What color is ‘morally grey’?

In the latest Heroes episode (season 3, episode 17), Noah Bennett uses the phrase morally grey again. Apart from me joking that morally grey would not make a nice wedding color, it also made me wonder what shade of grey it would really be. I actually believe 'morally grey' should not really exist - a contradictio in terminis maybe. Isn't something either 'good' or 'bad' and making any excuses just pulls it in the grey area and therefore admits it was 'bad'? I guess it also depends on what definition you go with.

As for the current state of the world: it seemed that for a lot of people in business and politics 'morally grey' was (and is) their favorite color. Makes you wonder when the day of reckoning is going to come.

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25 February 2009 • PersonalComments (0)Permalink

Saturday morning reading

I spent a good deal of my Saturday morning reading an elaborate rant by James Quinn titled "The Burning Platform".

Here are some of my thoughts (while reading the article):

  • The disparity of wealth in the US always seemed enormous to me. Somehow the system seemed to sustain itself well in the past decades. Recently I have seriously started to question if the 'poor' in the US will put up with it much longer.
  • Illegal immigrants are really convenient when you want someone to landscape your garden, tile your roof or make you brunch in one of your favorite restaurants. Seeing tens of -- probably illegal immigrant -- day laborers waiting in vain along the streets of Berkeley last december, was a little disturbing. Fully aware -- as they were -- that they were not going to be picked up that day anymore. Now that things are seriously slowing down and even the California 'rich' (a lot of them with jobs that anywhere else in the world would only grant them a 'middle class' life have little interest in hiring day laborers (tax free) for a day, it makes you wonder what all these 'laborers' are now going to for a living.
  • Social unrest (and a upsurge in crime) cannot not be ruled out in the US. The same definitely applies to developing countries. China as the new world power will only happen if they can actually keep things together politically and socially.
  • Good to read that our health care system is not even that inefficient. Yet I still believe it is extremely inefficient.
  • I have always held the opinion that the US has become so wealthy (and pleasant country) partly because they were more inviting to immigrants. Immigrant were also happier to go there because they had a dream (the American Dream). Hard-working immigrants has always been a large part of the backbone of the US economy. These immigrants were the cheap laborers of the US economy. It is now interesting to see that one of the solutions for America's problems might be to let in highly educated immigrants. I have always supported similar ideas in Holland -> do not have strict immigration laws against highly skilled/educated petitioners. On a socialist level that might however touch some sensitive nerves because it stresses the fact that not every man is equal. How about this proposition: give anyone a US green card who has a Master's degree or higher and invests $500,000 or more in the US (buys a house for example).
  • The part about the military industrial complex it a little scary. I do not see the US downsizing it army personnel in the near future however. That would only add to the fast growing jobless mob.
  • This is an interesting quote: "The founding fathers envisioned representatives who did their civic duty for a short time and then went back to their real profession." A country that has a law that prevents anyone from become a full time politician might fare better. I agree that it would be wise to set a 6 to 8 year term limit for US Congressmen.
  • What is it with developed countries making their tax systems so extremely complicated. Why do I pay taxes for one thing and get refunds or deductibles for others things.
  • What a mess we find ourselves in. And yes, this crisis will effect every person on this planet -- if not directly, then indirectly.
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Credit crisis explained

Anyone who wants a thorough explanation of how the Credit of Crisis actually came about should watch this awesome video:
The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo. I was sad to reach the end of the video. Maybe they can eventually do a follow up that explains the government interference in the markets (bail outs etc.) and the politics and corruption that are fueling part of this crisis. The video was extremely non-partisan or judgmental. Everyone seemed to just do there job and wanted to make money. That this also led to outright greed and morally questionable behavior cannot be gotten from this video.
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21 February 2009 • Economy, FinanceComments (0)Permalink

Fresh and clean

This blog is enormously "under-blogged". I decided to start over with a fresh and clean design -- all based on my "less is more" and "keep it simple stupid" (kiss) philosophies. Now let's see if I can keep up posting something here at least a couple times a month.
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21 February 2009 • BloggingComments (0)Permalink

The Art of Underachieving

Dutch children are among the happiest people in the world. Besides living in a (relatively) very affluent country, Dutch kids have good relationships with their parents and feel that they can discuss almost 'anything' with them. Dutch society is also known for its freedoms and that is - supposedly - another reason for people's happiness.

It is often said that another reason for children's happiness in the Low Countries is the lack of pressure at school. In school one is not 'pushed' to excel that much and that helps with one's 'stress' of course. In Dutch society, it is often said, "It is more important that we all do 'our best', rather than to try and do better". One might ask who sets the standards and defines what is "best". How do we actually 'know' if we could not have done 'better'?

Personally, this has always left me feeling a little sad, misunderstood, cynical and negative. I never believed that what I accomplished was the 'best' , and I always felt that I could have done "better". I often wished that people around me would support my belief (in a positive way) and would help me to do better next time. Ideally, the society, in particular the educational system, and the people around me were there to "help me excel". In my adolescent years, this inner conflict with societal norms has left me quite "lost".

In the Netherlands, there is an ongoing debate about what is called the Dutch 'zesjes cultuur' (six culture). This refers to Dutch students being mostly interested in obtaining a 'six' for their tests. A six is actually the first whole number passing grade on the Dutch grading scale of 1 to 10. These students are more than happy with scoring a 6 out 10 because in their view it is an acceptable (passing) grade. They did their 'best' and it was 'good enough': they are not stupid (they passed), they might not be really smart (though most might say that they could have done 'better' if they made more effort). Most of all: they are happy. There was not too much pressure - a six is good enough - and that usually means: less stress and more 'free' (leisure) time. Plus the good thing is - that is why they call it a "culture" - most other people got sixes too. Psychologically, this is probably very important: as long as most of the people around you also strive for a 6, then you belong to the 'group' and are not left out feeling like a "failure". Everyone did his/her best so a 6 (or even a 7) is an acceptable grade. (One should try to explain to an American that scoring a 6 out of 10 is still highly acceptable.)

That is another thing about Dutch culture: the Dutch do not seem to like other people performing "better", "smarter" or "more successful". It is usually not a popularity boost for a kid if he/she always end up having grades of an 8 or higher. In a lot of Dutch schools, most attention is given to the under performing (but doing their "best") students and not to the "high achievers". Those who are more intellectually inclined are usually left to fend for themselves, often poorly challenged and drowning in boredom. This problem - excellent students not being challenged or helped to excel even further - has been recognized by many. Unfortunately, little seems to be done about it. Why? Probably because it would require the Dutch to except the fact that all Dutch (and men) are not equal. In a socialized world, someone has more talents and skills than others does not necessarily equate to better opportunities. However, the Dutch have yet accepted the reality that it is logically impossible to "equalize" 16 million people.

A happy Dutch child?

"At least the children are really happy", one might say. We might conclude that less pressure seems to make people happier. Recently I read somewhere (can't find where) that everyone should try and practice the art of 'underachieving'. That suggestion sounded very Dutch to me - very similar to the "we must all do our 'best' and that is "more than enough". In this case it means something else though: if you set your goals (for a day) so that you can actually (easily) 'achieve' them, you will more likely finish them and then feel good about that (and yourself). Feeling good about yourself is self-empowering so that the next day you will probably achieve even more. The Art of Underachieving is not meant to say: try and achieve less than possible, it is meant to point out the danger of trying to "over achieve". Self-help and time management guides often tell us to set clear goals. However, if we always set our goals to high, for example for one day, and we never achieve them, that gets us 'down' and we start to associate negatively with our goals (and the self-help techniques). Setting your goals low enough (for a certain time period) so you can all achieve them, means that you will actually finish them all and thus have positive feelings. Of course, in the time that you have left for that day you should not sulk around but rather spent it on more work (that you can then see as "extra" achievements for that day). So yes, under-achievement: Try it yourself. But please, be sure to do more than just your "best".

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08 June 2008 • • Comments (1)Permalink

Markets in turmoil: Positivist or Pessimist

image

For me, as a person with an more than average interest in economics and investing, these are exciting times. World food crisis, World energy crisis, Credit Crunch, The Second Great Depression, The end of the financial system, The End of the Dollar, etc. The media shower us with 'bad' news.

Are you a pessimist like me? Personally I believe that America will hit a very large and very deep recession that has actually been made even worse by current US politics. Is this the end of the World? No, not at all. The US, and the rest of the (western) world, will simply have some very lean years. Every day I am amazed at how easy it is for stock brokers and top-level financial people to ignore that enormous load of bad news that is raining down on them. I admire their positivism. However, I do not admire those greedy bastards who got us (and the US) in this mess. I do not admire the Bush administration for making it even worse (and for letting it happen). And most of all, I do not admire the fact that all those greedy (mis)managers are getting away with this: golden parachuting themselves into retirement. In the meantime, let us wait and see how American consumers get their quadruple whammy thumping at them. The party is over, people! Excellent analysis of the current state of the US economy: American Economy - The Long Hangover. Image comes from this article as well.

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25 April 2008 • Economy, InvestingComments (0)Permalink

A new blog - Hello World

A new blog, a new beginning. It is very tempting to start this new blog of with stressing 'new beginnings' and 'fresh starts'. No particular need for that though. It is turning into somewhat of a spring season, here in the dark low countries. The first post is the hardest some would say. I just wanted to start of with a tiny non-meaningful post. Kind of like the "Hello World" of blog posts. "Hello World", for those who are unfamiliar with this, is often used in programming languages as the first program that is taught, explained or shown: a simple program that blurbs out "Hello World". So here I go with this blog: Hello Everyone, Hello World!
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23 April 2008 • BloggingComments (0)Permalink
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