’m not trying to slug it out with the spiders for another seven years.

I sure hope I’m Israel.  If not, the Battle of the Thorn Forest will live in infamy.

April 12, 2013

FSX Friday Update

Filed under: Uncategorized — lbej @ 17:13

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: stocks sold off this morning on [insert earnings/geopolitical/economic headline] and rallied into the close as investors bought the dip.


Over the past three weeks, the Family Stock Index failed to reach a new high even as the broader market indices did so repeatedly.  The tape was fairly weak today, but the FSX managed to break through its intraday high of 15,311 set back on March 20.  We accomplished this feat thanks to Reagan and—believe it or not—Jenny.  It also helps that I seemed to have sidestepped the crazy train bearing down on me towards the end of last month; I wasn’t sure if working eight to ten hours a day would be enough to get the 2nd draft done by 3/31, whereas I was sure that going from that pace to full stop would break my brain, at least for a few days.  So far, so good; I had to push hard to finish, but I did, and my brain doesn’t seem to be broken.  Of course, if my brain did break, doesn’t it follow that I wouldn’t know it?


  • Reagan (REGN) +16%.  After two years of stellar returns, Reagan lagged both the broader market and the FSX in the first quarter, and $185-188 was proving to be a significant area of technical congestion for the stock.  Another straight-As report card and a 100% on the most recent end-of-quarter standardized test reminded investors why they bid REGN up from $30 to $180 in two years, and Reagan blew past her prior all-time high by $27.  So of course Jenny nearly stole her thunder with a midday surge into the #1 spot, something that would’ve made Reagan furious…if I was stupid enough to tell her it happened.
  • Jenny (JNY) +11.2%.  My oldest daughter is growing up.  She’s already as tall as her mother, she repeatedly tries to leave the house in shirts that are too tight and skirts that are too short (according to her father), and now she’s got her first activist investor.  Barington Capital thinks Jenny needs to get her act together and is pressing the board of directors to unlock value (i.e., return capital and/or sell assets).  Jenny says she’s committed to getting back to straight-As this quarter; with activist parents and activist hedge funds behind her, she may just get it done.
  • Nami & Lita (NL) +11.1%.  I’ve never met Charlotte’s cats, but I imagine them like this (Nami is the big one, Lita is the little grump):


So I try to be respectful.  I know what cats are capable of.

  •  Wilson (WILC) +9.3%.  Wilson, on the other hand, is capable of nothing.  He gets to do nothing outside, though, now that spring is here in full force.  That’s enough for a nine percent pop for WILC (and a 3.4% decline in Zondro, not coincidentally).
  • Lulu (LULU) +8.2%.  If love means never having to say you’re sorry, hate means never having to write about stupid, fat cats that track litter into your bed and attack your feet in the middle of the night.
  • Marcus (MCS) +5.3%.  Marcus reports that Jodi Ann is big into naps these days.  That information, coupled with the pop in MCS shares this week, makes me wonder what Marcus does with all that unsupervised time.  Probably cosplay.


  • Jodi Ann (JOY) -4%.  Jodi Ann might want to invest in an alarm watch.  I’m not saying it’s gotten to this point:


But it’s a slippery slope, you know.

Name Ticker 4/12/2013 Change
Brinkley BCO $26.51 +0.61
Charlotte ICE $158.20 +3.14
Dustin DST $70.34 +1.44
Ghost Marisa MOLXA $23.99 +0.82
Icarus FAST $49.49 +0.30
Jenny JNY $14.07 +1.42
Jodi Ann JOY $54.47 -2.26
Justin SCI $16.31 -0.04
Katie CATY $19.21 +0.16
Lee TGI $81.67 +3.26
Lisa LNCE $25.26 +0.68
Lucas LEI $1.23 -0.02
Lulu LULU $69.60 +5.27
Marcus MCS $12.53 +0.64
Mario T.E. MGEE $55.72 +0.37
Mario T.Y. MAR $42.59 +1.93
Namilita NL $12.51 +1.25
Nicole E. NICE $35.06 -0.42
Nicole M. COLM $59.12 +0.42
Reagan REGN $215.84 +30.43
Ruby RJET $10.54 +0.47
Wilson WILC $6.85 +0.59
Winston ED $61.91 +0.60
Zero ZAGG $7.45 +0.13
Zondro ZQK $6.25 -0.22

Stocks Are Too Expensive

Filed under: Uncategorized — lbej @ 12:45

The major equity averages scored yet another series of all-time highs this week, putting the Dow Industrials and S&P 500 within sight of 15,000 and 1,600, respectively.  Four years ago the Dow was below 7,000—we were closer to zero than to the levels we’re now approaching.  So is the U.S. economy really twice as strong as it was in April 2009?  Heavens, no.  But are large U.S. corporations twice as strong as they were in April 2009?  More like five times stronger.  Balance sheets are pristine, margins are at record levels, organized labor is collapsing, and corporate political influence is scarcely less potent than during the Bush years.  All things considered, do the state of the economy and the might of corporations taken together justify the S&P at 1,600?  In a word—no.   But throw Helicopter Ben and his QE-infinity into the mix and now you have a more interesting proposition.

The S&P is trading at around 16 times trailing earnings; this is higher than the historical average, but it isn’t near the nosebleed valuation reached at previous market peaks (2000, 2007).  Furthermore, that P/E multiple is made more attractive when you consider the bubblicious state of the bond market.  Not only do 10-year Treasury rates below 2% drive investors into riskier assets looking to keep pace with inflation (2% won’t cut it, bogus CPI numbers notwithstanding), but the cash flow discount models often used to valued stocks take interest rates as a key input, with low rates producing higher valuations.  By that relative standard, an otherwise fully-priced equity market looks inexpensive.  But this market isn’t inexpensive, and I’ll tell you why.

  1. Rates will rise.  Low interest rates in the past were often a sign of the credit market’s confidence in the economy, but today’s low rates are a function of market manipulation by the Federal Reserve and other global central banks.  To this point, the ability of international corporations to outsource manufacturing to low-cost Asian markets has offset the impact of inflationary monetary policy, albeit only for manufactured goods.  If you think there’s no inflation at all, trying paying for college, going to the doctor, or filling up at a gas station.  The inflationary impact of artificially-low interest rates may be debatable; the fact that global currency debasement and interest-rate price controls aren’t sustainable policies is not debatable.  At some point, the market will set rates again, and those rates will be higher.  Fund flows and valuation models will take it on the chin as a result.
  2. All earnings-per-share numbers aren’t created equal.  The S&P looks cheaper than it is because many huge companies trade at 10 times earnings or less.  Just consider this list of blue chip stocks:  Apple, Intel, JP Morgan Chase, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo—all at less than 10 times earnings.  These aren’t the blue chips that have led the rally, though.  The leaders have been companies like McDonalds (19x earnings), Disney (20x), Johnson & Johnson (21x), and Home Depot (24x).  Energy stocks (Exxon, Chevron) should be cheap because earnings are highly levered to commodity prices.  Financials (JP Morgan, Goldman) should be cheap because we now know that nothing stands between the big banks and insolvency other than a handful of valuation assumptions.  Old tech like Intel, Apple and Cisco (12x) should be cheap because…well, I’m not sure they should be cheap.  But can large, mature, consumer-oriented companies like McDonalds and Home Depot really grow fast enough to justify their earnings multiples?  Absolutely not.  In fact, they can’t grow much faster than the global economy, given their size, and that means 3-5% or so.
  3. Finally, earnings growth driven by margin expansion (cost-cutting and outsourcing) can’t continue indefinitely.  Big corporations can’t find revenue growth in the developed world, in no small part due to their own commitment to hold down their employees’ wages.  If you can grow earnings at 10% annually, 16 times earnings is reasonable, and maybe even cheap.  But what if you can grow revenues at only 5% (the long-term rate of global GDP growth) and you can’t grow earnings faster than that because there are no more costs to cut?  And what if you pair that with a P/E multiple above 20?  How does 16 times trailing earnings play in a low-growth, rising-rate environment?  We’ll find out soon enough.

Does all this mean stocks can’t continue to rise?  Not at all.  But the U.S. equity market is expensive at these levels, and buy-and-hold here would be stupid.  This market is for traders now.

April 10, 2013


Filed under: Uncategorized — lbej @ 11:28

I don’t know what’s happening here, but I know it must be tattooed on someone’s back:


I don’t know if Charlotte has the available real estate, and I’ve got a serious gorilla situation going on, so I’m out.  Marcus?  Justin?  Katie?  What about Nicole E.?  Get this ink, Nicole, and I’ll drive the Brinky Bowl up to Long Island myself.

Back-forest notwithstanding, I’ve already settled on my next tattoo:





April 8, 2013

Malcolm Reynolds?

Filed under: Uncategorized — lbej @ 09:28

Man, Nathan Fillion’s been around longer than I thought.


April 5, 2013

FSX Friday Update

Filed under: Uncategorized — lbej @ 16:35

Wow, what a terrible employment report—it must be time for the long-awaited correction, right?  The Dow opened Friday down 170 points, but instead of panicking, investors yet again bought on the dip, and all but 40 points of that early loss was erased by the close.  When the market goes up steadily but significantly—as it has since mid-November—everyone talks about wanting a ‘healthy’ pullback to create buying opportunities.  But when the market pulls back just 1%–as it has this week—those same folks tell us this is the end of the bull market.  You can’t have it both ways.

Unlike the Dow, the Family Stock Index had a legitimately lousy week, falling by 250 points on Monday in a flat market, and adding to those losses as the week wore on.  Today’s closing level of 14,846 is nearly 3% below last Friday’s close, and the weekly decline is the largest for the FSX in 11 months.  Advancers trailed decliners 6 to 19, and breadth was even worse than that ratio indicates; 14 of the 19 decliners fell by at least 3.5% and nine were down more than 4.7%.  It was bad, but it could have been much worse.  The 13% decline in RJET cost us 90 index points; the same move last week (before the quarterly rebalance) would have shaved 170 points off the FSX instead.  Thanks go to Ruby for waiting that one extra week to tank.


  • Zondro (ZQK) +6.6%.  We had freezing rain and sleet here yesterday; as long as there’s a chance of inclement weather, there’s a chance for Zondro’s long inside-dog idylls to continue.
  • Reagan (REGN) +5.1%.  Reagan can finally wear hang-down earrings after six months of nearly-unbearable waiting.  If you don’t understand that it’s a huge deal for her, know this: she texted her mother at midnight on the day of her lobe emancipation to announce it.  I didn’t even know Reagan was able to stay awake past ten.
  • Lulu (LULU) +3.2%.  Lulu spent two nights outside this week.  If she goes back to stalking small animals at night—as opposed to my feet and Katie’s face—her risk of sudden death by smashing will drop dramatically.


  • Nicole E. (NICE) -3.7%.  If getting the actual Brinky Bowl means so much to Nicole, she should make Justin come down here and retrieve it.  Or Icarus–he’s fast.
  • Marcus (MCS -4.7%) and Jodi Ann (JOY -4.7%).  Brinky usually doesn’t sleep past 6 o’clock, so weekends, holidays, and vacations are all the same—every day starts at 6 a.m., if not earlier.  Of course, every now and then he’ll sleep later than six, and on those rare days Katie and I can sleep in, right?  Wrong.  If Brinky doesn’t wake up at six, I wake up at six, concerned that something’s wrong with him because he didn’t wake up at six.  And that’s why 9:00 p.m. feels like midnight felt before I had kids.  And by 9:00 p.m. I mean 7:00.  Why do I bring this up?  Um…you know, I can’t even remember why; 4:30 p.m. feels like midnight used to feel.
  • Charlotte (ICE) -4.9 %.  Charlotte and Zero won’t be relocating to Wall Street after all.  It’s a shame, really; several dozen portraits of my sister around the trading floor of the NYSE would have really improved the atmosphere.
  • Katie (CATY) -5.3%.  Sausage madness.
  • Brinkley (BCO) -8.4%.  I know the little sneak could talk if he wanted to, but investors have lost faith.  Maybe when he sees how far out-of-the-money his stock options are after this latest move, the joke won’t seem so funny.
  • Nami & Lita (NL) -9.4%.  Think of the floor of the NYSE transformed into a giant litterbox and tell me an opportunity wasn’t missed.
  • Ruby (RJET) -13%.  One piece of advice from the person who regularly cleans the girls’ bathroom: wash the towels twice.  One more piece of advice: don’t ask why the towels ought to be washed twice.
Name Ticker 4/5/2013 Change
Brinkley BCO $25.90 -2.36
Charlotte ICE $155.06 -8.01
Dustin DST $68.90 -2.37
Ghost Marisa MOLXA $23.17 -0.95
Icarus FAST $49.19 -2.14
Jenny JNY $12.65 -0.07
Jodi Ann JOY $56.73 -2.79
Justin SCI $16.35 -0.38
Katie CATY $19.05 -1.07
Lee TGI $78.41 -0.09
Lisa LNCE $24.58 -0.68
Lucas LEI $1.25 -0.08
Lulu LULU $64.33 +1.98
Marcus MCS $11.90 -0.59
Mario T.E. MGEE $55.35 -0.09
Mario T.Y. MAR $40.66 -1.57
Namilita NL $11.26 -1.17
Nicole E. NICE $35.48 -1.35
Nicole M. COLM $58.70 +0.82
Reagan REGN $185.41 +9.01
Ruby RJET $10.07 -1.47
Wilson WILC $6.26 -0.37
Winston ED $61.31 +0.28
Zero ZAGG $7.32 +0.04
Zondro ZQK $6.47 +0.40
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