Dave Collum: 2019 Year in Review (Part 1)
Dave Collum: 2019 Year in Review (Part 1) by Adam Taggart for Peak Prosperity
If it happened this year & mattered, it’s covered in here
Every year, friend-of-the-site David Collum writes a detailed “Year in Review” synopsis full of keen perspective and plenty of wit. This year’s is no exception. As with past years, he has graciously selected PeakProsperity.com as the site where it will be published in full. It’s quite longer than our usual posts, but worth the time to read in full. A downloadable pdf of the full article is available here, for those who prefer to do their power-reading offline. — cheers, Adam
David B. Collum
Betty R. Miller Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology – Cornell University
Email: [email protected] – Twitter: @DavidBCollum
“I hope David comes to his senses.”
~ Nassim Taleb (@nntaleb), best-selling author and Professor at NYU
It is that time of year again when I sit down and, in a frenzied stream of subconsciousness, bang out my view of the world. It’s my 11th chronicling of human folly and anthropogenic global idiocy (AGI).1 It’s like when Forest Gump jogs: I start writing, go on too long, and then just stop. Forty years of writing about organic chemistry has taught me that you do not understand something till you finish writing about it. Constrained by time—you can’t write an annual synopsis in May—I have made sure to sacrifice quality not length.
“Huge fan. Please continue to remain above the din.”
~ Guy Adami (@GuyAdami), trader and commentator on CNBC’s Fast Money
*I am the din, Guy.
Figure 1. An original by Candace E. Cornell (my wife) dedicated to Jeff Macke (my Bud and the Banksy of Wall Street).
There was a mad chemist named Dave
His Year In Review is the rave
With Epstein and Powell
And repos most foul
His comments are sure to be grave.
The writeup is a little different this year; there are fewer topics, especially on the finance side. Despite all the reading, sorting, and culling, I have little to add about Trump, impeachments, beltway politics, and swaths of the finance world. Our debts, pensions, and valuations were beyond repair last December; they have only gotten worse. The markets have been muffin-topping for too long; I am waiting for change and tired of being the Gail Dudek of the modern era. I also fought the Balrog way more than usual on a few topics just to get thumbless grasps. That pain is here for all to see.
For the newcomers, I am a non-Easter Worshipping, openly white male who vaguely remembers being heterosexual. The first section is my first-ever authorized autobiography. This is for parents who think their kids are incorrigible idiots; that won’t change, but your kids might become functional. The Table of Contents follows, allowing you to cherry pick topics.
The question that I am always asked on podcasts is how does a chemist end up writing about economics and politics and why? With that said, here are some low- and high-water marks en route to the present. Think of it as my college essay, including the omnipresent dead grandparent that seems to be irresistible to high school seniors looking for a tear jerker. It’s tangential and vaguely inappropriate but free and worth every penny.
I’ve always had extracurricular stuff, been a little nuts, and located somewhere on the humor spectrum. There were plenty of sports and a smattering of school. The rest was “sex and drugs and rock and roll.” I was getting shitfaced and hitch hiking around town at 12, smoking pot at 14, and dropping acid by 15. I took a friend’s college boards to get him a Texas football scholarship with better scores than on my own. By 12th grade the drugs were in the rearview mirror. Having bagged a 3.4 GPA it was off to Cornell. Really? You can get into Cornell with a 3.4 GPA? In a word, no. Not even close. Rumors of being 1/1024th native American on my paternal grandmother’s side remain undocumented. I was a gymnast at Cornell but, having grown to a towering 6 feet, no Nike endorsements appeared. (Relatively speaking, I sucked.) The admissions mystery resolved itself decades later from my grandfather’s obituary revealing he was Vice Chancellor of the Board of Regents of New York, President of Cornell’s National Alumni Association, and member of the Cornell Council. You think that might have helped, eh? Don’t need bribes with that dossier.
A crash course in maturation—12 hours a day, 7 days a week in the library—got me another 3.4 GPA and a BS in biology. Survival skills? You betcha. Genius? Not a chance. The path, however, was tortuous. Following a one semester non-majors sophomore organic chemistry course—Yup: pre-med—I went straight into a second semester graduate-level organic chemistry course. There were a few bumps—some really big ones actually—but I survived. Taking physical chemistry for laughs but with no calculus and surrounded by engineers was problematic too. My only F on a test at Cornell was a physical chemistry test on “kinetics”, which I basically blew off being too busy trying to not flunk that organic grad course.
Recognizing that my concentration in genetics was leading me into a dying field, I used electives to take more graduate-level organic chemistry courses and then headed off to the Big Apple to study organic chemistry at Columbia. Their peachy idea was to make me take graduate level quantum mechanics—the real stuff with Bessel functions, second-order perturbation theory, and unrecognizable symbols. This time, lacking calculus transcended problematic to third-trimester fugly. An 8 on a test and a totally unearned D foreshadowed greatness. (They had to fake a pass on the now-defunct German test too.) After dodging expulsion, in cahoots with another second-year grad and brand-new assistant professor, I synthesized a molecule that was sufficiently ginormous and complex to catch the world’s attention. After completing my second year of graduate school—two friggin’ years—I was on the job market. WTF? Unsolicited interviews from Cornell and Cal Tech were particularly heady stuff for a total meatloaf. One thing was clear: I was the most overrated graduate student in the 1,000-year history of graduate education. I got my PhD in a little over two and a half years, skipped the usual two-year post-doc, and returned to Cornell at the ripe old age of 25 as the most unprepared assistant professor in history. (It was awkward running into my freshman chemistry TA—the one from whom I earned a C+— trying to finish his degree.)
Undeterred by my lack of prowess in math (polymathless) or kinetics, and never having studied anything with a metal in it, I set out to become….wait for it…an organometallic kineticist. I thought it would be fun. With considerable pride I am now a reasonably prominent organometallic kineticist, although I still can’t count to 21 without removing my shoes and dropping trow. (That joke caught me some serious flak at a meeting from angry prototypes of social justice warriors.)
As an assistant professor, I was also head gymnastics coach for two years and casual gymnast for four. I took up Taekwondo, eventually attaining the rank of 3rd dan (3rd degree black belt). The TKD team members and I loved the symbolism-rich beatings on each other. It was probably my happiest decade. After some health issues, a subsequent back surgery, and a failed comeback, my next goal was to get fat as shit and way out of shape. I was a natural. I also am now a chair professor and was director of undergraduate and graduate studies, associate chair, and department chair for four years (four years longer than I should have been), prompting many to channel Scott McNealy and ask, “What were they thinking?” I have enough scars—chicks dig scars—to guarantee I will not be a dean of any flavor. All this time my wife’s chronic health problems called on me to do waaaay more child rearing of two boys than I had bargained for. I really don’t want to hear whining about how hard it is to balance personal and professional lives. It’s fiction. If your gonads are big enough, gravity keeps you grounded through the chaos.
So now you can see that writing about politics and economics as a chemist follows the pattern. I became a financially woke boomer and hunkered down. I will retire from chemistry at either 70 or 75, identify as a 20-year-old super model, and walk the runway for Victoria’s Secret.
This is satirical and comedic. Somebody has to get hurt. Today it may be your turn.
If you are a douche bag who cannot take a joke, remember: nobody is making you read this.
Footnotes appear as superscripts with hyperlinks in the Links section. The whole beast can be downloaded as a single PDF here or viewed in parts via the hot-linked contents as follows:
- About the Author–A Brief Autobiography
- Creation of the Year in Review
- My Personal Year
- Almond-Eyed Aliens and Other Conspiracy Theories
- Modern Monetary Theory
- The Fed and Repo-Madness
- Share Buybacks
- Climate Change
- Links In Part 1
- The Jeffrey Epstein Affair
- Thoughts on College
- Political Correctness–Collegiate Division
- Political Correctness–Adult Division
- Political Correctness–Youth Division
- Political Correctness–Corporate Division
- Civil Liberties
- Links In Part 2
I read many blogs, but those I read religiously include mailings from Ron Griess’s The Chart Store, Jim Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, Bill Fleckenstein’s Daily Rap, Tony Greer’s daily TGMacro mailings, Grant Williams Things That Make You Go Hmmm, Automatic Earth, Jesse Felder’s blog, and selected podcasts from Grant Williams’ and Raoul Pal’s RealVisionTV. I am a huge supporter of Adam Taggart’s and Chris Martenson’s Peak Prosperity. And then there’s Zerohedge: you can love ‘em or hate ‘em, but I am a die-hard fan of Zerohedge.
“Maturing is realizing how many things don’t require your comment.”
The personalized chat board called Twitter is also amazing. For a chemist trying to snarf up wisdom outside my discipline, it is irreplaceable. Although you can follow anybody you want, it gets special when you get the double follow—you follow each other—because communication kicks up three notches. You both see each other’s Tweets, and you can direct message (chat privately). My double access to such luminaries increased in 2019 to include Bass, Hussman, Adami, Bianco, the Pomboys, McClellan, Mish, Achuthan, Hemke, Roche, and Chanos. And then there are those “holy shit” moments that are Twitter Trophy Catches:
The challenge posed by Twitter, however, is that you progress from being highly connected to hyper connected, which mutates you from a reader to a responder. I haven’t fully adapted because I’m having too much fun. Customized “lists” become imperative. Of course, there’s no shortage of people to fill your echo chamber and trolls to question your parentage.
“It was either write or die for me.”
~ Michael Hastings, killed while researching corruption in the FBI
I am also asked how and why I write this beast? I wake at around 7:00 AM, make The Boss breakfast, read and open email, go to work, and camp in front of my computer doing my job and my “extracurriculars.” I am in front of a computer for 18 waking hours day, which leaves plenty of time for both work and screwing off. The weekends are no different. All year I throw notes, quotes, and links into word files kept open on all computers and drag graphics into folders. By October I have amassed up to 1500 graphics and approximately 500-600 pages that look like this:
I sort in October, write in November, and edit in December. (During crunch time it invades my work day.) By the end of November I am in the Valley of Death having amassed >120 pages of poorly written, unedited, unreferenced, and humorless text unsupported with graphics. That is my Epstein moment, but I edit my way out.
“The brightest people I have met share a superpower that would serve investors well—the ability to make inherently complex things simple and understandable.”
~ Jim O’Shaunghnessy (@jposhaughnessy), Founder, Chairman & Co-Chief Investment Officer, OSAM LLC
Why bother is a relatively subtle question that I have to answer for myself every October. Many let news events, pithy quotes, world-class wise cracks, deep thoughts, flashes of wisdom, and random musings pass them by into the void of lost memories. I try to capture and make sense of them. This is true even for the parts that reside on the cutting room floor mercifully hidden from the reader.
“I know. You get it, but let me write it anyway. I need the catharsis.”
~ Grant Williams (@ttmygh), hedge fund manager, blogger, and founder of RealVisionTV
“The only thing nearly as enlightening as reading David Collum’s epic Year in Review is listening to him and Chris Martenson riff about its highlights. Strap in, grab some eggnog, and listen to this year’s recap.”
~ Seeking Alpha (@SeekingAlpha), finance blog
“You have a great voice—a combination of Andy Rooney and Albert Brooks.”
~ Mark Spiegel (@mrkbspiegel), Stanphyl Capital and “wiseguy”
I did a lot of interviews and podcasts this year, all unscripted. I’ve concluded that there is almost no topic for which I cannot muster an opinion. A record-setting seven chats with Chris Irons at Quoth the Raven (QTR) included one that lit off some fireworks (below).1–7 (It is said that those who curse are “more authentic.” Chris and I are the Real McCoys.) Phil Kennedy orchestrated three multi-participant interviews with gold bugs Dave Kranzler of Investment Research Dynamics, Bill Murphy of GATA, Rob Kirby of Kirby Analytics, Peter Hug, Mises Institute head Jeff Deist, and Bitcoin hodler Trace Mayer.8,9 A Zach Abraham interview (KYRRadio) was a planned prelude to a debate with David Andolfatto of the Saint Louis Fed that broke off at the last minute.10 (I suspect David finally realized he doesn’t share my views of the Fed.)