Sunday, November 29, 2009

Magic Shoes

Just in time for the holiday season, Rockport is making great shoes for a great price.

These Rockport shoes are, to my taste, wonderfully good-looking (it's a poor photo; that stripe is much less apparent and there is no visible yellowish highlighting). They are so comfortable that I've been staying up late because I don't want to take them off. And they cost all of eighty bucks. Note that they also come in black - the ultimate dressy black "sneakers".
The strange thing is that shoes rarely fit me...which should, of course, mean that shoes which fit me shouldn't fit anyone else. Yet, somehow, everyone finds these comfortable. They are like the Rosetta Shoes.

Here's another by Rockport. I love how they look, they're also real comfortable, and are waterproof. They're like the world's sharpest work shoes - the shoes to wear if you're installing kitchen cabinets at Salma Hayek's house. Also good for hiking and outdoorsy stuff. $45!!

Finally, also by Rockport, I find these unusual brown shoes with olive highlights hip looking, though I recognize they're not to everyone's taste. Really comfortable, and available on eBay only, for under $30!
All the above come only in "D" width, and while I'm normally a "wide, these somehow fit. It's magic.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Bubbles, Slogs, and Selling Out: Part 15

Previous installment
First installment
All installments in reverse chronological order

Due Diligence Postscript and Explanation

In the previous installment, I concocted a melodramatic fantasy about the process of "due diligence" (whereby big fish companies inspect smaller fish companies prior to the actual meal). I depicted events through a warped funhouse mirror in order to convey the surreality of it all. By wildly exaggerating the facts of the process, I hoped to capture some emotional truth, and I suspect other entrepreneurs would nod their heads in sympathy.

But I failed to fully explain the daunting stakes - the actual basis for all the stress. While it's true that our deal would not have been undone even if we had closet skeletons galore, there were nonetheless three main perils:

1. In the tech world, due diligence is sometimes used in the same way as a house inspection report: as an excuse for a buyer to chip away at his offer price.

2. We were locked down tightly during this period. CNET could have altered or even cancelled the offer at their sole discretion, but we were prohibited from making overtures to other parties. And the problem is that with bubbles one never knows when the window of opportunity will close. If CNET blew us off, or slashed their offer, they'd have informed us toward the end of our lengthy lock-out period, by which point it might have been too late to do anything but summarily shut down the site.

3. The plan was to complete due diligence and close our deal by December 15. If the process hit a snag, that would mean a three week holiday hiatus, during which sentiments might cool, bubbles might burst, personnel might change, etc.

Also, consider that our tech was about to explode (we'd disclosed this to CNET, but, still....). And our biz dev contact, who I've called "Clay", was looking more and more twitchy/paranoid. And we'd had a gazillion moments of great expectation for Chowhound over the years, so there was a lingering suspicion Lucy might once again snatch away the football as we reluctantly agreed to kick.

So that's why due diligence, in our case, felt so airless and fraught. Plus, Bob and I were pretty exhausted and bedgraggled to begin with.

Read the next installment (#16)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Nice Weather, Dicey Language

The weather's been lovely here in NYC for the past few days. Indian summer has arrived right on schedule!

Did you know, by the way, that "Indian summer" is a disparaging phrase, with the same noxious origin as "Indian giver"?

It's an interesting predicament when a disparaging phrase has so thoroughly entered the language that it can't be avoided - because there is no alternative means of expression. "White Trash Cuisine", for example, describes a certain style of cooking in a way no other phrase can (author Ernest M. Mickler "took back" the expression with his legendary White Trash Cookbook", but that only left the rest of us in a linguistical lurch!). "Kaffir lime" derives from an ethnic slur...but there's no other widely-accepted way to describe the fruit. I guess most of us don't say "gypped" much anymore, but that's been helped by the existence of so many alternative terms.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Psalm 109:9

If my warnings about parallels between modern day America and Spain just prior to its Civil War (here and here) struck you as overblown, have a look at this.

Whichever side of the cliff you're on, the most helpful thing you can do is to consider the ways you - in your thinking, speaking, and actions - disrespect, dehumanize, and fail to generally empathize with the other side. Different people with different views need to live with each other and recognize that America can be both of us. Our empathy muscles grow flabby as our outrage muscles hypertrophy. At this point, feeding your outrage further will do nothing. All that's left is to redevelop our empathy.

The unimaginably bloody Spanish civil war began with a symmetrical impression that the other side was not really Spain. Lately, the American right has been talking more and more about "the real America" (as opposed to the supposedly "socialist" left), much to the offense of the left, who brands their supposedly fascistic instincts "anti-American". Few spot the symmetry, and fewer still have noticed the (shockingly similar) parallels to pre-war Spain. Worst of all, the dehumanization - on both sides - is reaching a scary point.

We all need to understand that bloodshed in the streets is truly possible, even if not directly imminent, and that the conditions for this have been fostered evenly by both sides. There comes a point (e.g. Israelis/Palestinians) where neither can back down. Hopefully some conciliation will arise before we reach that point.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Granola Tasting

Just a few of the 25 granolas sampled

I broached this culinary ordeal with vivid memories of a long-ago soy sauce tasting from which I'd emerged with comically useless notes reading "Salty!" "Very Salty!" "Salty!" and "A little less salty!". A massive tasting of granolas seemed likely to evoke a wash of similarly undifferentiated impressions - this time, of endless roasty/toasty/raisiny/nuttiness. But I forged on, curious to investigate my theory that granola is in the midst of a renaissance, evolving from insipid health food cliché into something more resembling luxury food.

For one thing, there are the prices, which have skyrocketed since the days when granola was a generic commodity careening into sturdy paper bags in the back of dank, sanctimonious natural foods stores. The most expensive granola at our tasting, the preciously wrapped E.A.T. Original Granola by Eli Zabar, sells for a mind-boggling fifteen bucks per small one pound package. Many of the rest cost $7 or $8 (plus another $5-7 for shipping; mail order's the only way to score most of these brands).

My attention was first captured by obscure Ola! Granola. I'd ordinarily hesitate to pay $6 for 9 ounces of roasted grain, but upon cracking open the package I found myself powerless to stop munching. I scarfed nearly the whole bag, dry, in a violent spate of rapid-fire ingestion, leaving a light wake of oaty dregs on the floor under my frantically shoveling hand. Not that it was so sublimely delicious. It was, to be sure, damned good granola, but it was more addictive than aesthetically perfect. I'd never before encountered an addictive granola.

Then I stumbled upon Early Bird Granola, which was downright torrid. This product is so assertively sweetened that it'd be nearly inedible if not for all the mitigating fat and salt and intense flavor blooming this into something eons more richly bodacious than would ever be expected of prim, earnest granola. It's nearly too much for me. But not quite.

There's still plenty of old-school granola (few surprises or nuances) being sold, but pressure from all the upstarts seems to be sharpening everyone's game. Quality is skyrocketing. And I smell a burgeoning trend. It was time for a survey.

So I gathered 25 products from 15 companies for a gigunda taste-off. Rather than try to match the unmatchable, I accepted that this undertaking would pit apples against oranges (and pecans, cranberries, and crunchy spelt clusters), and embraced the variation.

All granolas were tasted "blind" by a panel of twelve tasters. Special thanks to Ray Deter and the staff of Manhattan's DBA Bar (fun fact: hard cider is the optimal accompanying beverage for a granola tasting). Thanks also to Pat, Paul, Dave, Peter, Layne, Vaughn, Sari, Jon, and Lucy, whose palates were keen, opinions insightful, and patience (and eating capacity) plentiful. One of the best tasting groups ever!

Opinions and ratings from panel tastings are normally all over the map. But this time, five brands were clear favorites.


Love Grown Foods (Aspen, CO)
Made to Crave (Tucson AZ)
Early Bird (Brooklyn, NY)
Udi's Natural Artisan Granola (Denver CO)
Ola! Granola (Redding, CT)

Love Grown Foods: "Sweet Cranberry Pecan"
(Toasted oats, agave, honey, dried cranberries, pecans, etc.)
~The most darkly-roasted granola we tried. Old-school, but awesome finesse. So rich and hearty. Surprisingly tart cranberries!

Made to Crave: "Maple Pecan Granola" (gluten free)
(Oats, pecans, maple syrup, brown sugar, canola oil, organic crispy brown rice, salt, vanilla extract)
~Toasty, and the only granola with a really long, seductive aftertaste. Another flavor-packed oily/salty/sweet granola, but not as decadent as Early Bird's. High quality nuts. One of only two granolas with serious depth.

Early Bird: "Farmhand's Choice"
(Organic rolled oats, toasted organic coconut, organic pepitas, sunflower seeds, fancy pecans, Vermont maple syrup, extra-virgin olive oil, organic brown sugar, salt)
~This is the granola whose recipe the NY Times published - an instant classic. It's a voluptuary experience; sweet, salty, flavor-packed, and so glisteningly greasy that it almost tastes fried! Not for the first time, the panel was moved to ponder how, exactly, one defines "granola".
I'd like to have tasted their Aloha (mango and macadamia) and Jubilee (cherry and pistachio) flavors, both of which have their devotees, but was unable to find any.

Udi's: "Hawaiian"
(Thick-cut rolled oats, wildflower honey, canola oil, dried pineapple, ginger toasted macadamia nuts, coconut)
~Another deep, three-dimensional granola, and a particularly beautiful balance between cereal and add-ins, all of which (especially the sheets of dried coconut and terrific hit of ginger) are of exemplary quality.

Udi's: "Original"
(Thick-cut rolled oats, wildflower honey, canola oil, raisins, banana chips, walnuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios)
~Great texture, very adult, dry flavor and aroma (smells like Korean barley tea). Very crisp yet not greasy. High quality nuts - though it could use more of them.

Love Grown Foods: "Cinnamon Apple Walnut"
(Toasted oats, agave, honey, dried apples, and walnuts, etc.)
~Has the aroma of a crusty old Vermont health food store. Classic old-school granola, slightly cloying yet ascetic. The panel loved the spicy/sweet flavor, but some found the bits of dried apple overly chewy.

Made to Crave: "Old Fashioned Granola" (gluten free)
(Oats, honey, brown sugar, canola oil, organic crispy brown rice, salt, cinnamon, vanilla extract)
~Granola-as-Rice-Krispies-treats. Luxurious buttery aroma; refined and restrained grain flavor, optimal salty/sweet balance. This one should probably be eaten dry.

Ola!: "Vanilla Almond"
(Whole grain oats, almonds, whole wheat flour, wheat bran, pure maple syrup, canola oil, pure vanilla extract, cinnamon, sea salt)
~Good quality cinnamon in perfect proportion. The sweetness is equally calibrated, as is the almost subliminally salty undercurrent. Nothing fancy, but highly enjoyable.

Ola!: "Cranberry Orange Pecan"
(Whole grain oats, pecans, sweetened dried cranberries (cranberries, sugar) pure maple syrup, whole wheat flour, wheat bran, orange juice, canola oil, pure vanilla extract, cinnamon, sea salt)
~Not as perfectly balanced as the Vanilla Almond; this one's flavor is a bit mamby-pamby, and the texture was a tad too chewy/sticky for some. Still, two tasters voted it among their top three.

Honorable Mention:

Back to Nature (Madison, WI): "Sunflower And Pumpkin Seed Granola" Available at Whole Foods
(Whole grain rolled oats, evaporated cane juice, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, brown rice syrup, brown rice flour, expeller pressed safflower oil, molasses, salt, etc.)
~True vanilla flavor, and a warmly vibrant sweetness skillfully balanced by salt and lots of earthy seeds. This old school granola, made with a knowing touch, didn't rate particularly well, but it suffered unfairly because we'd only sampled this oddball flavor - and the gripe was that it had so many seeds. I'm betting Back to Nature's more conventional flavors would have showed better.


Bakery on Main (Glastonberry, CT)

Bakery on Main: "Extreme Fruit and Nut Granola" (Gluten Free)
(Corn flour, evaporated cane juice, rice flour, rice bran, raisin juice concentrate, honey, canola oil, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, raisins, sesame seed, coconut, walnut, hazelnut, almonds, cranberry, pecans, apricot, brazil nuts, vanilla. etc.)
~Stretches the definition of granola. Really, it more resembles those squiggly, crunchy Indian snack melanges, with weirdly shaped flakes, seeds, and any number of unidentifiable add-ins. The simple sweetness and the fake butter flavor turned off several tasters (one dismissed this as "Buttery Pebbles").

Bakery on Main: "Nutty Cranberry Maple Granola" (Gluten Free)
(Corn flour, evaporated cane juice, rice flour, rice bran, raisin juice concentrate, honey, cranberry (sugar), canola oil, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, almonds, sesame seed, pecans, vanilla, maple, etc.)
~A bit less sweet, but still pretty whacky!

Les Blank's Granola (homemade)
Divisive! This is a phenomenally quirky granola, with tons and tons of bee pollen, and an almost overwhelmingly complex meaty flavor that delighted some and perturbed others. Unfortunately, it did not survive shipping well, and was reduced almost enitrely to powder. I think this granola would have been more widely admired if its texture was in the proper condition, though a few deemed it irredeemably bitter from the bee pollen and generally overstuffed with non-harmonious ingredients. Still, it was the favorite of one taster, who beamingly insisted that it had "utterly broke through my preconceptions of granola."

Here's the recipe!


Bear Naked (La Jolla, CA)
Eli Zabar (NY, NY)
Galaxy Granola (San Rafael CA) available at Whole Foods
Trader Joe's
Udi's, an otherwise exemplary producer, makes one variety which failed to make the top grade.

Bear Naked: "Fruit and Nut"
(Oats, honey, canola oil, almonds, raisins, sweetened dried cranberries, coconut, walnuts, pecans, maple syrup, sesame seeds, etc.)
~A classic, clean-tasting old-school granola that's not too sweet or extreme in any way. Excellent balance. No negatives, just not very interesting.

Eli Zabar: "E.A.T. Granola"
(Rolled oats, bran, sliced almonds, pecans, raisins, honey, canola oil, treasury bonds, etc.)
~Lacks flavor and warmth, especially in the finish, and the dark-hued cereal is surprisingly short on roasted grain flavor. This, the most expensive granola, was favored by no one.

Udi's: "Nuggets"
(Granola chunks with cashews, almonds, and sunflower seeds, etc.)
~Nice aroma of quality wildflower honey, but a bit dull. One taster really disliked it, comparing it to "a stale vegan monstrosity cookie from a health food store."

Galaxy Granola: "Not Sweet Vanilla"
(Organic Whole Grain Rolled Oats, Organic Crisp Brown Rice, Organic Whole Rolled Spelt Flakes, Organic Whole Rolled Barley Flakes, Apples, Pear Juice Concentrate, Organic Oat Bran, Vanilla Extract, Soy Milk Powder, etc.)
~Good balance, but a vaguely prim, spelt-y vibe.

Galaxy Granola: "Vanilla Almond Munch"
(Organic whole grain rolled oats, organic crisp brown rice, organic whole rolled spelt flakes, organic whole rolled barley flakes, apples, whole natural almonds, wildflower honey, organic dehydrated cane juice, organic blackstrap molasses, organic oat bran, vanilla extract, all natural almond flavoring, soy milk powder, etc.)
~Overpowering marzipan flavor and aroma, like Italian Christmas granola from some alternative universe. We loved the high quality little almonds.

Trader Joe's: "Pecan Praline granola"
~Raisiny, simple, little grain flavor, hard yet uncrunchy.

Note: everything's relative. The following are actually pretty good, but couldn't compare to some of the more extraordinary products. In fact, while "The Baker" was unanimously voted down, two of our panelists had long deemed them their favorite producer.

Chappaqua Crunch: "Original"
(Organic rolled oats, roasted almonds, raisins, evaporated cane juice, sunflower seeds, canola oil, maple syrup, honey & spices)
~Terrific quality raisins, but the cereal's dull and rather chalky/dusty

Chappaqua Crunch: "Blueberries & Bananas"
(Organic rolled oats, evaporated cane juice, maple syrup, honey, puffed millet, puffed rice, freeze-dried bananas, freeze-dried wild blueberries, canola oil & spices)
~Again, dull, chalky, and we really disliked the perfumed-up banana chips.

Dorset Cereals: "Fruit, Nut, and Fiber"
(Toasted and malted wheat flakes, Chilean flame raisins, toasted and malted oat flakes, dates, sunflower seeds, toasted coconut, dried apricots, roasted hazelnuts)
~Dull and austere ("When I get hypertension, this is the sort of thing my doctor makes me eat," said one taster)

Raspberry Fields Forever: "Raspberry Granola"
(Organic rolled oats, crisp rice, organic flax seeds, sunflower seeds, organic coconut, whole dried raspberries, walnuts, clover honey, unbleached flour, evaporated cane juice, canola oil, cinnamon and vanilla)
~The group agreed that this tasted like weirdly soggy hippy pie crust made with marshmallows and cod oil. Not that anyone's actually ever tasted such a thing, of course.

The Baker: "Original Pecan"
(Rolled oats, pecans, walnuts, coconut, sunflower seeds, maple syrup, honey)
~Medicinal, scorched flavor.

The Baker: "Honey Oat with Almonds"
(Rolled oats, coconut, honey, maple syrup, Almonds, water, cinnamon)
~Overly sweet and undistinguished. Didn't love the chewy texture.


La Campagne (Milwaukee, WI)
Best chewy granola I've tried. Beautiful harmony, love the ultra-tart cranberries. Flavor like a great oatmeal cookie. Ironically, they also sell oatmeal cookies - which are merely ok!

Granola Jo (Oswego, NY)
(Rolled oats, honey, canola oil, cashews, raisins, almonds and walnuts.)
~Crumbly/chewy, and that's good because there's something about this granola's flavor, with its deep, dark, honeyed tones, that would be lost with a crunchier texture. You want to spend time slowly working on it, extracting and appreciating the wonderful balance.

Busy Bee Granola (Inverness, CA)
(Oats, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, raisins, dried cranberries, brown sugar, sugar, cinnamon, honey, etc.)
~Unappealing soggy/soft texture, a bit over-sweetened (and the chewiness concentrates that sweetness on one's palate), and an unsubtle wallop of cinnamon.

I unfortunately couldn't get my hands on any Lizi's Granola from UK.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sentences I Can't Believe I Actually Spoke

About fifteen years ago:
"Put the gun down, man. C'mon, just put it down!"

2 minutes later that same night:
"Excellency, we need to leave right now."

Sometime last summer (followed immediately by anguished remorse):
"...too many potatoes."

"Lady, if seeing lots of naked dudes makes you uptight, you probably shouldn't be wandering into the men's locker room..."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Kali/Palin: The Goddess of Chaos

Observing this latest coming of Sarah Palin, I can only watch mesmerized as she demonstrates her unprecedented talent for division. She's a better wedge than flag burning or gay marriage.

Liberals, of course, hate her, and a certain stripe of conservative would lay down lives for her, but she also drives some neocons and intellectual Republicans crazy (David Brooks said this weekend "She's a joke. I can't take her seriously"). She also turns off independents.

If the left could create a cylon perfectly designed to divide the right, she would look a lot like Sarah Palin (if, that is, the left could ever cease its own in-fighting long enough to actually build something). So, as the usual undulations of turmoil and dissension are effortlessly  conjured up in the wake of this Alaska-born avatar of Kali (goddess of chaos), the Dems, who did poorly in the last election, may be feeling a sense of relief. She can never win the presidency, and, meanwhile, she'll tidily fragment her own party. Just wind her up and let her go! Sure, Palin heats up all the divides, but the country couldn't possibly suffer more from heated division than it already has been for the past decade, right?. 

Wrong. You know what they say about people who ignore history?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Death and Magic

I hope you won't think me macabre for once again directing you to the Economist's obituary column. It's one of my favorite sources of great reading, fascinating information, and skillful writing.

This week, the dead guy is Alan Peters, a renowned British furniture maker. Whoever writes the column takes special pleasure in eulogizing lesser-known, almost banal-seeming people, and coaxing the reader to deem them as fascinating and noble as the great figures more often appearing on this page.

Note how your attention is captured and your mood's altered by the following paragraph:
"Smoothness was essential. He could not understand people who made drawers, or any other piece of furniture, with sharp edges. They had to be planed, rubbed with fine sandpaper, polished with paste wax, to a soft and glowing evenness. He himself could not keep his hands off wood. Reading a book, he would stroke the table beside it. Looking at a chair, his hands would be all over the rails and the struts. Picking up some stray offcut, he would begin to smile. Wood, like a warm and living thing, had to be respected and loved."
I love to dissect evocative, transportive passages like this and pinpoint the word choices underpinning the magic. Take a look for yourself; I'll wait!

It's "begin to smile". There's no reason, per se, for the construction. "He would smile" would have been far more economical, and express the gist of the point. But the rhythm, the elegantly flipped direction of narrative motion, the carefully placed bit of indulgence by an otherwise succinct writer all create an effect. Most of all, there's such emotional intimacy conjured up from the image of Rose languidly beginning to smile! We are suddenly witnesses to a dynamic, living scene rather than a flat portrait.

We come away feeling that we've shared a subtle, secret truth - one which is, ironically, mere whimsical conjecture on the writer's part. A lie! But as Werner Herzog often says, sometimes only lying can convey the greatest truth.

Lies or no, tiny decisions like this, and the care behind them, are what invest writing - or any other creative pursuit - with magic.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Repeating Lessons

"We grow through investigation, and to investigate we need experience. We tend to repeat what we have not understood." -- Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, from "I Am That"

By the way,
Buddhists love the movie Groundhog Day.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Damn Lies Via Statistics

Statistics don't have to lie. Merely reporting on statistics offers more than enough prospects for lying - or, at least, spinning a story to the reporter's preconceived bias. It's just a matter of choosing one end or the other of the telescope to view through.

Consider, for example, a story from today's Politico titled "237 millionaires in Congress." The scandalized writer notes that
"Two-hundred-and-thirty-seven members of Congress are millionaires. That’s 44 percent of the body – compared to about 1 percent of Americans overall."
This might strike you as a telling bit of news. You may even snort derisively at the comparison to "Americans overall", if you see the world as the reporter does.

But if you'll think about it, the real story here is that in an era where a kid five years out of law school pulls in $250K/year, where a million bucks buys no better than a studio apartment in a marginal Manhattan nabe, and where a modestly successful small businessman can easily be worth well over $1M, it's remarkable that over 50% of Congressmen - who've attained the very height of power and achievement - are
not millionaires. More than half of Congress can't afford a decent two bedroom NYC apartment?!?

Always try flipping the telescope when a journalist tries to make a point via statistics!

My Big Secret

I actually have surprisingly low tolerance for hot spicy food.

But I would never patronize any restaurant that tones down dishes to my tolerance level!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mainstream Media Timidness

The ever insightful (and hilarious) Fake Steve Jobs blog has done a great job of pinpointing the self-inflicted wound hastening the decline of mainstream media. Here's the money quote:
"As for the newspapers: Faced with their own demise, fearful of losing even more advertising, newspapers have made the huge mistake of becoming ever more timid, more cautious, more in bed with the companies they cover.

"It's the exact opposite of what they should be doing. The truth is, if newspapers want to survive they should go back to doing what they started out doing -- muckraking, stirring the shit, calling bullshit."
Read the entry for an egregious example.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Trauma on the Upper East Side

So I walk into Eli Zabar's store at Third Avenue and 80th Street, where I spot lots of well-chosen, lesser-known brands seldom seen all together in the same store. Nice!

I buy a small bag of granola, a bottle of Honest Tea, and a tiny takeout container I've filled with a few errant tidbits from the salad bar - a couple pieces of broccoli, a small wedge of sweet potato, and a barbecued chicken leg.

The cashier adds it all up and announces a total of $25. I freeze for a moment, dumbfounded, and ask her to repeat the number. She does. Struggling  to control my trembling hands, I can't seem to fish the bills from my wallet. I ask the cashier to be patient, as I'm in shock. She doesn't even grin. 

I'm reminded once again that Manhattan is not a place for someone who's sold off a measly one single company to a major corporation.

The chicken leg (barbecued) was surprisingly good, though...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

SIGA: The Time is Now

I first tipped you to SIGA, a tiny pharmaceutical company, in June, 2008, when its stock price was $2.92. After hitting a high of $8.88 a couple months ago, it's recently been in a fade, currently down to $6.20. Investors are awaiting announcement of a government contract to buy a billion dollars or so worth of its smallpox medicine, ST-246, which seems to work flawlessly and with no side effects. The contract was due to be announced "as soon as September", and investors are currently in a froth, because - surprise! - the governmental bureaucracy has acted less than promptly. So it's a great bargain right now. And there are indications that the announcement will come in the next week.

Also...there may also be announcement of an enormous grant to fund development of
SIGA's broad spectrum anti-viral.

Also...we haven't heard much news for a while about SIGA's very promising drug for dengue fever, feared to be the next big pandemic. We're due for a report.

Also...while the government can buy ST-246 (the smallpox drug) on a fast-track basis, prior to FDA approval, that approval is due sometime in 2010 - at which point any country, company, or individual concerned with bioterrorism can (and likely will) order the drug.

Also...the drug has a shelf life of two years. So this is an annuity.

But back to that imminent contract. SIGA has a market cap of 240M, and 38M shares outstanding. A $1B contract will explode this stock. And while there are no sure things in this life - you can't even be sure you'll live to finish reading this sentence - I've been following this company extremely closely for four years, and I can tell you it's as close to certain as investing and life can get*. The contract may not be announced this week, but it will in a few weeks at the latest.

So if you buy a few hundred dollars worth of SIGA on Monday (hurry up, it won't stay this low for long!), you'll have yourself a merry little Christmas indeed. Sell at $15, because the price will drift down after the pop, as beleaguered long term investors take profit. Or else hold on for a full year to enjoy long term capital gain taxation on your profit...and benefit from the cascade of good news expected for this company. SIGA will almost certainly be acquired by big pharma in a year or two, but it won't come cheap (Ronald Pereleman is a major investor). I'm predicting $30-40.

Warning: my next posting on SIGA will be a gloat....

* - a few quick data points among many: the funds are already allocated, the contract was offered via competitive RFP but ST-246 is the only possible contender, and SIGA has been working closely with (and been funded by) the relevant agency, BARDA, for years, and its CEO is on the board of the related National Biodefense Science Board. Furthermore, SIGA has been massively upgrading security at their facility (a requirement of the RFP), and a few weeks ago put out a hiring notice for a "experienced project manager for a federally funded procurement contract".

Counter-Insurgency Warfare Tipping Point

In deciding whether to commit a large number of troops to Afghanistan, President Obama must weigh two prospects. The first is that the Army is correct in insisting that it's learned to fight counter-insurgencies, and that it can rebuild Afghanistan, shape public opinion there, and make things work out smoothly if it just has 40,000 more troops. The second prospect is that this is mere hubris, and no quantity of troops can "fix" Afghanistan.

To be sure, when the military started its adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, it knew embarrassingly little about counterinsurgencies. Hence all the failure and carnage. But a new crop of military planners, oriented less toward shock-and-awe and more toward psychological and political subtleties, has moved into power. This post-Petraeus generation believes it's figured out how to put Humpty back together again once he's been shattered by our copious firepower (for more on this, listen to a fascinating
interview with Washington Post reporter Greg Jaffe on Fresh Air, or read his book, "The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army").

I'm against the surge, but not because I doubt that the Army has "hacked" counterinsurgency warfare. The thing is, if it has, I don't want to know it. And I don't want the generals to know it. And I don't want the world to know it. Why? Because I don't want the Huckabee administration or the Palin administration (and others going forward) to have nation-building in its pocket as a proven viable option. Much as I wish we'd never exploded those atomic bombs, this is a Pandora's Box that should remain shut for as long as possible. Because if we can make this sort of thing work, we will see a resurrection of Neo-Conservatism, with its American exceptionalism and kookie utopian meddling...and it will be the death of us.

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