Sunday, January 27, 2008


During all the recent insane volatility in the U.S. and world financial markets I’ve been wondering about the mental stability of some of our illustrious investors, market managers and traders. Aside from the recent angst over the sub-prime mortgage market losses, the economy has been with some ripples, mostly robust. After earlier losses, last Friday the market lost 177.44 points or 1.38% all after the previous day’s gain of almost 300 points up from a -300 point start?

This week as a response to rising interest rates and to counter fears of an impending credit crunch the Fed lowered the Funds interest rate by .75% and is expected to do so again next week. The White House just announced a substantial stimulus package. On Friday Caterpillar announced a better than anticipated performance matched by other positive earnings reports from several companies including MicroSoft which reported a 79 percent rise in quarterly profits.

All this excellent news would appear to benefit the consumer and give them easier access to money and fuel some positive spending. Despite all the good news some only heard the bad hence the huge losses.

These same investors, market managers and traders all seem to delight in reacting to their negative perception of the world. Oh reality where art thou? This pea in the mattress perception seems to be everything in the marketplace right now. We now hear that this august group will be carefully studying the wording of the Fed's upcoming announcement this next week. Carefully studying? God knows what they will read into that announcement. Our economists now have to be counseled by psychologists and linguists lest they be misinterpreted.

I guess that we shouldn’t be surprised that traders are paid by transaction and in this flurry of buying and mostly selling, they stand to make a bundle. Hmm. Now they wouldn’t manipulate the market would they? Can you say sub-prime mortgage securities?

In order to infuse more confidence (not) I thought to include a recent comment from the New York Times who quoted Jim Cramer, hedge fund manager turned television stock picker who commenting on loss aversion stated that drugs tended to reinforce traders' inability to spot a looming downturn, "Prozac and all those other drugs banish the 'this is the end of the world' thoughts. Which means you are not as anxious as you should be about an obvious downside." Other studies reflect that traders who suffer losses tend to speculate more in order to make up these losses. Inspires confidence, eh?

A recent headline screamed,

Analysts warn that markets could remain volatile for a number of weeks!

That said, some believe it and it becomes so (could or might now equals will be). This self-fulfilling prophecy is typical of the headlines we see these days. Instead of paying realistic attention to the nuts and bolts of our economy, we hear the likes of former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who recently stated that, “a recession in the U.S. was "possible" later this year”! With that statement, the markets around the world tanked. Smart man, maybe, but let’s get him a gag for the time being or lock him up without a phone or ability to communicate with the outside world. Gees!

Panic and the lack of rational thought have prompted even more panic and a huge overreaction. The smart folks are now out there looking for bargains and they should be aplenty. On the other side, however, if enough people buy into the negative scenario and believe that something is true, then they can make it happen in our world. So, while many flock to gold, bonds and treasury notes most of the smart money stays put and waits for calm.

OK, I’ll admit that this is an oversimplification of the situation and there are other factors to be considered. All things being equal, however, let’s give the market a fair chance to recover without the unfounded and ill advised blather from doom sayers about a possible recession.

Maybe we should all contact our congressmen/women and senators and ask them for a bill in Congress to require background checks, drug screening (full panel) and psychological profiles for all market managers, traders and, yes, analysts too! Sadly, it probably wouldn’t hurt.

Just ask the French Societe Generale Bank about rougue trader Jerome Kerviel who unexplicably held fraudulent positions that cost the bank tens of billions of dollars.


Ned Buxton

Saturday, January 19, 2008


More moderate Muslims who are engaging and managing their assimilation into American Society are alarmed at the most recent trend among orthodox Muslims to make what they feel are arrogant, unrealistic demands that put an extraordinary burden on our society. Their concern is mirrored by many other Americans though not seemingly by many in our society who seem hell bent on leather to totally compromise our values and security by accommodating the beliefs of this small minority, no matter how absurd or how high the cost.

All around the country taxi cab drivers of the Islamic persuasion are refusing to pick up passengers who may have alcohol in their luggage or carrying it on their person. In this day of duty-free airport shops, this conflict has been viewed with disdain by most airport authorities who vow to punish cabbies who persist in this refusal.

Whether these Muslims are doing it on religious grounds seems to have little effect on municipal authorities dedicated to providing transportation services to their visitors and citizens. Some might say if these Muslims cannot provide a service basic to their occupation, they need to find another job. I guess we should be happy that the Amish didn’t demand that automobiles be banned…

This strongly relates to my sensitivity to female Muslim drivers and specifically the niqab clad Ladies in my neighborhood who in the morning at a five miles per hour frenzy and with a green light, turn a one minute trip up Abrams from Walnut to Centennial into a twenty minute (or more) angst as they allow all drivers in side streets to cut into traffic ahead of them as they generally head for the local mosque. While the niqab serves as the ultimate reminder to the wearer that they are Muslim and moves them closer to God, geopolitics relates that this is still to some an unmistakable sign of female oppression and feudal custom. Compared to the shroud of the burqua, however, the eye revealing niqab is perceived by many as a less than fundamentalist statement of female emancipation though (and here’s the point) it would appear to also (like the burqua) impede their vision? It gets worse.

The Might of Right recently learned that Muslims employed in some food markets are now refusing to sell or even handle pork products (including bacon) given the prohibition of these products by Islam. Our Jewish Brothers and Sisters aside, this certainly puts them in a head-on collision course in our Western, mostly Christian majority society. Again, some might say that they need to find another job that they can perform without such restrictions. Handling these products is a bona fide occupational qualification / requirement in the retail grocery industry

Perhaps like the Sepoy Indian Rebellion of 1857 these Islamic citizens once they meet that critical supermarket majority will like the Sepoys, mutiny over the directive that they will have to handle pork or be fired.

It gets even worse. We recently heard about a Muslim student at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College who slipped and hit her head while trying to wash her feet in a bathroom sink as part of an Islamic religious ritual (just picture this one). There is now a move afoot (ahem) to install ritual foot washing basins in its bathrooms. The foot basin trend seems to be catching on at other universities nationwide and will require the expenditure of millions and millions of dollars in order to install these special foot baths. Whatever happened to those nice portable plastic basins (just asking)?

The Rev. John C. Blackford, Religion Columnist for the Forest Lake Times of Minnesota relates a recent Canadian report which recommends outright educational grants for Islamic students because Islam, “opposes usury and involvement with interests-bearing loans.” Notwithstanding the current sub prime mortgage loan crisis, there goes the old economy! Sign me up!

The Reverend Blackford further reflects that this same Canadian report also, endorses, “women-only” time in athletic facilities, and urges schools to “provide curtains or screens over the observation windows” when women are using the pool.” I guess that means they wouldn’t consider sharing a lane… Might of Right wouldn’t be surprised if the author of this report wasn’t none other than often controversial Canadian imam, Ally Hindy.

This gets even more ridiculous as the characterization of illegal immigrants via Mexico as merely “desperate, humble and hard-working people seeking the American dream” now includes Islamic terrorists. It is conceivable that members of Al Qaeda can continue to cross the border illegally, get their driver’s licenses or IDs at any number of state and local entities (say hello San Francisco) and then enjoy the American dream until like the Walter Wager 1977 novel, Telefon they are activated and sent on their nefarious missions.

Perhaps they will be little niqab or even burqua-clad Muslim Ladies driving slowly and politely down our main streets. They will soon bring us to an absolute standstill.


Ned Buxton

Saturday, January 12, 2008


I’ve always been told by those I perceived as cynics that history is that version of events rewritten to serve the interests of the winners. As a foil to that cynicism I have (perhaps naively) always counted on objective historians and people of good faith to ultimately engage the truth, right those wrongs and bring balance to our world.

In that interim we could always expect to see some folks motivated out of ignorance or political-speak to deny, for example, that the Holocaust ever happened. Needless to say, the evidence in all its myriad forms is overwhelming and any attempt to rewrite history here has been met with an equally aggressive effort to preserve and teach that truth.

This reality, however, has recently been taken to a new level with many apparently dedicated to engaging what is now an extraordinary resurgence of political correctness.

I have always been proud to be a product of the “English education system” witnessed by the practices of the best New England prep schools and my very own Lenox School. Perhaps the best aspects of that system are being preserved in the United States, especially when we hear of some incredibly stupid, irrational educational trends in the UK.

We have recently been advised that there are some UK teachers who are sensitive (even unwilling) to teach students in certain age groups subjects that are considered highly charged, controversial and contrary to what they may be taught at home. For example, some UK schools have opted to teach subjects like the Holocaust in religious, social studies or other venues rather than in history classes.

Despite the fact that the national UK Department of Education and Skills recently took these schools to task assuring everybody that this subject is compulsory and will be taught, it appears that we are, indeed, in the midst of a renewed attempt to rewrite or reprioritize history. The Holocaust and all the other horrors that mankind has chosen to inflict on itself should be raised up in our collective consciousness so that we will never repeat them. These subjects should be taught to all students at all levels.

Should we be surprised to learn this last summer that curriculum advisors to the UK Department of Education and Skills decided that Winston Churchill was now “irrelevant” in school history lessons? That revisionist ban, by the way, also includes Hitler, Gandhi, Stalin and Martin Luther King. Some have proposed that the removal of numbers from math class is surely the next step? To the credit of the school board, a fight in earnest is now ongoing.

That said, I strongly believe that the folks at the UK schools who suggested these changes or decided to alter their curriculum because of sensitivity to certain groups, namely Muslim, are full of crap and should be censured and lose their licenses and positions. In an open society and an environment of higher education the only standard is the truth, period. Anything less is a totalitarian society like the old Soviet Union or the Catholic Church (before Gutenberg) that refused to teach Latin to the masses for generations understanding that the ability to read unlocked the minds of the populous.

We are now in the midst of those who are trying to again make up or eliminate the past. One journalist recently commented that, “It is beyond brazen to think that one can get away with inventing not only ancient history but what everyone saw and read with their own eyes just a few years ago. And yet sometimes brazenness works.” It appears if you have the stones to offer an alternative history, however absurd, there are those who will embrace whatever you have to offer so long as it promotes their agendas.

It seems that we can’t just depend on the historians anymore. For the most part, they have already done their jobs. In this ratcheted, hyper-extended PC environment where even recent inherent truths are being attacked, it’s going to be up to the rest of us to guarantee that history will not be scrambled or rewritten. We have already seen that in the likes of those who choose not to embrace the truth, rather their own agendas.

If you care, let your voice be heard. God knows, the World needs you now, more than ever.


Ned Buxton

Saturday, January 5, 2008


My Mother, Elisabeth Alden Littlefield Buxton of Tuckahoe, Bristol, Pawtucket and Providence was a great cook and maintained an impressive portfolio of meals that she could prepare at the drop of a hat. Her Chicken Elisabeth and post-Thanksgiving Turkey Slop (recently successfully resurrected by Brother John) were two of my personal favorites, among many. She may have been the original 30 minute Rachael Ray though I suspect that Mothers across the land with kids (there were three of us) were and are equally proficient. It’s called survival.

I remember when she single-handedly prepared a meal for Brother John’s Williston Academy Wrestling Team in 1961, with apparent ease. They were in Providence, RI for the New England Championships, their last big tourney of the year so after the meet, it was no more starvation diets. They were ravenous and she probably served them several cows, a couple of sheep, a boar, fourteen chickens and all the trimmings (no alcoholic beverages). It was a seemingly prodigious task that she pulled off without mussing one hair on her head though I remember a little smudge of flour on her cheek.

Mother coordinated and hosted small intimate dinner parties to gala functions held by Rhode Island Governors Chris DelSesto and John Chaffee at the Marble House in Newport. Mother entertained presidents, senators, governors, royalty and the common man with equal aplomb and respect. She was the epitome of The Littlefield Family and what Colonel G. Edward Buxton, Jr. referred to as Rhode Island Aristocracy. Mother was well educated, highly motivated and had a great sense of obligation to Family on the local, state and national level.

She instilled that same sense of Family in all of her three children and her extended Family and many Friends. She educated us and encouraged a never-ending learning process which started by instilling in us an innate curiosity about all things. We were educated in the best New England prep schools and eventually developed an erudite approach to life.

That included the responsibility to be the best that we could be with those duties extending even to dress. We were not allowed to tie our neckties with a plebian four-in-hand knot. I remember being chastised for doing so and the long and laborious lessons how to tie a double Windsor knot and the careful mentoring and counsel by Mom’s Dad, Alden Llewellyn Littlefield (you see, he was also left handed).

Mother gave me my copy of the 1961 edition of Larousse’s Gastronomique, the Bible of cooking that will never be equaled. It sets the standard for all that follow as witnessed by the first sentence, “The history of the table of a nation is a reflection of the civilization of that nation.” So, this, then, becomes the Bible of culture documenting the journey of man from the cave to the present day. Perhaps this was the motivation to earn my degree in anthropology? At any rate it gave me a sense of our world even before a global perspective was in vogue.

So the stage is set. You know that we were all well educated, erudite and with the depth, polish and civility to engage any social occasion. We were taught well at Mrs. Wilson’s Dance School and then tested on the dance floor of the Agawam-Hunt Club and then presented in the ballroom of the Sheraton-Biltmore Hotel, host for many years to all Providence Debutantes (white tie only, please!)

There was an occasion several years before Mother claimed her great, final reward in 1998 when she and I were musing on some of her gastronomical delights. We talked about her great pink grapefruit and avocado salad, her Dungeness crab dip and her many other culinary victories. I was misty-eyed when I thought to profusely thank her for one especially delectable offering that she regularly made for us in the 1950‘s and 60’s.

It was an open-faced sandwich that started out with lightly toasted rye bread, lightly buttered (hang on). You thinly slice some SPAM® and layer that on the toast slathering some Grey Poupon® or good brown deli mustard on the slices. Cover that with a rich beefsteak tomato (not too soft), sliced and salted, topping that off with several slices of a good, strong Swiss cheese. Pop that concoction into the broiler and when the cheese starts to melt and slightly brown, pull it out and consume. It was (and is) eating fit for a King or Queen.

I was waxing nostalgic and emoting as only a son can do. Mother draws herself up and looking right straight into my eyes, seemingly disgusted, obviously feeling that she had failed in all her teachings, told me, “Auch, the only reason that I fixed that for you was because we couldn’t afford anything else!”

Despite my Mother’s visceral disappointment, I remain (along with "Weird Al" Yankovic), unashamedly, a big fan of the culinary genius of Hormel Food’s SPAM® and regularly consume it to this day. In short, I really do like the quality pork shoulder and ham that constitutes this Hormel product. It isn’t road kill or mystery meat.

It was unfortunate that Monty Python’s 1970 Spam parody and skit contributed to the negative utilization of the word in its lower case identity. You see, some of my Viking cousins at the Green Midget CafĂ© in the English Borough of Bromley (which features a SPAM® oriented menu) exuberantly sang "Spam, lovely Spam, wonderful Spam, etc" in an ever increasing crescendo to the chagrin of the wait staff and other restaurant patrons. This skit along with a Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC now HP) employee’s 1978 unsolicited marketing e-mail helped to inspire the term spam as slang for not only unwanted e-mail but useless information that just takes up space. This practice soon became commonplace and the term spamming was born, describing all unsolicited commercial e-mail. The Brits especially remembered their WWII dependence on SPAM® thus the repetitive reference to Spam in the Python sketch (whew!). Enough of the negatives....

SPAM®, dubbed “Hawaiian Steak” in the islands, remains incredibly popular witness Hawaii’s Annual Waikiki SPAM® Jam held each May. SPAM® is even sold in Hawaiian Burger Kings! We should also note that 60 million Americans still consume SPAM® at the rate of 3.8 cans a second. I know Culinary Institute of America (CIA) chefs who love the product!

If it meant that I would be ejected from the Good Old Boys Club I would gladly turn in my resignation in favor of my beloved canned meat product. With its almost indefinite shelf life, it’s also a great hedge against emergencies including storms (tornado and hurricane), flood and even pandemic flu.

At the end of it all I think that Mother would be proud of me despite my affection for SPAM® making allowances – perhaps for a recessive gene on my Father’s side?

Thanks, Aye

Ned Buxton