Saturday, October 29, 2005

Greenspan's Legacy

As 'the Maestro' Alan Greenspan's tenure winds into its last leg and the excitement shifts to Bernanke, a introspection of Greenspan's achievements is in order. Very few news agencies have done so in a detailed and unbiased way. Most refer to Greenspan in mythical terms, the man who saved the US economy multiple times, the man who could do no wrong. So I thought a counterview was appropriate, and for that Forbes magazine is the place to be. To be fair to Alan, Forbes represents a group of supply-sides whose definition of a good Fed is no Fed.

James Grant's column is fairly critical of Greenspan's performance and record. Grant is a dollar-bear and gold-bull, in part because he thinks rising debts and poor fiscal policies do not bode well for any of the world's currencies (he does like Korean and South African currencies, but has in the past suggested dividend stocks in Korea instead - but this is not an investing post!)

Friday, October 28, 2005

Washington Stalling

I was truly excited at the start of Bush's new term as president. Here was a man who had a mandate, who talked about spending the "political capital" he had earned. Talked about reforming the fractured systems we endure, from a failing social security system to a obsolete education system.

Goals are great. But right now, Bush's second term's starting to look a lot like Clinton's. While the president's ethics have not been personally questioned, his aides and teammates are being battered. As I write this, Libby's joined the roster of injured players - soon after DeLay went down for questionable fund-raising. Karl Rove and Bill Frist look shakey. Harriet Miers withdraws her nomination. Bush's own approval ratings are sinking!

Is there hope for a new push forward? Don't count on it. Miers' fall is one of the worst things that could happen to our government, whether you are Republican or Democrat. Her qualifications may be questionable, but right now, Bush is in a quagmire. If he chooses a not-conservative-enough candidate, he can kiss his political future goodbye - his base will eat him alive. But a candidate who wins approval from them will face filibusters from the Democrats. In short, don't count on a new face on the bench anytime soon.

Why did Bush follow the brilliant nomination of John Roberts with such a disasterous choice? Did he not realize how charged an atmosphere he was stepping into?

Either way, let's look at momentum going forward on other issues. Will things improve in Iraq. Probably not. As countries which have dealt with insurgencies would tell you, you can't fix a place overnight, not even with the wonderous gift of democracy. It's a long and slow process, and I dare say that if the US is truly concerned about Iraqi stability, they should be prepared to hang out there for 10 years or more.

The legal woes for the Republicans are not likely to go away anytime soon. One of the problems with a party in power for too long is the arrogance that comes with it. The Democrats have been guilty of the same problem before.

And then add in candidates trying to distinguish themselves for elections in 2006 and the the Big One in 2008, and you have the death of unity in the ruling party. Add in an opposition that is confused and lost, struggling to come to new economic realities under the grips of powerful interest groups (yes, a union is a freaking interest group!) and you have chaos in Washington!

If anyone can find a way things might improve, and we see real change, positive change, do comment on it. Could even be far-fetched. After all, as I have been convincing some friends, the secret to happiness is delusion.

Rosa Parks

I have been so busy I haven't had the time to mourn the passing of Rosa Parks. Here was an ordinary lady who made an extraordinary contribution to the history of this country by a simple act of resistance. She truly is a testament to the potential of one individual to change society, and is a breath of fresh air in the stench of cynicism that exists around us.

Monday, October 24, 2005


This is for my Tamil audience interested in some incredible devotional songs. Sangkeertanam is a wonderful collection of songs produced (I think) by Bro. Jega from Malaysia and Rekha Ravindran (who I think is also from Malaysia), and is available online at the Sangkeertanam page at It features such accomplished singers as Unnikrishnan and SPB. The pick of the album, for me and my "karmic brother" Shiva, is Vazhavaipai Thayee, and especially the version by O.S.Arun, which practically gives me goose bumps every time I hear it. It's very much like a ghazal (or maybe is one?).

Incidentally, I'm not quite sure how if accomplished this, but when I checked it out from home, it had the words in Tamil, but at school, the song names were in English! Evidentally a script that checks for availability of a font or the like. But if you find gibberish, don't worry, the links still work.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Bush in Rummy mode

Here's an excerpt of what Bush at his press conference with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas in the Rose Garden, in response to reporters' queries on Harriet Miers.
...the questionnaire that she filled out is an important
questionnaire, and obviously they will address the questions that the senators have in the questionnaire -- or as a result of the answers to the questions in the questionnaire.

Sounds a bit like a certain Defense secretary? I don't know if he intended it, but towards the end, he certainly was grinning! Of course, he's got a long way to go before he can reproduce Rumsfeld's gems ... here's one of his classics, at a Pentagon briefing on February 12, 2002 (read it aloud, and only once to get the right effect!)

Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - - the ones we don't know we don't know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

Quotes of the Day: WARNING Politically Incorrect

Bill Maher's Rules in his latest book 'New Rules':

Pasta la Vista

New Rule

If you're in Iraq and you even sort of think you might be kind of near a checkpoint . . . stop. Otherwise, don't be surprised if we shoot your car. Haven't you seen a single American movie, television show, or news story from the last 60 years? That's what we do: We shoot cars. Does the name Elvis ring a bell? Richard Pryor? Lee Harvey Oswald? I know it's hard for foreigners to understand, but in America we shoot first and ask questions rarely.

This one's less PI but still a good one.

Pay Ball!

New Rule

Stop saying that athletes do it for the love of the game. They do it for the love of their 32-room mansion with the live shark tank in the living room. Bass fishermen do it for the love of the game, which is why so few of them have agents. If pro sports paid minimum wage, Shaquille O'Neal would be a bouncer at Scores, and Anna Kournikova would be a mail-order bride from Minsk.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Quote of the Day: Eddie George

Veteran running back, Eddie George, who is only the second NFL running back to run over 10,000 yards without missing a start:
As a running back, you’re basically using your body as a battering ram. And I end up pinned in some really awkward positions. I thought if my muscles were more flexible and had experienced some of those stresses beforehand in yoga, I’d be less likely to get hurt.

That's for all you people who think yoga's for sissies! Incidentally, EG is on the cover of the book 'Real Men Do Yoga', and I can attest (although it's feeble compared to EG) that yoga has helped my weight training and stress management.

How Much for Retirement?

Choose to Save has this interactive calculator for determining how much you would need to save for retirement. It's only a ballpark estimate, and is sensitive to model inputs, but does exactly what it suggests - give you a ballpark estimate. If you are saving less than this for retirement, time to cut out of those fancy dinners and start ploughing more in. If you are single, I would say you need to exceed those estimates - remember, if and when you do have kids, you will have to put aside substantial amounts of money for their college education (currently, a decent 4-year program would set you back as much as $100,000 and it is likely that tuition inflation would be greater than overall monetary inflation)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Hero Hoagland

My latest hero is Principal Hoagland, who put his foot down and cancelled the prom rather than allow it to become a vulgar display of affluence, and an excuse for a sex party. That a Catholic school, where presumably parents send their kids to escape the weak standards, academic and otherwise, of public schools, had degenerated to this was sad. But thankfully at least one educator seems to think we are headed in the wrong direction. Cheers to you! Now I would introduce into the curriculum a service component, where rather than the school going to Disneyland or some stupid trip, they go down to Mexico and solve the problems of their brethren. And if any parents don't seem keen about it, well, then let them take their kids to a school that does not have a mandate to impart values! All schools, but especially faith-based schools, whatever faith they represent, have a central covenant - mould the character of the pupils.


USNews had this story you have to read about being the husband of a breast cancer patient. Stop! Don't run away just because your wife is fine, or maybe you aren't married or whatever. This is a story worthy of reading, because it teaches us some important things about being in a relationship (whatever the relationship) with someone suffering from a terrible disease.

Live Strong, but also Live with Love and Compassion

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Socialism In Action

This story speaks to the inefficiencies in socialist economies - an analysis of the Delhi Jal Board, the water utility of India's capital city Delhi. Even my non-Indian readers will want to read this, especially the comparison between the performance of the utility companies in "booming" India and the forgotten Ivory Coast. This is the reality that you need to keep in mind the next time you think the government should take over an industry (think Democratic calls to have the Feds run refineries to compete with those 'evil capitalists' profiting from Hurricane Katrina). The reality is efficiency is the product of a need to survive. Think if you were guaranteed an 'A' in a course without having to study, how much time would you invest in the course?

Some notes before you read the link: 1 crore = 10 million, Rs 50 is just over a dollar, although I find a conversion of 8X works better in adjusting for purchasing parity (so someone making Rs 800,000 a year truly makes about $16,000, but lives like someone who would make $100,000)

Friday, October 14, 2005

Prices Can Go Down

In recent times the popular press has been obsessed with the real estate bubble, which is why I have stopped writing that much about the issue. But this story (and accompanying table) reinforce what I have said in the past - real estate prices can go down!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Quote of the Day

President John F. Kennedy welcoming 49 Nobel Prize winners to the White House in 1962:
I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.

Disclaimer: I go to the University of Virginia, founded by good ol' TJ, so anything associated with him has almost mystical status!

We Want to Underpay!

I was watching an interview on PBS' Newshour with China's Vice Chairman Cheng Siwei yesterday, and in some ways I found it quite interesting. I could write several blog postings about the interview, but you'd be better off reading (or watching in streaming video or hearing on streaming audio) the whole interview at the Newshour page. The one thing that did strike me during the course of the interview (indirectly) was that essentially the US wants to underpay its debt to the Chinese! How? Well, we have built this huge surplus with China, all along paying for it with IOUs (Chinese buying Treasury bonds). Well, all the talk of revaluation has focused on our desire to reduce the trade deficit, which is probably true. However, one point that's missed out is that if China revalues the yuan, the debt in $ is now worth less yuan. You can then see why the Chinese have a good reason not to be thrilled about having to lose even the measly return they have been getting on Treasuries.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Brace Yourself for Rough Times!

Man, this is not the happiest time to be an investor. The specter of inflation and recession loom large. Two respected writers have argued for one or the other. Bill Gross of PIMCO, aka Bond King (more like Bond God!) argues that rising interest rates will cause the bursting of the housing bubble, triggering a US recession. If this is the case, stocks will be pummeled as corporate profits plunge.

David Dreman of Forbes, on the other hand, argues that inflation will be a killer, and that locking in interest rates would be murderous for your investments.

Hmm, funny how no one seems to talk of stagflation. If prices of crude, copper and other commodities continue to surge, fueled by growing demand, isn't it foreseeable that the Fed has its hands tied? Or if the US Treasury is forced to print money to pay its debts, then you have a situation where you have too much money and slow economic growth. I'm no economist, so if there's someone who understands this stuff better than I, clue us all in.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Seventh Heaven

I really liked this story on Stephen Collins of Seventh Heaven fame, in part because I used to really like the show. I haven't watched it since moving to Charlottesville two years ago (where we don't have a WB station), but my recollection is the show, intended originally for a teen audience, represented the type of TV I'd like to see. It's not too surprising (but sad!) to read how WB and the entertainment shows never gave 7H its due, more keen to promote shows with generous amounts of sexuality and violence.

Quote of the Day

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) when asked to comment if he would accept a slot for the Vice-Presidency in 2008:

I spent all those years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, kept in the dark, fed scraps, why the hell would I want to do that all over again?

Earthquake Victims

Our prayers and thoughts are with the victims of the terrible quake in Kashmir and the tragic loss of life. I hope the inept bureaucracies of India and Pakistan can get their acts together to prevent a further exxageration of their misfortune.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Church and State

I was listening on the radio about how the Bush administration wants to reimburse faith groups for expenses incurred during Hurricane Katrina. While this may be good in the short term, I think the Faith-Based Initiative at the federal government with spell the deathknell of faith-based initiatives. No, I'm not just concerned about the influence of church on state. I am much more concerned about the influence of state on church.

Look at it. Right now, the top states for personal giving are the Red states (incidentally, why on earth are conservative states called Red, which is elsewhere synonymous with Communism?) Why? Because people in these states believe in a moral and religious obligation to help humanity. In the blue states, people think their obligation is to pay taxes so that the government can take care of the needy. (OK, these are simplifications, but you get the idea!) Knowing a church gets federal support means less individuals will contribute, churches will swell with "entitlement money" and soon churches will be indistinguishable from the inefficient bureacracies we are bestowed with!

Also, while the present government may not seek to have strings attached, what prevents a future government from dictating moral and social terms to future dependent faith groups? If a church believes, for example, that homosexuality is a sin, is it for government to dictate that they must hire gay priests? I think not. Heck, I say if a faith group believes white people are superior, I as a man of color would disagree with them, I would sue a company which tried to impose such views, but believe the religious groups are within their rights to pick only white people in their clergy, as long as they do not get federal money.

That's why I think Salvation Army is on a slippery slope. It cannot long-term depend on state money and yet chose to hire only those who conform with their article of faith. But rather than demand the Salvation Army hire non-Christians like me, I would suggest they get out of the government money handling business, and ask Him to assist in His mission.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

OpenOffice Sucks!

Much is being made of Google's tieup with Sun which, as I understand it, will improve penetration of OpenOffice. Now, I'm no techie, but I have used OpenOffice, and there's no way it's going to be a serious challenge to Office in the near-term. Despite the hype about Office portability, OpenOffice fails to open highly formatted content appropriately, and lacks many of the features that Office has.

I understand a lot of people are anti-Microsoft (I use a Mac at work because my advisor is one of them!) But the reality is Microsoft makes a good product, and has the scale to automatically give it an edge on competitors. Yes, Google has those same attributes too, plus the "cool" buzz, but it's going to take a lot more to unseat Microsoft.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Tree Climber

I thought about this story yesterday, and while I have posted it a while back, I decided I wanted to post it again, and not just a link to the old post. So here goes my rant again ...

While I am often bothered by the nature of disparity, I was particularly moved by something that happened this week. I went to bed reading the story of a panaiyeri nadar, a tree-climber in my home state of Tamil Nadu, a story typical for many in his profession. His job is to extract date palm jaggery from the trees, for which purpose he has to climb the tree, extract the juice with a knife, and on to the next tree. He has no safety harness or other protective gear, and a fall guarantees death, or worse serious injury that could spiral his family into serious debt. He often has to climb upto 150 trees, each at least 15 to 20 feet in height. That's about the same as climbing 250 floors up a staircase, except he has no staircase or even ladder - just his bare palms and legs. He starts working at 3 am in the morning, and gets done about 6 in the evening. The fruits of his labor? About Rs. 5-8 (under US 20 cents!) a day ... oh and muscle pains, asthma and a host of other ailments!!

I woke up the next morning, and turned on my TV to discover it was National Splurge Day - and we were being shown how we could splurge (if we had the money!) ranging from caviar to $200,000 diamond earrings to a Merc wheels that set you back close to 400 grand! Sure, spend, revel in luxury ...

This bothers me a whole deal, and I'm no commie or leftie! I don't believe the Government should necessarily be a constant presence in our lives. But I do believe that we are humans, and humanity is what distinguishes us from the beasts of the jungle. How can people not be bothered by the extreme poverty that besets so many in the world? And I don't mean just the rich. How far would the $2000 you spent on a home theater system gone in those parts? How many palaiyeri nadars would have had access to a more supportive system?

Yes, governments are supposed to do that, but it's obvious that for many in the Third World, governments have failed them. But ask yourself, if a loved one were in need of medical attention, and the state-sponsored medical system (Medicare in the US) refused to provide any assistance, would you turn a blind eye to their plight?

Religions love to talk about the great attributes of their leaders. And yet, how is it that so many who tout the virtues of Christ, Mohammed, Rama, Buddha fail to attempt to replicate their compassion?

How about envisioning a year, nay a day as a panaiyeri nadar?

You're fired!

I was reading this story on CNN about how great online banks are, when I came across this excerpt.

And if you're looking to have your hand held, online accounts are not for you. ING Direct, for instance, closes an average of 3 percent to 4 percent of accounts a month, when customers require too much personal service.

"We fire our customers is a colorful way of putting it," said ING Direct's Kuhlmann. "While the banking business says the customer is always right, we're online guys and you can only do business with us in a certain way."

He added that it just isn't cost effective to maintain high maintenance customers that need more personalized attention.

Whoa, never heard of that before. I'm not surprised or outraged - I mean, you can't kill the goose that lays the golden egg, but that's still radical, and the number is much higher than I would have imagined!