Friends All Over the World

When our kids were very young we were just starting our business and they had to go to daycare before they were even one year-old. As they got a little older and began school I felt badly that their summers would be spent in that type of environment. I found a wonderful program that provided European girls the opportunity to come to the U.S. during 10 weeks of the summer and be Au Pairs for American families.

Each summer we had a new person...first from Belfast, Northern Ireland then Poland, England, Sweden and Croatia. We adults got to learn a lot about their home countries and the environments they grew up in and our kids got great care, in their own home, and learned that no matter where someone lived or how they sounded, they were all just the same as us.

On our 2 weeks in Europe we got to visit our Croatian Au Pair, now living in Venice (just a 3-hour drive from Zagreb, Croatia, her hometown). And she had just had a baby! What deja vu! Our daughter is now almost the same age she was when she came to us that summer twelve years ago!

We've kept in touch with the others and gotten invitations to weddings, photos of their kids and cards keeping us up-to-date with what was happening in their lives. But actually being able to visit with someone is the best.

We've also made friends with hoteliers and restaurant owners during our travels and it is always so much fun to see them again and to be greeted as not guests, but family in another country.

My husband and kids were hesitant at first when I planned our first family trip to Europe. They were afraid of not being able to communicate with people. But with a phrase book and memorizing the phrases in their languages for "I'm sorry, I don't speak XXXX," please and thank-you got us through with no major problems as we traveled around.

But it was embarrassing to only know English; almost everyone spoke at least some English and often very fluent English. At one point we stopped at a restaurant in the countryside and no one spoke more than a word or two of English. The waiter tried speaking to us in his native French, then Italian and Spanish. We made ourselves understood, but it was obvious he was shaking his head at the fact that he could communicate in 3 languages and we could only speak ours.

Maybe it's just the close proximity of countries in Europe that speak different languages, but I think its more that we don't put enough emphasis on being bi-lingual or even multi-lingual. Our Au Pair living in Venice spoke 5 languages fluently when she was in her early 20's; she's now up to 8 and working on yet another! Now she may be the exception, but it also allows her to go almost anywhere - and she has, often times staying on after her vacation and working, as she did upon visiting the Canary Islands a few years ago. Language allows for a very flexible, fluid lifestyle.


A Hedge Fund Manager Quits - Read His "Goodbye" Letter

I am back from my two weeks in Europe and ready to jump back into my daily blog posts. Today I found this very interesting "Goodbye" letter from a Hedge Fund manager on CNBC and definitely it is an interesting read:

Hedge Fund Manager: Goodbye ... And Think Pot
By Matthew Malone, Portfolio.com | 17 Oct 2008 | 12:48 PM ET

From the Scorched Earth Files:

Andrew Lahde, manager of a small California hedge fund, Lahde Capital, burst into the spotlight last year after his one-year-old fund returned 866 percent betting against the subprime collapse.

Last month, he did the unthinkable -- he shut things down, claiming dealing with his bank counterparties had become too risky. Today, Lahde passed along his "goodbye" letter, a rollicking missive on everything from greed to economic philosophy. Enjoy:

Today I write not to gloat. Given the pain that nearly everyone is experiencing, that would be entirely inappropriate. Nor am I writing to make further predictions, as most of my forecasts in previous letters have unfolded or are in the process of unfolding. Instead, I am writing to say goodbye.

Recently, on the front page of Section C of the Wall Street Journal, a hedge fund manager who was also closing up shop (a $300 million fund), was quoted as saying, "What I have learned about the hedge fund business is that I hate it." I could not agree more with that statement. I was in this game for the money. The low hanging fruit, i.e. idiots whose parents paid for prep school, Yale, and then the Harvard MBA, was there for the taking. These people who were (often) truly not worthy of the education they received (or supposedly received) rose to the top of companies such as AIG, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and all levels of our government. All of this behavior supporting the Aristocracy, only ended up making it easier for me to find people stupid enough to take the other side of my trades. God bless America.

There are far too many people for me to sincerely thank for my success. However, I do not want to sound like a Hollywood actor accepting an award. The money was reward enough. Furthermore, the endless list those deserving thanks know who they are.

I will no longer manage money for other people or institutions. I have enough of my own wealth to manage. Some people, who think they have arrived at a reasonable estimate of my net worth, might be surprised that I would call it quits with such a small war chest. That is fine; I am content with my rewards. Moreover, I will let others try to amass nine, ten or eleven figure net worths. Meanwhile, their lives suck. Appointments back to back, booked solid for the next three months, they look forward to their two week vacation in January during which they will likely be glued to their Blackberries or other such devices. What is the point? They will all be forgotten in fifty years anyway. Steve Balmer, Steven Cohen, and Larry Ellison will all be forgotten. I do not understand the legacy thing. Nearly everyone will be forgotten. Give up on leaving your mark. Throw the Blackberry away and enjoy life.

So this is it. With all due respect, I am dropping out. Please do not expect any type of reply to emails or voicemails within normal time frames or at all. Andy Springer and his company will be handling the dissolution of the fund. And don't worry about my employees, they were always employed by Mr. Springer's company and only one (who has been well-rewarded) will lose his job.

I have no interest in any deals in which anyone would like me to participate. I truly do not have a strong opinion about any market right now, other than to say that things will continue to get worse for some time, probably years. I am content sitting on the sidelines and waiting. After all, sitting and waiting is how we made money from the subprime debacle. I now have time to repair my health, which was destroyed by the stress I layered onto myself over the past two years, as well as my entire life -- where I had to compete for spaces in universities and graduate schools, jobs and assets under management -- with those who had all the advantages (rich parents) that I did not. May meritocracy be part of a new form of government, which needs to be established.

On the issue of the U.S. Government, I would like to make a modest proposal. First, I point out the obvious flaws, whereby legislation was repeatedly brought forth to Congress over the past eight years, which would have reigned in the predatory lending practices of now mostly defunct institutions. These institutions regularly filled the coffers of both parties in return for voting down all of this legislation designed to protect the common citizen. This is an outrage, yet no one seems to know or care about it. Since Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith passed, I would argue that there has been a dearth of worthy philosophers in this country, at least ones focused on improving government.

Capitalism worked for two hundred years, but times change, and systems become corrupt. George Soros, a man of staggering wealth, has stated that he would like to be remembered as a philosopher. My suggestion is that this great man start and sponsor a forum for great minds to come together to create a new system of government that truly represents the common man's interest, while at the same time creating rewards great enough to attract the best and brightest minds to serve in government roles without having to rely on corruption to further their interests or lifestyles. This forum could be similar to the one used to create the operating system, Linux, which competes with Microsoft's near monopoly. I believe there is an answer, but for now the system is clearly broken.

Lastly, while I still have an audience, I would like to bring attention to an alternative food and energy source. You won't see it included in BP's, "Feel good. We are working on sustainable solutions," television commercials, nor is it mentioned in ADM's similar commercials. But hemp has been used for at least 5,000 years for cloth and food, as well as just about everything that is produced from petroleum products. Hemp is not marijuana and vice versa. Hemp is the male plant and it grows like a weed, hence the slang term. The original American flag was made of hemp fiber and our Constitution was printed on paper made of hemp. It was used as recently as World War II by the U.S. Government, and then promptly made illegal after the war was won. At a time when rhetoric is flying about becoming more self-sufficient in terms of energy, why is it illegal to grow this plant in this country?

Ah, the female. The evil female plant -- marijuana. It gets you high, it makes you laugh, it does not produce a hangover. Unlike alcohol, it does not result in bar fights or wife beating. So, why is this innocuous plant illegal? Is it a gateway drug? No, that would be alcohol, which is so heavily advertised in this country. My only conclusion as to why it is illegal, is that Corporate America, which owns Congress, would rather sell you Paxil, Zoloft, Xanax and other additive drugs, than allow you to grow a plant in your home without some of the profits going into their coffers. This policy is ludicrous. It has surely contributed to our dependency on foreign energy sources. Our policies have other countries literally laughing at our stupidity, most notably Canada, as well as several European nations (both Eastern and Western). You would not know this by paying attention to U.S. media sources though, as they tend not to elaborate on who is laughing at the United States this week. Please people, let's stop the rhetoric and start thinking about how we can truly become self-sufficient.

With that I say good-bye and good luck.

All the best,

Andrew Lahde


In Italy...Food, Wine and Conversation

Sorry for the lack of daily posts, but I'm traveling in France and Italy and after a day of sightseeing, food and wine I fall into bed and am asleep before my head hits the pillow! But today we slept in a bit so I have a little energy left!

When we were in Florence we had dinner at a restaurant we have been to many times before. The first time was in the summer of 2002 when it seemed no one was traveling, especially Americans. So the manager of the restaurant spent time talking with us and we found out quite a bit about him. And our teenage son found an internet cafe right next door so we spent time drinking wine and talking to our new friend every day.

We went back the next summer and he greeted us as old friends, and the summer of 2004 found us visiting with him again. By now we were "family" and we heard about his recent marriage and laughed and talked over a long dinner. Until this year we haven't been in Florence again - but after a very slight pause when we approached him he broke into a big smile and welcomed us back again, this time with our friends. But he asked about the children and remembered what we had talked about four years ago. Friendship truly does last regardless of how much time passes.

So in our conversation at dinner the other night he expressed an interest in our upcoming Presidential election. And then he made a comment that we didn't quite understand, "Politics, it's all just pasta." He laughed and said "You know, spaghetti with red sauce, spaghetti with clams, spaghetti with meat sauce...it's still just pasta!"