Atheists and the Stock Market – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Taleb’s exposition of the Ludic fallacy:

“We love the tangible, the confirmation, the palpable, the real, the visible, the concrete, the known, the seen, the vivid, the visual, the social, the embedded, the emotional laden, the salient, the stereotypical, the moving, the theatrical, the romanced, the cosmetic, the official, the scholarly-sounding verbiage, the pompous Gaussian economist, the mathematicized crap, the pomp, the Academie Francaise, Harvard Business School, the Nobel Prize, dark business suits with white shirts and Ferragamo ties, the moving discourse, and the lurid. Most of all we favor the narrated.

Alas, we are not manufactured, in our current edition of the human race, to understand abstract matters — we need context. Randomness and uncertainty are abstractions. We respect what has happened, ignoring what could have happened. In other words, we are naturally shallow and superficial — and we do not know it. This is not a psychological problem; it comes from the main property of information. The dark side of the moon is harder to see; beaming light on it costs energy. In the same way, beaming light on the unseen is costly in both computational and mental effort.”

How to choose good durian

Here is a short durian tutorial by Mr Wong who runs a small boutique durian stall at 231 East Coast Road (Opp Jago Close) Singapore. You can contact him for your durian needs by calling 97514828. At the time of blogging, his Mao Shan Wang was selling for $16 per kg. Having been in the durian trade for 20 years, he has established a good relationship with his suppliers who would pre-select all his durians so that his customers can look forward to a really good durian experience.


Short straw dims New Year glow

Short straw dims New Year glow
Fortune stick predicts worst luck for HK, and hours later fireworks barge catches fire
Mary Ann Benitez, Danny Mok and Amy Nip
SCMP Jan 28, 2009

As if recession and the prospect of a worsening economic downturn were not enough, Hong Kong yesterday drew the worst possible fortune stick in a ceremony at a Sha Tin temple.

Lau Wong-fat, chairman of rural affairs body the Heung Yee Kuk, drew the stick numbered 27 on the city’s behalf in the Taoist ceremony at the Che Kung temple.

A fortune-teller at the temple who read the stick said it showed the city could not isolate itself from the global economic turbulence, but that Hongkongers should nevertheless be cautiously optimistic.

Fung shui masters interpreted the stick’s meaning differently.

James Lee Shing-chak said it signified possible conflicts between the government and its people.

Mr Lau said: “It is a warning to all of us that only a harmonious society with people staying united can enable us to get through our challenges.”

The last time that stick was drawn, 1992, saw, among other things, the arrival of last governor Chris Patten – who unleashed fierce political strife.

When a Sha Tin district councillor drew the ill-omened stick 17 years ago, the council immediately burned it and drew another, lucky one.

Yesterday, that option was not open to Mr Lau and, rather than the stick burning, it was a barge used for the Lunar New Year fireworks display that went up in flames last night.

The barge, one of three from which fireworks were launched during the 23-minute display, burst into flames near the end of the HK$5 million spectacle that lit up Victoria Harbour. The barge’s two crewmen were rescued. No one was hurt.

Within minutes thick black smoke had engulfed the bow of the vessel. Fire boats soon doused the flames.

Teddy Ng, watching with his 19-year-old daughter, said flames engulfed at least a quarter of the barge.

Wilson Mao Wai-shing, chief executive officer of Pyro Magic Productions, which produced the show, could not be reached for comment.

A spokesman for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department said it appeared sparks falling onto the barge had started the fire.

It wasn’t the only mishap on the harbour. Earlier, a pleasure boat taking 41 people to see the fireworks sprang a leak soon after leaving the Kowloon City ferry pier.

A lucky 23,888 fireworks formed the display, which was watched by 250,000 people lining both sides of Victoria Harbour and featured the character for ox.

The crowd was much smaller than expected. A turnout similar to last year’s 400,000 had been forecast.

Spectators gasped when curtains of gold and red fireworks cascaded or comets and sparking fireflies seemed to hover on the horizon.

As well as the character for ox – which was hard to pick out – the show also featured for the first time the characters for “good luck” and the lucky numbers six, eight and 10.

Afterwards spectators were divided about the merits of the show. Some said it was small and that, because it was a windless night, smoke had blanketed the harbour by halfway through the show. An amateur photographer, C. P. Chan, said: “I took pictures and the smoke started to get in the way after just 10 photos.”

But another spectator, Lois Wong Yu-siu, 19, said: “The combination of the music and fireworks matched.”

Alex Tsang said he was disappointed because it was quite smoky.

Still, he is hopeful about the Year of the Ox.

“My new year wish is for a pay rise so that I can get married soon,” the sales representative said.

Restaurants, too, were optimistic. Several said that business was holding up during the Lunar New Year holiday.

More shops were open than a year ago, too, though there was both a positive and a negative reason for that, said Caroline Mak Sui-king, chairwoman of the Retail Management Association.

On the one hand, a rise in tourists made it more worthwhile opening, but on the other hand they were forced to open because they needed every opportunity to earn the money to pay ever higher rents, she said.

Away from the festivities, pan-democrats petitioned Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen – who is on holiday – with their wishes for the Year of the Ox, and reminded him he had a tough year’s work ahead.

The Hong Kong Observatory issued the cold weather warning for the fifth consecutive day.

Urban temperature hovered around 12 degrees Celsius. In the northwestern New Territories they dipped to 8 degrees. Warmer weather is forecast for today.

John Thain

Thain behaviour
Published: January 23 2009 22:03 | Last updated: January 23 2009 22:03

What is it that bankers don’t get? Unable to own up to a collective failure, some still display a sense of entitlement that bears no relation to their current status as wards of the state supported by the taxpayer. Step forward John Thain.

Formerly of Goldman Sachs, he was feted just months ago for securing the sale of Merrill Lynch to Bank of America, just as Lehman Brothers crumbled into dust. BofA even paid a 70 per cent premium. Some deal. Some salvation.

It now emerges that Mr Thain brought forward about $4bn in discretionary bonuses, paying them out in the narrow window after the sale of Merrill was agreed but days before the deal was actually closed.

This wheeze went down just as Merrill headed into record $21.5bn operating losses in the fourth quarter and BofA started seeking additional taxpayers’ funds from the troubled asset relief programme to digest its acquisition.

These bonuses, moreover, came in a year when Merrill’s total operating loss was $41.2bn. Bonuses equivalent to 10 per cent of the profits would be excessive, but 10 per cent of the losses? Furthermore, reports that Mr Thain spent $1.22m doing up his office, including $1,400 on a parchment rubbish bin, after his arrival at Merrill last year will serve to feed popular perceptions that the greed and insensitivity of investment bankers knows few limits.

Whether or not the bonuses were legal – and it seems they were – outside the parallel universe of investment bankers they are seen as looting. Bankers played a very big part in setting fire to the world economy – and reaped large rewards for their recklessness. They are being supported with public money because the economy cannot work without banks, not because bankers should be a protected species.

There may be no tumbrils rolling down Wall Street or through the City of London but a backlash is building. It would be a pity if this translates into regulation more stifling than that required to restrain more foolish risk-taking. But if bankers behave like this, it certainly will.

The 10 Levels of Healing

The 10 Levels of Healing

1. Awareness: Identifying with victim behavior.

2. Commitment to change old patterns and begin to practice healing tools.

3. Step by step, you begin to see results of using the tools.

4. You are now processing and integrating new insights while releasing old patterns.

5. The determination becomes stronger to create more balance in your life.

6. Increased awareness of your ability to manifest the life you deserve.

7. Self-worth expands and grows significantly.

8. You have stopped creating dramas and have drawn in mentors.

9. Confidence in handling life’s lessons.

10. Experience more pleasure, happiness, delight, clarity, and peace, in your daily life now.

~ Lori Rekowski


When Travelers chief executive Sandy Weill acquired Citibank for US$70bn in April 1998 he effectively forced a rewrite of the rules of financial regulation. The US system was set up in the 1930s to prevent a repeat of the crash that led to the Great Depression.

The Glass-Steagall Act kept investment banks on Wall Street separate from commercial and retail lenders on main street, so traders couldn’t bet bank deposits. It was effectively repealed during the dying days of the Clinton Presidency in November 1999.

The Citibank takeover, which brought together legendary bond trading house Salomon, acquired by Travelers in 1997, with one of America’s largest main street lenders, forced this issue out into the open.

It heralded a wave of similar deals, combining both sides of the banking business. Most notably in September 2000 Chase Manhattan bought JP Morgan for US$33bn shortly after it had snapped up UK investment bank Robert Fleming.

Soon afterwards inventive investment bankers made the most of the low interest rates put in place after the terrorist atrocities of September 11 2001 to create debt instruments that led ultimately to the current debacle.
Continue reading Citibank