samedi, novembre 29, 2008

A sultan speaks

One hundred years ago, a story titled "Dying of Consumption" would most likely be about tuberculosis or other lung diseases.

We've done pretty well in making TB and a lot of those other contagious diseases very rare in the U.S.

But when it comes to our personal spending, it appeared as though the virus was slowly killing us.

So argues Steven S. Roach, chair of Morgan Stanley Asia.

As much as this recession hurts, it has finally compelled many Americans to cut back on spending -- which is a very good thing, he says.

Here are a few of the scary stats he cites:

As a share of disposable income, the personal saving rate fell from 5.7 percent in early 1995 to nearly zero from 2005 to 2007.

According to Federal Reserve calculations, net equity extractions from United States homes rose from about 3 percent of disposable personal income in 2000 to nearly 9 percent in 2006.

...As a result, household debt hit a record 133 percent of disposable personal income by the end of 2007 — an enormous leap from average debt loads of 90 percent just a decade earlier.

What does he recommend? No more tax cuts for now. Spending on infrastructure. Mandatory or incentive-driven savings. No tax increases associated with these mandatory savings.

I must confess that I was surprised to see Mr. Roach's byline -- I don't usually think of Morgan Stanley chairs as leading a rush to fiscal reform.

Given that today's progressive ideas can often become tomorrow's orthodoxy, it will be fascinating to see whether the new adminstration is listening.

lundi, novembre 24, 2008

Alex the gray parrot

There's a good reason the anti-abortion centers (crisis pregnancy centers is the term used by the movement) show women ultrasounds of the fetus. Once you can see that, at a fairly early stage of life, the fetus has a human form, it's much harder to get rid of it.

We don't eat cats and dogs, having developed relationships with them. I don't know if they still do so in China, but it is so beyond my ability to imagine that it seems almost impossible.

I'm thinking of giving Dr. Pepperberg's "Alex and Me" to some friends for Christmas this year.
Alex was the grey parrot that the doctor bought at a store and who became in some way her friend.

Here's a few paragraphs from the review in today's Times :

“Alex, the African gray parrot who was smarter than the average U.S. president, has died at the relatively tender age of 31,” read an obituary in The Guardian of London. “He could count to six, identify colors, understand concepts such as bigger and smaller and had a vocabulary of 150 words. To his supporters he was proof that the phrase ‘birdbrain’ should be expunged from the dictionary.”
As his owner and colleague, Dr. Pepperberg, writes in her charming new book, “Alex & Me,” the parrot she bought in a Chicago pet store in 1977 would help open a new window on the capacity of birds and other animals to think and communicate. "

See the review, linked above, to learn more about the bird who taught Dr. Pepperberg a lot about communication, and perhaps something about love.

Scary, isn't it? Communication can often usher in affection, and sometimes love. Then you take a look at some of the things you used to do without thinking-- and ask yourself whether you really want to do them anymore.

There's not one answer. But darn it, we need to at least do our some of animal companions the honor of trying to understand them...understanding us -- perhaps more than we know.

dimanche, novembre 23, 2008

In our own backyard

My gut tells me to trust what Tom Friedman says, but my mind is telling me not to go there...yet.

He's been right so many other times (a bit too hopeful on Iraq, but otherwise on target), and he's not generally an a demagogue - so it might be smart to take it seriously when he does ring the alarm.

Here's a paragraph from today's column, linked above...

Right now there is something deeply dysfunctional, bordering on scandalously irresponsible, in the fractious way our political elite are behaving — with business as usual in the most unusual economic moment of our lifetimes. They don’t seem to understand: Our financial system is imperiled.

Given that a lot of the market panic is based on a lack of trust, Friedman argues that the President should install Tim Geithner at week. And that Congress should stay in session. And that we should not underestimate the hugeness of the problem... WMD, in the form of subprime mortages, that were buried in our own backyard.