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At first glance they are quite beautiful. Their coat of feathers an iridescent purple, that shimmers in the sunlight. They eyes a piercing gold against their black shiny head. I grabbed my Birds of New York Field Guide to properly identify him. 
Common Grackle

Size 11 – 13 inches

Male: Large black bird with iridescent blue black head, purple brown body, long black tail, long thin bill and bright golden eye.

Female: similar to male, only duller and smaller (always true in birds – God’s little joke?)

Juvenile: similar to female

Notes: Usually nests in small colonies of up to 75 pairs (WHAT? that’s SMALL?), but travels with other blackbirds in large flocks. Unlike most birds, it has larger muscles for opening the mouth (rather than closing it).

Okay, it’s true. I’m a backyard birder (geek). 

I spent $100 on a feeder that is truly squirrel proof. When my Northern Cardinals, Dark-Eyed Juncos, White Breasted Nuthatches, and Chipping Sparrows land, they can eat freely. The squirrel weighs enough to pull the seed doors shut. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. But don’t feel sorry for my squirrels. I have the Squirrel Bungee to keep them fed and entertained. And for my Red Bellied Woodpecker, a suet feeder. 

After my beloved Mavis passed on (the best dog in the world) I realized I could not go through the pain of losing another pet. So I became a backyard birder. It’s cheaper, less stressful, and you never have to hire a sitter. They make me very happy and are a welcome distraction to work (my feeders are perfectly centered outside my office window).

But yesterday things grew dark. I mean Alfred Hitchcock dark. As a pack of Grackles descended on my Disney display. They scared away my American Goldfinch. The greedy bastards surrounded the place, and one made his way to the feeder. But here’s where it gets interesting – when a second landed on the feeder, they weighed as much as a squirrel. Shut out! One by one they pushed each other off hoping to get the bounty of seed. The more greedy they got, the less they ended up getting.

slide001Hmmmmmm……sounds like Wall Street.

070525_hamptons_vmed_2pwidec1Last week Mark and I were in the Hamptons. Okay, I’ve always wanted to say that, but truth be told we were in Long Island looking for a place to live and had to DRIVE through the Hamptons on our way to see the lighthouse at Montauk Point (a must see for everyone). SIDEBAR: Bernie Madoff (pronounced Made-off as in with your money has a house in Montauk.

Anyway – have you ever listened to something on the radio and the scenery around you gets burned into the memory? As if you are watching television, the words mesh into the windshield and somehow make sense? Or not. Well, we were listening to NPR and Marketplace came on. The guest was Charles Handy, London Business School Founder and Claremont Graduate University’s Drucker School of Business Professor. AND, he has a lovely British accent.

The interviewer was Kai Ryssdal. The subject: the banking system.

Kai cuts to the chase: How did we get in this mess?

Charles: “I think we got carried away, you know, at least the bankers did mainly. After all, for many, many centuries, making money out of money has been regarded as rather a bad thing. In fact, it used to be called ‘usury.’ ”

Me: “Oh hell yes!”

Charles: “They forgot what their proper job was, in my view, which was to take money from some people who had some to spare and to pass it on to people who could use it usefully and profitably.”

Me: “That’s the CREDIT UNION cause!!!!”

Kai: “But from purely a business proposition, if you can’t make money giving a loan, why do it at all?”

Mark: “Good question!” (former CFO, current Financial Advisor)

Charles: “That’s right, but you must make sure that you don’t exceed the money that you’ve been given by the people who are saving it. These people went wild actually. They went way in excess of the ratios that normally were deemed respectable..”

Kai: “It seems to me the solution, when we have one of these crises, is always a variation on what I suppose you could call the “big three,” right. One is increased transparency, the other is increased accountability, and then some kind of regulation. But we’ve tried all of those things in crises past, so what’s the answer this time?”

Charles: “Get them smaller?”

Kai: “Get the BANKS smaller?”

Me: “Oh hell yes!”

Mark: “Shhhhh, listen.”

Charles: “Yes. Get the banks smaller. I’m actually sure. Markets work well when there are a lot of players, and if one falls out, the whole system doesn’t crash. When we crate organizations that, in the words of some people, are too big to fail, what we really mean is we can’t ALLOW them to fail. So I really think that we’ve allowed the banks to get too big. So I think the answer is basically to de-structure them.”

“I also think we really should stop putting everything in one basket. I think investment banking should be separated out from retail banking. They contaminate each other.”

Me: “Wow. You mean bigger is NOT better? What about achieving economies of scale? What about being a full service financial institution?I guess that didn’t work, did it?”

Mark: “Shhhh. Listen.”

Kai: “So now what then?”

Charles: “I’m not sure the solution is going to be easy to get by, and I think it’ll take about three years for things to bottom out. But there may be some good news in all of that. I mean we may get back to a saner kind of world – what Adam Smith (Author of The Wealth of Nations) called ‘cultivation’ or ‘civilization’ — where we don’t all sort of spend our life trying to make money, to buy things we don’t really need to impress the neighbors, and so on.”

“I’ve often said that capitalism, particularly in America, is a very exhausting business. It tires people out.”

Kai: “Charles Handy, than you very much for your time.”

Charles: “Thank you very much. It was wonderful to talk to you.”

Me: “Do you think that will actually happen?”

Mark: “Not anytime soon.”

TODAY: Morgan Stanley, Citi plan $3 billion broker bonuses.

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June 2023