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Friday, March 31, 2006

Shiller's "New Financial Order"

I'm back at the SF Main Library this afternoon. I thought I'd be here much less, if at all, now that classes have started. But since there are no classes Thurs and Fri, I'll aim to get here on some of those days, when I don't have to be at Berkeley. I came here today after going over to Berkeley for the morning, where we had a good group discussion about time series. (I'm debating whether to buy a copy of that text.)

I should be much more focused working here, as opposed to home--assuming I keep out of the stacks, where there is way too much to keep me distracted.

I struck a decent balance this afternoon. I looked up a copy of this book, which should be a very good reference for Rubinstein's financial economics course--and a good reference to have around in general. (Regarding Rubinstein's course, I'm eagerly awaiting the copy of his book, which I ordered on Monday. I stopped by the Cal bookstore--the only thing on campus open today, Cesar Chavez Day--and skimmed it a bit. It looks wonderful--a very readable intellectual history of the theory of finance.)

I read that for a bit, which is really studying for the course. But I also grabbed a copy of this book by Shiller, which I've been meaning to look at. It looks like this is going to be essential reading--it's really about financial engineering as a way of giving ourselves novel forms of risk management, for the greater benefit of society. I'll write more on it once I buy a copy and read it.

After reading bits of those books, I got around to some real work--homework. I spent way too long puzzling over some no-arb relations for futures...

BTW, it's remarkable how the internet-connected computers here at the library are used to near-capacity. I was lucky to find one open computer after climbing up 3 floors.

Ok, time to head home.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

shopping in McAllen

Haven't had much time to write up here lately, since orientation was last week and classes started this week. It looks like all 3 classes (fundamental of financial economics; stochastic calculus; and empirical methods, i.e., financial econometrics) will be very good, but very challenging and time-demanding.

The time leading up to jumping back into school was good. It was nice to have
Baba visit, esp since I got to take them all around the city. In one day, we walked across the Mission to Dolores Park, then down to the Castro; took the F-Market to Powell, and walked up to Union Square and the top of Nob Hill; walked down into Chinatown, and had lunch on Broadway; had coffee on Columbus in N Beach, then walked down to Fisherman's Wharf; took the F-Market back to the Ferry Building, and walked around and through there; took the N-Judah to China Basin, and walked around SBC; then finally took the N-Judah back to Church, and caught the J-Church back to where we started.

The next day we only did a half-day out, but got to the Civic Center, and spent quite a bit of time in the Main Library and the Asian Art Museum. So much time, in fact, that by the time we took the N Judah out to the Inner Sunset and walked into GG Park and over to the deYoung, it was too late to either get a coffee or go up to the observation deck.

The day after that, we drove out over the GG Bridge, skirted across the north Bay, and then over to Sacramento. I continued on to Tahoe with Mark, while Ma and Baba returned to Berkeley.

The long weekend in Tahoe was good. I'd been debating whether I'd get out on the slopes at all, but since it was looking like fun, and since we got a St. Patrick's Day special on lift tickets at Squaw, I rented a snowboard and went out with the guys. Glad I did--I picked up where I left off after Anj's tutoring last year, and was able to stay on my feet and off the snow for the most part, and make it down some runs.

Other than that, the weekend consisted of watching basketball, playing Monopoly, eating, drinking, lounging.

OK, that's the update. About the subject line: I'd planned to just post this link, so that I can clear out my inbox a bit. It's always interesting to see something about 'the Valley'--and this article was prominent on the front page of the WSJ (3-3-06). The headline was "Thanks to Mexican Shoppers, Retail Booms on Texas Border."

If you've been reading carefully, you may remember a few months ago I alluded to this retail boom--and specifically to the profusion of Mexican shoppers at La Plaza Mall, which the article is primarily about--when I blogged during our last trip to South Texas (see the 1st paragraph here).

Since you may not have time or access to click through to the WSJ, here are the first few paragraphs:
MCALLEN, Texas -- Hidalgo County, in the southernmost tip of Texas, is the poorest county of 250,000 or more people in the U.S., with nearly half its families living below the poverty line. Vendors hawk bootleg DVDs and homemade tacos out of the back of pickup trucks. Stray dogs roam the scrubland along highways. Hidalgo is also home to one of America's highest-grossing shopping malls, the sprawling La Plaza Mall of McAllen, Texas.

Owned by Simon Property Group Inc., the nation's No. 1 mall developer, La Plaza features valet parking, trendy clothing chains like Abercrombie Fitch Co. and Banana Republic, and high-end jewelers Swarovski and Helzberg Diamonds. La Plaza generates monthly sales of well over $450 a square foot, compared with a national mall average of $392. Next year, Simon, of Indianapolis, plans to open the 600,000-square-foot Palms Crossing shopping center a half-mile away. In nearby Mercedes, Simon is opening the $68 million Rio Grande Valley Premium Outlets, a 400,000-square-foot, upscale outlet, in November.

The reason: Mexican shoppers, both rich and poor, are pouring into the area, making it the equivalent of Madison Avenue for northern Mexico's consumer class. Border agencies tally nearly 40 million legal visits a year by Mexicans coming to Texas for leisure activities. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas figures they spent $3 billion on merchandise in Texas border counties in 2004, the latest data available, up from around $1.6 billion a decade earlier. In the past 10 years, retail sales in McAllen have risen more than 75%, nearly double the nationwide pace of 40%. Per-capita sales here are twice the national average, according to the census.

The activity demonstrates an unexpected development in American retailing. While Mexican money has long flowed north, the current upsurge has turned South Texas' poor borderlands into the latest, and one of the last, ripe frontiers for big retailers. At a time when major retail chains are facing declining market share and tepid sales in America's affluent suburbs, they are finding unexpected hope in the Mexican consumer.

Forty of the nation's top 100 retailers have recently staked their claim here. When Guess Inc. launched its new clothing boutique, Marciano, in 2004, the company chose Los Angeles, Toronto and McAllen as its three test cities. Foley's, a chain of department stores in Texas owned by Federated Department Stores Inc., Cincinnati, says operations in McAllen and nearby Laredo are its fastest-growing locations. J.C. Penney Co., Plano, Texas, says about three quarters of customers at its McAllen store are from Mexico and last year the chain allowed Mexican shoppers to apply for its gift registry and credit card. The store offers bilingual gift cards and an in-store beauty salon popular with Mexican women.

This reminds me that one of the very first blog posts I did on Steady Blogging, back in June 2003, was to save an article in the NYT Business section. The headline: "Mexican Wealth Gives Texas City a New Vitality"! (To see my blog post, you'll have go here and then scroll down to near the bottom, to the "Sat, June 14"...
I was doing all the html from scratch then, and even though I actually tried to insert permalinks for each entry, I didn't get it right for that one! Although the formatting is totally DIY--which actually has its own appeal--in scrolling through, it's nice to see I posted some interesting links.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

blogging live from squaw

I came up to Tahoe yesterday for the 2nd annual PBG trip. Our spot is nice. Some of the guys wanted to do Squaw today, so we came here. 4 of them bought lift tickets and spent the morning on the slopes, while the remaining 2 of us (me and Dust) spent the morning grazing, talking and watching the opening games of the tourney. Right now we're having lunch at Sundeck Tavern, right next to where the Funitel goes up to the Gold Coast.

I brought the laptop with in case some wireless access was to be had. It cost $8 for the day.

Monday, March 13, 2006

taylor branch @ commonwealth club

taylor branch @ commonwealth club
Originally uploaded by shooGu.
It was already 2 1/2 weeks ago that I went to see and hear Taylor Branch at the Commonwealth Club. A powerful, moving, inspiring afternoon. Fruitful too--I bought both Parting the Waters and Pillar of Fire there, and got them both signed by the man. Which is somewhat ironic, considering he's on book tour for the third and final volume (At Canaan's Edge). It made sense to me, since I got the two as paperbacks, wheras ACE is only in hardcover as of now, as a newly published book.

What a monumental achievement. Something like 2000 pages in total--a completely readable and accessible narrative history. The history of...MLK, the civil rights movement; but really, as he alludes to in the subtitles, it's a history of of America in the King years: 1953-1968.

BTW, could someone explicate the biblical references of the titles? I get "parting the waters"--but the others?

I took copious notes on the whole public interview. I've got them in my pocket notebook, and have been meaning to get around to writing them up and posting them here. Look for them.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

time is moving on

My 2.5 months of schedule-free living are already gone. Not to say that the remaining 8 days until orientation starts won't be enjoyable. My parents arrived in town earlier this evening, so we'll be chilling with them for the next few days. I'm looking forward to taking them around the city Mon and Tues. Hopefully the weather will cooperate.

Some spots I was thinking we should hit: SF's traditional neighborhoods--Chinatown, N Beach, Nob and Russian Hills; Civic Center (Main Lib, Asian Art); at least the observation deck the sculpture garden of the deYoung; the Beach Chalet; the Legion of Honor (primarily for the earthquake (re)photo exhibit).

And we'll have to do some walking around the Mission. They enjoyed checking out the veg and fish markets last time they were here. Maybe we'll hit a coffeeshop, perhaps get a burrito..or some pupusas.

So that's plenty to keep us busy til Wed. Then I head up to Tahoe to meet the guys, who are flying in from various locales. We'll be up there til Sunday. I'm leaning towards skipping the slopes altogether. Looking forward to simply catching up with the fellas, and watching plenty of basketball.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

iPod/music/Chappelle's block party

I haven't done a rambling and/or music-centered post in a while. This really shouldn't be it, since I've got more pressing things to do (I've got to finish typing up some notes for a math lecture I've got to give in a week). But we just got back from catching "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" at the Metreon, and it's got me back into some music.

So just now I erased our old iPod (crazy that 2.5 years consitutes old in our day and age), since it's stuck on hold, and the only way I can navigate is with the in-line remote--which means I can only click " and " to cycle through songs sequentially. Short of getting the thing fixed, which I think is unlikely, what I'm going to do is just load up the most recent additions to my iTunes library.

So I created a smart playlist for those recent additions, and put only that on the iPod, so that I've got a manageable 50 songs on there now. What I've added to my libarary since Feb 3: the Rashaan Patterson disc we borrowed from Little Man, a handful of Breakdown FM podcasts, and a bunch of tracks downloaded from breath of life and soul sides.

Which brings me back to my point: the Chappelle movie triggered me to get back to the music. In addition to going mobile with the new iPod config, here's what I want to be doing:
  • Getting to soul sides and breath of life on a regular basis--which I already do...but also reading the essays as I listen to the tracks
  • Revisiting some of that 90s hip-hop neo-soul that the Chappelle flick got me thinking about again, which I haven't been listening to much lately: basically exactly the lineup of the block party, plus Tribe (as the progenitors), plus D'Angelo (the only one lacking from the lineup)
  • Getting back to some jazz. I thought I had written here, but apparently I didn't, that I'm listening to less jazz in SF than I did in Ann Arbor. Actually, that's true of both recordings and live shows. How cool that one of Dave's asides in the movie was him recommending we all study Thelonius Monk.
I had some other thoughts about the movie that I was thinking about writing up, but probably won't get around to it. One of those thoughts was how that group of musicians--that school of 90s hip hop and neo-soul, what this VV blogger called the Okayplayer aesthetic--is the closest some of us come to have a contemporary culture that we (have) connect(ed) with. But I wasn't articulating that idea too convincingly to Anj just now, so I'm not even going to try to explicate it in writing. I will just say that I'm glad I caught Common and the Roots a handful of times in that period that they were our zeitgeist, and regret not seeing Mos Def in that period.

I had some other random thoughts, but it turns out a surprising number of them are subsumed among the things that that VV blogger learned while watching Dave Chappelle's Block Party. (That blogger's got a name--Tom Breihan...give credit where credit is due--something I just gleaned from sepiamutiny's reblogging policy. One more thing: I've got to get to "Status Ain't Hood" more regularly.)

For instance, I actually did read "?uestlove's mammoth OKP post from immediately after the show"--which goes to show I was wasting a fair amount of time on music blog around that time; I also thought Jill Scott just about sang Erykah off the stage; and seeing/hearing Lauryn again gave me goosebumps too. (I appreciate all the more after reading and listening to this masterful week on breath of life.)

Ok, enough on all that. Got to get to typing some math.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Redevelopment in the Bayview

I'm clearing out this week's SFGate e-mails right now, and read this article about the Bayview:

Some in Bayview fear the 'r' word / Redevelopment proposal spurs painful memories
Patricia Wright's girlhood home in San Francisco's Western Addition and most of the houses on her block were bulldozed in the 1960s by the Redevelopment Agency.

In the name of urban renewal, longtime residents -- mostly poor and African American -- were sent packing, and many never came back.

For Wright, who is now 52 and lives in the Bayview home to which she relocated as a child, the resentment still runs deep.

"I have no trust in them whatsoever," she said. "When I hear the words 'redevelopment' and 'urban renewal,' I think it really means urban removal."

Those painful memories have Wright and some others who live in the Bayview-Hunters Point area, a predominately black community situated on the city's southeastern edge, fearful that history could repeat itself.

They've come out in force against a Redevelopment Agency proposal to place about 1,300 acres -- more than half of the Bayview -- under its jurisdiction. The plan would create the largest redevelopment district in San Francisco history, and the agency promises to clean up blight, build affordable housing and stimulate business with the help of property tax dollars.

But while people like Wright are reluctant to trust an agency that they say betrayed them in the past, others look to the Redevelopment Agency to be the catalyst for improvements the Bayview desperately needs.

The area is plagued by crime and poverty, and abandoned buildings, crumbling facades and vacant lots are commonplace. But the neighborhood's main drag, Third Street, soon will be home to a new light-rail system linking the struggling community to the city's downtown, making the Bayview attractive to real estate investors and developers who have long ignored it.
The urban renewal projects, alluded to above, that targeted the Western Addition and the Fillmore in the 50s and 60s seem to be regarded now as failures (just like other similar projects elsewhere in the country, such as the UofC-directed cleanup of 55th St in Hyde Park, which replaced a stretch of jazz clubs and bars with monoxide towers...)

The Western Addition and the Fillmore are still African-American neighborhoods, though from what I can gather, they're diminished in that regard. It's interesting--though perhaps not that surprising, really--that some refugees of those urban renewal migrated southeast to the Bayview.
The Bayview has been an African-American community since at least the 40s, I would guess, when thousands of blacks migrated from the South--primarily from Texas, Lousiana, and Arkansas--to California to work in the factories and shipyards that sprung up during WWII, in both the Bay Area and LA. (I've gathered this from a few sources: a biography of Huey P. Newton, whose family came to Oakland from Louisiana; Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins novels, which chronicle the post-war history of LA's African American community, many of them, like Easy himself, with roots in Houston and East Texas; and finally, a book titled Prophets of Rage; The Black Freedom Struggle in San Francisco, 1945-1969, which I read the first chapter of when I finally made it up in January to visit the SF History Center (on the 6th floor of the SF Main Public Libary; which reminds me that ever since, I've been meaning to blog about their collection of SF historical photographs...)

Whereas those neighborhoods are in the geographic hear of the city, the Bayview is geographically remote. The 3rd Street Light Rail is supposed to address that. (If you're at all interested in urban planning and public transit issues, specifically in the Bay Area, get yourself to SFCityScape right away.)

But as the article above communicates, such development can be a double-edged sword for communities. The SFBG had a cover story last October about the 3rd St Rail and its implications for the Bayview a while back. While I'm no longer convinced by their hard-left anti-development stances ("Attack of the million-dollar condos") , they did have an interesting piece in there about how "Longtime Bayview homeowners are cashing out and leaving town":
Now, 30 years after she and her late husband bought the place, Johnson's careful attention is finally paying off. Her three-bedroom house on Shafter Street in the Bayview sold for $660,000 after only two weeks on the market. Johnson is headed for a better life in Houston, where she's having a house twice the size built in a gated community by a lake – for a quarter of the price.

(Though of course longtime African-Americans in the Bayview aren't the only Bay Area residents thinking about moving out b/c of real estate prices in these parts; also in Monday's SFChron was this article.)

I was just thinking again earlier this week that I should get down to the Bayview in that last couple weeks of flexibility that I have left. Maybe I'll get down and visit the Bayview branch of the SFPL. Unfortunately the 3rd Street Rail still isn't finished, so I'll have to take the 15...