Monday, December 22, 2008

Response to "Opportunity in Russia"

A friend sends me these links and comments about the current political atmosphere in Russia. Add to this the recent rubberstamping of the bill to give the Russian president a 6 year term, and we see that the political climate has become very, ahem, strict. However, my point was that the opportunity is economic. So long as there is economic opportunity, then I believe things will eventually work to a better place politically. The worsening economic situation could actually help the ordinary people - by making consideration of them more urgent. It could cause a greater discontinuity of ideas between the leadership and the people. I think they are in for some unstable times. Putin has been compared to Stalin, (just search for Putin - power - Stalin, you'll get plenty of hits) and recently it has been said the he now has the most power of any leader since Stalin. If he wasn't working so hard to suppress dissenting views, I might not be worried. But, as it stands, I am very worried.






This was not the first time. April 21, 2007

Looks the same, only now it is not on TV at all.

The democracy has been buried during the second Putins’ period.

All that is in addition to deepening of economic crisis, creating unemployment and change for the worse of well-being of the people.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

History Lessons

The book is Theodore H. White's "In Search of History, A Personal Adventure". Review written for
Other reviewers have hit the highlights of White's book, but not, to my mind, the potential importance of the thinking, and of the history. White end papers the book with two concepts, and the second may have been unintentional. White opens with the concept that history is driven by ideas. He closes with the impact of a discontinuity of ideas between leaders and those who are led.

However, these concepts are but ideas that illuminate the importance of the history also contained. For most of the book, White illuminates and illustrates the driving forces in four major segments from the middle of the twentieth century. The four segments are the emergence of modern China, the post-war reconstruction in Europe, American presidential political history from FDR through Reagan, and the impact of the changes of technology on the media, including the impact on politics.

White initially does give us a little window into the Boston of his youth, but it is little more than a window-view. Very early on, he mentions his first concept - that the shape of history is driven by ideas. Shortly after, we find ourselves with a war-time view of China, as it struggles with its place in history. What he tells us of China is not what we usually hear. What we usually hear is still colored by the terror, xenophobia, and bigotry that was so clearly revealed by the McCarthy years. Or, if not, then it is equally slanted, but still unrealistic and naive, a victim of misunderstanding the 'why' of what exists today. In telling us what he saw, White reveals many 'why's of today's China, including why Mao and the communists succeeded, when the Nationalists failed. [It wasn't due to the strength of their respective militias.]

White's telling of the post-WW2 European reconstruction is less revealing, but still informative. It does, however, serve as a segue to the next section - American political history in the mid-20th century. He has already set the groundwork for this section, by discussing FDR, Truman, and Ike during the first chapters. Now, he turns, focusing mostly on Kennedy and his assassination, but moving, like a piano player, up and down the keyboard of time, pulling in everything from Lincoln's heroism to Carter, with an unnamed allusion to the optimism of Reagan.

Interspersed with this are vignettes of the media industry. He clarifies a brief history, moving from the impact of getting our news from regular newspapers, through the changes periodicals wrought, and on to the huge impact of the early years of television (pre-cable, pre-internet).

In closing, he off-handedly discusses why ideas had such a large impact at the time of Kennedy's assassination. He shows us that this black swan of an event led to a discontinuity of ideas, which led directly to the dissonance of the years that followed. This concept is his end cap - the impact of a discontinuity of ideas. White uses revolutions and political turmoil as illustrative of events that result from a discontinuity of ideas between leaders and led. What he may not have realized is that this is a remarkable concept in and of itself.

Along the journey through this book, White explains, in simple terms, why America remains a two-party system (because each party is not a single unit, but a conglomeration of many regional and partisan viewpoints), and what concept separates American politics and culture, from the rest of the world (opportunity). His explanations are simple, understandable, and believable.

History since this book was written bears out White's observations. Reading these concepts, I can see that this past presidential campaign was not a fluke - taking two years - but a portent of how the transmission of news, via the internet, has changed politics. The delivery of news via the internet takes us away from the drive-by shootings of television-driven political campaigns, back toward meaningful discussions and observations.

This book is a keeper.


Ironically, what I read in this book gives me hope for the future for my Russian friends. They are now in a nationalist storm, perhaps a pendulum swing back from the last decade. If their government keeps most of its democratic structures, I believe there is reason to be optimistic about the longer term results - say, in another decade or so. My reason for this is because normal Russians now have "Opportunity". Perhaps I am wrong (I hope not), but I believe that still today everyday people can find ways to make money, to start businesses, to create work. This is a good sign.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ice storms, dead trees, and Lady Luck

Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don't. This has been my lucky couple of weeks:

Two weeks ago, at 2 AM, the skies were clear, and there was no wind. A dead tree at the side of our yard decided to fall over. In the process it fell on the electric power lines to the house, breaking one of them. Bad, right? No, good. It woke me up, and as our electricity was failing, and several appliances were in the process of burning themselves out, I was awake and responding. I managed to figure it out that the whole house needed to be shut down, which I did. In the dark now, we got out the flashlights, and found the cause of all the buzzing, popping, and sizzling we had just gone through. Bad, right? Nope, good. The cops showed up in about 15 minutes, the fire marshal within a half hour, and there was nothing for them to worry about. I'd gotten the power shut down in time, and no fires. The electric maintenance truck showed up about 4 or half past, and was willing to fix the damage and get us operating. He didn't have to - the damage was on the house side, and he could have forced me to hire an electrician. Whew.

The next day we realized that every surge suppressor in the house was basically toast. Most were still operating, but they stank from having started to burn up. Only one actually burnt out and popped the circuit breaker. We only lost a microwave, a modem, the furnace controls, and two little radio-alarm clocks. Within a day we were back at 90% operation, by the weekend were back to 99%.

That was the practice run. Last Thursday we had an ice storm you would have heard about. We only got our power back on yesterday. Without power, we had no heat and no water. We were heating the house with propane camp stoves, and we had no place to cook for the first couple of days. Light was kerosens lamps and flashlights. Water was in 5 gallon buckets we filled at our neighbor's house (they had a generator running, so their well pump was working).

Bad, right? Nope, good. For hours the freezing rain was coming down, with major branches breaking and coming down - BOOM! One HUGE branch that we had planned on trimming because it hung directly over the kitchen came down. But it only grazed the roof and deflected, no damage, except to the grill outside. The grill lost the lid handle, which took a direct hit from the branch. Oh, shucks. Another branch from the same tree came down and landed on the kitchen steps - denting the stair rail, and coming to rest against the house siding. No damage. Another one hit the brackets I had put outside the living room window for the A/C unit this past summer, knocking a bracket off the wall, and pulling a foot-long piece of siding with it. No serious damage. Half a tree came down behind our lawnmower shed, and missed it by inches. No damage. Another half of a tree, about seventy feet tall, came down on the deck that used to be part of the above ground pool that the previous owner's had. I had already taken out the pool. The deck was partly crushed, but it is of little consequence. The propane heaters kept the house, and us, warm. No frozen pipes. The fish tank lived thru the ordeal, as we maintained sufficient temp in the tank to keep the fish alive and well.

No damage. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don't.

Monday, December 1, 2008

And now, for something from the lighter side . . .

Whoooaaa. Well, if you don't laugh at this one, just head up to the bestof homepage, and scroll down till you find something. A million laughs!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Insanity - economics!

Just to prove that we really don't have a handle on ye olde crystale balle - try this:

Laugh a little.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Depressing depression. More bad economic outlooks.

I got to this:

from here:

What I have to say is this - the recent collapse of the leverage market amounted to a collapse in real money supply- or perhaps it is simply my ignorance that makes it seem so to me. The first article above, which is long, and took me two sittings to read, tells me that we are on the doorstep - that road last seen in 1929-1931. The international economic news is very sobering. Russia continues to show signs of a collapsing economy, as does Europe.

What is amazing about this article's take on the Great Depression is how little it was, and is, understood. Which is exactly how even very bright people are describing the current economic circumstances. On NPR news recently was an interview with some guy from the WALL STREET JOURNAL (!). He expressed that he had been shocked, somewhat by the market corrections, but more so by the depth of each consecutive failure!

Frightening? I'm getting past being frightened. I just hope our fears don't come true. Gentlemen, I don't know where to head! One assumes that a tight monetary policy is a bad idea, but which stimulatory policy will do the job, and which one will leave us in the lurch?

I'm not really that depressed about all this, and it is fun to think about these things - but they are also truly frightening.

Cheers, I'm off to paying bills - a positively mesmerizing activity after this gloomy session! I think I'll go find that bottle of wine in the back of the pantry . . .down one for me, boys!


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

on 2 year presidential campaigns

Two years of political statements, debates, and speechs. You would think that was too much, yes? I don't. I think we may have finally gotten back to real political campaigns.

Ever since Kennedy debated Nixon on television, politics has been dominated by smaller and smaller sound bites. [The epitome, ultimate one of those stereotypes is either]Sound bites have given the stereotyping of Democrats with "tax and spend", and the swift-boating of John Kerry. [I'll let other people argue about which was the greatest, but I know that] These sound bites were a travesty - a mockery of real political discussion.

A two year campaign meant that we got to see each candidate, to understand who was supporting them, and why, and we got to know something of what they stood for. We got to see them under pressure, not just once or twice, and not in only controlled environments. We got to see them respond to many challenges. We had an opportunity to observe them in action, and not just one or two of them - many of them.

I don't know, but I suspect that when Lincoln ran for president, his speeches were well-attended, well-reported, and oft-repeated. I suspect that most people had a good idea of what the candidates stood for, because they were real news at the time. People would have paid a great deal of attention to what they could hear. And, others would willingly perpetrate great lies, but most people would also know something of the character of the people speaking, and would recognize a less reliable source as just that.

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran, we had radio and whistle-stop tours, but I believe the same principles would still hold true. The campaigners would be well-listened to, because they were one of the few things going beyond the ordinary bounds of daily life. A campaign speech was a notable event, and as such, got attention.

Today we have a glut of availability of exciting things, things that are beyond our ordinary realm of daily life. Television shows take us around the world, or traveling in time, or into flights of imagination, at the flick of a switch. Movies have come, via the television and the internet, into our homes and our lives. Education, fiction, news, games - entertainment and mental activity are more than readily available - they are thrown into our path so that we may not ignore them.

One of the wonderful things about traveling to other countries that are less occupied by the media and material things is the quiet that persists through each day. So much of the stimuli that we are bombarded with is simply not there. Life takes on a simplicity, and you realize that you do not need to hear the news each day. The world will not collapse because you haven't heard the latest bit of noise that is available for offer.

In earlier days, our American people lived like this - from day to day. What a political candidate had to say would have been news, and worthy of one's attention. Today, we so much vieing for our attention that the candidates no longer get it. This is quite recognized as why the sound bites developed in the first place - to counter the reduced amount of time a person was willing to spend listening and considering.

I think, though, that this time, we may have found the counterpunch to the sound bite - the long campaign.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

On Russian democracy, and the future

I am disappointed in Mr. Putin. While his peaceful term in office has been highly beneficial to the majority of Russians, the direction I see his government headed in, will, in the long run, almost certainly be less than beneficial to the majority.

The continuing deaths of political opponents has passed the "smell" test - it stinks of involvement. While the economy may continue to do well, compared to the international economy, it is because of the presence of oil - Russia's Athenian silver. Cronyism and corruption abound, and there seems to be a lack of concern for the average man. The end result must be that the benefits that the economy will bring to the majority must shrink.

This is only a very very short statement of opinion. There is so much more to be said, and discussed, on the subject, but I promised friends I would have something here. I will write more on this subject in the future.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Wow - a little economic clarity!

A little economic clarity, in these circumstances, is a better fright show than any "Halloween, episode gazillionth".


This episode (following link) of "This American Life" was absolutely illuminating. When I was in college, I would rank my teachers, and/or classes, on how many minutes of gold nuggets were found in one hour. Two minutes was an acceptable class. Twenty minutes was downright beyond belief. The show below has 40 minutes worth of gold. It doesn't have all of the understanding I've gained recently, but it sure adds a lot! This is well worth our time. Rated (by me) MUST LISTEN!

For those of you who want to dive more deeply, check out these blogs and the pages referred:

IMHO, this is the best, most even-handed, and easiest to understand:

This guy talks in circles, but when you untangle the mess, I find an intelligent and rational mind, and clear thinking:

This one is far to the economic right, but I know there is one person in my address list who is of the same mind-set. They are intelligent and rational, but I believe some of the assumptions are misguided, and some realities are ignored. However, because they are thinking, and thinking rationally, they are still very useful to help understand the economic picture, if you feel like doing a really deep dive.

All for now.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Real Estate Roller Coaster

An interesting view of the history of home prices. A lot of fun!

Apr 3, 2007 
US Home prices adjusted for inflation plotted as a roller coaster:

27 April, 2012 - the old link is no longer good. The video can be found here today: US Home Prices - 1890 to 2006

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What "white raven" means.

White ravens, and black swans: they are both anomalies, something highly unusual. Observations in nature show us white, or piebald, ravens and crows tending to be leaders of the flock. Black swans is a term coined to indicate the unpredictable historic anomaly that changes everything. The Black Plague, the Great Depression, WW1, 9/11, come to mind. 

In Russia, the raven is known as a clever creature. And, the meaning of clever, to the Russians, is slightly different than how we Americans usually think of it. The Russians say one is clever when they are intelligent, but they also tend to think of the clever person as one who is, or will be, successful. We tend to think of "clever" as something less than honest. Kinda like the Kiowa legend. I kinda like the Russian usage, as we don't have a common American word to describe the concept.

Thus, in Russian cultural observations, a white raven (or crow), is someone who is intelligent, successful, and different. Not your usual run of the cafeteria joe. It also carries a certain hazard in Russian culture, though, as standing out in Russian culture can be dangerous. 

A Russian friend once likened me to a white raven, in the Russian sense. A compliment I greatly appreciated.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The story of the raven

White Crow Hides the Animals - A Kiowa Legend

This telling is borrowed from

Out on the plains there was a camp where the hunters were never successful. They could not understand this. Every time they went out to hunt, the game scattered and hid where it could not be killed. This caused the people to starve.

The people did not know that there was someone who went out and told all the buffalo and deer within reach that the hunters were coming and to hide. here was a man in camp who could turn himself into a white crow. He went out and told all the animals to make their getaway. This person, White Crow, would come back later in the day when on one could see him and turn himself back into a man.

The starving people moved their camp in various directions trying to find where the game went. White Crow did not move. Under his lodge was a hole where all the buffalo were. This is where he got his food.

When the people returned to one camp, they found this man still living there. He said, "Why did you come back? I have nothing to eat. I have been having just as hard a time as you. I have had nothing to eat since you left."

One day, some of the men were playing a game with sticks and White Crow came toward them. The players smelled the odor of buffalo fat coming from the direction where the man was standing. The noticed that the man had on a good-looking buffalo hide, turned inside out to disguise its newness. He also had a sacred stick rubbed with buffalo fat that they could smell. He did not like their looking at him. He slipped away so they could not ask him questions.

Coyote was there in that village. That night he called the men together and offered to look around White Crow's camp and tell them what he learned. Coyote watched White Crow's camp for a while, the came back and told the men he needed two good men with good eyes. Owl and Dragonfly were the ones chosen. Coyote told them to lie down in the grass and watch White Crow wherever he went. Dragonfly watched so hard, his eyes came out. Owl strained his eyes until they became larger than ordinary eyes. Owl watched the man until he saw him go down in the ground.

When Owl came back, coyote told the men to gather everyone together and announce they were moving camp. Coyote was going to change himself into a little pup and they were to leave him behind. White Crow had a daughter, Coyote told them. "When the people leave she will search the camp for anything left behind and will find me."

The nest day, everyone moved and Coyote turned himself into a dog, but he forgot to put on the whiskers of a dog. The little girl found him and brought him to her lodge. When White Crow came in he asked to examine the dog. He saw that there were no whiskers and he told his daughter that he was afraid of this. He said it was a person disguised as a dog. But the girl said she wanted to keep it anyway. She refused to throw it away. She gave it a piece of meat while her father went out to warn all the game to be alert.

One day when the man was gone, the little girl removed the stone that covered the buffalo hole. She called the puppy over to look into the hole but he acted as if her were afraid. "Come over here. Look in here pup, see what we have." When she said this, the pup came over. Suddenly he jumped into the hole, and turned into a man and began to holler, "Scatter all over the world! Scatter! Scatter!" The buffalo came out of the ground like a big river. Coyote turned himself into a cocklebur and stuck himself on the fetlock of the last buffalo that go past the girl, who was waiting for him with a club. After the buffalo got out of White Crow's lodge and were a long way off Coyote became a man again and shouted "Scatter! Scatter!"

When White Crow returned to his camp and saw what had happened, he said to the young girl, "See what you have done! I was afraid something like this would happen. Now we are going to have a hard time."

Coyote returned to his people and they began to enjoy the buffalo again. This made White Crow angry. He directed the buffalo and the other animals to hide from the hunters. Soon the people were starving again. White Crow let them know he was going to make it harder than before. He flew over the camp saying, "I want you to know it was me who kept you from killing the buffalo before. You are not going to kill meat animals any more."

That night, Coyote called the men together and told them he had a plan. They would have to follow his instructions carefully. They were to announce that everyone should move over to a forest a few valleys away. Coyote would turn himself into a bull elk and hide in the brush where White Crow would not see him. When the people came along they were to kill and butcher him, but they were to leave behind his skeleton and his head with the antlers attached.

So, the next morning, the people moved to where he had directed them and some of them went out to look for game. A hunter scared up the elk, chased him, and killed him. They butchered him the way they had been told.

While they had been chasing him, White Crow had flown over Elk and said, "I wonder how I overlooked you. I should have told you they were hunting and to hide. I am to blame. But you can run fast and save yourself."

After the hunters left: White Crow found the skeleton. He lit on its antlers and thought to himself, "I know this is not an elk, I know what Coyote did before. This is just Coyote, who has disguised himself again. I will test him and find out." So White Crow stood on Elk's head and began to strike at Elk's nose with his sharp beak saying, "I know you are Coyote! I know you are Coyote!" He kept on striking. He stopped just as Coyote was about to cry out. "Well, I will try another place." He moved back to the hind leg, to the kneecap. He struck with his beak. "I know you are Coyote! I know you are Coyote!" Again, Coyote was just about to yell when White Crow stopped.

"Well, you must be an elk, but I do not see how I overlooked you." White Crow than decided he would pick out the scraps of meat left on the ribs. When he stuck his head in between them, Coyote closed his ribs and held White Crow in a vise. Then he got up and turned himself into a man. "Now, I have got you!"

White Crow said, "Coyote, please turn me loose. I will not do anything bad again. I will be good to you all. Please, turn me loose!" The people were watching from a distance and when they saw that Coyote had White Crow, they
began to shout.

Coyote said, "Now I have caught you and I am going to take you to camp and let the people do as they please with you." He took him to the camp and the people said, "This is the one who has caused us a lot of misery and starved us. Now that we have him, what shall we do with him?"

Spider Old Woman said, "Let me have him. I want to see the one who has caused us to starve." As she held White Crow, she was entangling him with her web but no one knew this. As she was doing it, White Crow got out of her hands and flew up into the air. He circled the camp, laughing. "This time I will have no compassion on you. This time I am really going to starve you!"

Coyote turned to Spider Old Woman and said, "I am going to tell the people to kill you for letting White Crow get away." Spider Old Woman said, "That White Crow doesn't know what he's talking about. I will get him." She began dragging in White Crow as though she was pulling on a rope. White Crow said. "Hey, I was only joking. I will be good. Have compassion on me." But Spider Old Woman went on pulling him in until she got him in her hands. She gave him to Coyote. "Do whatever you want with him," she said.

Coyote ordered the men to go and get firewood. They built a big fire and put White Crow in it until he was burned all black. Then Coyote said, "I am going to make it so you can never do anything your own way. All your life you are going to be a bird flying about looking for scraps. You are going to be frightened by everything." Now, this is the way with Crow.


But, you will notice that the crow is clever, as in smart, and successful.