More Shankar–the Lemming Effect?

I am late posting but can’t resist linking TWO Shankar Vedantam articles to my last post on stock market reporting. The irony is the headline on one and the introductory paragraph to the next. The first article on December 3rd, provided detailed analysis of studies suggesting that looking up at the sky may be a good gauge on when to buy or sell stock. When it’s cloudy, stocks decline; when it’s sunny, they rise. So the recommendation is to buy cloudy and sell sunny. Now this analysis, unlike the navel gazing the financial reporters indulge in every day, has the benefit of empirical data that seems plausibly persuasive. The second article leads off a discussion of a long ago study confirming a lemming-like effect among human passersby on a New York sidewalk. As they walked by volunteers looking up at the sky (at nothing in particular), the unknowing test subjects tended to do likewise.  Moreover, the more volunteers staging the skyward gaze, the higher percentage of passersby who would copy the behavior. Vedantam uses this observation to note that blindly following the herd may be yet another explanation for investment behavior. Naturally, following a herd which knows nothing more than yourself is not a good guide for investment, as Vedantam points out. While in some cases the herd may be quite right, there are times when they are not so it behooves you to discern which is which.

Naturally, this prompts me to offer another Buddhist homily from the Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, “Miao-lo comments, ‘Wise men can perceive the cause of things, as snakes know the way of snakes.’ ” WND, page 254. In other words, or perhaps I should say many more words–those who embrace the Mystic Law or the Wonderful Dharma will acquire the wisdom to know which signs are those of unthinking herds and which are those of the discerning investor. By no means, however, am I simply suggesting that all one has to do to be a successful investor is to be a devout Buddhist. On the contrary, what I am suggesting is that one will learn a methodology a law professor I once had instilled in his students: “If you know what you don’t know, you know what you need to find out.” That means having the sense to stop and figure out what you do and don’t know.  And chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo will help you take that deep breath, clear your head and sniff out the truth.

Investors and the Fed

Stocks go up, stocks go down. Ahead of the Fed, the markets went up, in anticipation that the Fed would cut the interest rate, according to financial writers. After the cut, the markets plunged again because, the unnamed “investors” the financial writers attribute the herd behavior to were disappointed the cut wasn’t bigger. To me, so much of what the media insists on saying about the causes for stock movement seems like navel gazing. Do any of the writers query investors about their sentiments? Sure, they talk to analysts; do they even talk to brokers, or others who might hear something from clients? How about the investment staff at the pension funds and other big institutional investors? Even if they did, would people be able to clearly articulate why they sold, bought or offered at a price up or down? No, I don’t think so. It’s mind filler. Something to make it seem like somebody really can explain market behavior. Maybe it reassures some people that it is possible to figure this all out. I just laugh–and stay diversified.

Historical/Architectural Preservation Run Amok

Recently, the Historic Preservation Review Board of Washington, DC conferred landmark status on a church that is only 36-years old.  See the Washington Post article.  Voting 7-0 over the objections of the congregation, the board insisted that the building exemplified the architectural style of “Brutalism” and therefore the church body could not redevelop the property to better suit the current needs of its membership.  I don’t know about the architectural style, but this certainly exemplifies the brutalism of historic preservation.  Evidently, this is a case of form triumphing over function–a church as art rather than a house of worship.  For all of you like-minded preservationists out there:  If you find structures like so valuable, why don’t you just pool your money together, buy them and reconstruct them out in the middle of some otherwise useless piece of land in the middle of nowhere and put them on display.  You could buy up acreage and plop down historic buildings from all over America on put them on display for all your fellow preservationists!  Then the rest of us could put the land in our cities in towns to more sensible and functional purposes.

CIA Torture Tapes

See, this is what happens when Kiefer Sutherland goes in the slammer for his second DUI, Hayden destroys the tapes of the torture.  I said it before, torture is and should be illegal.  So now we find out for certain that the CIA did in fact waterboard people AND the torture was actually videotaped for further analysis just in case the guys doing the dirty deeds were too engrossed to actually learn everything while it went on.  Now, with the political tides turning and the end of the Bush empire is in sight, we learn that the tapes were destroyed to protect the guilty.  Oh wait, CIA Director Hayden evidently doesn’t think they are guilty since Bush and his legal lackey Fredo (Arturo Gonzalez, former AG) said it was OK.  So if Bush and the AG say it is OK to drop an alleged terrorist off the top of the Empire State Building, would that make it legal and protect a government agent from prosecution?  I don’t think so!  We already know that the Nuremburg defense is not a viable one.  So anyone working in the CIA interrogation section, better start working the phones for their legal defense fund.  AND they better start seeking redemption.

Tired butt

Yes, that is what I am suffering from.  I have been sitting in front of my computer for too many hours yesterday and today–oh, and Monday as well.  Who would have thought that the most tired part of the body resulting from promoting a book could be the butt.  So for that reason, I must give it a proper rest.  Before I do, it is time for a comedy break; at least I hope you feel that what I intend as humor seems funny to you.  The best I can offer today, from my list of topical phrases for future use is this:  Burpin’ Brats.  So what’s that you say? Well, I see it as reality-TV, perhaps a spinoff from Supernanny.  Then again, perhaps even BETTER, maybe a show based on competitive eating contests!  Can’t you just see–and hear Sonia Thomas cutting loose with a room-shaking belch after downing 50 bratwurst in 3 minutes and 49 seconds?  Perhaps Johnsonville Sausage would not want to sponsor either show, I don’t know.  If you think so, go ahead and give some network producers a treatment; with the writers strike what have you got to lose.  Just give me a credit if you sell it.  No, wait a minute, I don’t think I would want my name associated with that–I HATE reality TV.

SPLC

I added the Southern Poverty Law Center blog, Hatewatch, to my blogroll.  I have been derelict in adding blogs to the roll.  Just another one of those things I can’t seem to get to.  I will.  I promise.  Anyway, I have been a financial contributor to SPLC for many years.  They sue white supremacists, racist skinheads, neonazis, gay bashers, the KKK and many others who abuse law abiding citizens whose only crime–in the abuser’s eyes, is their status as different from them.  Members of the hate groups are ultimately cowards, who are afraid of the boogy man.  They dress up in uniforms to feel a part of something larger than their weak small selves.  They attack in packs like jackals, afraid to confront even a smaller person alone.  But they are dangerous nonetheless. 

From a Buddhist perspective, they seldom stray from the worlds of hell, anger or animality.  Deep within, like all beings, they possess a Buddha nature.  Unfortunately, genuine dialogue, to open their eyes and their lives to a more tolerant, happier and humane world is difficult at best.  For this reason, an organization like SPLC is still a necessity.  Federal, state and local law enforcement is not enough. Mental health facilities, drug treatment and economic assistance are not enough.  In time, more people will come to believe and act on the notion that all men have an equal right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  Of course, as we all know, when Thomas Jefferson put these words into the Declaration of Independence he really meant men and didn’t mean to include women; nor to outlaw slavery. So it took a long while to get where we are now in legal terms; it will take longer still to get there in people’s hearts and minds.

Updates on Shrub: a Fable ’bout Murrica

I plan on dribbling out updates to the next book on www.eaglepeakpress.com, starting soon.  Soon, of course, can be a relative term and in this case it most likely is–since I also need to keep getting out the word on Waiting for Westmoreland.  Which reminds me, if you have read it please help me out here by letting others know what a wonderfully encouraging piece of work it is.  You do agree with that, don’t you?

Date Change for Whispering Bear

Just in case you didn’t notice over on the right sidebar, the booksigning at Whispering Bear got bumped to January 5th. Still on a Saturday from 1-5.  Tentatively, I will be at the Borders Express in Springfield Mall, Springfield, Virginia, a week later–time to be determined.

Shrub–a Fable ’bout ‘Murrica

Although I still have a lot to do in promoting Waiting for Westmoreland, I am eager to get started on the next book. I want to get it out before the 2008 general election campaigns. So let me give you a little flavor of how this fable might go.

Once upon a time, in a great and powerful nation, a shrub became president. He wasn’t actually a shrub, that’s just what a nice lady named Molly called him. Shrub called the nation Murrica–most people didn’t call it that, but that’s just the way he talked. Oddly enough, brush always played a large part in his life. If he got tired or bored with being in the nation’s capitol, as he often did, he would go back to his ranch and clear brush. That is also where he received his religious inspirations. You see, he considered himself a devout man. So whenever a creosote-rich sagebrush caught fire, as they did now and then, he thought he heard the voice of God telling him what to do. Unfortunately for Murrica, Shrub was no Moses.  

copyright 2007, John Maberry

Where is the shame; where is the outrage?

The bile, the anger rises only occasionally–when I read an op ed or news article that brings the reality of the abuses to my consciousness. Torture. Blackwater. George Bush praising General Musharraff’s grasp of democracy. Warrantless wiretaps. Secret detentions. Legal proceedings that Franz Kafka could not have imagined happening here. Lies and deceptions about why we started a war with Iraq that shifted from one phony rationale to another as each was discredited: Imaginary WMD, non-existent connections between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, eliminating a dictator to bring democracy to an oppressed people.

America was attacked by terrorists. Yes we want to prevent future attacks. Yes we want to punish those who did it. But will giving up our civil liberties, our civil rights, our system of jurisprudence, our morality and humanity–heading down a road that leads to a police state make us a happier and safer country? A country that we want to live in and bring our children up in? I don’t think so. So I think I have found my next book topic.

It will be a biting satire to make Vonnegut, Kafka and even Michael Moore proud. Perhaps it may be in a fable form; a story that might even be readable by children. Because that is who it will benefit.  My first book, Waiting for Westmoreland, recalls a time when the United States trained Latin American soldiers to prop up right-wing dictatorships by any means necessary–because we thought we needed to do that to keep the Communist menace from America’s doorstep. Today, in the name of stopping terrorists, we no longer use surrogates to do our dirty deeds–we do them ourselves! This must stop.

President Daisaku Ikeda, leader of the worldwide Buddhist lay organization Soka Gakkai International, often encourages his fellow Buddhists to use anger to fight injustice. I intend to do that in my next book. Shrub, Darth Vader and friends–I am putting you on notice.

Seeing things as they really are, without the illusions or delusions

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