February 28, 2008

Having a bear of a time

Did you see the stock charts today?

Why is it that whenever the Fed chairman speaks, the index charts start looking like those of a patient in V-fib?

I can't be the only investor who reads The Motley Fool.

What really cracks me up is that what Bernanke said today to the Senate Banking Committee was just a repeat performance of the speech he gave to the House yesterday.

Get a grip, guys.

This is such a basic rule of investing, I find it hard to believe that there are so many people who don't know it that they cause these wild market fluctuations for no reason. Here it is: You don't buy or sell based on news. You buy or sell based on each company's funamentals.

If all the reasons you bought a company's stock are true (and please tell me you're not buying stocks because your brother's neighbor's cousin knows a guy who said it was a sure thing), then you don't sell just because Ben Bernanke says boo to Congress.

Of course, if it goes down because a bunch of fibrillating traders who don't know Peter Lynch from Peter Pan bail out, then you can buy more. Honestly, some days, it's like a bargain basement sale.

February 25, 2008

A Nation of Laws

If, like me, you think it only proper that employers verify citizenship when hiring, then you'll want to visit the Library of Congress database to familiarize yourself with HR 4088. The stated purpose of the bill is "To provide immigration reform by securing America's borders, clarifying and enforcing existing laws, and enabling a practical employer verification program."

It's called the Secure America Through Verification and Enforcement (SAVE) Act of 2007.

Yeah. 2007.

This bill was introduced in November, and has been tied up in committee since December.

Once you've studied this legislation, write your representative and convey your opinion on the act, and on the discharge petition that would bring it out of committee and onto the floor for a vote.

Keep an eye on this issue. The Washington Times reports that the bill's opponents may attempt to add an amnesty clause to the bill if it does get out of committee.

My opinion? Although I sympathize with those who've come here seeking a better life, I can't condone a blanket pardon for those who did so illegally. That many of them are well-behaved and hard-working once they arrive does not alter the fact that if they broke the law to get here they are, by definition, not law-abiding people.

And I have no patience whatsoever for employers who don't bother to verify citizenship. Many claim that illegal immigrants are the only ones who will do "dirty jobs." Nonsense. They're just the only ones who will do such work for a pittance, because they can't complain to the Department of Labor.

True, we are largely* a nation of immigrants. My great-grandparents came into this country through proper channels. Others can, too.

* — 1% of the U.S. population is American Indian or Alaska Native.

February 24, 2008

The problem with blogging

I started to feel guilty about not having updated my blog in several days. I mean, what kind of blogger am I, if I don't make at least an entry every other day?

Answer: A blogger with a day job, a home to run, a family to care for, and novels to write.

A blog is a great excuse to write every day, which is of course the key to building craft.

Unfortunately, the flip side of that is that the writing getting done isn't helping me finish my next book.

It is quite a quandary, but one I shall expend no further time on today.

I am going to go work on a novel now.

February 21, 2008

That's what blogs are for

So much has been written about the New York Times' shoddy story about John McCain, I hesitate to even attempt to address it. But since it sits squarely at the intersection of democracy and journalism, I feel compelled to comment.

The story in question starts with a reference to something that happened eight years ago, which makes me wonder if the writers have forgotten the "new" in "news." It's all downhill from there: anonymous sources, vague allegations, and a bias more slanted than the cut of my skirt.

A respectable newspaper is no place for rumor and innuendo.

Also, I aggree with Frank James, who points out that this could actually help McCain in the long run.

February 19, 2008

…same as the old boss…

So Fidel stepped down. So what? Do we really expect anything to change?

I have to agree with Janisset Rivero on this one. She's the executive director of Cuban Democratic Directorate in Miami. CNN quotes her as saying “I think there have been preparations taking place for quite a while to assure the crowning of Raúl Castro. It doesn’t mean any change to the system. It doesn’t mean there will be freedom for the Cubans. One big dictator is replacing the other. It will be a big deal when political prisoners are released, when political parties are allowed to organize, when the country stops being ruled by a single party.”

Y’know, I never expected to send someone to Pervez Musharraf for lessons about democracy, but the Brothers Castro need to check this out:


Musharraf’s Party Accepts Defeat

LAHORE, Pakistan — Pakistan appeared to be heading for a transition to an elected civilian government Tuesday after President Pervez Musharraf told visiting United States senators that he accepted the resounding defeat of his party in elections, and would work with a new Parliament. … The spokesman for the party, Tarik Azeem Khan, said: “We readily accept our defeat unlike in the past when losing parties alleged rigging. We accept that we were beaten fair and square.”

Someday, maybe the people of Cuba will know what it’s like to have an election that’s “fair and square.”

Mind you, Pakistan, though far ahead of Cuba, still has a long way to go. Here’s more from the Times:

“Although the election was considered fairly orderly, the Interior Ministry spokesman, Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema, said Tuesday 18 people had been killed in incidents connected to voting, and 150 injured.”

We Americans need to remember this the next time we’re tempted to complain that going to the polls is too inconvenient.

February 18, 2008

Declaration of Independence

Kosovo declared its independence—again.

The difference between 2008 and 1990, of course, is that this time Albania wasn't the only country to take notice.

The US, the European Union, Turkey and Taiwan all joined Albania in praising Kosovo's declaration.

As might have been predicted, Russia and China joined Serbia in condemning it, because to accept it would give credence to the separatist movements in their own lands.

That Kosovo as a place is important to Serbians is indisputable. It was the site of two great battles fought against the Ottoman Empire. Even though Kosovo was, in the end, lost to the Ottomans, Serbians still see it as the place where they made their underdog stand against the invaders. It is a critical part of their history.

That was in the 14th century.

We Americans, with our short history and shorter memories, have trouble understanding why a people would cling so avidly to a place when its role in their cultural history lies so far in the past.

I don't question the Serbians' fondness for Kosovo.

But I do question their insistence upon clinging to it when the majority of people who live there are not Serbian.

The history of Kosovo is a long and complex one, and it seems that it has never been the homeland of a single, homogeneous people.

Because I'm a history buff, I've been trying to think of a historical parallel to this situation.

There's Ireland, which unified with England in 1801, then broke away in 1919 in the Irish War of Independence. That, of course, led to the decision by the largely Unionist Northern Ireland to stay part of the United Kingdom, and all the grief that followed.

But an attempt to draw a parallel between Ireland and Kosovo is nullified by one key component: The Irish are Irish: not just a nationality, but an ethnicity.

The term "Kosovar" describes people who are citizens of Kosovo, but like "American," it describes a nationality, not an ethnicity.

Many Kosovars are Serbian. But most are of Albanian ethnicity. That majority has chosen independence, just as the Irish majority did, and just as the Ulster majority in Northern Ireland chose to remain in the United Kingdom.

Another parallel comes to mind: Texas.

Originally a Spanish colony, Texas was briefly ceded to the French before a dispute over whether it was part of the Louisiana Purchase. In 1821 it became a province of Mexico. Shortly thereafter, Anglos began settling there, and by 1830, the majority of non-indigenous Texans were Anglos. Texas became an independent republic in 1836—though, again, not without bloodshed. Later, the Republic of Texas joined the United States.

The Mexican government of the 19th century fought strongly to keep Texas, but failed.

I am certain that any attempt by Serbia to keep Kosovo will also fail.

It is the right of Kosovo's Albanian majority to choose independence, just as the Texans of the 19th century chose to be independent from Mexico.

True, self-determination of peoples must always be balanced with territorial integrity. But I'm not sure why it is that so often this balance is only achieved after strife and bloodshed. The American Civil War is a good example of that. There are, unfortunately, far too many others.

But can Serbia even be said to have territorial integrity with Kosovo? I think not. The region has been unstable for most of its history, and for hundreds of years, Kosovo's ethnic Albanian population has been growing. According to the Associated Press, 90 percent of Kosovo's population now is ethnic Albanian. Only 5 percent is Serbian.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, in supporting Kosovo's independence, spoke of the importance of peace and stability to the region.

Unfortunately, "peace and stability" and "the Balkans" have, even since before the days of the Ottoman Empire, been mutually exclusive. There has already been violence although, fortunately, without casualties, in response to Kosovo's declaration.

We can only pray it will stop there.

Slobodan Samardžić, the Serb minister for Kosovo, is reported to have called the independent Kosovo "a fake country."


Kosovo is as real as its citizens are willing to make it.

To me, they seem very willing indeed. It is right for the freedom-loving nations of the world to support them.

Rounding up the usual subjects

When I'm sorting through the messages in my inbox—more than 100 per day, not counting spam—I'm dismayed by how many of them have non-descriptive subject lines or, worse, no subject line at all.

Tip: Write detailed subject lines. People who receive many messages each hour scan the list of subject lines and respond first to those that look most important.

For example, if you have a deal worth $20 million in the works, don’t ask for your supervisor’s input with a message headed “FYI – need input.” Send a message that says “Potential $20 millon deal - need your advice.”

This is doubly important if you are e-mailing a member of the press and expect to be noticed. A message with the subject line "Local firm signs $20 million deal" will get read before one with the subject line "press release."

February 15, 2008

Uncompromising and un-comprising

OK, I've seen this error multiple times today; I have to say something.

The verb "comprise" does not take the preposition "of."

"The company is comprised of three divisions." Wrong.
"The company comprises three divisions." Right.

Bill Walsh, in Lapsing Into a Comma, and Bryan Garner, in Garner's Modern American Usage, have already written eloquently on this subject. There's not really anything I can add. Except it appears not everyone is familiar with these books.

Walsh says, "This is such a chestnut in the picky-about-the-language biz that you'd think people would get it right by now, but they don't."

Garner summarizes it this way: "The whole is composed of the parts; the parts are comprised in the whole."

I think so many people have seen the erroneous "is comprised of" in print, they assume it's correct.

It's not.

February 14, 2008

Asking for trouble

I knew the folks in Berkeley, Calif., have a reputation as liberals, but this strikes me as going, like, way, way, way, too far:

City of Berkeley, Marine Corps facing off

The city council told U.S. Marine Corps recuiters they're not welcome.

Excuse me?

It does not speak well of our democracy when people who clamor for freedom when it concerns their own rights are so ready to crush those of others.

I don't care what your position is on the war, or whether you want your kid to sign up for the military. The armed forces have just as much right—I would go so far as to say more of a right—to open an office as anyone else.

I found out about this when Rep. Tom Feeney's office issued a press release about it.

This afternoon, Feeney and Representatives Louie Gohmert and Sam Johnson of Texas will introduce the Military Freedom Act, which would "deny Federal funds for any state, city, county, or other political subdivision of a state that prohibits or unduly restricts the establishment or operation of a military recruiting office."

Feeney says, "I was shocked and outraged to hear of Berkeley's decision to label the Marine Corps Recruiting Station as 'uninvited and unwelcome intruders.' This defamation is unacceptable and will not go without consequence."

The release concludes with this: "Feeney is also a sponsor of the Semper Fi Act (H.R. 5222) to rescind funding for the City of Berkeley, CA and transfer those funds to the Marines. He has also signed a letter to the President asking for the immediate rescission of funds appropriated for the City of Berkeley in the Omnibus Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2008."

Go, Tom.

As for you, Dear Reader, go to the House Web site, click on "Write your Representative," and let your Representative know where you stand on this issue.

As for me, I think the dudes in Berkeley need to remember these words from George Orwell, which Sherlock has thoughtfully put on a T-shirt:

"We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm."

Making the rounds — again

Two editors ago, I wrote an ongoing column for OBJ called "File 13," in which I took whatever e-mail rubbish was currently making the rounds and explained why it belonged in the bitbucket.

Although that column eventually wound up in its namesake cylindrical container, my colleagues still consult me when something dubious lands in their inboxes.

For example:

> Hey Kristen,
> Is this true? Thanks, ——
>> REMINDER.. 10 days from today, all cell phone numbers are being released to
>> telemarketing companies and you will start to receive sales calls....

blah blah blah ...

I find it hard to believe this one is still in circulation.

Snopes.com is such an easy address to remember, I don't even need the bookmark, I just type it. Then I click on Hottest 25 Legends, and there it is, coming in at No. 3 right behind Barack Obama, Cell Phone Directory and Telemarketers."

The e-mail in question is, of course, bogus. The earliest version listed at Snopes dates from 2005, which was way longer than 10 days ago.

Snopes.com. Memorize it. Use it.

>> It takes about 20 seconds...

No. 1 on the Snopes list is the "you have a card from a friend/family member/classmate/friend-of-a-friend" family of e-mails, which really do deliver a really real virus if you click on the link. When you get a real e-greeting card, e.g. from Hallmark, it will have a real person's real name, and the link will really be to hallmark.com, not some incognito IP address.

February 12, 2008

The new face of the Democratic Party

Y'know, I would never have planned to do two posts in a row concerning Barak Obama. But today, I was pointed to photographic evidence that implies Obama supporters in Texas are not, in fact, Democrats.

wRitErsbLock sent me links to videos here and here that show Obama campaign offices in Houston decorated — not with photos of their candidate or any other Democrat — but with Cuban flags and pictures of Ché Guevara.


I had thought Sherlock was exaggerating when he called Obama a socialist. Now, I have to wonder. If these are the people Obama attracts...

Most of the Obama campaign volunteers shown in these segments are Latinas. So I can kind of almost begin to understand why they picked a picture of a Latino to hang on the wall. But come on. If they need a Latino culture hero, why make Ché the pinup boy, and not José Martí? No, wait. Let's pick an American, but someone who still stirred up trouble for the establishment and brought about great change: César Chávez.

As Ricky used to say, these ladies have some 'splainin' to do. How can you call yourself a democrat — or even a Democrat — and then decorate your office with a picture of one of the most infamous Communists who ever lived?

And if you do, which party are you really working for?

Of course, as an Anglo, I can only wonder why, if you're an American citizen and you want to hang a picture of a revolutionary in your office, would you not pick George Washington?

February 11, 2008

Please vote — but not until you've checked your facts

I don't much care what people's politics are, as long as they have some. Apathy concerns me far more than conservativism or liberalism.

What concerns me more than apathy, though, is lies.

This was brought to mind today when someone repeated that old canard about how, as a boy, Barak Obama attended "terrorist school" (the other person's words, not mine).

Well, naturally, I had to point out that this has long since been disproved, and sent the individual in question the link to one of my favorite stomping grounds, Snopes.com, which has a whole section on politics. Obama gets his own subsection, as do the Clintons.

Don't take this as an endorsement of Obama. I'm only encouraging people to get facts before they speak, rather than regurgitate gossip and lies. Besides, a candidate's position on foreign policy or health care is far more important than religion or schooling.

The success of our democratic republic depends upon an educated electorate. The repetition of half-truths and outright falsehoods is the opposite of education.

I love using lower-case "republic" and "democratic" together.

February 10, 2008

The who's what?

How do you name something when you don't know what it's supposed to be?

A rose, by any other name, may smell as sweet, but a blog's name should reflect its purpose.


Well, I'm not sure what the purpose of this thing is, yet, but I keep getting told I need a blog, most recently in a teleseminar by Annie Jennings PR.

So since I'm likely to write about anything and everything (because I do a little of everything), and this is where I mouth off, it must be the factotum's rostrum, right?

(A factotum is a person who does a lot of different things. From the Latin facere, do + totum, everything.)

See, now it makes perfect sense.

I hope.