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Editor, The Konformist
Coming 2009: Blood Bowl
For fans of the tabletop fantasy football game Blood Bowl (which
combined football in a D&D setting with ultraviolence) will be happy
to know a Xbox 360 version will be released next year. To wet your
appetite, we include the following movie preview:
For more on the game:
Meltzer Calls Paulson Plan `Social Democracy at Its Worst'
By Bob Willis
Sept. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Federal Reserve historian Allan Meltzer said
U.S. government efforts to cleanse financial institutions of
troubled loans shouldn't be financed by taxpayers.
``I certainly don't think this is the taxpayers' problem,'' said
Meltzer, a professor of political economy at Carnegie Mellon
University in Pittsburgh. ``This is not a place exactly with a great
big surplus that can afford to do these things. This is social
democracy at its worst.''
The 80-year-old economist spoke in an interview after Treasury
Secretary Henry Paulson said in Washington that proposed measures to
rid banks of troubled assets and shore up financial institutions
would cost ``hundreds of billions.''
``If they remove financial losses from the financial institution,''
the government should ensure that ``the financial company will still
owe the money,'' he said. ``Civilized countries like Chile do
Paulson told a press conference that economic policy makers would
meet with congressional leaders over the weekend to prepare a
program to remove ``illiquid assets'' from banks' books, while
``including features that protect the taxpayer to the maximum extent
The proposal is a recognition that earlier efforts failed to revive
financial and housing markets. The government took over American
International Group Inc., Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the past 12
days, a period when Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. filed for
bankruptcy and Americans pulled a record $89 billion from money-
To contact the reporter on this story: Bob Willis in Washington at
September 16, 2008
Is Washington Mutual the Next to Fall?
The Seattle-based S&L, much exposed by the housing bust, has seen
its stock plummet. But a new CEO is working to shore up confidence
by Christopher Palmeri
Washington Mutual (WM), a company that once considered itself the
Starbucks (SBUX) of banking, now has a stock price lower than that
of a latte.
Shares of the Seattle company, the nation's largest savings and
loan, fell 27% on Sept. 15, to $2 a share, following news that other
struggling financial-services giants Lehman Brothers (LEH) and
Merrill Lynch (MER) had succumbed to the mortgage meltdown. WaMu
shares rose 16% on Sept. 16 to close at 2.32 as investors responded
to rumors that banking giant JPMorgan Chase (JPM) may make an offer
for the company.
The question on many investors' minds is whether WaMu is more like
IndyMac, the big bank taken over by the Federal Deposit Insurance
Corp. in July, or Wachovia (WB), a troubled institution that under
new CEO Robert Steel appears to have won back some investor
The man in the spotlight at WaMu is Alan Fishman, a banking industry
veteran who took the job as chief executive on Sept. 8. Fishman
replaced Kerry Killinger, a 25-year veteran of the bank, who built
WaMu from a small thrift to a national player in mortgages, only to
see that business collapse with the housing bust. A WaMu failure
could cost taxpayers some $24 billion, figures Richard Bove, an
analyst with the brokerage firm Ladenburg Thalmann (LTS).
In a 12-minute conference call with investors on Sept. 8, Fishman
offered little in the way of new strategy, opting instead for just
some words of inspiration for the troops. "I know I need to hit the
ground running, and I'm prepared to do that," he said.
Run he did. In Fishman's first week on the job, WaMu announced it
was cooperating with the federal Office of Thrift Supervision to
provide more information about its operations and business plans.
When credit rating agency Moody's (MCO) downgraded the bank to junk-
bond status citing its limited financial flexibility, WaMu pre-
announced its earnings for the third quarter in an effort to soothe
investors. The bank noted that it had $50 billion in "liquidity"
available and capital ratios "significantly above the levels of well-
Even so, Fishman has a tough road ahead. WaMu has $239 billion in
real estate loans, according to analyst Bove. Some $53 billion of
those are the dreaded adjustable-rate loans in which the payments
are optional and losses are as high as 35%. In July, Bove put WaMu
on a list of several dozen shaky institutions. He figured any bank
with nonperforming loans greater than 40% of its reserves and equity
was in trouble. WaMu's was right at that 40% threshold.
Bove's loss estimates are close to that of other analysts. Fred
Cannon, a bank analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, put out a
research note on Sept. 15 that estimated WaMu losses could hit $28
billion this year and next. If that were the case, the bank would
need to raise a further $5 billion in capital, Cannon said.
Where that money would come from is uncertain. The bank has already
raised some $10 billion in the past year, including $7.2 billion in
April from a group of private equity investors led by TPG.
Many analysts feel Fishman's best bet is to find a merger partner,
but there are fewer of those around these days. Bank of America's
(BAC) acquisitive Chief Executive Kenneth Lewis said on Sept. 15
that he had no interest in WaMu. The most likely candidate remains
JPMorgan Chase, which allegedly made a $8-per-share offer earlier
this year. Says Nancy Bush, a banking industry analyst with her own
firm, NAB Research: "They better hope somebody buys them fast."
Words of support came oddly enough from Moody's analysts after
announcing their downgrade last week. David Fanger, a senior vice-
president at the firm, said that WaMu, by its nature as a federally
insured institution, had some capital-raising advantages over
investment banks. Its two main sources of funding are consumer
deposits, which are largely stable even in tough times, and loans
from the Federal Home Loan Banks system. In the S&L crisis of the
late 1980s and early '90s, financial institutions received similarly
poor credit ratings and were able to survive. Some were later
acquired by WaMu during its aggressive expansion over the past two
WaMu has lately been luring retail depositors with interest rates on
13-month certificates of deposits offering 4.5%, at the very high
end of the industry. The firm has some strong retail banking
positions, including top market-share positions in Southern
California, Miami, and Seattle. In his conference call on Sept. 8,
Fishman dismissed a question about selling bank branches to raise
money as "way early." He also said he didn't immediately foresee a
need for the bank to raise additional capital. Said Fishman: "The
opportunity to create a great national retail franchise has never
Palmeri is a senior correspondent in BusinessWeek's Los Angeles
Eoin Colfer to write sixth Hitchhiker's Guide book
Comic fantasy children's author describes being given the
opportunity to continue Douglas Adams's legendary series as 'like
suddenly being offered the superpower of your choice'
Wednesday September 17 2008
Eoin Colfer: "It is a gift from the gods".
Douglas Adams's increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker's Guide
to the Galaxy trilogy is to be extended to six titles, after Adams's
widow Jane Belson sanctioned a project which will see children's
author Eoin Colfer taking up the story.
And Another Thing by Colfer, whose involvement with the project was
personally requested by Belson, will be published next October by
Penguin. No information has yet emerged about the plot of the novel
but Hitchhiker fans will be hoping for a resurrection of much-loved
characters Arthur Dent, Trillian and Ford Prefect, who were all
apparently blown to smithereens at the end of the fifth novel,
Adams himself had plans for a sixth Hitchhiker book, saying in an
interview: "People have said, quite rightly, that Mostly Harmless is
a very bleak book. And it was a bleak book. I would love to finish
Hitchhiker on a slightly more upbeat note, so five seems to be a
wrong kind of number, six is a better kind of number."
But his death in 2001, aged 49, meant the book was never written,
and "legions of Hitchhiker fans were left with their hearts beating
a little too quickly for all eternity," said Colfer, author of the
bestselling Artemis Fowl series for children.
The proposal from the literary agency which manages Adams's estate
was "quite out of the blue", said Penguin marketing and publicity
director Joanna Prior. "It was something I guess [Jane Belson] had
been mulling over for some time, and we jumped the minute we got the
call we could immediately see what a fantastic project this would
Colfer, who has been a fan of Hitchhiker since his schooldays, said
being given the opportunity to continue the series was "like
suddenly being offered the superpower of your choice". "For years I
have been finishing this incredible story in my head and now I have
the opportunity to do it in the real world," he added. "It is a gift
from the gods. So, thank you Thor and Odin."
The book will "make no claims for Eoin being Douglas", according to
Prior. "It's not Eoin Colfer writing as Douglas Adams, as was the
case with Sebastian Faulks," she said, pointing to Penguin's
successful publication of Faulks's new James Bond novel Devil May
Care earlier this year. "It's absolutely about him being himself
Eoin the author, but with the cast of Hitchhiker."
Colfer himself is currently grappling with nerves over the quality
of his addition to Adams' oeuvre. "I feel more pressure to perform
now than I ever have with my own books, and that is why I am bloody
determined that this will be the best thing I have ever written," he
said. "For the first time in decades I feel the uncertainty that I
last felt in my teenage years. There are people out there that
really want to like this book."
Penguin hopes that Belson's choice of Colfer will bring a new
generation of readers to Adams's work. "It's always a challenge when
we haven't got Douglas any more how can we introduce his writing
to the next generation?" asked Prior. "There's a huge fan base out
there, but this is a really exciting way of creating a new legacy."
Belson said the project had her full support. "I am delighted that
Eoin Colfer has agreed to continue the Hitchhiker series. I love his
books and could not think of a better person to transport Arthur,
Zaphod and Marvin to pastures new," she added.
Approximately 16m copies of Hitchhiker books have been sold
worldwide, according to Penguin. The "trilogy in five parts", which
started with radio series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in
1978 and was completed with The Restaurant at the End of the
Universe; Life, The Universe and Everything; So Long, and Thanks for
all the Fish; and Mostly Harmless, has been translated into 35
Ode to the Brown Derby Restaurants
It's hard to believe that no Brown Derby has been open for over 20
years in Los Angeles, even though it is still more closely tied to
Hollywood than any other restaurant. It was a landmark restaurant
in Los Angeles frequented by celebrities during the Golden Age of
Hollywood. It was an example of novelty architecture, known for
being physically shaped like a brown derby hat.
The first Brown Derby Restaurant (the only one resembling a hat -
generally referred to as the "Wilshire Brown Derby") was first
located at 3427 Wilshire Blvd. It opened in February 1926 across
the street from the Ambassador Hotel. It was inspired by the shape
of the hat worn by visiting New York governor and presidential
candidate Al Smith, and it was the only Derby that was actually
built in the shape of a hat. The Derby was often the site of
afterparties following bashes at the Ambassador Hotel's Cocoanut
Grove nightclub. In 1937, it moved one block up the street to 3347
Wilshire, next to the Gaylord Apartments. (Note: the Gaylord
Apartments was the final L.A. headquarters for The Konformist.)
A second Brown Derby opened at 1628 Vine Street, near Hollywood and
Vine on Valentine's Day, 1929. Other Derbies were later built in
Beverly Hills (at 9537 Wilshire, across from the Beverly-Wilshire
Hotel on Wilshire and Rodeo) and in Los Feliz at 4500 Los Feliz
Boulevard. The Los Feliz Derby had a "car café" which emulated the
then-new "drive-in" trend.
Here is a 1970 photo of the Derby:
(Note the building to its right is the Gaylord.)
The Wilshire Brown Derby closed in September of 1980 and the
Hollywood Derby, the last of the restaurants in 1985. The Wilshire
Brown Derby is now home to the Brown Derby Plaza minimall:
The most famous recipe of the Brown Derby is the Cobb Salad. In
1937, Brown Derby owner Robert H. Cobb went into the restaurant's
kitchen to fix a late-night snack for Sid Grauman, operator of
Grauman's Chinese Theater. He browsed the refrigerator for
ingredients, and chopped them up. From then on, Grauman often
requested that a Cobb salad be prepared for him, word spread about
this creation throughout Hollywood, and it was eventually added to
the menu. Here's the original recipe:
Besides the minimall, the only remnant of the Derbys still remaining
is The Derby, a nightclub with swing dance (featured in the movie
Swingers.) It opened in 1992 and is located at the Los Feliz site
that closed in 1960. Aside from special theme restaurant at
Orlando's Disney World, though, no Derby's currently exist. (Though
there are good eatings at the HMS Bounty bar & grill in the Gaylord:
Which is a shame, for as LATimeMachines.com put it:
"Isn't it crazy the Hollywood doesn't have a Brown Derby
recreation? And I'm not talking about the half-way recreations that
have been attempted (including in Florida of all places.) How hard
would it be to recreate the Wilshire Brown Derby Hat with its very
austere interior? Please, if there is an insane Billionaire out
there, let's make a new one and hire me to make sure it's done
right! We need a Brown Derby Restaurant in Los Angeles!"
Meth Epidemic: The New Moonshine
The period of alcohol prohibition in the 1920's saw the rise of
Moonshine, a homemade brew that, while very dangerous, would give
drinkers the buzz they were looking for. Nearly a century later, we
in America are facing a national epidemic of methamphetamine use.
Better known as crystal meth, speed, or tweek; it is a synthetic
drugs that can be cooked up anywhere with items purchased at a
grocery store. Has drug prohibition created a black market for
cheaper, more dangerous, and easier to acquire substances?
Showtime Trailer for American Drug War
Next showing tonight at 7pm.
JOIN THE FIGHT @ AMERICANDRUGWAR.COM
FDA proposes approval process for genetically engineered animals
The regulations would treat the creatures like drugs. Critics fear
that environmental concerns aren't being given proper weight.
By Karen Kaplan and Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times Staff
September 18, 2008
The Food and Drug Administration today opened the way for a bevy of
genetically engineered salmon, cows and other animals to leap from
the laboratory to the marketplace, unveiling an approval process
that would treat the modified creatures like drugs.
The guidelines for the first time make explicit the regulatory hoops
companies would have to jump through to sell salmon that grow twice
as fast as wild fish, pigs with high levels of healthy omega-3 fatty
acids in their meat or goats that produce beneficial proteins in
"It's about time the federal government has acknowledged that these
animals are on [the] doorstep and need to be regulated to ensure
their safety," said Greg Jaffe, director of the project on
biotechnology at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in
Many experts, however, fear that the proposed regulations do not go
far enough to protect and reassure the public. In particular, they
argue that the approval process would be highly secretive to protect
the commercial interests of the companies involved and that the new
rules do not place sufficient weight on the environmental impact of
what many consider to be Frankenstein animals.
Animals can't be treated exactly like drugs, said Jaydee Hanson, a
policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety in Washington. "Drugs
don't go out and breed with each other. When a drug gets loose, you
figure you can control it. When a bull gets loose, it would be
harder to corral."
The draft guidelines represent an effort to formalize procedures
that the agency is already following, said Randall Lutter, a deputy
commissioner for policy at the FDA. They show "how we have been and
how we will continue to regulate genetically engineered animals," he
The genetically modified animals have a variety of potential uses.
Some, like many agricultural crops now in use, are more disease
resistant. One company, for example, has produced a cow that is not
susceptible to mad cow disease.
Others are more nutritious or grow faster, improving the diet and
enhancing farmers' profits. Some would serve as sources for organs
for human transplants, expanding the small pool of donor organs now
available. Others, called biopharm animals, would be used to produce
drugs such as insulin, which are now manufactured in yeast or
"There are very compelling and real benefits for humans and animals"
from genetic engineering, said William Flynn of FDA's Center for
Veterinary Medicine. "But we must show that they are safe before
they enter the marketplace."
The new regulations do not cover cloned animals, most pets and
research animals. Clones are genetic replicas of existing animals,
and the FDA has already determined that they are safe. Pets and
research animals are unlikely to enter the food chain.
Only one genetically engineered animal is now being sold in the
United States, a glow-in-the dark aquarium fish called a zebra. The
FDA approved it because it is not eaten and its need for warm water
effectively precludes it from escaping confinement.
Technically, the modified animals are not considered drugs. Instead,
the segment of DNA that is added to them to change their properties
is the drug. Realistically, however, the only way to regulate the
DNA is to regulate the animal, said Eric Flamm, a policy advisor at
That regulation will entail a series of procedures that demonstrate
that the modified animal itself is healthy and then that a food or
drug produced from it is safe for human use. The new rules do not,
however, envision feeding the products to humans in the equivalent
of clinical trials for drugs.
"It's a complex and detailed process" that has been proved for a
variety of other products, said Larisa Rudenko, a senior advisor for
biotechnology at the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine.
Once an animal product has been approved, its labeling may or may
not reflect its origin, Lutter said. If the composition of meat or
other food has been changed, such as by increasing its content of
omega-3 fats, that will be reflected in its labeling. But if the
animal simply grows faster or is more environmentally friendly
without changes in composition, that will not.
Cowboys Lead as NFL Team Values Average $1 Billion, Forbes Says
By Mason Levinson
Sept. 10 (Bloomberg) -- The National Football League is the first
professional sports league to have its franchises average over $1
billion in value, with the Dallas Cowboys remaining atop Forbes
magazine's annual rankings.
The average value for an NFL team this year is $1.04 billion, mostly
because of revenue from seating and sponsorships at new stadiums,
Forbes reported in its ranking of the 32 teams. The Cowboys, owned
by Jerry Jones, are worth $1.61 billion, a 7 percent increase over
Values have more than tripled from $288 million since Forbes first
began the ranking 10 years ago.
Daniel Snyder's Washington Redskins ($1.54 billion) remained second
after leading the rankings for seven years before being supplanted
by the Cowboys in 2007.
With a new shared stadium scheduled to open in 2010, New York's
Giants and Jets each saw a 21 percent increase in franchise value.
The Giants ($1.18 billion) are fourth, trailing the New England
Patriots ($1.32 billion), whose operating income of $58.1 million is
highest among the top 10 teams. The Jets are fifth, with a value of
The Cowboys' value rose 28 percent in 2007, adding about $350
million, because the team is building a $1 billion stadium in
Arlington. Scheduled to open in 2009, the arena will seat 80,000
people, can be expanded to hold 100,000, and will host the 2011
Super Bowl, the first to be held in the Dallas area.
The Houston Texans ($1.13 billion), with an operating income of
$43.9 million, rank sixth, followed by the Eagles ($1.12 billion),
Colts ($1.08 billion), Bears ($1.06 billion) and Ravens ($1.06
To contact the reporter on this story: Mason Levinson in New York at
Sept. 19, 1982: Can't You Take a Joke? :-)
By Tony Long 09.19.08
1982: At precisely 11:44 a.m., Scott Fahlman posts the following
electronic message to a computer-science department bulletin board
at Carnegie Mellon University:
19-Sep-82 11:44 Scott E Fahlman :-)
From: Scott E Fahlman
I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers:
Read it sideways. Actually, it is probably more economical to mark
things that are NOT jokes, given current trends. For this, use:
With that post, Fahlman became the acknowledged originator of the
ASCII-based emoticon. From those two simple emoticons (a portmanteau
combining the words emotion and icon) have sprung dozens of others
that are the joy, or bane, of e-mail, text-message and instant-
message correspondence the world over.
Fahlman was not, however, the first person to use typographical
symbols to convey emotions. The practice goes back at least to the
mid-19th century, when Morse code symbols were occasionally used for
the same purpose. Other examples exist as well.
In 1881, the American satirical magazine Puck published what we
would now call emoticons, using hand-set type. No less a wordsmith
than Ambrose Bierce suggested using what he called a "snigger
point" -- \__/ -- to convey jocularity or irony.
But the modern emoticon does trace its lineage directly to Fahlman,
who says he came up with the idea after reading "lengthy diatribes"
from people on the message board who failed to get the joke or the
sarcasm in a particular post -- which is probably what "given
current trends" refers to in his own, now-famous missive.
To remedy this, Fahlman suggested using :-) and :-( to
distinguish between posts that should be taken humorously and those
of a more serious nature.
Fahlman's original post was lost for a couple of decades and
believed gone for good, until it was retrieved from an old backup
tape, thus cementing his claim of priority.