Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Layman's Account of Global Financial Crisis (GFC)

My qualification is next to nothing. I claim the insight of the child who cried "The Emperor's not wearing any clothes!"
On this note, here's what happened. Before the GFC around 2008, the economists cried wolf: everything - consumer goods, properties, stock prices, essential services etc - had been overpriced. Why did the suppliers charge so much? Greed. They want to have more money, more material wealth because everyone else is having it good. Why should they be any different?
Naturally, most people want to do it the legal way. Thus, the shortcut was to get banks to lend money on expected - and inflated - value of the assets which are pledged to the banks as collateral.
Note: if the banks had simply assessed that the collateral were not worth the loans, the "emperor's new clothes", ie the inflated values, would have been exposed.
Instead, the banks proceeded to support the valuation. Like the emperor's courtiers and fawners, they proceeded to further exaggerate, or inflate these valuations. A particularly wicked part of this was to further package questionable securities such as sub-prime mortgages along with good solid securities such as gold certificates, government bonds etc and demanding that the rating agencies issue an assessment of the "risk rating" (such as AAA, AA+, etc.)of the mixed package of "toxic" assets sandwiched between the good assets. At this point, the ratings agencies should also be responsible for not recognizing that the "toxic" assets had "spoiled the barrel" (my mixing of metaphors is a much lesser offence than that of the financial geniuses in poisoning the pool of wealth).
The rest, as they say, is history. Someone cried out "Ponzi scheme" and the house of cards tumbled.
But, there is yet another chapter. As we resuscitate the financial markets in the hope of refloating the consumer markets, the geniuses who created the toxic assets are chasing their losses. Evidence: the conduct of Goldman Sachs, Citibank etc after the bailouts took on more risks and made back their losses. Smart calls or continued creation of "new clothers"? Watch and see.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Surprise - Writers Can (and do) Bitch

"I walked over each farmer's premises, tasted his wild apples, discoursed on husbandry with him, took his farm at his price, at any price, mortgaging it to him in my mind; even put a higher price on it — took everything but a deed of it — took his word for his deed, for I dearly love to talk — cultivated it, and him too to some extent, I trust, and withdrew when I had enjoyed it long enough, leaving him to carry it on." Thoreau, whose prose was immortalised in Chapter 2 of "Walden", and parrotted by 2 unfit vassals(present company included) -4 posts ago - also wrote the preceding sentence. The footnote goes on to inform us that:
'E.B. White wrote of this sentence: "A copy-desk man would get a double hernia trying to clean up that sentence for the management, but the sentence needs no fixing, for it perfectly captures the meaning of the writer and the quality of the ramble." '
The point? Great writing starts from trash level. In polite company, words which capture "the quality of the ramble".

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Desiderata Indeed

Extreme prose happened way before extreme sport. When someone sent Evelyn Waugh a copy of "Desiderata", he is said to have written back saying "
"Desiderata is disgusting. I have destroyed it. Desiderata indeed!"
Still, here's one of the least quoted part of the piece:
"But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness"
Writers thrive on fear, fatigue, loneliness and distress. The dark imaginings find voice and expression in the works of Kafka, Kundera and King(Stephen, that is). Writing in this way is creative. Communicating - or commercial acclaim - is, at best, a by-product, hardly worthy of sharing the pedestal or podium.
In short, a trophy case is for the collector, who must never ever be confused with the artist.

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Confederacy of Dunces

Here's a quote from Jonathan Swift: "When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him." Applying this in the Singapore context, Dr Chee Soon Juan is a genius; and the previous stars, Chiam See Tong and Low Thia Khiang mere pretenders who were unmasked when they are praised by the PAP. The one consistent quality of Dr Chee: he never received any endorsement from the establishment.
Difficult as it may be to believe, this is not meant to propagate pro- or anti- establishment views. I merely want to say that even the unlikeable (by popular or notorious standards) form part of every democratic, civilised, society.
It is a good time for the average Singaporean (combined family income :$4,000.00 or below) to ask, paraphrasing Ronald Reagan circa 1981: are you better off than, say, 2elections (8years, give or take some) ago?
As we approach our National Day with increased pride (a recent survey says it is indicative of 90%, a 10% increase from 4/5 years ago), it would be nice if we extended our hands to the marginalised and disenfranchised, remembering that they too, form a part of the Singapore that we love.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Reminder To Myself

I am against extremism. I am for remembering that there are many different ways of perceiving the same situation, which leads to differences of opinion.
That someone holds an opinion I consider to be wrong does NOT make that someone wrong-headed.
Lastly, as an example of my personal anti-extremism:
There is a middle path between being a small fish in a big pond and being a big fish in a small pond. Being a medium-sized fish in a medium sized pond. Not thinking big enough (in another person's eyes) is NOT thinking small.

A New Song?

Continuing the theme that this age is better endowed materially but spiritually bereft, a Straits Times(Sunday Times Aug 1, 2010 - "Forget iPad, give me prose" - a must read) journalist, Yen Feng, invoked a 19th century writer to describe our literary poverty: 'We are, as Henry David Thoreau said,"determined to be starved before we are hungry".....Thoreau, in an 1854 essay...advocates a life of simplicity and in nature...Of a particular house he says: "This was an airy and unplastered cabin, fit to entertain a travelling god, and where a goddess might trail her garments...The winds which passed over my dwelling were such as sweep over the ridges of mountains, bearing the broken strains, or celestial parts only, of terrestrial music..The morning wind forever blows, the poem of creation is uninterrupted; but few are the ears that hear it."...I cannot remember the last time I stood before such a wind.'
In an article commissioned by the New York Times titled "Stop multitasking", Bob Herbert writes: "There's a character in the August Wilson play Joe Turner's Come and Gone who says everyone has a song inside him or her, and that you lose sight of that song at your peril. If you get out of touch with your song, forget how to sing it, you're bound to end up frustrated and dissatisfied." Herbert goes on to relate that character's account of the time he lost touch with his own song, saying 'Something wasn't making my heart smooth and easy'... I don't think we can stay in touch with our song by constantly..Tweeting, or thumbing out messages..or piling up virtual friends...Try kissing more and Tweeting less...and stop talking so much. Listen."
I'm listening to the music of the spheres.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What's Going On

Plagiarising 4 non-blondes:
"Twenty - five years and my life is still
Trying to get up that great big hill of hope
For a destination
And I realized quickly when I knew I should
That the world was made up of this brotherhood of man
For whatever that means"
This blog - actually this blogger - is emerging from a dark place. Some would simply say "the ends justify the means" or "survival".Whatever.
In keeping a diary of sorts to track my attempts to survive the financial meltdown circa 2008, I had hoped to observe something about society's nobility; about Man's spirit of sacrifice for the greater good.
Suffice to say, I detect cannibalism in different guises, clothed with social labels of legitimacy. Emperor's clothes, indeed.
In short, I started out thinking this will not be like the Great Depression of the 20's.
I ended realising that while the financial conditions are better than the earlier age, the cohesiveness was much stronger in the last century.
Call me prophet of doom, but I think we're headed for something worse in the days ahead unless we re-discover our souls.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Return....Of Sorts

I thought I was finished, the global recession was over. Then I read economists reminding us that during the 1930's after the government's initial round of stimulus measures, the stock markets recovered and the US government stopped the job creation because they were worried about growing debt levels and inflation. The markets plunged lower again.
So, some experts (???) are saying it's not over. Sluggish recovery, at best. Choppy roads ahead. A bit like the perspective on this miniature model of the leaning tower of Pisa.If you look at it one way, it looks like the real, life-sized tower. Placed alongside a human being, it's a miniature sitting in Taiwan's Doraemon Park.