Thursday, February 28, 2008

To people who should not exist!

This one goes out specially to Sally, Nan, Meanie, Markus, and Grima, you sons of a silly person! Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelled of elderberries!!

Image source: icanhascheezburger, what else!

Now go away, or I shall taunt you a second time! XD

I'm not the biggest Monty Python fan, but I find this scene funny!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

My, how those cute little coolies are growing up!

Reuters reports that Chinese subway passengers are angry with an ad that urges them to buy a car. Oddly enough, Reuters posted this news item under their series titled "Oddly enough", usually reserved for quaint or amusing news items, such as botched bank heists by incompetent criminals. I don't see anything odd about the Chinese commuters' reaction - it seems quite serious that ordinary Chinese commuters have a perspective on environmental costs and speak out against the more insane ideas of their business leaders. Perhaps the people at Reuters think that when the little coolies talk like "grown-ups" it's cute. Similar protests by American or European undergraduates would very likely be cast as concern, political precociousness, and environmental responsibility.

I greatly prefer the Chinese commuters' reaction to the giddy, breathless, gasping reactions of middle-class Indians on the launch of Tata's Nano. This was probably more like how the "coolies" are supposed to react - going through the same stages, making the same mistakes, that western consumers have already outgrown, but doing it with great delight, and the delusion of "arriving", while enduring deadlier risks and consequences. Oh, those innocent child-races, they never quite grow up, do they

Tata Group chairman, Ratan Tata, poses in the company's new Nano car during its launch at the 9th Auto Expo in New Delhi. The car, a hatchback with a 624cc engine, is priced at about 100,000 rupees ($2,500), half that of the current cheapest car in the market. (Reuters Photo, sourced from The Times of India, January 10, 2008)

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Today I had occasion to visit a lawyer's office. The last thing I expected was for it to be a pleasant experience. The office was in a beautiful (and beautifully kept) building that smelt wonderfully of coffee, on an arterial road in Mumbai's Fort district. On the textured white walls were framed paintings and engravings of lawyers, courtrooms, and judges, all very nineteenth-century-British-looking in a grave and quiet way. They fit the context, since it was a British building in the Fort, and the partners all belong to communities that comprised Bombay's genteel elites even during the Raj. The high-ceilinged office reflected the genteelness (is that a word?), and was calming. I saw no art there that I could call modern-looking. But right inside the door was a poem - soothing thoughts that were not at all what I expected to find in a law office. It was Max Ehrmann's "Desiderata":

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The war on bottled water continues

Abridged from a BBC report:

The patriarch of Venice, Angelo Cardinal Scola, has urged the city's Catholics to give up bottled water during Lent, and instead to donate the money saved to a water pipeline project in Thailand. He is backed by the mayor, who says he drinks only tap water. Nearly all Italians drink bottled water rather than tap water. The industry is worth an estimated 3.2bn euros (£2.38bn) a year in Italy.

Bottled water harms the environment because of discarded plastic bottles, and also because of greenhouse gas emissions.

Last summer, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg urged his city's residents to drink tap water.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The "third-worldization" of America

OK, I plead guilty to sensationalism--the post's title is not quite right, because the third world was largely the product of imperial exploitation, while America's current economic crisis is a sort of backfire of that exploitation. As Fanon and Memmi have argued, colonization destroys not only the colonized, but also the colonizer. I think that is reflected in America's mindless and uncomprehending consumerism--I remember spotting a teabag-squeezing device that in the kitchen in an American friend's parents' home, and wondering at the mind that created it, and then at the one that acquired and used it--its Panglossian faith that the market magically works out an equilibrium--that all the brutal suffering it inflicts on us and on others around us is somehow for the best.

Foreclosure's filthy aftermath
As foreclosures become more frequent, so do the stories of abandoned animals, insect infestations and deplorable living conditions.

Broke homeowners linked to arsons
Authorities in economically stressed cities see an increase in torched houses. Is the nation's mortgage mess transforming more Americans into criminals?

Economy fitful, Americans start to pay as they go

[Elena Gamble, who earns about $2,600 a month as a grievance counselor at a local prison] and her husband — a prison guard who brings home $2,000 a month — are grappling with $10,000 in high-interest debt. They no longer go to the movies or out to eat, except occasionally to McDonald’s. They quit their Internet service. Their car was repossessed. “What we say now is, ‘If we can’t afford it, we can’t buy it,’ ” Ms. Gamble said...

...Fran Barbaro has an M.B.A. and a résumé of computer industry jobs with salaries reaching $150,000 a year. She used to have a stock portfolio worth about $1 million. She hung original art on the walls of her three-bedroom house in Boston. But divorce, illness and motherhood drained her savings. Her home is worth less than she owes, and she owes another $200,000 to credit card companies, banks and tax collectors. Ms. Barbaro, 50, said she knew she was living beyond her means. But her house demanded work. Her two boys needed after-school programs running $25,000 a year. Medical bills multiplied.

“These were simple day-to-day expenses,” she said. “The money was always there.”

Until it wasn’t. Her take-home pay is $5,200 a month, but her debt payments reach $4,400. Ms. Barbaro has rented out her house while negotiating to lower her mortgage. She has moved to an apartment, where her sons sleep in the lone bedroom while she sleeps on a pull-out sofa.

(The readers' comments on this story are worth a read too -- NYT asked readers how they were changing their spending habits.)

Add to the above the facts that supermodel Gisele Bundchen will now only be paid in euros, and the Taj Mahal will no longer accept payment in dollars by foreign tourists.

An idiot or a genius? Or both?

Personally, I think Jon Stewart is a, well, not genius, but one of the smartest people on TV, or anywhere else, for that matter. But, as he readily admits, he sometimes gets things wrong. In a recent interview in which he skewered TV finance pundits, he apparently interpreted an illustrative clip completely wrong. But the shocking thing was that his guest, the personal finance editor of CNN, failed to discern how completely wrong his interpretation was. Any wonder that America is in such bad shape - even the TV finance experts don't understand finance!

Here's the Motley Fool's observation on the issue. And here's the video clip of Jon's interview: