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Monday, December 01, 2008

Remembering Tanta

by Calculated Risk on 12/01/2008 04:50:00 PM

If she was here, Tanta would be stomping her foot about now and saying "enough". Well, sorry T ...

Here are a few of the comments from the earlier thread, some emails (including an old email from Tanta), and more.

  • From reader sdtfs:
    She will always be Tanta to me, just as Mark Twain and George Orwell are real, and not merely pseudonyms of Samuel Clemens and Eric Blair. She thought she was just another anonymous pen on the internet, but no one with her talent at writing and complete honesty could be a shallow pale ghost; she was as alive to me as my other literary heroes.

    Funny, intelligent, and compassionate, how could you not like her? I don’t know if we could ever be friends, (she awed me so much with her knowledge and wit), but in a very real sense I adored her. I am so thankful for the writings she left behind and yet feel cheated, as we might feel cheated by only having the Great Pyramids of Egypt left behind and none of the other Seven Wonders of the World to gaze upon.

    Her blog posts were carefully crafted masterpieces and worthy of attention, but her follow up answers to questions really showed her acumen. I hesitate to say it, but her real abilities showed up best in response to people who annoyed her by their persistent inability to argue the facts and clung to their prejudices or misbehaved. She could skewer a commenter who was misrepresenting himself and take him apart point by point in the blink of an eye, or issue a perfectly balanced warning to someone who was clumsily interrupting her conversation with us, her readers. Most of us have thought of the perfect thing to say an hour, or a day after the conversation is long dead, but on-line, she had immediate and total command of her wit and the conversation.

    And really, if she had a blind spot, it was she had no idea of the tremendous impact she had on her readers. Any casual mention of her likes and dislikes was seared into my memory, Van Morrison? Check. Jackson Browne? Check. ABBA? Check. “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”? Check. Marianne Moore? Check. Ann Taylor Stores? Ha! For someone who engaged in as many and extended wide-ranging conversations with us all as she did, how could we not know her?

    I didn’t even care about mortgages when I stumbled across her writing, and to tell you the truth, the only reason I care now was because it gave me a chance to read her writing. Some might have kidded about the length of her posts, in part because she was so thorough, but there are still a large number of us who thought them, if not too short (because she was always complete), at least over too soon. She could have written about anything and I would have read it. But she was careful to stay in the areas where she felt her expertise was needed.

    I felt proud whenever I managed to catch one of her literary allusions and only wish that she could know how much we appreciated them,…Just as I wish that her friends and family could know how much she meant to us, her internet pen pals.
  • ADDED: From the WSJ: Influential Economics Blogger Tanta Has Died
    The econoblogosphere has lost one of its most influential voices, as the news emerged that Calculated Risk blogger Doris Dungey, better known as Tanta, passed away from ovarian cancer on Sunday.

    Started in 2005, Calculated Risk emerged as one of the smartest and most influential blogs on the mortgage meltdown and resulting financial crisis. As one of its two main bloggers, Tanta, a former mortgage banker, helped explain the crisis in a smart, accessible way that made her posts a must-read for anyone looking for a deeper understanding on the situation. Her expert analysis and trademark wit elevated the discourse.
  • A beautiful post from Alex Blumberg at NPR: On The Loss Of Tanta

  • A Mortgage Pig movie from Bacon Dreamz: Spring Piggy. Note: 1.4 mb excel file, hit CTRL PgDn to automate.

    Bacon Dreamz wrote:
    For some reason we liked to tease each other about our eating habits, which started when I had a bout of food poisoning and she told me I should eat peanut butter and banana sandwiches to get better even though they sound gross, to which I replied that I had eaten them ever since I was a little boy and I liked them and for that matter I also liked "ants on a log," and then she informed me that she could not abide celery, and so my unholy love of celery became a running joke between us and on and on it went . . . )

    This my favorite [Excel Movie] because Tanta told me that when she watched it her "wrinkled reptilian snout was presiding over a blazing smile".
  • An email from Tanta to Brian in early 2007:
    One More Thing For Me To Forget To Do

    So some helpful relative was visiting over President's Day weekend, and decided to set up a Yahoo! account for me. I figured out how to log into it this morning.

    It's not, you know, that I'm really stupid. About a year ago my PC died a miserable death caused mostly by a spyware infestation. I could have gotten over that but the hard drive seized up at some point in the process of reading the backup discs and hey presto! it became a boat anchor. The process of buying a new one and getting it set up was complicated by the fact that at the same time I was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer and underwent long dangerous surgery. At some point in my morphine-laced moments of apparent consciousness, I begged my brother-in-law, the family IT expert, to set up the new PC he had just purchased on my behalf and make it invasion proof. For the love of god, etc. He took me at my word--it's amazing how seriously people take you when you are, after all, on what might be a death-bed.

    So I got a lot better, got home, and found myself with a computer I could do very little with because all the security settings were at DEFCON 5 and all the ways to turn things off had been child-proofed, booby-trapped, and encrypted. You wouldn't believe what it took me just to get Yahoo! main page to display. And that was after I had quit with the opiates and was just munchin' Tylenol. I make bong jokes, you know, but I'm not actually a drug-user by preference. I don't know if you're familiar with the term "chemo-brain," but it's quite a real phenomenon. It's not fun-stoned, it's just stupid-stoned. Trying to turn down the stereo with your coffee cup while the remote is in the microwave warming up kind of stupid. But it doesn't seem to affect long-term memory, so you can never forget what ignorant thing you just did.

    Anyway, Brian, as I once explained to our dear CR, I have been really hesitant to email people, for what may sound like insane reasons, but fighting cancer can make you a little nutty. You must understand that some day, quite possibly sooner than you'd expect, you will just not get an answer from an email to me, and that might mean I'm in the hospital, it might mean I'm in the hospice, and it might mean that God is my mail drop from now on. (It could, actually, mean I'm vacationing in Aruba , but I could warn you about that.) I have no clear idea why, but the way this strikes me is that I should be careful about inviting perfectly nice people into my personal little dilemmas, without first warning them. So be warned: the reason that I have a lot of "spare time" to play on the internet is that there are lots of days I don't have the strength to get off the chair and do something more exciting. If you wish--kind person that you are--to invite me to feel as if I am part of a fun conversation with grownups, I am very grateful. The reason that I'm so paranoid about my personal email address getting out is really just that at some sense once it gets too "personal," the pleasure of the online persona--Tanta who is always amused by this stuff but not particularly willing to suffer fools gladly--becomes overlaid with the real woman behind the curtain, who has days when nothing, really, is very funny. As I said, that might sound nuts, but next time I get a deadly disease I'll know better. (You do never know, you know. It's really truly possible that I could lick this cancer thing and end up getting old enough to get heart disease or something. If so, watch out! I'll have my jokes ready! Amateurs to the back of the line!) Anyway, please don't forward this message to anyone. Feel free to cut out the business parts, if you want, but let's pretend that no one but CR knows how to email me, even though Brian now does and I'm happy to have him respond.

    So anyway, I now have two email accounts to remember to check periodically. At least CR has my real one, so he can call me on that phone if I forget about the Yahoo! one (I would never dream of leaving off that exclamation point!). Right at the moment I'm off the drugs that don't allow coffee to be drunk, so it shouldn't be a problem. If I go back on Cipro, though, expect a startling amount of stupidity from an otherwise apparently bright person. I was just looking yesterday at a spreadsheet I tried to put together at the end of December, and I confess the only reason that one of the formulas made me laugh was because no one else saw it. I'd have about fainted from embarrassment if anyone who got through third grade math had seen that. I'm talkin' plus and minus (why is this value in brackets?) problems here. I mentioned it to a friend who is still, actually, a mortgage trader, and she said that there might be some people in the whole loan market who are on chemo. Or should be. Their numbers look like mine sometimes and their remotes are in the microwave. Let's hope they've got a good excuse for it like I do.

    She also mentioned that she's seeing deal stips asking for field review appraisals on loans that are six months old. Six months ago people would have done an AVM on the sample (for ten bucks a pop or something) and called it due diligence. Field reviews are nearly as expensive and time-consuming as full original appraisals, and if someone is spending that kind of money on due diligence, kiss those conduit spreads goodbye. Kiss them goodbye anyway if those field review appraisers find out too much. Friend also said that three loans fell out of the deal because two appraisals came back showing the "owner occupied principal residence" to be vacant and one "completed new construction loan" came back with a photo attached of the construction dumpster parked in the unpaved driveway. I don't, actually, scare easily--been in the mortgage biz too long for that--but we are witnessing the information-catching-up-with-representations problem unwind in a really, really ugly way. I mean from this morning's trade to this afternoon's call from the QC department saying, "Hi! It's Cindy. You didn't sell those loans yet, did you? You did? Oh. I see." The absolute last thing I'd want to be doing right now is talking to someone on a recorded line about a bunch of wholesale loans I'd like to sell. I would certainly not be doing business with anyone I hadn't been doing business with for years on end. Taking a bid right now from some junk dealer I don't know and who will not be understanding about any subsequent "issues" with the due diligence is not a place I'd want to go. So then when people tell me you can't even get RFC to take your trade? Yikes, yikes, more yikes. I've done business with RFC for a hundred years. I cannot imagine throwing myself on the mercy of the only bid left, not when all of a sudden I don't even know how good my loans are right now. It isn't a good market for anyone with a conscience, and I doubt anyone on the buy side is assuming that anyone on the sell side has a conscience. Not with the deal stips we're seeing. If I sound too pissed off sometimes, it's because I want to go back to the days when I could cheerfully squeeze another tick out of my dealers because I had quality loans, I knew those loans, and I'd dare anybody to offer me a trash bid. From what I hear from those still gainfully employed doing that, it's come down to begging somebody to take your loans off your hands at a reasonable loss, and nobody knowing how "reasonable" it is.

    So, anyway, I'm watching outfits like AHM because I do think the bottom is or has fallen out of certain whole-loan trades and I don't know where these outfits are going to put their production. I saw some casual email not long ago (forwarded to me "illegally") by some joker at one of the REITs that talked about the "exit strategy" for a group of loans. Oh, glory, the so-called mortgage lenders are talking like VC wannabees. Secure your wallet. T
  • From lama:
    I spent some time this morning reading some of Tanta's old posts and was laughing through the tears. I especially had fun with her writings in the comments. I don't think I'm the only one doing that this morning.

    [To her family]:It was my great pleasure to be both entertained and humbled by Tanta's wit and knowledge these last few years. We also traded personal emails where her personal kindness was evident. My sympathies to you. She will also be missed by the many strangers who knew her.
  • From Susan G.
    To have the gift of words is precious and rare; add to that the knowledge and the gift becomes priceless.

    As with others from our past, may her written word circle this globe, to be reread often and shared by millions.

    I look forward to reading her collective works.
  • From the OTS. Note we received emails from people at the Fed, OTS, FDIC, SEC and more thanking us (Tanta especially) for various posts:
    Tanta was witty, incisive, and a breath of fresh air that this federal mortgage regulator welcomed. She will be missed.
  • Comrade Yossarian:
    Honestly, I felt like I knew her. My god, this is awful... I feel for her family and 'real time' friends. I'm speechless, just speechless..
  • John Stark:
    She enlightened me. She made me laugh. Her writing expressed a powerful spirit, a powerful mind. Like all the great ones, she can't be replaced--only missed and mourned.
  • Dirk:
    Extremely sad news, she was simply the best and shall live on in the memory of everyone who has ever visited here. So increadibly sad to go so soon. Sweet dreams princess of mortgages, may you dwell with the angels for ever more.
  • An old Tanta comment:
    mp, I've only just had hair again since about March, so I'm not yet ready to remove any of it, even for a good cause. (It's getting so long it's almost not even butch anymore.) Could I just send you some toenail clippings instead?

    My favorite summertime recipe:

    Bourbon Slurpee

    Pour 2 cups boiling water and 4 tea bags into large bowl; steep 5 min. Remove teabags and stir in 2 cups sugar, 7 cups cold water, 2 cups bourbon, 2 6-oz cans frozen limeade concentrate and 1 6-oz can frozen lemonade concentrate. Pour into one or more plastic containers and freeze. I'm told it keeps for a long time.

    There are two ways to serve this. One: spoon into crystal julep glasses, garnish with a sprig of mint, and serve with a dessert spoon. Two: spoon into a clean mason jar, stick a long straw into it, and slurp your way into oblivion. I prefer the latter, but some of you may have more couth than I.
    Tanta | 07.08.07 - 1:24 pm | #
  • Plantagenet:
    I really feel for Tanta's family. I hope that they are reading now, for if so, they may gain some solace witnessing the wave of mutual grief that is resonating through cyberspace. My keyboard is one of hundreds, soon to be thousands, moistened by tears as we type.

    Tanta was a titanic figure, larger than life. Not because of her intellect, or her wit, though those were fantastic. I was most impressed with her integrity in a financial world where that quality seemed abandoned. My cynical tendencies will be forever tempered by the knowledge, gained through Tanta's example, that there remain people with honesty, altruism, and high standards all at once. All that, and she handled her final affliction with incredible poise and grace.

    Tanta, we will miss you dearly.
    A comment from Tanta in 2006 (via Mock Turtle):
    Hey, CR. I hope I find you well.

    I was a regular commenter on your wonderful site until late last year, after which I kinda disappeared without saying goodbye, which is rude. I apologize. Fact is, I got diagnosed with ovarian cancer and I have been in the process of working myself out of "cancer patient" status and into "cancer survivor" status. It's a long and drug-filled road, and I have surgical scars that look like some of your more interesting graphs. However, I'm getting more and more able to sit up at a desk and do non-essential things like surf the web and revisit some old favorites, so here I am. I sure hope you've been doing better than I have.

    Back to business: the mortgage insurers can raise rates all day long and it won't do dog for them or anyone else. The whole problem is, precisely, that the "piggyback" mortgage was designed to get around MI. As long as there are second-lien lenders willing to price them cheaper than MI--and perhaps we're seeing the beginning of the end of that--the MIs just lose business entirely in a credit bubble, since they've been burned before and haven't been willing to follow the pricing down to ruin again. They remember the early 90s better than the regulators do (or did, maybe).

    The real point is they have two dogs in this fight: they have lost market share because competitors (second lien and 100% lenders) have been willing to underprice risk, and they are at risk for the book of business they do have because increasing foreclosures and bubble-deflating in their market areas drag down values on insured as well as uninsured collateral. A lot of lenders and RE brokers have been dismissing the MIs for years now on the grounds that they're just crying over lost business, but in my unhumble opinion the MIs have been pretty good risk managers in an irrational market for a long time, meaning they're damned if they do and damned if they don't. The fact that their interest in all this isn't quite public-spirited altruism doesn't mean they aren't right. (If you remember, I've often made that argument about Fannie and Freddie.)

    As I have been saying for years now, the reports from the MI companies ought to scare the crap out of Alt-A RMBS holders, but it never seems to. If the sector of the industry whose whole function is to underwrite default risk won't touch that stuff at the (then) current market price, what makes anyone think the risk is adequately managed by a structured security? What are we going to do here, "make it up on volume"? (Inside joke: mortgage lenders always think they can keep slicing off risk premiums and "make it up on volume.")

    The chickens are coming home to roost. The effects will not be pretty, but I have to admit that both personal and professional circumstances are conspiring to make me say: I TOLD YOU SO! I TOLD YOU SO! I SO TOLD YOU SO!

    There. I think I got that out of my system. Nice to be back, CR.
    Tanta | 08.19.06 - 6:39 am | #
    And over 1000 very nice comments here.