Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What Hedge Funds and Paris Hilton Have In Common

So before I begin this post, let me say that while I know the original intent of this blog was to address my fish out of water experiences as a city girl on a farm in rural NC (with goats), it's also a forum for me to write and a place for me to express my views. So while this post may not be all that country, it's what was on my mind today. And as dad put it - it might drive up traffic assuming anyone is searching for "Paris Hilton" and "Hedge Funds."

So, driving to work this morning, I was listening to NPR, as I always do. The Marketplace Morning Report came on and after hearing the lead story, Hedge Fund Boom Bound For Bustville, I was so incensed, so enraged that I got into the office and promptly wrote the following response:

What Hedge Funds and Paris Hilton Have in Common

I think I know how Paris Hilton must feel. To be so maligned by the media. To be so misunderstood. To be so miscast. Of course, I am not an actress/singer/model/celebutante/soon-to-be-philanthropist who finds myself frequently fleeing the ugly glare of the paparazzi and my every move scrutinized by the mainstream media. I am Director of Marketing for a hedge fund, and hedge funds have become the Paris Hilton of the business and financial media. Maligned. Misunderstood. Miscast.

Blame the blow-up of Amaranth last summer. Or the recent collapse – near-collapse – I am not sure any more – of Bear Stearns’ 2 hedge funds. Blame Hakan Yalincak, the NYU whiz kid who falsely solicited $8 million from investors and proceeded to commit bank fraud and wire fraud and who now faces 42 months in prison. Blame the $52 million paycheck for Lloyd Blankefein, CEO of Goldman Sachs which, these days, is thought of as a giant hedge fund. Blame the Tom Wolfe article in Portfolio or New York Magazine’s coverage of hedge fund wives. Blame the hedge fund show currently in development at HBO from the producers of Entourage and the writers of Ocean’s 13.

The media would have you believe that all hedge fund managers – exempt from regulation and oversight – sit in well-appointed rooms in their expansive Greenwich manses or their posh New York penthouses and conspire on how to manipulate markets and cheat the little guy so that they can further line their bespoke pockets. That all hedge funds managers are evil and greedy with such a surfeit of wealth that they can casually drop $150 million on a painting or throw themselves a $10 million birthday complete with performances by Rod Stewart and Patti LaBelle.

The media would have you believe that all hedge funds use tremendous amounts of leverage to juice returns and therefore threaten market stability. That all hedge funds engage in risky and complex transactions at the expense of ordinary investors who somehow lose out as a result.

Frankly – it’s gotten exhausting and David Frum’s commentary on the June 27th Marketplace Morning Report pushed me over the edge. It was full of generalizations, half-truths and was so simplistic in its criticism that it felt like a roll-up of every other negative hedge fund article I’ve read in the last 12 months.

First of all, the term hedge fund has become so broad and encompasses so many styles of investing, that to comment on “8,000 hedge funds” as if we were a single group is ridiculous. Scientists developed a system of taxonomy for organisms for a reason and it is no different with hedge funds. There are funds that invest in currencies. Funds that invest in countries. Funds that invest in sectors. Funds that invest in movies. Wine. Art. Funds that invest in the weather. In energy. Public securities. Private securities. Real estate. Insurance policies. Debt. Funds that go long. Funds that go short. Sometimes they do both. Some funds use leverage. Others don’t. For those that do, they are not always levering up 5 – 6 times. Sometimes it’s more benign. There are domestic funds. Global funds. Funds that focus on emerging markets. There are funds that use complex, proprietary algorithms to detect and benefit from market inefficiencies. Funds that use derivatives. Swaps. Futures. There are long-term, value oriented investors and day traders. There are stock pickers and market timers. Bottoms up versus top down. Growth versus value. Event-driven. Distressed. Arbitrage. The list goes on.

Secondly, let’s look at the word hedge. According to, a hedge is “an act or means of preventing complete loss of a bet, an argument, an investment, or the like, with a partially counterbalancing or qualifying one.” Preventing complete loss. That doesn’t sound risky or dangerous to me. In fact, a true hedge fund is a diversification tool meant to reduce risk and offer protection in the event of a market downturn.

Certainly I’ll admit that in a pool of 8,000 there are bound to be a few bad apples. A few rogues and grifters. But isn’t that true with any industry?

Perhaps commentators like Mr. Frum would better serve their listeners if they focused not on rehashing the same old hedge-funds-are-evil-and-here’s-why story, and instead focused on the value that hedge funds bring to the market. Because after all, according to Mr. Frum, most of us are the market.

* * *

I have no idea if Marketplace will read from my response on their weekly comments section, but now you dear readers know how I feel on the subject.

And because this blog is entitled If That Ain't Country, I've included a picture of Paris and Nicole from their first season on The Simple Life when they lived on a farm.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Saturday, June 23, 2007

On My Playlist

Ok. I lied. I am saving Where Everybody Knows Your Name - Part II (a.k.a. Tales of a Trivia Geek) for a later post and instead taking some time to come to terms with a cold, hard fact.

I like country music. And no - I am not hopping on some bandwagon because all of a sudden Jon Bon Jovi has announced that he loves country music and therefore I think that it is now cool (assuming you believe that Jon Bon Jovi constitutes cool) to listen to songs with innumerable references to tractors, rednecks, fast food, mama, livestock, trucks, the bible/Jesus, getting drunk and occasional use of the words yeehaw and honky tonk.

It started innocently enough with the downloading of Carrie Underwood's CD. Blame it on a fluke chance that while driving to the beach we were scanning for radio stations near Columbia, SC and happened upon a country station, stayed there, I heard the song Before He Cheats, it stuck in my head, and I was hooked.

It only took 2, maybe 3, full listen throughs to know the entire CD by heart. That's the thing about country music - it's so...catchy. Whether it's the musical hook or the simple, usually story-like lyrics - I have found as I have ventured further and further down this path, that I might hear a song only once and it will get so stuck in my head that I am forced to come home, search for the song online (usually by lyrics) and then download it.

Besides my flirtation with Carrie Underwood, we got a demo CD from Marty's cousin who had recently recorded some country music in Nashville. Marty and I both liked several of the tracks and so I began to listen to current country radio to see if the songs were marketable. The good news is, they are. Very much so.

But throughout this entire process I have now become utterly hooked on contemporary country music. Here's some of what's on my play list and some views on country music in general:

Current Obsession

Moments by Emerson Drive is my current obsession. I think it has the best melodic hook of any song and I love the story the lyics tell. After listening to the song compulsively on my iPod (let's repeat just 1 more time...) I went online to see if I would like any of their other songs. It's a bit hard to determine when all you get on iTunes is a 30-second sample but after listening to some snippets I downloaded When a Boy Becomes a Man. It's good, but it's not yet an obsession.

Best Food Reference

This is a toss up between Rodney Atkins' Watching You and Billy Currington's Good Directions. Rodney manages to work in an entire Happy Meal - nuggets, fries and orange drink - while Billy references pork rinds, turnip greens, and sweet tea. Rodney gets extra credit for ingenius use of the word Buckaroo (which I love and Marty absolutely hates) while Billy sets his scene on the back of a flatbed truck. In the end, I've got to give it to Billy, if only for the last line of the song: Thank God for good directions...and turnip greens!

Trace vs. Tracy

Trace Adkins and Tracy Lawrence are 2 completely separate people. They are both men. And they are both in heavy rotation on Charlotte's county radio station, Kat Kountry 96.9 fm. I had to download Trace's Ladies Love Country Boys (all about a city girl falling in love with a wild-eyed country boy sporting a farmer's tan) but passed on Tracy's (apparently) first #1 hit in 11 years - You Find Out Who Your Friends Are - if only because it's on the radio hourly.

Finding Some Religion

I thought I had my religion fix with Carrie Underwood's Jesus Take The Wheel but then I heard 3 Wooden Crosses. I didn't think much of it, didn't care who sang it - I just wondered why the song was on the radio since it felt a little...inaccessbile. Then it came on again a few weeks later and I actually listened to the lyrics. Oh my God! It was genius. I thought it was such a wonderful tale. It didn't make me want to convert or anything - but I did download the song (by Randy Travis incidentally).

Who Knew

Well, I had no idea I liked her when I saw her play, but I've recently become a fan of Taylor Swift. Teardrops on My Guitar sucked me right in after I heard it on the radio the other night. It got stuck in my head and wouldn't go away until I downloaded it. I couldn't bring myself to download the entire album (even though I heard her sing most of it) but I did also download her hit Tim McGraw because I figured it was inevitable that I would hear it on the radio eventually and it would get stuck in my head too.

Sometimes You Get it Right, Sometimes You Don't

I love Brad Paisley's She's Everything. I imagine it's an ode to his wife, Kimberly Williams, and I picture her doing all the things he's singing about (wearing yellow running shoes, faded jeans and cheap sunglasses; driving in a Saturn with the sunroof down and her hair blowing around her face; taking a bubble bath; getting tipsy after a glass of wine). What I don't love is his new song Ticks. Frankly, with lyrics like "You press that bottle to your lips, I wish I was your beer," "Don't worry babe I've got your back, I've also got your front," and the punchline "I'd like to check you for ticks," it creeps me out.

The Missing Links

The bulk of what's on the radio seems to be dominated by 5 musicians: Toby Keith, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Alan Jackson and Keith Urban. As I searched for the songs I was hearing I found an inordinate number of them could be attributed to these 5. Then, yesterday, while I was monitoring the Kat Kountry Last 10 Songs Playlist (in an attempt to track down a rogue song whose lyrics I barely knew and therefore could not Google and which turned out to be Cole Deggs' I Got More which I can tell you will join Emerson Drive in the obsession category very shortly) I noticed that 1 of every 4 or 5 songs was one of these men. If you consider the fact that both Tim and Kenny contribute to Tracy Lawrence's current hit, and it feels even more often than that.

I'll confess I've downloaded a few. The first was a few weeks ago and was Alan Jackson's Remember When. I only heard it once, I don't think it's a new song, but, as with evrything else, it had a catchy tune and got stuck in my head. Kenny Chesney's You Save Me also struck a chord. I have yet to download any Tim or Keith (although I like Tonight I'm Gonna Cry) but I have downloaded some Toby. I am a fan of I Love This Bar and...ok - hold your breath, sit down, whatever you have to do to keep steady...American Soldier. Ok. It's so cheesy I know. In fact, as I write this, I feel like I have to delete it from my playlist. Maybe I've been in NC too long. Or married to a Republican.

The Masters

Although I am sure Alan Jackson would prefer to be known as a master and not a missing link, the masters for me are Garth and George. Period. You can always pick out a Garth tune and George is getting plenty of play these days because of his new album - although they play the old stuff too - including Carried Away which is our wedding song and which you never hear anywhere but which I've heard on the radio twice recently. I'll also give some credit to Faith and while I passed on Mississippi Girl, I did download Lost which I haven't even heard on the radio but someone on iTunes gave it a good review.

Overplayed Idols

I didn't like them on the show that much and frankly, I am not sure how I feel about them now. Bucky Covington's Different World is clever. I like the message and think he's not terrible but it sort of bothers me that he's become this famous. As for Kellie Pickler, I have some serious issues with her stylist (did anyone see her when she sang on Idol this season? She looked like a transvestite impersonating Dolly), but I think I Wonder is sweet in its story (she never knew her mama) and I tell you, that melody does get stuck in your head.

The Best of the Rest

I had to download something by Sugarland. How could I not? They are nearly a missing link - although not quite. I opted for Want To and am considering Settlin' although frankly, I hear them so often on the radio, I am not sure I need to. Lucky Man by Montgomery Gentry is another current fave. How could you not love a song with the lyrics "my ticker's tickin' like they it should?" Starting With Me by Jake Owen also made the list. As did 2 Craig Morgan (who?) songs: Tough - which is such a wonderful ode to women everywhere, and A Little Bit of Life. The first verse goes like this:

A little bit of guitar
A little bit of truck
A little bit of hound dog
And a little bit of luck
A little bit of Bacon
A little bit of beans
A little bit of you lovin’ up on me
And a little bit of how it supposed to be
A little bit of life

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Sunday, June 17, 2007

To Do List

I was having coffee with my friend Karen yesterday morning and I was telling her about what I had on my to do list for the day, she immediately told me to write about it.

"But Karen, who cares what I have to do today. It's not that exciting."

"Country Girl - just think about how your To Do list has changed from when you lived in NY to now. Write about it!"

Ok. Another example of an If That Ain't Country Saturday.

* Buy Goat Chow

* Go to the dump

* Go to Lowe's to get a dimmer

* Remove large limb from the back of the pasture (blown over during Wednesday's storm)

* Hang shelf in guest bedroom

* Target practice

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Addendum: Tim Schafer's at Lake Norman

Marty read my previous post and said I didn't do Tim justice - I didn't describe the meals in enough detail.

I pointed out it's been over a year since our first dinner there and that I simply couldn't remember all the details. Marty suggested that I post about our dinner tonight instead and so I will.

We started with homemade herbed beer rolls. I know - you're thinking - beer rolls? I forgot to mention that Tim is the Brewchef - known as much for cooking with beer (finding its way into everything from bread to salads to sauces to Beerimisu) as he is for his impressive beer list (I like the lambics and the Ephemere, Marty is a fan of the Carolina Blonde). So anyways - herbed beer rolls which were delicious.

Tim always serves a tasty - a.k.a. lagniappe a.k.a amouse-bouche. Tonight we were treated to two of them. First - Thai beef sticks over corn salsa with a "beerstard" (spicy Dijon mustard flavored with lots of beer) and a mango-beer sauce. Second was a crostini with sauteed onions, balsamic and bleu cheese. I'll say this - I don't know where Tim gets his bleu cheese but it's wonderful - flavorful and rich without being too sharp.

I had a cream of asparagus soup to start while Marty indulged in a creamy shrimp bisque. Both were rich, creamy and absolutely fantastic.

For entrees, Marty had his tried and true favorite, Jambalaya. I should note, I believe Marty is addicted to Tim's Jambalaya - he orders it every time we go. Literally. In fact, he usually orders extra so he'll have enough to take home for the next day, The Jamby (as we call it) is heavenly- a savory blend of chicken, sausage, Tasso ham, shrimp and vegetabes over rice in a wonderful Creole sauce.

Tonight, I opted for a new dish - a Jamaican Jerk chicken. The chicken was topped with an orange-rum scented butter and served with a delicious fruit salsa. Very inspired.

We passed on dessert - although I saw wonderful slices of cheesecake going by - and instead climed into the truck, bellies full, and navigated the twisty, dark backroads heading home.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...
Where Everybody Knows Your Name - Part I

Marty & I have always had our spots. Our places we go to. Our places where we are regulars. In Hoboken, that included a standing Thursday night reservation at Augustinos and a regular bar stool at Da Vinci.

The nice thing about being a regular is you don't only just get to know the owners, the bartenders, the servers, and the chef, but you also get to know the other regulars. Sometimes friendships form. Sometimes, it's a simple social acquaintance. But you get to know people and they get to know you and the whole thing is a phenomenon that fascinates me.

Well, just because we moved to Lincolnton, doesn't mean we didn't find our spots. In fact, we found 3 of them. I'll tell you about one now, and in the interest of time, I'll cover the other 2 in my next post.

Tim Schafer's

I found Tim Schafer's at Lake Norman right when we moved down here. It was a Friday night and we wanted to go out for a nice dinner to some place other than Cafe 1859 in Hickory - at that time the only fine dining establishment (other than schlepping into Charlotte) that we knew of. Marty suggested Googling "fine dining" and "Gastonia" which I did but I couldn't find anything other than a few references to a now defunct restaurant called Zacks. I figured Gastonia may have been a bust, but I knew Lake Norman was nearby (well - near enough) and a nice area where lots of NASCAR drivers live so I Googled "fine dining" and "Lake Norman."

Tim's was one of three restaurants that showed up in the results. I quickly checked out his website and called to find out the menu and the atmosphere. It sounded like a place we'd like and we had every intention of going. But we wound up waylaid in Hickory looking at cars and by them time we were done, Marty didn't feel like driving out to the Lake.

But a few weeks later on a Saturday night, we headed out to Tim's. We didn't make a reservation - I don't think Marty wanted to be that committed in case he didn't like it. So when we got there, there were no available tables. The hostess, Michelle, offered us 2 seats to dine at the bar, or at the very least, have a drink while we waited.

Marty & I actually enjoy eating at the bar so it wasn't a problem. We settled in with our drinks and perused the menu, which looked delicious.

Because the restaurant is set up so that the kitchen looks out into the bar, Tim, who is the owner and chef, usually spends most evening overseeing his sous chef Billy and the rest of the kitchen staff from behind the bar. It's effective because it also allows him to interact with his customers and be the face of the restaurant which is a good thing because Tim's personality is as enjoyable as his food.

Marty & I wound up talking to Tim for several hours. It turns out, he is from NJ and ran an eponymous restaurant in Morristown for 16 years. He and his family (wife Becky, 6 kids) had moved down to NC ~ 2 years ago and he started Tim Schafer's at Lake Norman. It's in an old, historical house in a small town called Sherrills Ford (population 1,037) and like Willow Creek Inn, it's an unlikely place to find such a high calibre restaurant. In fact, I actually met somebody down in Atlanta who was from Sherrills Ford and he couldn't believe it when I told him one of my 2 favorite restaurants was in his hometown.

Anyways dinner was fantastic and Marty and I started showing up at Tim's on a fairly regular basis. We eventually got to know him, his family and his wonderful staff. We also began to get to know some of the other regulars who we'd run into while having dinner at the bar.

We even worked there on New Year's Eve - Marty reliving his Brennan's glory days by working the line in the kitchen, me tending bar.

It's one of our favorite spots and a frequent dining destination when we have out of town visitors (so ask when you come down for your visit).

It just goes to show you that sometimes you can find unexpected treasures in small towns.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Friday, June 15, 2007

Some Local News I am Excited About

You may recall my feelings about the local news.

Well today, not only were there no car crashes to report, but Marty was featured in a front page article in the Life section of The Lincoln Times News.

Now that's news I can get excited about!

It's also more rock and roll than country, but I'll still kiss your...
But They're Really, Really Cute

So Pepe is a Papa. Or perhaps an uncle. Actually - Pepe could be roadkill by now (haven't seen him in a while) but my point is, our neighbor Steve and his girlfriend Becky stopped by on Sunday night toting a bucket with 3 baby skunks (and a can of cat food which they seemed to be enjoying) so somewhere, some skunk, is a dad. Happy Father's Day!

I know what you're thinking. Baby skunks? Eeeeeewwwwwww. Gross. But I'll tell you what - they're really, really cute! They look like any other pint-size, furry rodent - ferrets, guinea pigs, hamsters. The types of animals frequently found in 1st grade classrooms.

And the awesome thing about baby skunks - they don't spray! You can even de-sack them (I gather that's the technical term) and they will never, ever spray so that Pepe Le Pew become Pepe Le Pet!

In fact, Steve told us he'd talked to someone who was interested in doing just that!

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Lincolnton Witch Trials

Ok - I confess. I am a major, serious, hardcore Harry Potter geek. Honestly and truly. And as such, I've been preparing for the upcoming onslaught of Harry Potter mania. How you ask?

Well, in anticipation of the release of the 7th book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I re-read books 1 - 6. That's over 3300 pages (5 hardcovers, 1 paperback) in less than 2 weeks (in case you're wondering where I've been...)

And in anticipation of the movie release of Order of the Phoenix (#5), Marty & I are planning a movie marathon of the first 4, one per week leading up to the July 13th release date. Not only are we watching the movies, but we're doing complete themed dinners with special cocktails and everything. We were even going to get props - which is what led us to Wal-Mart tonight.

We originally scheduled the first movie for next week but decided to bump it up to tomorrow. We already had the menu planned (Hagrid's Pie, McGonagall's Mixed Greens, Witche's Brew) but needed the props. Marty had seen a Harry Potter wand kit or something available at Wal-Mart and so we headed out.

Now I don't mind Wal-Mart and in a pinch, it's been the perfect spot for a little local retail therapy. Marty on the other hand, despises Wal-Mart. He had a bad experience trying to pick up a prescription for his grandmother a while back and hasn't been the same since.

Still, we entered the store and headed straight for the toys. There was Shrek and there was Spider-Man. Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers. But no Harry Potter.

"Maybe it's not out yet," I suggested. "Maybe they're waiting until closer to when the movie comes out in July." I did my best to sound hopeful.

"I don't think so," said Marty. "There is a reason why there's not one thing in this store with Harry Potter on it."


"We're in the Bible Belt. Witchcraft isn't exactly looked upon favorably."


"Didn't you ever see Footloose? It's the same concept."

"Of course. But don't be silly. I bought the DVDs here a few months ago." It's true.

So we headed back to movies and searched and searched but no Harry Potter. Marty finally asked a clerk: "Do you have any Harry Potter?"

"No," he said. "We used to, but we don't any more. I don't know why."

Marty gave me a smug "I-told-you-so-look" and we departed Wal-Mart empty handed.

And if that ain't county, I'll kiss your...