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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sad News: Tanta Passes Away

by Calculated Risk on 11/30/2008 09:41:00 PM

UPDATE Dec 15, 2008: Please see Tanta: In Memoriam for photos, remembrances, links to Tanta's writing, Tanta's charities and stories about her.

Tanta 2004
My dear friend and co-blogger Doris “Tanta” Dungey passed away early this morning. I would like to express my deepest condolences to her family and friends.

Photo: Tanta in 2004 (from her sister Cathy).
From David Streitfeld at the NY Times: Doris Dungey, Prescient Finance Blogger, Dies at 47
The blogger Tanta, an influential voice on the mortgage collapse, died Sunday morning in Columbus, Ohio.

Tanta, who wrote for Calculated Risk, a finance and economics blog, was a pseudonym for Doris Dungey, 47, who until recently had lived in Upper Marlboro, Md. The cause of death was ovarian cancer, her sister, Cathy Stickelmaier, said.
Tanta used her extensive knowledge of the loan industry to comment, castigate and above all instruct. Her fans ranged from the Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times who cited her in his blog, to analysts at the Federal Reserve, who cited her in a paper on “Understanding the Securitization of Subprime Mortgage Credit.”

She wrote under a pseudonym because she hoped some day to go back to work in the mortgage industry, and the increasing renown of Tanta in that world might have precluded that. Tanta was Ms. Dungey’s longtime family nickname, Ms. Stickelmaier said.
From CR to Tanta’s many readers, fans and internet friends: Tanta enjoyed writing for you, chatting with many of you in the comments, and corresponding with you via email. She told me several times over the last few months how much she enjoyed discussing current events with you.

Tanta worked as a mortgage banker for 20 years, and we started chatting in early 2005 about the housing bubble and the changes in lending practices. In 2006, Tanta was diagnosed with late stage cancer, and she took an extended medical leave while undergoing treatment. At that time I approached her about writing for this blog, and she declined for a simple reason – her prognosis was grim and she didn’t expect to live very long. To her surprise, after aggressive treatment, her health started to improve and she accepted my invitation. When she chose an email address, it reflected her surprise: tanta_vive ... Tanta Lives!

Armed with a literary background and extensive knowledge of the mortgage industry, Tanta wrote about current events with deep insight and wit. Here is the introduction to one of her posts in 2006: Let Slip the Dogs of Hell
I still haven’t gotten over the fact that there’s a “capital management” group out there having named itself “Cerberus”. Those of you who were not asleep in Miss Buttkicker’s Intro to Western Civ will recognize Cerberus; the rest of you may have picked up the mythological fix from its reprise as “Fluffy” in the first Harry Potter novel. Wherever you get your culture, Cerberus is the three-headed dog who guards the gates of Hell. It takes three heads to do that of course, because it’s never clear, in theology or finance, whether the idea is to keep the righteous from falling into the pit or the demons from escaping out of it (the third head is busy meeting with the regulators).
Tanta wrote a number of posts detailing the inner workings of the mortgage industry. These posts covered a wide range of topics, from mortgage servicing, to everything you want to know about mortgage backed securities (MBS), to reverse mortgages. She called these posts “The Compleat UberNerd” and in typical fashion she noted:
An “UberNerd” is someone who is compelled to understand how things work in grim detail, even if the things in question are tedious in the extreme …”
Tanta liked to ferret out the details. She was inquisitive and had a passion for getting the story right. Sometimes she wouldn’t post for a few days, not because she wasn’t feeling well, but because she was reading through volumes of court rulings, or industry data, to get the facts correct. She respected her readers, and people noticed.

Felix Salmon at Condé Nast, wrote on Nov 7, 2007 wrote:
“Tanta is one of the best financial writers in the world, and explains complex ideas with wit and great clarity."
Paul Krugman at the NY Times complemented Tanta several times, recently writing:
“The great thing about this age of blogs is the way people who really know something about a subject can quickly weigh in, without being filtered through Authority.”
Even researchers at the Federal Reserve referenced Tanta’s work: From Adam Ashcraft and Til Schuermann: Understanding the Securitization of Subprime Mortgage Credit, credit on page 13:
Several point raised in this section were first raised in a 20 February 2007 post on the blog entitled “Mortgage Servicing for Ubernerds.”
Tanta was also extremely funny. She introduced the Muddled Metaphor Index (MMI) and Excel Art featuring the Mortgage Pig, and she was the originator of a number of phrases in use today, like “We’re all subprime now!”

This is a very sad day and I know many of you are in shock. Tanta was our teacher. She generously shared her knowledge with all of us. I doubt she knew how many lives she touched; her insights, spirit and passion lives on in her writings – and in all of you.

Tanta Vive!