Saturday, December 26, 2009
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Very dramatic and intriguing memoir of Kay Redfield Jamison presents the dark and yet mysterious workings of human mind as related to mood disorders. As a patient who’s suffering from manic depressive illness (a.k.a bipolar syndrome) and as a mood disorder expert in the leading academic institution her account is vivid and enlightening for all who is interested in the subject matter.
The book is chronologically written, morphing from a simple and wondering perspectives of a young girl in a happy military family into a complicated at times disastrous journey to manage one of the most severe mental illnesses and finally to a relative calmness found through acceptance of lithium treatment.
In the early stages of her illness Kay refuses to acknowledge her condition as medical disorder and without proper treatments submits to its perversities such as multiple days of work with no sleep and uncontrolled shopping spree. She describes these in her own words, “There is particular kind of pain, elation, loneliness, and terror involved in this kind of madness. When you’re high it’s tremendous. The ideas and feelings are fast and frequent like shooting stars, and you follow them until you find better and brighter ones. Shyness goes, the right words and gestures are suddenly there, the power to captivate others a felt certainty. There are interests found in uninteresting people. Sensuality is pervasive and the desire to seduce and be seduced irresistible. Feelings of ease, intensity, power, well-being, financial omnipotence, and euphoria pervade one’s marrow. But, somewhere, this changes. The fast ideas are too fast, and there are far too many; overwhelming confusion replaces clarity. Memory goes. Humor and absorption in friends’ faces are replaced by fear and concern. Everything previously moving with the grain is now against – you are irritable, angry, frightened, uncontrollable, and enmeshed totally in the blackest caves of the mind. You never knew those caves were there. It will never end, for madness carves its own reality.”
Eventually Kay admits the heavy tolls of the illness having on her life and her relationships and she finally finds psychiatrist and prescribes to both the psychotherapy and the lithium. She writes, “At this point in my existence, I cannot imagine leading a normal life without both taking lithium and having had the benefits of psychotherapy. Lithium prevents my seductive but disastrous highs, diminishes my depressions, clears out the wool and webbing from my disordered thinking, slows me down, gentles me out, keeps me from ruining my career and relationships, keeps me out of a hospital, alive, and makes psychotherapy possible. But ineffably, psychotherapy heals. It makes some sense of the confusion, reins in the terrifying thoughts and feelings, returns some control and hope and possibility of learning from it all. Pills cannot, do not, ease one back into reality; they only bring one back headlong, careening, and faster than can be endured at times. Psychotherapy is a sanctuary; it is a battleground; it is a placeI have been psychotic, neurotic, elated, confused, and despairing beyond belief. But, always, it is where I have believed – or have learned to believe – that I might someday be able to contend with all of this. No pill can help me deal with the problem of not wanting to take pills; likewise, no amount of psychotherapy alone can prevent my manias and depressions. I need both. It is an odd thing, owing life to pills, one’s own quirks and tenacities, and this unique, strange, and ultimately profound relationship called psychotherapy.” In her psychiatrist’s vivid accounts of the effects of depression in her life it is noted: “Patient intermittently suicidal. Wishes to jump from the top of hospital stairwell”; “Patient continues to be a significant suicide risk. Hospitalization is totally unacceptable to her”; “Despairs for the future; fears recurrence and fears having to deal with the facts that she has felt what she has felt”; “Patient feels very embarrassed about feelings she has and takes attitude that regardless of the course of her depression is such an intolerable burden on others”; “Afraid to leave my office. Hasn’t slept in days. Desperate.”
About the influence of the illness and the eventual treatment on her relationships with the loved ones, she writes, “No amount of love can cure madness or unblacken one’s dark moods. Love can help, it can make the pain more tolerable, but, always, one is beholden to medication that may or may not work and may or may not be bearable. Madness on the other hand, most certainly can, and often does, kill love through its mistrustfulness, unrelenting pessimism, discontents, erratic behavior, and, especially, through its savage moods. The sadder, sleepier, slower, and less volatile depressions are more intuitively understood and more easily taken in stride. A quiet melancholy is neither threatening nor beyond ordinary comprehension; an angry, violent, vexatious despair is both.”
In this one of the most critically acclaimed 9/11 novels the author describes the story of a young man who would be considered as the example of American dream in the making who nevertheless through several indirect and direct factors caused by uncontrollable events in and around his life abandons the successful yet unfulfilling life for a path that is seen by many as the way of extremism.
The story starts as Changes the main character of the novel who by this time has returned to his home country,
Changez’ family is one of old aristocrats of the
On one occasion during a vacation in
Although throughout the novel Changez shares his story, the stranger in turn does not talk about himself at all. Through Changez’ observations the reader learns about the American as reserved, mistrustful of his environment, arrogant and attentive listener.
Changez meets Jim, an executive at Underwood Samson, who comes to like him, because of his hunger and tenacity. Jim grew up in the 70s during which great American industrial decline have caused his dad to lose his job and through which Jim learns to identify opportunities and thrive during difficult periods. Jim has an exceptional ability to judge people and he sees in Changez what made him successful.
Upon arriving in NYC Changez immediately feels at home. Sprawling urban districts, Pakistani cab drivers and Punjabi eateries combined with the wide spectrum of ethnicities have made it easier for Changez to effortlessly blend in with the city. He finds himself to be a natural New Yorker although he never felt to be an American. In fact throughout the novel Changez finds himself to dislike America, dislike how she rose to the top within last two centuries while ancient civilizations were hopelessly left behind, dislike how her policies affect the very well being of his own family back in Pakistan, and how her people seamlessly live on without regard for the reverberations she imposes on people of far away.
When Changez sees the destruction of the World Trade Centers in NYC by terrorists he smiles unconsciously. He was remarkably pleased! He wasn’t gratified with the suffering of the innocents, nor was he compelled with terrorists’ schemes but he was pleased at the symbolism of it all - how someone brought down
After 9/11 Changez takes a short trip home in
Changez asserts to the American that according to post 9/11 political and military leaders of
During a project in
Relationship between Erica and Changez grows during his time in NYC and they come to be deeply attracted to each other. Erica is attracted to Changez, because of his extremely polite and respectful bearing. However, Erica, whose long time friend and boyfriend died of cancer, has never recovered from her loss and is somewhat detached from the reality. Such predisposition for emotional breakdown exasperated by the events of the 9/11 causes Erica to fall back into her loneliness where she finds time with her deceased boyfriend. Erica eventually convinces Changez that she is of someone and that it will be better for him to move on with life without her. Changez, who in his desperation attempted not once to change the fate of his love only to see the problem getting bad to worse, finally decides to leave her and everything that he had in America behind.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
The book's premise is that the 80s can be identified as the launching pad of a decisive financial sector takeover of the
In 1960s Keynesian and progressive economics were losing credibility in the
In 1960s Keynesian and progressive economics were losing credibility in the
With the emergence of conservative leaning governments on both sides of the Atlantic – Margaret Thatcher in 1979 in
As Milton Friedman’s doctrine received general acceptance in the field of economics, efficient market hypothesis (EMH) gains hold in the business schools, banks, and investment houses. With EMH high profitability finance ascended as a result of following preconditions:
1. Persistent economic deregulation
2. Debt dependent mergers, takeovers, and leveraged buy-outs
3. Economic utility of speculation
4. Usefulness and facilitation of markets provided by derivatives
Between 1987 and 2007 debt – in all flavors, from credit card and mortgage to staid
The debt the US has been accumulating in the past few years has provided only 30-40% as much stimulus per dollar to the national economy as did the debt added 25-40 years ago, because money borrowed in the 70s or early 80s were spent on factories, jet aircrafts, teachers, or highways whereas money borrowed today were used by hedge funds to double the leverage of their various self-serving speculations.
In 2006 Bank for International Settlements in
Consumer Price Index and Statistical Debasement:
Until 90s CPI measured the cost of a fixed basket of goods using prevailing market prices. This was changed in late 90s:
- Geometric weighting of now flexible basket of goods – items going up received less weight and items going down received more weight, both having reductive effect in the CPI
- Use of “hedonics” in order to moderate prices by reducing them for the increased satisfaction a consumer derives from some improvement
- Housing represents 40% of CPI but it is measured using “owners’ equivalent rent” which fails to take account for the increased expenditures of home owners such as insurance, property tax, etc.
If the old method was to be used to measure the CPI between 2005 and 2007, then the inflation would register between 5 to 7% instead of 2-4%. Statistically such difference would have dropped the
Banks and savings and loans associations gave way to mutual funds, nonbank lenders, hedge funds, federally related mortgage entities, issuers of ABS, security brokers and dealers and others. Unlike banks these latter day inventions of the financial heyday were minimally regulated by the government and yet as large as or even larger than the traditional banking institutions.
Securitization is what financial industry discovered in response to the question of whether or not if wealth can be created without manufacturing anything. Securitization as a business included two product categories – asset backed securities (ABS) and mortgage backed securities (MBS). Two products of the former that are often mentioned these days are collateralized debt obligation (CDO) and home equity loans (HELs). From $400 billion in 1995 securitization increased in size to $4 trillion by 2003. Lenders applauded the new method to sell the loans quickly, to spread the institutional risk, and to receive upfront payment so that they can issue even more loans. Wall Street jumped on the securitization issuance to make enormous profits both locally and internationally. By 2005 80% of the total securitization issuance was in US hands.
By 2006 total mortgage origination was about $2.5 trillion of which ¾ were securitized into MBSs. Home equity loan which represented about 35% of all ABS in 2002 ballooned to 65-70% by 2006.
With the burst of the bubble CDOs and mortgage backed securities were radioactive in spreading fear among the financial institutions with prime suspect being money market funds. By mid Aug of 2007 commercial paper markets were all but frozen. President of Bundesbank stated that the Aug crisis was just like the classical bank-runs except that it was taking place in non-bank financial system.
Since the emergence of Modern Europe in the wake of the Renaissance and the rise of capitalism, idiosyncratic energy regimes have been important in making the three successive world economic power: wind and water to the 17th century Dutch, coal to late 18th century Britain, and oil to the US.
In 1974, three years after the dollar lost its small tie to gold Saudis agreed that the international sale of oil would take place in dollar and further to recycle the dollar through purchases of US treasury bonds and notes.
It was generally accepted by the end of 2006 that the American attempt to open up Iraqi oil fields to drive down oil price and break the power of OPEC and its state owned companies has practically failed. During the five years after the Iraqi invasion oil price increased from $25 barrel to $100 range. Dollars long standing role as oil currency declined with the
Goldman Sachs posits that since 2001 $3 trillion more has been transferred to OPEC producers than would have been if the oil stayed at $20 per barrel with main beneficiaries being
Among the major threats to dollar as a result of oil problems were: first, diversification by foreign central banks their reserve currency out of dollar into stronger currencies; second, reversal of formerly dollar pegged currencies such as those of China and Gulf countries; third, potential reversal of dollar denominated oil sale; fourth, monetary mercantilism or the reserve of huge amount of dollar by foreign central banks; fifth, vulnerability of the institutional firepower of the sovereign wealth funds being put into commission.
As a result of dollar valuation of oil, major oil exporters faced several negative effects due to depreciating dollar: reduced actual income from the oil export, increased price for imported goods from Asia and
Derivative – Financial instrument that is derived from some other asset, index, event, value, or condition (known as the underlying)
Security – Fungible, negotiable instrument representing financial value
Debt security – banknotes, bonds
Equity security – common stocks, derivative contracts
ABS (asset-backed security) – A security whose value and income payments are derived from and collateralized by a specified pool of underlying assets.
CDO (collateralized debt obligation) – A type of structured ABS whose value and payments are derived from a portfolio of fixed income underlying assets. Usually assigned different risk classes, or tranches.
Monetary Mercantilism – The rise of sovereign wealth funds in China, Russia, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and ballooning currency reserves by their respective countries but also Japan, Taiwan, and Korea and their ability to defend their own currency or attack some other.
Energy Mercantilism – Practice of some nations –
Financial Mercantilism – Government business collaboration calculated to suspend or stymie market forces:
Efficient Market Hypothesis – In rebuttal to Keynesian assumption that the markets were unstable, EMH held market to be inherently rational and efficient thus the fair market valuation of the shares over the long term.
Modern Portfolio Theory – It teaches that the risk is minimized by investment in whole varieties of stocks rather than in one by one basis.
The theme of the book is centered on personal legend which is the calling by the “writer” of the universe for everyone that upon following the true happiness of life can be experienced without regard for difficulties and temporary gratitude on the way. One hears this calling through his heart which knows the “language” of the universe and which is part of everything representing the oneness of everything. To ignore this calling is to deny yourself the very purpose of your existence on this earth which unfortunately is the fate of most people. However, to heed this calling makes everything in the universe to conspire together through signs and omens as to guide the person on his way toward accomplishing his personal legend.
The personal legend – the purpose and ultimate calling of everyone
Heart – Entity which connects us with the rest of the universe through which the writer of the universe communicates with an individual.
Alchemy (The Art of Transformation) – Paul Coelho tells that alchemy is a pursuit of spiritual quest in the physical world. Wikipedia defines alchemy as both philosophy and practice with the aim of achieving ultimate wisdom as well as immortality, involving the improvement of the alchemist as well as the making of several substances with unusual properties.
Love – The greatest and eternal alchemy of all
Beginner’s luck – Everyone experiences signs and omens as one chooses to follow his personal legend. It is as if the whole world conspires together to make his journey easy for him only if he chooses to follow his personal legend.
Soul of the Universe – The essence of the oneness of the universe revealed through the connection between everyone and everything including the nature and all natural phenomena.
Universal Language – Language that everyone and everything understands. One can communicate with the desert, with the flying falcons, with the sun, and with the strangers through this language. This is the language that is manifestation of the oneness of the universe.
Urim and Thummim – White and black stones signifying No and Yes respectively. They were given to the boy by the king of
The crystal merchant – A man who prefers to dream rather than to pursue his dream, because of the fear of failure or of disappointment.
Englishman – Passionate for knowledge of the alchemy he is ready to sacrifice anything to reach his goal, another character in the book who is following his personal legend. However, instead of listening to his heart and following the signs and omens, and connecting with the soul of the universe he chooses to do it alone. Result is very hard and painful journey that at the end results in success.
Fatima – A woman with whom Santiago met along the journey and falls in love instantly. She encourages Santiago to pursue his personal legend and promises to wait for him.