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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Suicide, Murder, and the Virtual Worlds We Live In

A young girl in Missouri recently committed suicide over comments made on her MySpace account. Young people in Japan and other nations have formed on-line suicide clubs. Every day millions of people abandon more and more hours of their days to live virtual lives in places like SecondLife and World of Warcraft or just sending text messages.

Computer Graphic 31819

This trend is not new but it is accelerating, just like a fast car full of teenagers perhaps headed to brick wall. Violent computer games like Doom, Quake, and the Grand Theft Auto series were just an early stage in the growth of this trend. Violence has always been a part of human society. It is not at all surprising that it comes to roost in whatever endeavors people undertake.

Even the act of lighting up a cigarette is a gross act of violence against the living cells in our bodies. No matter, a billion people probably light up a cigarette every day, even people we consider to be educated professionals.

Corporations legally design and sell guns that have no other purpose except to kill humans. Millions of people buy these guns to protect themselves against the few that buy these guns expressly to kill another human being. This is what humans do to make themselves feel safer in very violent societies all over the world.

Inside of computers, virtual weapons of every possible type are available for free or for small monthly fees. People of all ages pick up these guns and spend hours shooting cartoon images of other people, all for fun and entertainment.

Other people use the anonymity of on-line computer communities to socialize. Going out of your home to socialize is now considered too dangerous by many people. Even people in small towns sometimes feel it is safer to meet people by networking on the computer rather than talking at a coffee house. In fact, actual coffeehouses are often crammed with people sitting alone, in front of computers, chatting with total strangers or perhaps distant real friends.

Parents see their children peering into computer screens and tiny cell phones, chatting with friends the parents often never get to meet in person. Many parents value the role of the computer in their child's life. Who knows if their daughter or son might not become the next Bill Gates? Who knows if their child might get so attached to virtual worlds, to social networking sites, or to text messaging that they forget how to greet and talk with real people?

Violent computer games can help spawn real world violence. This is no longer just an educated guess. Too much 'virtual time,' spent in MySpace or Facebook or text messaging friends, does have an impact on a young person's language skills, the ability to read expressions, and how we make solid judgments about who is a good friend. It is especially important for parents to know this is the case. Ignoring the negative impact of new technologies only increases the risk that one of these gadgets or web sites might cause harm to your child.

Would you be upset If your daughter develops hearing problems from listening to the iPod turned too loud? Would it trouble you if your son tries his Grand Theft Auto or World of Warcraft killing skills out in the real world? What if some adult uses MySpace to pose as a friend to your teenage child? What is the worst that could happen? Sexual assault? Suicide? Murder?

As a larger portion of society embraces the 'virtual life' each year, fewer and fewer people seem to remember how to live out in the actual physical world. Many young people and not a few adults live large portions of their life in a fantasy world named, 'MySpace' or 'Facebook' or 'SecondLife.' Remember, history shows that the number and type of these places will only grow over time. The beauty of real friendship, fresh flowers, and a long walk in the neighborhood is getting lost while we sit rotting among cell phones, LCD panels, and keyboards. Seize back your real families and friends, people, before it is too late!

Links:

Washington Post article (05/6/08) on Megan Meier MySpace hoax

Washington Post article on Suicide

BBC Article on Video Game Violence

Second Life article #1

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Who Can We Believe?

Media outlets told us that Obama had a strong lead going into the New Hampshire Primaries. However Clinton clearly won the Democratic half of that contest.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington told us 18,000 new jobs were created in December. Out here in reality businesses actually dropped 339,000 workers from their payrolls.

Countrywide Financial Corporation told us they did not create false letters to support a case related to a mortgage bankruptcy. Pennsylvania court documents and testimony from Countrywide employees clearly indicate fake documents were created.

President Bush says the economy is "resilient." The U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Paulson says he can "see no bottom" to the drop in sales of U.S. homes. President Bush also told us Iran had an active nuclear weapons program, months after he knew that was an outright lie.

White House

Week after week we hear more lies repeated by newspapers, public officials, and little children standing next to spilled cups of juice. The little children are too young to know better, they need gentle reminders about the importance of telling the truth. We really should be more concerned about public figures who lie to protect their failed policies.

Some say it is the methods used to collect data that are wrong. If that is the case why do public figures and media outlets continue to use these incorrect tools? It looks too convenient to blame the messenger in this case. People look hard for facts to bolster any case they want to make. Cherry-picking fiction from among facts to fool the public into believing lies is called hoodwinking. It is wrong and the people doing it know better. Grown adults need more than gentle reminders about telling the truth.

People who make major decisions that affect the lives of millions need to be held accountable. If we allow our leaders and press to escape the consequences of making false statements they will keep lying to us, over and over again. If we no longer place any value on the truth we will only slide deeper into a morass of debt, war, and more deceit. Large nations have descended into anarchy for exactly the same reasons.

Links:
Media Blow It Again
Labor Statistics
Fake Countrywide Letters
Paulson on home sales
Bush on Economy

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Why The Market Sell-off: SUBPRIME REDUX

The New York Times printed a short article today.

All it took was a few words to wipe out billions in stock market gains:

Lender Tells Judge It 'Recreated' Letters
By GRETCHEN MORGENSON
Published: January 8, 2008

The Countrywide Financial Corporation fabricated documents related to
the bankruptcy case of a Pennsylvania homeowner, court records show,
raising new questions about the business practices of the giant
mortgage lender at the center of the subprime mess....

Then the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged over 200 points.

Should the blame lie with mortgage bankers willing to lend money to anyone with a pulse? This situation, of course, could not have happened if some really rich investors were not so eager to buy blocks of lousy mortgages and then sell them to state pension funds, hedge funds, and even Norwegian towns.

Philadelphia 36540

But the blame is being placed on poor people who were told over and over again that owning a home is the American dream.

We could also blame real estate speculators who bought homes they just wanted to flip.

Maybe we could blame the Federal regulators that knew all this was happening and did nothing to prevent it.

I prefer to blame the gentleman that worked for Countrywide Financial Corp. (NYSE:CFC) who told me my mortgage loan was a sure thing, no need to see much paperwork, just sign here and here and here.

But you know what? I walked out of his office that day in 2003, without signing the papers. I simply did not like the idea that my mortgage rate could be adjusted up after I signed those papers. If only others had made the same choice I did.

The $2,500 (1 lakh) Tata Car

Congratulations to Tata Motors for helping the less fortunate

While Western car manufacturers have been busy developing new petrol-guzzling sport utility vehicles, Ratan Tata has been pushing his engineers to think small. Tata Motors of India is introducing a car that costs $2,500.

Purulia District, India 00022

Before jumping to conclusions about the benefits one thing needs to be made very clear. $2,500 USD translates into approximately 100,000 rupees or 1 lakh. Most people living in rural or urban India can barely imagine having 1 lakh rupees at one time. Therefore 99% of the prospective buyers for the new Tata car will need to go to their local ICICI Bank branch and convince the loan manager that they can indeed pay off such a loan. In many cases two rural buyers will no doubt pool their resources in order to buy one car. Nevertheless, the $2,500 Tata car offers a huge opportunity for buyers smart enough to use such transportation for their immediate financial gain.

My 6 visits to India taught me that millions of rural Indian people are intelligent enough to hold down good jobs but these jobs simply were not located close enough to their homes. Thanks to good primary schools, technology, and the existence of relatively inexpensive colleges, many people living way out in panchayats or small villages do earn college degrees. However, they often find it impossible to get better jobs near their homes. Many people do pack up their belongings and move to larger cities.

In addition to the promise of better pay; urban life in India also brings exposure to much higher costs, polluted air, and water. There is more crime and certainly far more competition for very limited housing. Every year some people do fail to make it in the cities and return home depressed, disillusioned and often very sick.

Millions of other educated Indians are smart enough to see the folly of packing up and moving to a larger city. I often saw young people riding two on a scooter great distances just to get to jobs in a slightly larger town. Thanks to the Tata car, these people will now have a chance to show up to work in cleaner clothes, more rested, and more likely to earn promotions.

No doubt, small business people will use such their Tata car to carry products to a larger market and perhaps get better prices for these crafts and fresher produce. I see the new Tata car offering many of the same benefits of micro-loans, which are currently transforming the lives of many desperately poor around the world.

Western observers will immediately jump to the negative impact of the air pollution caused by one million new fossil-fuel burning cars. People in the lower classes have no concerns for greenhouse gas emissions, nor should they. It is up to the rich and highly educated to address these issues, the lifestyles of the wealthy will always generate the lion’s share of waste and pollution. My suspicion is that a 1 lakh car will barely generate a quarter of the greenhouse gases that a Detroit SUV (assembled in Mexico) produces. I also know that the people buying these cars will not start using them just to drive a few blocks across the panchayat to buy a pack of cigarettes, lottery tickets, and a six-pack of beer. Indians and someday soon Africans, Malaysians, and people of many developing nations will primarily use such a car just like they now use cell phones; to find jobs, make money, and ultimately feed their families.

People in the lower classes have no concerns for greenhouse gas emissions, nor should they. It is up to the rich and highly educated to address these issues, the lifestyles of the wealthy will always generate the lion’s share of waste and pollution. We can only hope that by the time owners of the new Tata cars become wealthy enough to buy a bigger car that automakers will finally agree to make non-polluting models available at affordable prices as well.

Links:

Tata Motors
Tata Unveils 1 Lakh Car
CNN Article
Washington Post
Reuters News
Business Week
LA Times
BBC News on Air Car

Sunday, January 06, 2008

My Reading Lists

This is the first of three posts intended to outline the books I am currently reading, the works I have read in the past, and the books on my future reading list.

Enjoy!

CURRENTLY READING:

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
The World Is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman
I Run Therefore I Am - NUTS by Bob Schwartz
The Mabinogion - traditional
The Intimate Machine by Neil Frude

Oceanfront 41774_5

ALWAYS READING:*

Tao Te Ching (5 different translations)
The Dhammapada
The Bhagavad Gita
The Upanishads
The Sixteen Points by Ac. Shraddhananda Avt.
Language In Thought and Action by S.I. Hayakawa (3rd reading)
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
Selected Letters of Jack Kerouac edited by Ann Charters
The Works of Rabindranth Tagore (poems and short stories)
A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn

COMING ATTRACTIONS!

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Rudin On The Eve by Ivan Turgenev
Billy Budd and Other Stories by Herman Melville

RECENTLY FINISHED READING

A Plague Upon Humanity by Daniel Barenblatt
Memoirs of a Service Afloat by Admiral Raphael Semmes
Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
The Comedians by Graham Greene (3rd reading)
Life Is a Series of Presentations by Tony Jeary
The Bomb in the Basement by Michael Karpin
Visions of Cody by Jack Kerouac
The Joyous Cosmology by Alan Watts (2nd reading)
The Way of Zen by Alan Watts (2nd reading)
Das Glasperlenspiel (The Glass Bead Game or Magister Ludi) by Hermann Hesse (4th reading)*
The Annotated Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (at least my 10th reading of The Hobbit)*
The Great War For Civilisation by Robert Fisk

* These books remain a part of my lifelong reference materials

Friend or Foe? Who Are Your Real Friends?

Buddha taught his followers this lesson:

If on the journey of life a person cannot find one who is better or at least as good as herself, let her joyfully travel alone: a fool cannot help you on your journey.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Why Sell The India Fund?

If you needed the money from your investment in The Blackstone Group's India Fund (NYSE:IFN) you might have waited until at least January 2 to sell your shares. In the U.S. this would mean that an employee would not need to pay the capital gains taxes until April, 2009. It would also mean that you are certain to get your $8/share distribution. Some people are savvy when it comes to ex-dividend dates, other investors like to play it safe.
Market Day,  Purulia District 00018

Self-employed people, on the other hand, pay quarterly income taxes. Nevertheless, the sale of any one position in a well-diversified portfolio is unlikely to significantly change an individual's quarterly tax payment. It would be be very unlikely to be the cause of an IRS under-payment penalty. Of course, each individual's investment portfolio and tax situation are different. Ask your accountant or do a rough estimate of your taxes if you are uncertain.

The India Fund has seen a significant drop during late December or early January every year since 2004. There are some people that play certain stocks only at certain times of the year. In the U.S. they incur high capital gains taxes as a result of such a strategy. Smart long investors rarely liquidate profitable positions in less than a year. The tax implications are too significant to ignore.

Therefore, today's (1/3/07) sharp drop in The India Fund could well be related to employees selling the investment in early 2008, to get the money now and avoid paying the taxes for 16 months. Institutions only own 19% of this fund so I do not see them as the cause of today's 4.5% drop.

Shares in The India Fund are currently trading at a significant discount to their Net Asset Value. The latest Weekly Net Asset Value was $64.20/share (See The Blackstone Group web page for more details.). The India Fund is also up 460% over the past 5 years! These two facts alone are likely to steer more investors into this closed end mutual fund over time.

The volume of trading, 920,000 shares, is on the high-side by almost 300k. However that volume may have been warped by investors jumping off the bandwagon. There was little significant news other than oil prices.

Oil prices are a significant factor, despite the optimism expressed by a few. India must import nearly all of it's oil requirements. Energy requirements for India are growing fast. Continued high oil prices will slow growth and increase prices of every product or service sold anywhere in the world. Developing countries are hit particularly hard by rising oil prices.

Oil will be a concern to investors as long as the NyMex (www.nymex.com) traders continue to speculate wildly and OPEC nations continue to spend extravagantly. When you see selling against market trends in January, suspect taxes. The 120-point drop in Bombay's Sensitive Index (SENSEX) does not constitute a trend, yet...

For another point of view on the India Fund follow this link

Another recent Emerging Market post.

When little people invest wisely.

DISCLOSURE:The author currently owns shares in The India Fund, Inc. along with other India equities and trades commodities such as oil.