another senseless killing…stop the madness!

Saturday 22 June, 2019

I didn’t know Lola Gulomova well before she was shot and killed by her estranged husband Jason Rieff. She worked across the hall and increasingly came over to our office to encourage co-workers to apply for rarely-available positions.  Her death also upsets me a lot because they left 2 daughters who are now fucked-up for life.  At first I was bewildered, trying to understand how any human being could commit such a heinous crime, but I finally figured out that Jason was sick, and therefore it’s impossible to make any sense out of this.  No one in their right mind, could have done this, so my only conclusion can be that he was mentally ill, and there can be no rational explanation that explains what he did.  Now I’m still angry, sad, and confused, but want to try to do something to bring a a little bit of good from this horrible tragedy.

So to prevent this from happening again, we need 2 things:

  1. gun control
  2. more resources to address mental health issues

This was clearly a gun-enabled killing.  In other words, if it weren’t so easy to access a gun, both of these people   would still be alive today.  These stats pretty much sum up the gun problem:

  • The U.S. gun homicide rate is 25 times that of other high-income countries.
  • Women in the U.S. are 21 times more likely to be killed with a gun than women in other high-income countries.

These stats are an embarrassment when compared with the rest of the world, and there is no justification for them.  Anyone who justifies gun ownership by saying incidents like this are just collateral damage, or that more guns to defend oneself are the solution are misguided.  Fewer guns are the answer, not more guns.  I’m a Make Love, Not War kind of guy, but that doesn’t make me any weaker than many testosterone-infused gun-owners with an inflated sense of themselves because they’re packin’ heat.  Maybe Jason was a hunter, or Lola had the gun to defend herself and he turned it on her.  Maybe this was an accident, but she was shot multiple times, so I really don’t think so.  They both had high-level government security clearances, so I can understand how they were able to get a gun, but that simply means we need more checks and balances.  People who are going through a divorce shouldn’t be granted a gun permit, especially given the statistics cited above.  Guns are quick, easy, and efficient killing machines, which are great for winning wars, but horrible in homes.  I realize nothing can bring Lola back, but if there is anything positive to come out of this, please make a contribution to stop this senseless violence and get a few guns off of our streets.

I don’t think anyone saw this coming, which means Jason must have kept his mental illness carefully hidden.  Regardless, someone failed to recognize the severity of the problem and do something about it.  Personally I object to how people with mental illnesses are portrayed in the media.  Billy Bob Thornton was ultimately another mentally-ill killer in Slingblade.  Jack Nicholson was a sick obsessive-compulsive who drew lots of laughs in As Good as It Gets.  The only movie I can recollect that presented mental illness in a compassionate way was A Beautiful Mind, which portrayed John Forbes Nash, Jr. as a sick, brilliant, and ultimately positive person, and contributing member of society.  When the media jumps to the conclusion that every killer is mentally ill, it leads people to believe that the reverse is true too, i.e., that the mentally ill are dangerous threats to society.  My knowledge and experience leads me to the opposite conclusion, that the mentally ill are much more victims of violence than perpetrators of it.  They feel helpless, with little or no control over their own lives, which either leads them to lash out, or be taken advantage of.  The National Alliance on Mental Illness is trying to help.  I urge you to make a contribution so that we can provide better mental health treatment to address the root of these problems, rather than letting them fester until they boil up and result in incidents like this.

Thus when I say “Stop the Madness” I mean it literally as well as figuratively.  Devote more resources to fight mental illness, which will ultimately stop the madness…and get the guns off the streets to stop the madness of gun-stoked domestic violence.  This whole thing still makes me feel like Peter Finch as Howard Beale in the classic film Network

when he said,

I want you to get MAD! All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. [shouting] You’ve got to say: ‘I’m a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!’  I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!  Go to your windows. Open them and stick your head out and yell – ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!…You’ve got to say, I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!  But first, get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”

I  hope that somehow, some way, this will save someone from the same fate.  No change means we accept the status quo, and that’s not acceptable.  I realize I won’t change the world, but if this takes one gun off the street or someone makes one donation to devote more money to improve mental health, I’ll have made at least a small difference.

RIP Lola.  Make a contribution here to support her daughters

A special thanks goes out to my sister Carol Muth, who provided the gun control info and pointed out that this shooting occurred on National Gun Violence Awareness Day.


triathlons in Rio

Monday 14 May, 2018

Now that I may have completed my last triathlon in Brazil yesterday, I think it’s time to file my race report for the race I’ve done the most times in my life.  I’ll try and be as objective as possible and not get too emotional about it.

Finding triathlons here has not been easy.  I have not found a centralized resource like trifind etc., so I’ve had to search for triathlons in different cities where I think they might take place.  Sao Paulo is bigger, so there are more races there, but I haven’t wanted to travel that far to race.  There are a number of places that I think would be great triathlon venues, like Buzios, Niteroi, and Petropolis, and many of them held races when Brazil was in major growth mode.  But when the economy crashed in 2015, they all disappeared.  Consequently, I’ve ended up doing the same race 8 times.

I’ve also looked for & found 30 triathlon clubs in the greater metropolitan Rio area, but found none that offer anything remotely social.  All the clubs here offer are different training regimens, usually early a.m. before the bad guys come out, & nothing more.  It makes me appreciate the Chicago Triathlon Club so much-the mix of workouts & social interaction I thought was great.  Maybe the Brazilians are so social on an ongoing basis, they don’t feel the need to be social with triathlon-buds.

Registering for a tri here is quite a bit more arduous than in the U.S.  It’s not until this year the race I’ve done even accepted credit cards, & they were so skeptical of foreigners, they had to call me to verify my identification before they accepted me into the race.  I’m not sure that a foreigner can even register for a race here because they require data that only locals possess (CPF number).

In their defense, packet pickup is just as much of a pain as it is with many other races.  I’ve had to drive 45 minutes-1 hour out to Recreio to pick up my race packet in about 2 minutes.  One race done at the same venue but put together by another organizer had packet pick-up at a sporting goods store only 1/2-way out there, so that was an improvement.

Getting to the race became a challenge when my GPS kept sending me back to a road that was closed for the race over & over again.  Because the street signs don’t actually contain the names of the streets, (they just point you in the general direction…Centro, Recreio, Barra, etc.), I’ve driven around in circles and had to show up late for races after they started because I went crazy getting lost the morning of a race. Now I know how to find my way there, but that’s just because I learned by trial & (lots of) error.

The transition area is pretty well situated, with numbered slots for all of the participants.  It’s on a bumpy cobblestone parking lot, but that’s workable.  You aren’t allowed to leave your bag with your bike, so you’re required to check in your bag with everything you won’t be using for the race.

Open water swims in the Atlantic Ocean leave you open to lots of variability.  The swim in the race I’ve done in Recreio takes place on either side of a peninsula: races have been on both sides.  On either side, at some point you end up swimming into the sun, which makes sighting much more difficult.  Yesterday the surf was the strongest it’s ever been, and thus I had my slowest swim ever, 28:40 for 750 meters.  I was thrown around like a rag-doll in the waves coming in & out near the shore-normally I take 10 minutes less than that.

The bike is flat, right along the shore, 20K for the sprint.  The only potential difficulty is the wind.  Yesterday it was at my back going out & in my face on the way back in.  My 1st half time was normal, 22 mins, but I lost about 6 minutes coming back, so my bike was slow too.

The run is flat & along the shore too, out & back for 5K.  My time was a little slow, but not as slow as I thought I’d be.  I’ve developed a parameniscal cyst on my left knee, which is a result of a slightly torn cartilage in my knee, so I knew I wouldn’t match prior running times.

Here’s where I need to divulge, for the 1st time in my tri-career, I was dq’ed.  My most egregious infraction was running on the grass next to the road for the run.  Apparently if I had asked permission before the race to save my knees by running on the grass, I would have been OK, but after doing this the 7 previous time, I didn’t know if was an issue.  I was also busted for 3 other indiscretions, but I’m still not sure what they were.  Between the bike and the run, they actually made me wait 1:30 in the penalty box, just as if I were in an ice hockey game.  Before the race, I was asked to remove the rack on the back of my bike when it was deemed a safety hazard if someone fell on it, but because no one had tools for me to remove it, I was granted an exemption.

Everyone gets a medal, and race winners even get prize money.  As an age-grouper, it’s been even more competitive here.  In the U.S., I usually come in in the upper 1/2 of my age group-here I usually come in near the bottom.  That’s OK, as long as I don’t lose too much time.  Until this race, I haven’t.  Post-race nutrition consists of a lot of fruits, bananas, watermelon, oranges.

On the whole, I’ve enjoyed my triathlons here.  I would just liked to have been able to do a wider variety of races.


demonstrations in LDC’s

Monday 1 May, 2017

I had my 1st “international incident” experience Friday night, & it left a deep impression. I was locked up in the consulate & forbidden to leave because it was too dangerous for me to go home. After finally finding my way home, I realized our security people were not kidding-this was serious, & they were correct for not allowing me out in it.

What happened was, the PT, or Workers Party (Partida dos Trabalhadores) planned a general strike on Friday to protest the imposition of 2 new laws: 1 to OK the outsourcing of work that had not been allowed in the past that will give Brazilian businesses the flexibility to contract out even core activities of their businesses, if they so choose, which was forbidden in the past; & 2. to change to the terms of the pension/social security system to eliminate benefits for some retirees, which are simply financially unsustainable. For example, judges, the military, & other public officials are given pensions covering up to 80% of their wages that can be transferred to remaining spouses and handed down to descendants for generations, which will end up costing the Brazilian government money that it can’t afford to pay in the future.

As I was sitting in my office @ ~5:30 p.m. surveying the evening’s musical choices, 1 of the marines came in & told me to check with their guard station before I leave. I thought that a little odd because I was never told to do that before. When I went to leave @ 6, I was summarily told that I was not allowed to leave, that it was too dangerous for me to leave the building @ that time. They showed me the footage from 1 of the security cameras that displayed some tires that had been set on fire outside the consulate. I returned to my office thinking, “These guys are paranoid.” I had walked past some demonstrations around Cinelandia in the past, & they were no threat to me, or anyone, as far as I could tell. I assumed this 1 would be no different. In the next hour I could smell the stench of the burning tires and heard what sounded like small bombs going off. When I returned to try to leave @ 7, I was told it still wasn’t safe enough to go out, so I went back to my office for another hour. I tried to leave again @ 8, but was still told “No go.” Then @ 8:15, they made an announcement that we were free to go.

What I encountered outside the consulate’s door was breathtaking. The windows to the banks Bradesco & Caixa had been smashed, & I’m told thieves had tried to steal the cash from the ATM’s. The metro stop @ Cinelandia was closed, so I had to walk to the next station @ Gloria, about a 20 minute walk away. As I approached Sala Cecilia Morrelles, a nice venue where I’d seen a number of concerts, I came across 9 burned out buses which had been set on fire. Walking a little bit further down the street, a few trucks filled with military police drove by, guns @ the ready, prepared to aim & shoot. When I finally got the Gloria station, my eyes started burning & I couldn’t breath because of tear gas that remained in the air. I realize it sounds trite to say “Tear gas is nasty stuff,” but you can’t realize how nasty it is until you experience it. Like when I visited the concentration camps when I was in Poland 20 years ago, it’s the smell that leaves as deep an impression on any of the senses…it’s inescapable.

Lesson learned: when the security guys say “sit tight” listen to them.  While they may seem overly protective at times, they know the risks & are only looking out for our own safety.

For more details check here http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-39753849


awe-inspiring paralympic athletes

Monday 12 September, 2016

I checked out the women’s paralympic triathlon & couldn’t help but write about it. These women are so inspirational, they are beyond description, but I’ll give it a try. I’ve done a lot of sprint triathlons in my day, but I haven’t overcome a fraction of what these women have. What I saw today blew me away.

Let’s start with the swim. The 1st race was for women who are physically challenged, so swimming with 1 arm or 1 leg is difficult, but do-able. The tough part is getting in & out of the water, so they had helpers get racers to their prosthetics coming out of the water. The 2nd race was for blind racers, so they had to do the whole race, swim included, tethered to a guide. That has got to be tough.

Then they move to the bike. This portion probably has the fewest differences between Olympic & Paralympic athletes for the physically-challenged. However, the blind racers rode on tandem bikes, so a strong guide could be a big advantage.

In the run, we get to the hard part. We have a long way to go to get prosthetics to work well. I don’t know how Oscar Pretorius did it-the prosthetics these women used didn’t allow them to run anything like a normal runner. Their gaits were very unbalanced, which puts lots of strain on the leg that does function normally. The breakdown over time must be very difficult to deal with & they must suffer from overuse injuries galore.

There was 1 runner who stuck out to me: Rakel Mateo Uriarte of Spain. She came in dead last @ 1:40:33-the distances were shortened from the “Olympic” distance, so this was essentially a sprint triathlon-but she was still a winner to me because she was the only athlete who had the impairment she did. The International Triathlon Union says she was in an accident in 2001 which left her left leg paralyzed.  She hadn’t participated in triathlon before her accident, but picked it up to keep moving. I didn’t see her come out of the water on the swim, but the result of her challenge was that she couldn’t pedal the bike with both legs, which meant she had to pedal the whole race with just her right leg.  To top it off, she did the whole run on crutches…& she did the race in about the same time I do my sprint triathlons.  Granted I’m a slow old man, but completing races with her challenges blows my mind.  The mental fortitude this woman must have must be incredible.  I can’t imagine the strength & endurance she must have to complete these races.

The USA did well.  American Grace Norman won the PT4 race.  The Americans swept the PT2 race, with Alyssa Seely winning the gold, Hailey Danisewicz taking the silver, & Melissa Stockwell bringing home the bronze.  The PT5 race was a heartbreaker for American Elizabeth Baker, who came so close to earning a medal, but just fell short, literally. She came out of the water 6th, then moved up to 4th on the bike.  Then on the run, with 100 meters to go, she had pulled into 3rd place, primed for a bronze medal, but then the Brit Melissa Reid overtook her, when Elizabeth unceremoniously fell, sealing her 4th place finish in the race, after Reid.  She might not have known that Reid was catching up on her.  She couldn’t see her because she’s blind, but I would bet her guide was keeping her fully informed along the way.  My heart goes out to her, & falling was the final indignity, but their exciting finish got the most applause of the day.

I realize these paralympic races are fodder for platitudes, but in this case, I think the praise is warranted.  I do these races, so I know how hard they are.  I can recognize the difficulties they must overcome to compete at the level they do.  These women have inspired me & I’ll keep their challenges in mind when I start to bitch & moan about my next race almost a month from now in October.


my $.02 on Rio2016

Monday 22 August, 2016

Now that the Rio2016 Olympics are done & the Olympians & fans are heading home, it’s time to reflect on how it worked out for Rio de Janeiro. When I arrived in Rio a year ago, the prognostications were not good. The Globo newspaper media empire spelled out 5 Grand (large) Obstacles:

  1. Metro/subway-the new subway line which was being built to provide transportation to & from the Olympic park was planned for completion only a month before the games were to begin, a small window to correct problems, if required. Then a few months ago, that window was further reduced to just 5 days before the Olympics start, making any last minute changes of any consequence impossible. Remarkably, the subway opened, took passengers to the events, & was little problem @ all.
  2. H2O-much has been made of the quality of the water in the lagoon and Guanabarra Bay where the rowing & sailing events were held, respectively. The goal was to clean 80% of the water by the time the games begin, but sanitation only advanced to clean 50% of the waste being dumped into the water supply. That’s much more than was in the past, but short of the goal of 80%. I only read of 1 Belgian Olympic sailor who became ill after falling in & possibly ingesting some water, hardly an epidemic, & arguably within statistical norms. While the water quality is still @ an unacceptable level, it didn’t result in any calamities @ the Olympics.
  3. 4, & 5 Stadia for cycling, rowing, & track & field: were behind schedule, but completed on time without incident.

Since that article was published, a few other issues arose which impacted Rio2016 significantly:

  • zika virus: despite not rising to the levels of recent past epidemics & being out-of-season by the time the Olympics arrived, zika was deemed a threat to the health of all who dared to come to Brazil to watch the games live. There was no outbreak & zika seemed to be a non-issue during the games.
  • political crisis: President Dilma Rousseff was impeached, which created lots of political stability & the threat of uprisings, etc. during the Olympics. While Brazil will continue to be in a holding pattern until a new president is elected in 2018, there have been no major repercussions from this calamity.
  • economic crisis: as a result of the political crisis, Brazil’s economy has taken a nose dive, as indicated by a fall in the currency, the Real, of 30% in 6 months, from R$3.2/US$ to R$4.1/$US. investment has fallen, & unemployment has spiked. This made financing the completion of the projects for the games questionable, but again, all venues were completed on time.

True to form, the Brazilians pulled it off, by cramming @ the last minute, but they got it done.  The question is “What will be the long-term outcome of the Rio2016 Olympic games?”  Will Rio become another economic success propelled by the Olympics, like Barcelona & Seoul, or create a lot of white elephants, as in Beijing or Montreal, or even worse, lead to an economic downfall, as has been hypothesized about Athens, Greece.  London took the Olympic opportunity to rehabilitate an underdeveloped part of town to rejuvenate it & make that area a desirable place to live.  When I lived in Munich, they left the Olympic housing as residences for college students.  Rio will leave a different legacy.  While the subway extension & rejuvenation of the Praca Maua port area will benefit all of the population, the Olympic village is being converted into luxury condominiums for sale to the highest bidder.  Many of the venues were temporary structures, probably being deconstructed already as we speak.  The economic development organization of the Rio city government, Rio Negocios, held a series of events highlighting different industries in & around Rio, but I think they were probably disappointed with the international level of interest in their events.  The aftermath of the 2014 World Cup does not bode well.  New stadia now stand empty & a number of infrastructure projects were never completed, in some cases creating risks with what does remain.

I enjoyed being in Rio while the games were taking place: see pix:

…& I hope that Rio recognizes many positive benefits as a result of hosting the games.  I’m just skeptical that enough change will have taken place for the rest of the world to appreciate what a beautiful place this can be.


Where is the global market heading?

Monday 17 November, 2014

Nouriel Roubini, a professor @ the NYU Stern School of Business presided over Keiko Tashiro, the Chairperson/CEO of Daiwa Capital Markets America Holdings, Inc. to discuss this topic @ the Japan Society in New York.

It’s been an anemic recovery, & the only change has been the decelerating growth in the emerging markets.  The question is how strong & resilient will they be?  The recovery has been so anemic because the crisis was brought on by extreme leverage.  The fiscal stimulus that was implemented to combat it has led to an accumulation of debt that will take 5-10 years to de-leverage.  Emerging markets need robust growth of 5% , not 1-2 1/2 % less their debt.

To get 1-2% stronger growth in the industrialized countries, we need:

  • fiscal consolidation, except in Japan
  • advance de-leveraging to create better balance sheets with lower debt ratios
  • lower risk probabilities by keeping the Euro together, not falling off any fiscal cliffs, avoiding conflicts, etc.
  • keep low inflation, as the velocity of money has collapsed as stocks are in search of markets.  There is still slack in the employment market, so there is no wage inflation.  Central banks can be less conventional.  The Fed won’t start tapering until 3-4 years from now.
  • Japan needs to create a virtuous cycle with structural reforms, which should be a gradual process.  There is a risk with monetary easing in asset inflation creating a bubble.  The central bank has been able to keep bubbles @ bay by keeping inflation & interest rates low for now.

Emerging markets are devaluing their currencies to spur growth.  Internally, macroeconomic policies are granting excessive credit.  State capitalism causes them to move away from free markets.  The most fragile are China, India, South Africa, & Turkey.  With elections, growth falls.  Now the risks are much lower because of less currency mismatches, debt ratios are better, & Argentina, Venezuela, & Ukraine are now the problems.  China’s hard or soft landing is fragile.  Fixed investment is too low as is consumption.  Banks have made too many bad loans.  They’re lowering risks, but it’s open to question as to whether they can implement changes quickly enough.  Growth is decelerating from 7% to 6 %.


European economic update

Tuesday 30 September, 2014

The European American Chamber of Commerce organized an economic update which featured James Bullard, CEO/President of the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, Nicolas Veron, Visiting Fellow @ the Peterson Institute for International Economics & Co-founder/Senior Fellow @ Bruegel. The panel was moderated by Sassan Ghahramani, President/Ceo of SGH Macro Advisors.

Bullard stated 3% growth should be achievable for the US in 2014.  Unemployment of 6.6% is still too high, but the Fed won’t start raising interest rates until unemployment falls below 6.5% or inflation rises above 2%.  Normal unemployment will drive a more normal interest rate policy.

Veron maintained that the issue today is not what the central banks do, rather it’s which countries have the most dysfunctional political processes.  The EU crisis continues to test financial systems & architectures.  The tests for EU institutions need to be redefined.  Watch for EU parliamentary elections to see if citizens are dissatisfied & how the European Central Bank (ECB) is transforming EU banking, which will hopefully create an opportunity for trust to return to the system.

Panel Q&A

Because we work with seasonally-adjusted data, the weather does not affect risk, but we have no model to evaluate this past year’s weather, so it’s OK to be suspicious.  This hasn’t received enough attention.

The reduction to 6.6% unemployment is a dramatic reduction unexpectedly soon, so now we must adjust our thinking.  Labor force participation is a long standing trend of long-term structural decline.  The drop in unemployment is a good sign & was faster than anticipated, & is remarkable in an economy that’s only growing @ 2% per year.  It’s a result of state decisions, not data conditions.  Interest rates won’t move until unemployment has moved well beyond the threshold of 6%.  Normalization of policy dictates that qualitative policy & judgement shouldn’t be tied to a particular number.

The 2012 contagion was a result of a combination of factors.  Banking union is becoming more important.  Political evolution in Germany is key, not to allow any country exit the Euro.  If there is deterioration, the ECB will act.  There are no immediate legal developments, but the relationship between Germany & Europe counts. Germany’s jurisdiction over the German Bundesbank affects the ECB’s ability to work.  The Bundesbank has been clumsy in attacking the ECB’s autonomy, & thus the ECB won, while the Bundesbank lost.  The constitutional court was smarter in trying to avoid frontal conflict.

The Fed pursued the policies of the 7 faces of  peril & was the biggest advocate for flow.  It worked well with more analysis of interest rate policy.  Quantitative easing is a powerful tool & moved markets, so now we can taper back to normal.  We won’t see a normal economy until we raise interest rates.  The committee doesn’t address specific issues of quantitative easing.  The Fed will raise interest rates fairly quickly.  The alternative is to stay @ 0% longer & lift faster.  Global interest rates are still low & this is expected to continue.  Inflation is still a puzzle & wildcard, & could force the ECB’s hand.

There is still much disenchantment in the non-German Eurozones.  Germany imposes it’s decisions on others, but Germany is still pro-Euro & pro-integration.  Other countries have different foci (focuses?).  Spain is not all skeptical, but separatism sentiments continue in Catalonia.

Politically, although there are more anti-system parties as mainstream parties decline, not all Europeans are anti-EU & anti-Euro.  Not everything can be seen through the Euro lens.  Cooperation is changing as policy makers are getting more defensive.