Archive for August, 2008

Afghan President pardons three found guilty of gang-rape

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

– Here’s a fine story about Afghanistan – a nation our citizens are dying to defend.   But, sorry to say, their culture is in the stone-age with respect to women’s rights.

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pardoned three men found guilty of gang-raping a woman in the northern province of Samangan.

The woman, Sara, and her family found out about the pardon only when they saw the rapists back in their village.

“Everyone was shocked,” said Sara’s husband, Dilawar, who, like many Afghans, uses only one name. “These were men who had been sentenced by the Supreme Court, walking around freely.”

Sara’s case highlights concerns about the close relationship between the Afghan President and men accused of war crimes and human rights abuses.

The men were freed discreetly but the rape was public and brutal. It took place in September 2005, in the run-up to Afghanistan’s first democratic parliamentary elections.

The most powerful local commander, Mawlawi Islam, was running for office despite being accused of scores of murders committed during his time as a mujahideen commander in the 1980s, a Taleban governor in the 1990s, and after the fall of the Taleban in 2001. Sara said one of his subcommanders and bodyguards had been looking for young men to help in the election campaign.

“It was evening, around time for the last prayer, when armed men took my son, Islamuddin, by force. I have eyewitness statements from nine people that he was there. From that night until now, my son has never been seen.”

Dilawar said his wife publicly harangued the commander twice about their missing son.

After the second time, he said, they came for her. “The commander and three of his fighters came and took my wife out of our home and took her to their house about 200m away and, in front of these witnesses, raped her.”


Potential Pakistani Leader has psychiatric problems

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

– Whew.   I really had to stop and take a second look at this one when I found it.  

– I already consider Pakistan extremely problematic with their nuclear weapons and the entire place seemingly on the brink of falling under the control of fundamentalist Islam.

– At least when Musharraf had power, you knew he was allied with the U.S. and against the fundamentalists.   Now he’s gone and we’ve got two new up and coming leaders vying for the top spot.  

– And here we find out that one of them has had recent mental problems.

– Well, that sure makes me feel better – not.

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Doubts cast on Zardari’s mental health

Asif Ali Zardari, the leading contender for the presidency of nuclear-armed Pakistan, was suffering from severe psychiatric problems as recently as last year, according to court documents filed by his doctors.

The widower of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was diagnosed with a range of serious illnesses including dementia, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder in a series of medical reports spanning more than two years.

Mr Zardari, the co-chair of the Pakistan People’s party, and its candidate to succeed president Pervez Musharraf, who stepped down last week, spent 11 of the past 20 years in Pakistani prisons fighting corruption allegations, during which he claims to have been tortured.

While Mr Zardari was not available to comment, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan’s high commissioner to London, speaking on his behalf, said he was now fit and well.

News of his medical records came as Nawaz Sharif, head of the junior partner in the government, pulled his party out of the coalition, partly because of differences over Mr Zardari’s presidential candidacy.


080824 – A day at the nursery

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

My wife’s in New Zealand and so I’ve been running the business here alone. And business has been slow for us like it’s been for most everyone. So, I’ve cut our workers back to 32 hours a week and I’ve been using our part-time sales staff less and less. The idea, of course, is to cut our outgoing money flow until it roughly matches our incoming. Assuming I can hit the balance, we can tread water indefinitely until things sort themselves out.

Yesterday, I had a sales person in and we only did about $150 in sales for the day and the weather was beautiful. A Saturday, 73 degrees Fahrenheit, fluffy white clouds – in short, everything one could want. But, in spite of all of that, only a few folks came in all day.

Today, rain was forecast and I let our sales person go for the day (actually, I called last night and told them not to come in). And, indeed, after a somewhat gray morning, the skies opened up in the afternoon and rain arrived by the buckets.

And sales?

Five times what we sold yesterday.

Now, that’s still not a large amount of sales compared to what we normally do on weekend days in high season when the economy’s healthy. But, it was a lot better than yesterday. So, I was busy most of the day talking to folks and just dealing with it all. And then, as the skies opened and the rains came, they kept on coming in. And I was amazed – but willing to keep selling.

So, in the end, the last customer left just at closing time and I was happy though I was pretty throughly wet by then.

I’m soooooo wet

I went around and passed out paychecks, turned off the automatic irrigation systems and finally got in the house and out of my wet clothes.

This week’s total sales were better than they’ve been for several weeks and we may actually have hit balance this week between our burn rate and our sales income. Of course, that doesn’t mean much. It is the average of whether you are winning or losing over many weeks that matters. And we’re still waiting for that fortune cookie to be delivered.

One small consolation … I understand it is pouring in New Zealand too <smile>.

It’s raining in New Zealand too

Later – this same day.

Another small but very significant (to us) bit of news.

After three years of effort, Sharon and I have secured permanent residency status in New Zealand. From now until the ends of our lives, we have the right to live and work in New Zealand, if we wish.

We want to retire there after we’ve sold the nursery business and now it is guaranteed that we can go when we are ready. What a beautiful thing this is to finally see manifested.

If you are going to have a drink tonight – raise one for us.


Large U.S. bank collapse ahead, says ex-IMF economist

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The worst of the global financial crisis is yet to come and a large U.S. bank will fail in the next few months as the world’s biggest economy hits further troubles, former IMF chief economist Kenneth Rogoff said on Tuesday.

“The U.S. is not out of the woods. I think the financial crisis is at the halfway point, perhaps. I would even go further to say ‘the worst is to come’,” he told a financial conference.

“We’re not just going to see mid-sized banks go under in the next few months, we’re going to see a whopper, we’re going to see a big one, one of the big investment banks or big banks,” said Rogoff, who is an economics professor at Harvard University and was the International Monetary Fund’s chief economist from 2001 to 2004.

“We have to see more consolidation in the financial sector before this is over,” he said, when asked for early signs of an end to the crisis.

“Probably Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — despite what U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson said — these giant mortgage guarantee agencies are not going to exist in their present form in a few years.”


Soul According to Tom Robbins

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

– Semi-alert readers of this blog will have noticed that I haven’t been posting much of late. My wife’s off in New Zealand so I’ve been covering for her here at our business and I can tell you that Joni Mitchell was right – you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.

– But, today a friend sent me a piece she dug up from somewhere way back in 1993 and, damn, it was good – so I’m just going to have to set aside making a living for a few minutes and Blog it.

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You gotta have soul
By Tom Robbins

Mental Bungee-jumping may not be your sport of choice, but there’s a cerebral ledge that sooner or later each of us has to leap off. One day, ready or not, we glance in a mirror, cuddle an infant, attend a funeral, walk in the woods, partake of a substance Nancy Reagan warned us to eschew, chance a liaison, wake in the night with a napalm lobster in our chest, read a message from the pope or the Dalai Lama, get lost in Verdi or lost in the stars – and wind up thinking about our soul.

Yes, the soul. You know what I mean.

Popular culture to the contrary, the soul is not an overweight nightclub singer having an unhappy love affair in Detroit. Nor, on the other hand, is it some pale vapor wafting off a bucket of metaphysical dry ice. Suffering, low-down and funky, seasons the soul, it’s true, but bliss is the yeast that makes it rise. And yet, because the soul is linked to the earth (as opposed to spirit, which is linked to the sky), it steadfastly contradicts those who imagine it a billow of sacred flatulence or a shimmer of personal swamp gas.

Soul is not even that Cracker Jack prize that God and Satan scuffle over after the worms have all licked our bones. That’s why, when we ponder – as, sooner or later, each of us must – what exactly we ought to be doing about our souls, religion is the wrong, if conventional place to turn.

Religion is little more than a transaction in which troubled people trade their souls for temporary and wholly illusionary psychological comfort (the old “give it up in order to save it” routine). Religions lead us to believe the soul is the ultimate family jewel, and, in return for our mindless obedience, they can secure it for us in their vaults, or at least insure it against fire and theft. They are mistaken.

If you need to visualize the soul, think of it as a cross between a wolf howl, a photon, and a dribble of dark molasses. But what it really is, as near as I can tell, is a packet of information. It’s a program, a piece of hyperspatial software designed explicitly to interface with the Mystery. Not a mystery, mind you, the Mystery. The one that can never be solved.

To one degree or another, everybody is connected to the Mystery, and everybody secretly yearns to expand the connection. That requires expanding the soul. These things can enlarge the soul: laughter, danger, imagination, meditation, wild nature, passion, compassion, psychedelics, beauty, iconoclasm, and driving around in the rain with the top down. These things can diminish it: fear, bitterness, blandness, trendiness, egotism, violence, corruption, ignorance, grasping, shining, and eating ketchup on cottage cheese.

Data in our psychic program is often nonlinear, nonhierarchical, archaic, alive, and teeming with paradox. Simply booting up is a challenge, if not for no other reason than that most of us find acknowledging the unknowable and monitoring its intrusions upon the familiar and mundane more than a little embarrassing.

But say you’ve inflated your soul to the size of a beach ball and it’s soaking into the Mystery like wine into a mattress. What have you accomplished? Well, long term, you may have prepared yourself for a successful metamorphosis, an almost inconceivable transformation to be precipitated by your death or by some great worldwide eschatological whoopjamboreehoo. You may have. No one can say for sure.

More immediately, by waxing soulful you will have granted yourself the possibility of ecstatic participation in what the ancients considered a divinely animated universe. And on a day to day basis, folks, it doesn’t get any better than that.

By Tom Robbins Esquire, October, 1993=

– Research thanks big-time to Lisa G.

– I don’t know if the signature at the end indicates that Tom Robbins was a lawyer or that he was writing for Esquire Magazine. I’m not even sure if he’s the same fellow who wrote, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. And, I guess I don’t care. It’s just too good a piece not to put out there.

– This, by the way, is post number 1000 on this Blog and that’s got to count for something (now, if I only knew what). 

Most companies in US avoid federal income taxes

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

Report says most corporations pay no federal income taxes; lawmakers blame loopholes

WASHINGTON (AP) — Unlike the rest of us, most U.S. corporations and foreign companies doing business in the United States pay no federal income tax, according to a new report from Congress.

The study by the Government Accountability Office, expected to be released Tuesday, said two-thirds of U.S. corporations paid no federal income taxes between 1998 and 2005, and about 68 percent of foreign companies doing business in the U.S. avoided corporate taxes over the same period.

Collectively, the companies reported trillions of dollars in sales, according to GAO’s estimate.

“It’s shameful that so many corporations make big profits and pay nothing to support our country,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who asked for the GAO study with Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.


– Hat tip to Cryptogon for this story 

Lessons Learned From A Dangerous Year

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

– I’m no one’s idea of a savvy investor. Back when the Dot-Com bust came down, I lost my shorts.

– These days, I’ve got a little money in my IRA to play around with and I try to be cautious with it. All I can say for this last year is I haven’t made much but then I haven’t lost much either and, as dangerous as it’s been out there, I think that’s good.

– I follow several economics and investing blogs (hat tip to Bruce S. for some of these). I’m always looking for small bits of insight and wisdom I can use. This piece by Barry Ritholtz seems to me to be composed of excellent advice and insight and I recommend it.

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In the beginning of the year, a column I wrote for Real Money discussed some lessons of the past year. It never was moved over to the free site, so here is my belated update.

It is a mix of fundamental, economic, technical and even philosophical lessons that those savvy CEOs, fund managers and individual investors who were paying attention picked up in the recent turmoil.

1) Ignore market rumors: It seemed every time some firm was in trouble, the same gossip was floated that Warren Buffett was about to buy them. Time and again, these tales proved to be unfounded money-losers. This year’s most egregious example was Berkshire’s imminent purchase of Bear Stearns (BSC).

That The New York Times Dealbook got suckered into printing this just shows you how pernicious these rumors are. The stock was as high as $123 the day of the rumor.

Anyone who bought homebuilders or Bear Stearns stock on the basis of either of these rumors — or nearly any other stock that had similar rumors floated throughout the year — lost boatloads of money.

2) Buy sector strength (and avoid sector weakness): It’s a truism of real estate: It’s better to own a lousy house in a great neighborhood than a great house in a lousy one. And the same is true for stock sectors: Buying mediocre companies in great sectors generated positive results, while great companies in poor sectors struggled.

The losers are obvious: The homebuilders, financials, monoline insurers and retailers all struggled this year. The winners? Anything related to agriculture, solar energy, oil servicing, industrials, software, exporters, infrastructure plays — even asset-gatherers thrived.


…Later (17Aug08) here’s another list of ten rules to look over: 

One-fifth of EU timber imports are illegal

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

Almost one-fifth of wood imported into the European Union in 2006 came from illegal sources, with the UK being the second largest importer, a new investigation has found.

The UK imported 3.5 million cubic metres of illegal wood, which included importing the biggest quantities of furniture, finished wood products, sawnwood and plywood of all EU states. says a report from WWF. Only Finland brought in more illegal timber.

In 2006, the EU imported between 26.5 and 31 million cubic metres of illegal wood and related products, equal to the total amount of wood
harvested in Poland in the same year. Most of Europe’s illegal timber comes from Russia, Indonesia and China.

WWF presents these findings as further evidence of the need for a strong European law to prevent illegal wood entering EU markets.



Globalization Is Destroying the World’s Oceans

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

The oceans are a primary source of food for mankind, and fishing provides 200 million people with income, as meager as it may be. But growing demand and the industrial-scale exploitation of the seas are destroying global fish populations. The European Union’s quota system is partly to blame.

Dawn creeps across the horizon as the Pinkis brothers’ cutter returns to the harbor at Kühlungsborn. The Baltic is still calm, but wind from the northeast has already picked up sharply, a sign of the storms in the evening forecast. The Pinkis brothers and their crew have been out since 2 a.m., 10 nautical miles off the coast of northeast Germany’s Mecklenburg region, in a spot where they had staked hundreds of nets into the sea floor the previous afternoon, hoping the fish would come.

The brothers’ cutter is small, less than 10 meters (33 feet) long, with a tiny bridge on top and a large fish tank in the hold below. Two stake-net fishermen stand on the deck, wearing bright orange oilcloth clothing. The boat has hardly docked at the wharf before they begin shoveling the catch from the hold, mostly flounder and codfish, even a lone turbot. The catch amounts to 200 kilograms (440 lbs), the fruits of a day’s labor — a day that can sometimes last 20 hours. Six days a week.


There Are More Boys Than Girls in China and India

Saturday, August 9th, 2008

Preference for sons could spell trouble for China and India

It’s one thing to wish for a boy or a girl when pregnant; but it’s something else entirely to take steps to guarantee your wish comes true. Enter China and India, where the ratio of boys to girls is so lopsided that economists project there may be as many as 30 to 40 million more men than women of marriageable age in both countries by 2020.

The question is: Why? It’s more than just the historic birth ratio of 105 boys for every 100 girls. Both abortion and infanticide, largely triggered by a long-time limit of one child per family in China, each played a role. The skewed populations have prompted Chinese men, left with a limited pool of potential brides at home, to seek wives in other regions of their own countries as well as those abroad. But a dearth of mates isn’t the only concern for population giants China and India, which together account for 2.4 billion of the 6.7 billion people on Earth.

There are 119 boys born for every 100 girls in China today, compared with 108.5 boys per 100 girls during the 1980s. Recent national data is less comprehensive for India, but census records show 115 boys born for every 100 girls in 2003. That represents a major leap from 104 boys per 100 girls in 1981. By comparison, the U.S. is closer to average: 105 boys for every 100 girls this year.

The growing imbalance slows in older age because women tend to outlive men, with the ratio in both countries falling to about 106 men per 100 women after age 60. But such figures are cold comfort for younger men who lack marriage prospects in their age groups.

China’s lopsided population woes began in the early 1980s when its government began enforcing a one child per couple rule. The cap was first adopted in 1979 as part of a series of ongoing measures to curb population growth to help the government manage the country’s still-limited resources. The move correlated with an attempt by Chinese authorities to improve healthcare that included taking portable ultrasound machines to the most isolated rural villages, which gave women advanced knowledge of the sex of her fetus.