The credit crisis – A programmer’s two bits

With all the different takes on the crisis, it wasn’t going to be long before a programmer stood up and summarized his overall contribution to the debacle we find ourselves in today.

Michael Osinski, once a programmer on Wall St, now an oyster farmer in Long Island, gives us his story in the New York Magazine. Working in Salomon Brothers, Lehman and Kidder Peabody, he wrote a lot of the code used in the software to trade bond securities. He traces the evolution of securities and software from simple mortgage backed securities (MBS) to the now complex CDS and CDOs.

It’s a good read. Especially on the train to those oyster farms in Long Island.

My Manhattan Project



The best Raj Kapoor movie, but it’s not by Raj Kapoor

In 1988, a doyen of Bollywood, Raj Kapoor passed away. Doordarshan TV, on the same evening itself, broadcast one of his movies on national television as a tribute.

One would have expected to see a Raj Kapoor signature film such as Awaara, Barsaat , Shree 420 or perhaps even his own personal opus Mera Naam Joker. Doordarshan’s choice, however, surpassed them all. It chose to telecast Teesri Kasam, a movie made not by Raj Kapoor, but by Basu Bhattacharjee, with Raj Kapoor in a leading role.

Teesri Kasam is now regarded as one of the classics of hindi cinema. It paired Raj Kapoor with Waheeda Rehman in a very unconventional story with some wonderful music, financed by the great lyricist Shailendra (its box office failure destroyed him). Raj Kapoor’s acting is par excellence, perhaps better than in any of his own movies, backed by a fine performance by Waheeda Rehman.

I still remember watching the movie and being completely absorbed in the story about the developing relationship between a simple bullock cart driver (Raj Kapoor) and his beautiful passenger (Waheeda Rehman), a nautanki performer. The songs were exceptionally beautiful, with a mix of folk songs, poems and nautanki. The nautanki song, Maare gaye gulfam is also the title of the short story on which this movie is based.

The 2 songs that I still remember vividly are opposite in mood, but carry the same element of rustic folk about them.

Lali Lali Doliya is a Bhojpuri folk song from Bihar. Watch Raj Kapoor’s expressions and the use of shadow on Waheeda Rehman.

Sajanwa Bairi is a haunting melody, sung exquisitely by Mukesh. Again, Raj Kapoor conveys an entire story through some excellent acting.

For more on the movie, has this detailed review of Teesri Kasam.
Teesri Kasam Upperstall Review

The life of a saint revered in India, but not known outside

A documentary was made recently on Sri Chandrashekarendra Saraswathi, the 68th Shankaracharya of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam. Sri Chandrashekarendra Saraswathi was highly revered in India, especially in the south. He lived a hundred years and his life was a shining example of renunciation, humility and sagacity. He was not very well known internationally compared to sages such as Ramana Maharishi or Swami Vevekananda.

The documentary is broken up into 5 parts. It is worth a watch to not only learn about the Shankaracharya, but also to get a deeper glimpse into an India that most people hear about but seldom see. The throngs of devotees, the tolerance ingrained in Sanatana Dharma (popularly known as Hinduism), the cooperation between hindus, muslims and christians in the service of people and God, the evolution of the country in the 20th century, and so on.

The website,, has aggregated all the videos on one page. Videos can be found here
The Sage of Kanchi: Life of Sri Chandrashekarendra Saraswati

The Big Takeover – hard hitting Rolling Stone article on bailouts, AIG etc.

There’s a fascinating article in Rolling Stone magazine by Matt Taibi that’s been getting some attention recently.

It’s an in-depth read on the players, the beneficiaries, the losers, the corruption and the cronyism that’s pretty much in the open ever since the financial crisis blew the curtains off. While the article does rival a good romance novel in drama and hyperbole,

The best way to understand the financial crisis is to understand the meltdown at AIG. AIG is what happens when short, bald managers of otherwise boring financial bureaucracies start seeing Brad Pitt in the mirror….

Cassano’s outrageous gamble wouldn’t have been possible had he not had the good fortune to take over AIGFP just as Sen. Phil Gramm — a grinning, laissez-faire ideologue from Texas — had finished engineering the most dramatic deregulation of the financial industry since Emperor Hien Tsung invented paper money in 806 A.D.

it’s also a good primer on CDOs and CDS’s, that dreaded 2-headed hydra that’s belched fire and ruin on the houses of Weill, Morgan, Fuld, Cayne and Schwartz.

The mess Cassano created had its roots in an investment boom fueled in part by a relatively new type of financial instrument called a collateralized-debt obligation. A CDO is like a box full of diced-up assets. They can be anything: mortgages, corporate loans, aircraft loans, credit-card loans, even other CDOs. So as X mortgage holder pays his bill, and Y corporate debtor pays his bill, and Z credit-card debtor pays his bill, money flows into the box.

The key idea behind a CDO is that there will always be at least some money in the box, regardless of how dicey the individual assets inside it are….

Most importantly, the article focuses not on the paltry $165 million (that’s pocket change these days) bonuses in AIG, but on the actual billions, even trillions, of dollars being exchanged between pals and associates in the name of bailouts, TARP etc as part of the urgency of dealing with the crisis.

Link to the full article: The Big Takeover

Jet Blue reaches out to CEOs

In light of the recent development of CEOs having to give up their private jets, Jet Blue has come up with a campaign to attract CEOs to the pleasure of flying with “regular” folk on Jet Blue.

Here is the link to a 3 part video series that is deliciously tongue-in-cheek.
Welcome Bigwigs

The next questions are:
Will the CEO need to fill out T&E forms to be reimbursed?
Would the forms be online on a system that never works?
Will he need to fax in his receipts?
If he does not use his corporate card, will he be penalized for creating more work?
And will he wait 6 months, without interest, to get his money back?

Israel arms maker’s bollywood video

Last month at a trade fair called Aero India 2009, organized by India’s Ministry of Defence, an Israeli arms maker, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, brought along the marketing video embedded above, which one defense analyst described this way:

The video is a Bollywood-style dance number featuring Israeli artists in full Bollywood costume singing in English about the potential for the Indo-Israeli defense trade relationship and dancing around mock-ups of Rafael’s products.

I swear I’m not making this up. This is quoted verbatim from the New York Times Lede blog.
It goes on to say

Saurabh Joshi of the Web site StratPost …. asked a company representative what they were thinking. Assy Josephy told Mr. Joshi: “In Israel we have Jewish people from India, so we know about Bollywood and the song and dance numbers.” The video, he added, was intended “to help build familiarity between India and Israel and Rafael.”

Full post here: