(Note: There’s a lot here… I always have fun writing my thoughts after reading a book or seeing a movie… but even I’m surprised how long this post turned out… so unless you are a fan — or a student looking for some different insights into an all-time classic novel — feel free to skip this entire review! –RPF.)

I’m probably the last person of my generation to read John Steinbeck’s classic East of Eden.

So, officially, I want to say that I don’t know what all the fuss is about.

Maybe it’s an incredibly innovative work from the 50’s that simply hasn’t translated into the 21st century? I run into a lot of old black & white movies like that.

But, I don’t think so. Regardless of period, characters should be believable… their actions should be believable… the story should hang together.

East of Eden touches on some interesting themes… but I believe — respectfully — the book has so many flaws that I’m shocked it’s had the staying power it’s had.

Before I dive into my concerns, I thought I’d share a couple quotes that I just loved.

Here’s possibly the best VC quote I’ve ever read:

“Look here,” said Will. “When a man comes to me for advice about an idea, I know he doesn’t want advice. He wants me to agree with him. And if I want to keep his friendship I tell him his idea is fine and go ahead. But I like you and you’re a friend of my family, so I’m going to stick my neck out.” — John Steinbeck, East of Eden, Chapter 37 (page 436 depending on the printing)

That’s exactly how I feel every time I’m approached… and exactly how I feel when I’m sharing an idea, too. Simple stated… and brilliant… almost a quarter of a century before the first fledgling venture activity started up. (And we thought Silicon Valley invented the venture process!)

Here’s a great quote for those of us who are closer to the end of the game than the beginning:

“Samuel may have thought and played and philosophized about death, but he did not really believe in it. His world did not have death as a member. He, and all around him, was immortal.” — John Steinbeck, East of Eden, Chapter 24 (page 292 depending on the printing)

Since it’s still kinda the Thanksgiving season, I’ll give thanks to Steinbeck for articulating what I also, thankfully, still feel.
OK… that’s a few good things… below are some semi-organized, critical thoughts about why the book is a head-scratcher for me:

* Technically, I found the writing and dialogue could be choppy… in a few spots actually incomprehensible.

* The story read more like a TV soap opera than a novel… it was all across the map with many barely relateable arcs. Of note: How can you present two main families, the Trasks and Hamiltons, and not have some major connection between them… at the very least there could have been a marriage between the families, right?

* “Now-You-See-Them, Now-You-Don’t” Characters and Relationships

A lot to write about this… but here are a few examples:

What happened to Charles (Adam’s brother)? Steinbeck was painting such an interesting picture of a psycho… and such an interesting relationship between brothers… and then, poof! Charles does the absolutely most dastardly and despicable thing one brother can do to another by sleeping with his brother’s wife Cathy (shades of Harold Pinter)… and just when you think, “wow, this is going to be a powder keg situation!”, Steinbeck essentially drops Charles out of the story! There is no great confrontation… no great, emotionally-charged reveal that Charles is the father of Adam’s twins… nada.

It’s not Charles’ fault… his ghost even tries to stir up trouble by leaving a large inheritance to both Adam and Cathy — who at that point has changed her name to Kate and is a Madame and prostitute — and we readers don’t even get the enjoyment of any kind of reaction from Adam. We get a little interesting, honest reaction from Kate, being completely mistrustful and thinking it’s some kind of trap… but after the initial showdown… nada. Charles was such a wasted story opportunity!

I thought Steinbeck gave Cyrus, Adam and Charles’ father, the heave-ho too early, too. One moment you’re caught up in the rolling fraud that was his military life… then next moment he’s out of the story. Poof again!

* “Hard to believe” Character Development & Situations

Also a lot to write about this, too… here are some examples:

Steinbeck also painted another interesting, psycho-type character: Cathy (her name in Part 1)… and Kate (her name in Part 2). Cathy v1 was awesome… evil… complex… and, in a fictional way, mostly believable. From there, Kate v2 became some kind of not-very-believable bad person. She feels like she’s trapped in her not-really-her-choice marriage to Adam, so what does she do? She could just try to quietly run away, just like she did the last time she was in a “relationship”…

… but, no, she has to do something LOUD… like purposely not kill Adam, the gentle pacifist, but rather shoot and wound him… like that won’t invite any suspicion.

Then, instead of running as far and as fast as she could — like she was planning when she killed her parents — maybe trying to get lost in a HUGE city like San Francisco — she moves just a few blocks down the road?! For someone that was supposed to be wicked smart, what kind of STUPID move is that? It would be different if there was a purpose for that STUPIDITY, i.e., Cathy/Kate wanted Adam to eventually find her for some new, perverse story arc purpose… but, no, Steinbeck couldn’t even give us that. He just gave us a lot of stupidity with Kate in the second half of the book.

Worse, Steinbeck didn’t even give us a big ending.

It was developing into a wonderful train-wreck of a Trask family confrontation… maybe Cathy/Kate “the mom” would try to get in between the two sons… maybe “Cal the Bad” and “Aron the Good” would — before it was too late — realize their brotherly love was stronger than anything and team up to, somehow, in the end, not only defeat the evil Cathy/Kate/mom, and thereby honoring/redeeming their Adam their father, but do it in such a way that they actually helped their mom find what she was “missing” all her life, including seeing the goodness in their dad… including all of the Trasks feeling for a brief instance like a family… but of course after it would all be too late and she would die somehow, adding to the supreme tragedy.

Even better, if Steinbeck hadn’t killed Charles, he could have been deliciously mixed up in all of that, too… and, in the end, maybe even magnanimously, as a way to show he loved Adam and was sorry for the way he treated him in their youth (including trying to kill him!), got what was coming to him, too.

Now THAT would have been a page-turning ending.

Instead, we got… nada… almost as if Steinbeck simply grew bored with his book and wanted to end it any way he could

…to the detriment of the story, unfortunately. (There weren’t even Hamiltons involved at the end!)
There were lots of little things that bothered me, too:

* It was ok that Charles tried to kill his brother Adam and everyone just accepts that, including Adam?

* Cal is evil? Really? Where? He cruises around at night and is always super polite… I don’t remember seeing any references to him “whoring” around (to use the vernacular of the book), he seems to just like to watch, like any kid… he didn’t even drink until the end of the book. He’s at best a jerk, maybe even an asshole, but a horrible, maniacal, EVIL person? Please. His mom was premeditatively killing her parents — and causing the suicide of a teacher — at Cal’s age. THAT’S evil. But it’s just not believable that an asshole with insomnia and some angst issues somehow automatically is.

* According to DollarTimes (an Internet inflation calculator), Cal burnt the modern equivalent of $305,851.29 (in the book he burns 15 one-thousand dollar bills). That’s just not believable. Even if he thought it was blood money — which he DID NOT — Lee, if he was true to his all-thinking Chinese character, would have let Cal burn one or two bills — just so he would always know he truly, sincerely would have burned them all — then would have suggested donating the rest to something “needy” as a way to “balance the acts of nature.” Hell, he could have even given it to Abra’s dad Mr. Bacon to pay off his theft debt (probably with interest!) and restore Mr. Bacon’s standing in the community and thereby begin repairing some of Abra’s feelings for her dad and ultimately prove to Abra’s parents that he was worthy of their daughter. THAT would have wrapped up a few very loose ends rather nicely. Instead, Steinbeck had Cal burn $15K and got no story-telling payoff.

A lousy story-telling investment, indeed.

One more think about this: Adam lost the modern equivalent of $300K… and THAT was the fortune that made him one of the richest men in the valley? Certainly his land had value, but the book made it feel like Adam was throwing cash around like he had many 10’s of millions of dollars, not $300K.

* Samuel Hamilton and his son Tom were PROLIFIC patent-ers. For a mostly poor family just making ends meet, where did they get the money to do all that patenting? For a duo that was as creatively prolific as those two, you would think someone would have licensed a patent from them somewhere along the line. But, nada.

* Samuel thought his son Tom was brilliant? How? While Steinbeck took great lengths to document that Samuel was brilliant, it didn’t seem like Tom was 1/10th the inventor that his dad was. All we had was a wishful dad’s opinion (hope?).

* I get that Tom blamed himself for his beloved sister’s death, but, really, wouldn’t a doctor have told him, “look, son, she was very sick BEFORE you gave her the salts… you did nothing but speed things up a bit.” ? And was suicide really the best (or most faithful) story path for Tom? Story-wise why didn’t Steinbeck send him “off the rails,” that would have been much more interesting… and more psychologically consistent with his character.

* It’s documented all over the place that Adam was gentle… but how did Adam get so “honest”? Nothing in his early years suggested anything but a potentially ill-advised loyalty to a psycho brother? From that how did “one of the most honest men in the world” (or however Adam was described toward the end of the book) emerge?

* When did we blow by the narrator (Olive Hamilton’s son, reportedly Steinbeck himself)? He intro’ed the story… is present every once in a while throughout the book… but never opines at the end… he just simply went away. Poof.

* I thought the Salinas Trask’s were power hungry or some such implication from the introduction in the beginning of the book. Couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

* Cyrus was supposed to be a crook simply because he amassed a fortune? Given the D.C. circles he ran in (remember, the vice president even came to his funeral), I could believe he might have taken advantage of inside information — sadly a practice that was considered more “smart” than illegal back then — but I seriously doubt anyone would have called him a thief, not during that time period. This is an important point because Adam is hugely affected by his belief that his father was a “thief.”

* Adam runs his refrigeration plant for years and never thinks about giving his lettuce startup business — something he was incredibly passionate about — a second try? That’s just not believable.

* I liked what Steinbeck was trying to do with Lee… Lee certainly started out an interesting character… but his complete asexuality was never really explained, which made him less believable. I half thought he was going to hit on Abra — which certainly would have been interesting. It was also weird how Lee almost single-handedly raised Aron & Cal, yet Aron & Cal didn’t have fatherly affections towards Lee. That didn’t seem believable, either. Lee turned out to be more of a cardboard character at the end, his reactions seemed more for effect than sincere.

* Abra. Also an interesting character but I believe Steinbeck tried to throw a head-fake at us, making Abra seem at first like maybe a “Kate-mini me,” then turning her into the all-American girl/daughter/girlfriend. Probably would have been a better story if Abra was evil… a confrontation between “young” Abra and “old” Kate — especially over the sons — would have been killer. In fact, maybe that’s how Cathy/Kate could have redeemed herself in the end, by saving Aron/Cal from an evil Abra… ?

Yet another, better ending that Steinbeck completely missed.

UWTI and DWTI are wildly popular 3x ETF’s that track WTI oil.

That means they approximate three times the daily move by WTI oil… and there’s a lot of daily volume so there are no weird trading patterns.

WTI was up about 0.33% today, which means UWTI should have been up about 1% today… and DWTI should have been down about 1%.

But, UWTI was up about 5.5%… while DWTI was down about 5.5%.

That makes no sense.  I’ve tracked these ETFs daily for years and I’ve never seen this.

There are some extracurriculars going on here, most notably it was announced yesterday that Credit Suisse AG is going to shut down the wildly popular UWTI and DWTI ETFs.  I don’t think this affected price because if it did, it would have had an equally negative impact on both.   Instead, both issues had completely mirrored performance today, just as you would expect — only, the mirrored performance was off by almost 6x!

Also, it could have been some kind of rumor out of the “practice” meeting at Doha, but, if that were the case, that would have affected WTI price first, which it did not… WTI was relatively calm today.

I’m trying to figure out whether this is one of those rare times when some kind of inefficiency affected price.  If that’s true, you would expect a snap back rather suddenly on Monday, possibly an interesting trading opportunity.  Problem with that thinking is these ETFs trade in such high volume, that kind of inefficiency is almost impossible.

This one certainly has me scratching my head.

The great historical fiction writer Leon Uris characterized in The Haj how difficult it was to negotiate with the Middle East… I roughly remember the language he used:  “Do you know how hard it is to negotiate with horse-traders that have been negotiating for 1,500 years?”

That’s not a direct quote… just something I read a long time ago that made an impression on me.

It’s also what I’ve observed when it comes to the Middle East.

Sometimes I wonder — since oil is incredibly sensitive to any comments coming out of Saudi Arabia — and since the Saudis clearly have a cash flow problem these days — whether they’re speculating on the side.

In my experience, almost all professions do it… it’s said that an honest bartender only steals 10% of the evening’s take… and that’s why we have insider trading laws and regulators.

I can only imagine how ineffective any kind of laws and/or regulators are in an area of the world as wild, wild west as the Middle East.

If I was a bad oil guy and wanted to make a chunk of cash speculating in oil in the next few weeks, I would have a “practice” meeting and leak that it was an utter failure.  That would send oil plummeting.  Then, miraculously, at the final meeting, I would triumphantly declare success, grabbing victory straight from the jaws of defeat… and, of course, sending oil soaring.

Even though people would eventually unravel the terms of the deal and find that it was mostly hype over substance…

… as a bad oil guy, short term I would still win on both ends of that horse trade.

Just sayin’.

(Note:  The “practice” meeting is in Doha, Qatar tomorrow… and the final meeting in Vienna, Austria on Nov 30th.  Stayed tuned.)

NOV 30 UPDATE:  Well, the timing was a bit off… they mostly waited to about a week before the meeting… but, yes, oil, which had a dramatic move downward in the last few days, is now soaring this morning on the heels of a (still unconfirmed) deal… so there may be bad oil guys in OPEC after all.  Go figure.

The setup:  Since last Friday, it seemed like a deal was completely and utterly dead.  First, it was announced the Saudis would not attend the preliminary Monday session, which was viewed as being a negative sign that the Saudis were putting their feet in the ground, including horrible “R” word rumors:  That they may be reneging on prior agreements.  

Then came the slew of press releases stating things like, “the Saudis can go pound sand, we’re not cutting!”… and “we think a freeze right now is the same thing as a cut in 2017″… and such.  

Over the weekend the head Saudi oil minister was even quoted as saying, “oil is rebalancing, anyhow, so if there’s not an agreement, everything will still be fine.”

Then came the last 24 hours where things appeared to be so bad, the Saudi oil minister even resorted to “sneaking in a side door” to avoid having to face the press and other countries.  Understand there is a lot of pomp and showing of strength (i.e., “mine’s bigger”) at these meetings so not making a formal entrance was also considered very negative.

Magically, though, an agreement — even bigger than what was expected — emerged this morning.  And now oil is soaring.

Imagine that.

 

 

 

I was fortunate enough to spend a weekend with Warren Buffett a few years ago.  On the golf course, it was incredibly surreal having Warren (and Bill Gates) cheering on an impossible putt that I almost dropped.  But that is a story for another time.

Spending any time with Warren, one quickly learns he’s an eminently practical person… he just the type of guy that exudes common sense.

So it’s absolutely no surprise to me that Warren would know how to solve the debt crisis in 5 minutes.

And, it’s no surprise that I would completely and utterly agree with his plan.

Below is an email that everyone is forwarding to everyone… it’s not long and worth reading all the way through… and probably worth pounding our fists on the table for as well!

—————————————————–

The Way It Is Now

Salary of retired US Presidents .. . . . .. . . . . .. . ……….$180,000 FOR LIFE

Salary of retired House/Senate members .. . . . .. . . . $174,000 FOR LIFE

Salary of retired Speaker of the House .. . . . .. . . . . . .$223,500 FOR LIFE

Salary of retired Majority / Minority Leaders . . .. . . . $193,400 FOR LIFE

Average Salary of a teacher . . .. . . . .. . . . . .. .. . . . . . .$40,065

Average Salary of a deployed Soldier . . .. . . .. . . . . . . $38,000

I think we found where the cuts should be made!

Warren Buffett, in a recent interview with CNBC, offers one of the best quotes about the debt ceiling: “I could end the deficit in five minutes,” he told CNBC. “You just pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of GDP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election”.

The 26th Amendment (granting the right to vote for 18 year-olds) took only three months and eight days to be ratified! Why? Simple! The people demanded it. That was in 1971 – before computers, e-mail, cell phones, etc. Of the 27 amendments to the Constitution, seven ( 7 ) took one ( 1 ) year or less to become the law of the land – all because of public pressure. Warren Buffett is asking each addressee to forward this email to a minimum of twenty people on their address list; in turn ask each of those to do likewise. In three days, most people in The United States of America will have the message. This is one idea that really should be passed around.

The BUFFETT Rule – THIS IS HOW YOU FIX CONGRESS!

Congressional Reform Act of 2017

1. No Tenure / No Pension. A Congressman/woman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they’re out of office.

2. Congress ( past, present, & future ) participates in Social Security. All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people. It may not be used for any other purpose.

3. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

4. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

5. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

6. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

7. All contracts with past and present Congressmen/women are void effective 3/1/17. The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen/women. Congress made all these contracts for themselves. Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and go back to work.

Data is one of the things that moves the oil market these days.

Every Tuesday at 1:30pm pst we get data from the American Petroleum Institute (API).

I have found Marketwatch does a great job covering this report — which we mere mortals can’t actually get directly since we don’t pay the big bucks for a data subscription.

Yesterday Marketwatch reported a 3.65 million barrel build… compared to a 2 million barrel decline that analysts were expecting.  Relatively speaking, that’s a big miss… and would be quite bearish for oil prices.

CNBC, on the other hand, reported a 3.6 million barrel build… BUT as compared to analysts expectations of a 1.5 million barrel INCREASE.  That’s obviously a less dramatic miss.

So who’s right?

Who knows!  In this highly automated news era, it’s impossible to get in touch with any news agency to ask them to verify potentially big typos in reporting.  I’ve been trying to leave comments on the CNBC site… and am logged in correctly (since I got the “Welcome, Royal!” message)… but for some reason (maybe a bug) my comments aren’t posting.  (And, no, I don’t post a lot of comments so I haven’t been banned or anything.)

Technology is absolutely wonderful but still has a ways to go, eh?

Guess we’ll find out the true answer when the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports at 7:30am pst today.

That is, if the news agencies can get the reporting right.

UPDATE:  The EIA reported that the actual build was 5.3 million barrels… which I’m happy to say both news agencies got right… BUT, Marketwatch still is using an analyst figure of an expected decline of 2 million barrels… while CNBC is still using an analysts figure of a 1.5 million barrel increase.  Ugh!  Go figure.

Donald J. Trump is the 45th President of the United States.

I’d love to know what the odds of Trump winning were from his very first presidential rally… one I remember like it was yesterday… the one where Trump bragged about “thousands and thousands of supporters” in attendance… but most media reports pegged at barely a hundred or so of allegedly paid participants.

The odds had to be astronomical.

My take is the American people voted for N-ABC… Not Another Bush or Clinton.  People were — are — simply fed up with politicians being, well, politicians.

I get that in spades.

The good news is we get an outsider that has been both a democrat and republican during his lifetime.  And a business person.  After watching the left and right hijack the election agenda for waaay too long, maybe Trump will finally be what I’ve always looked for:  A fiscally-responsible moderate.  Common sense about money… and freedom to let people “live & let live.”

The bad news is our new president is a blowhard.  And a spin-meister… someone I feel like I have to fact check every time he opens his mouth.

For the sake of the United States of America and the entire world, fingers crossed that the good outweighs the bad.

CNBC did a fascinating analysis of who’s better for the stock market, a Democrat or Republican.

Below are the visuals.

While the initial conclusion here is, “Democrats are better for the stock market”… I believe what these charts actually show is what happens when the Republican party abandons its long-standing partyline of being fiscally responsible.

That is to say, while it may have been helpful to the military complex, dragging us into needless and endless and massively expensive military action is simply bad for business.

I think the charts below prove that in spades.