Thursday, May 02, 2013

Wear Sunscreen

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.


Don't be reckless with other people's hearts. Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.Stretch.

Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You'll miss them when they're gone.

Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don't follow them. Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they'll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They're your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on.

Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.


Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don't expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don't mess too much with your hair or by the time you're 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen

[Thank you Mary Schmich, for the above column & Baz Luhrmann for putting it to music...14-17 years ago]

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bin Laden declares victory, Bush forced to give up golf!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

It Does Fluctuate, doesn't it?

“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one”.
Charles Mackay, author of “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds”

Bombay Addict makes some excellent points here. Since he’s asked nicely, as to what the markets have taught us from the recent mayhem, here’s my take on the same:

1) Re-read “The Money Game” by Adam Smith - If you haven’t read it, read it. If you have read it, re-read it. “If you don’t know who you are, then this is a very expensive place to find out”. Just this glittering nugget of wisdom is worth the price of the book. The market is not what you think it is – it does not know you, and has nothing to do with your hopes, ideas, dreams and fears.

2) As a thumb rule, when the paan-wala starts giving you stock tips it’s time to get out. I’m sure most lay folk, on the Indian bourses, managed to beat Bill Miller last year in total return generated, but there is a reason why Miller is still CEO of a multi-billion dollar investment house while your aunt is trying to hide her losses from your uncle which she incurred by following tips from her kitty party friend who got it from her hairdresser who is knows the vada-pav seller on the street where Rakesh Jhunjhunwala’s office is located.

3) It never is different. The reasons for all indiscriminate great bull runs are different, but they end with the same results – big, dumb banks going bust, other assorted corporate/broking house scandals and YOU left holding the bag and trying to convince your family that the kids can make do without food for a few days every now and then.

4) Life is shaped by Black Swans. A Black Swan, as defined by Nassim Taleb who has written a very well received book called just that, is an event that is an outlier, has huge impact and is explained, ex post facto, as predictable. Put simply – rationalizations, of hugely unexpected events, on hindsight are the first refuge of the Clueless. If you think you know where the market is headed, then you don’t know where it’s headed.

It’s easy to sound knowledgeable and cool when one isn’t at the receiving end of a broker statement awash in red. Perhaps that’s the biggest lesson – be as acutely self-aware when one has a seven figure amount invested in the market as when one has zero amount of money invested in it.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Appointment Television

In many ways we are currently witnessing the golden age of American television (reality TV included – the concept of that, at least, is brilliant. No expensive actors, no expensive production and/or location costs and no headaches of storylines and script coherence. Of course, for most of us this is one of the signs that civilization is in decline). On Sunday last, one of the best TV series ever, “The Wire”, ended after 5 seasons on HBO. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it’s probably the best TV series ever – in terms of topicality, believability, acting and dramatic thrust. The first 2 attributes might not be apparent to someone without a basic awareness of the peculiar brand of American urban decay that is intimately linked with the underground drug economy that powers inner-city life (in this case, the city of Baltimore). But in different shapes and forms, these problems have been faced, or will be faced, by most major cities around the world. One of the things that makes “The Wire” great is that while showing on a premium cable channel, it actually built up a vast following amongst people who otherwise might not have cared for the characters that make up its cast. Maybe it’s the “train-wreck” mentality at work, maybe deep down viewers felt empathy, maybe it was just good old, old-fashioned storytelling (though story-telling of the highest caliber). Whatever the reason, while watching this series one felt that this was the work of somebody (David Simon, the creator and writer for many episodes) who had spent a lifetime preparing for this show’s 5 seasons.

HBO has redefined TV series. Along with their no ads policy on their TV shows, it just makes it almost impossible for one to watch regular television once one has got hooked onto these channels and/or their shows. The novelistic quality of the programming is a great stand-in (and I emphasize, its just a stand-in) for actually reading the Great Authors. With shows like “The Sopranos”, “Deadwood”, “Rome”, “Oz” (in its first 2 seasons), even “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and of course “The Wire” this has been television like you never imagined it could be. If that sounds like a promotional bit for HBO, then I blithely admit to it. Like B’bay Addict maintains, TV series, done right, gives the writer/director that much more space to really explore different subjects in depth, over a longer period of time and hence do more justice to his storyline than movie directors/movie scriptwriters. As its TV commercial says: “It’s not TV, it’s HBO”.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Elegant Nonsense?

Chairman Mao once said, “To be rich is Glorious!”. To which Kantibhai, on Dalal Street, probably replied, when he heard this for the first time “Now that’s a bania my grandpa would like…worldly-wise yet so literary!” Apart from the fact that we gujjus, especially those that work on Dalal Street and suchlike professions, couldn't tell a sonnet from software (as in, “buy software stocks…money should double in 3 months!”), this is not all that bad…after all, somebody has to buy the tickets of the performance of the artistic Bengali dancer!

But more germane to the issue is that eternal question that, say, the quintessential dhoti-clad “kaka” pondered under the banyan tree where shares of companies were traded by old men because their wives banned them from going to cock-fights, the precursor to the Bombay Stock Exchange in its current form: How does One make Money from this Racket?? When I used to try my hand at proprietary trading in stocks in Mumbai, (that means “to lose money” to anybody who needs an explanation) in the late nineties during the IT boom, I always used to marvel at the stock picking prowess and money making ability, of highly paid stock analysts at blue-chip securities firms that were usually named after their founders, names that seemed Very Serious of people who Knew What They Were Doing. This fallacy of mine was finally put to rest after I read Nassim Taleb’s “Fooled by Randomness”, which was such a mind bending, unintuitive book, especially if you regarded highly paid help (i.e., stock analysts) as intelligent & possessing of insight and sophisticated investors (i.e., global securities firms and/or mutual fund companies) as rational entities. An Op-Ed piece in the Financial Times last week, by Taleb, really lays into everything that an investment professional, either on the business or academic side of things, holds dear and completely eviscerates the current state of the investment industry. By comparing the investing profession as something akin to “medieval medicine” that “used to kill more patients than it saved”, and sparing nobody – not William Sharpe nor Harry Markowitz, Robert Merton nor Myron Scholes, he takes no prisoners.

“The asymmetrical payoffs of, statistically, improbable events” is perhaps not as pithy a phrase as “to be rich is Glorious” but it definitely bears further reflection. An investment strategy based on being wrong often (with little at risk) so that one can be right at an unpredictable time (and take down the house, so to speak) seems to be the very epitome of risky investing. But when brokers/analysts talk sophistry like valuation models that lie on the Efficient Frontier or stocks with low beta and a high Sharpe Ratio or six sigma events that are outliers on the Bell Curve perhaps it's time to run for the hills. Read the Op-Ed and ponder if it's time to fire your broker and/or sell your actively managed mutual funds.

PS: I have yet to read "The Black Swan", the latest book by Taleb, which further explores the above issues.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The French Connection

If you own a TV and don’t watch “Real Time with Bill Maher” on HBO, or haven’t considered getting a paid subscription to HBO because of this program, you either have a very fulfilling life (how disgusting!) or you’re too Republican (ditto…at least for the current lot in the Administration). The episode of Friday last, (Friday nights, 11:00pm ET) was one example of why this program, that so effectively mixes politics, opinion and comedy, is such a must-see. The major chunk of the show is devoted to discussions on politics and culture by 3 invited panelists and Bill Maher. And this week’s conversation between Harold Ford, Jr., Sean Penn and Garry Shandling was characteristically entertaining and hard-hitting. But in the segment that Maher calls “New Rules”, there was, what I consider, one of the finest moments of the ongoing season.

In the Republican world, particularly of the current Administration (you know the one disconnected from reality), the French are supposed to be effeminate, sybaritic and socialist while the Republicans like to think of themselves as macho (good to know that the civilizational threat posed by pheasants can be met adequately…on second thoughts…), hard-working (who needs Pedro from Oaxaca when they can clear brush by hand, as their day jobs are such a breeze) and practical (Military Strategy to a POLITICAL problem not working? Try MORE Military Strategy!!). It is worth producing the entire text of his New Rules commentary (some of it got edited out in the TV show), which is below, courtesy

New Rule: Conservatives have to stop rolling their eyes every time they hear the word France. Like just calling something French is the ultimate argument winner. "Aw, you want a healthcare system that covers everybody and costs half as much? You mean like they have in France? What's there to say about a country that was too stupid to get on board with our wonderfully conceived and brilliantly executed war in Iraq?"
Earlier this year, the Boston Globe got hold of an internal campaign document from GOP contender Mitt Romney, and a recurring strategy was to tie Democrats to the hated French. It said, in the Machiavellian code of the election huckster, "Hillary equals France," and it envisioned bumper stickers that read, "First, not France."
Except for one thing: We're not first. America isn't ranked anywhere near first in anything except military might and snotty billionaires. The country that is ranked No. 1 in healthcare,
for example, is France. The World Health Organization ranks America at 37 in the world -- not two, or five -- 37, in between Costa Rica and Slovenia, which are both years away from discovering dentistry.
Yet an American politician could not survive if he or she uttered the simple, true statement, "France has a better healthcare system than us, and we should steal it." Because here, simply dismissing an idea as French passes for an argument. John Kerry? Can't vote for him -- he looks French. Yeah, as opposed to the other guy, who just looked stupid.
I know, if God had wanted us to learn from the Enlightenment, he wouldn't have given us Sean Hannity.
And I'm not saying France is better than America. Because I assume you've already figured that out by now. I don't want to be French, I just want to take what's best from the French. Stealing, for your own self-interest -- Republicans should love this idea. Taking what's best from the French: You know who else did that? The Founding Fathers. Hate to sink your toy boat, Fox News, but the Founding Fathers, the ones you say you revere, were children of the French Enlightenment, and fans of it, and they turned it into a musical called the Constitution of the United States. And they did a helluva job, so good it has been said that it was written by geniuses so it could be run by idiots. But the current administration is putting that to the test. The Founding Fathers were erudite, well-read, European-thinking aristocrats -- they would have had nothing in common with, and no use for, an ill-read xenophobic bumpkin like George W. Bush.
The American ideas of individuality, religious tolerance and freedom of speech came directly out of the French Enlightenment -- but, shhh, don't tell Alabama. Voltaire wrote "men are born equal" before Jefferson was wise enough to steal it.
Countries are like people -- they tend to get smarter as they get older. Noted military genius Donald Rumsfeld famously dismissed France as part of Old Europe, but the French are ... what's the word I'm looking for? Oh yeah, "mature." We think they're rude and snobby, but maybe that's because they're talking to us.
For example, France just had an election,
and people over there approach an election differently. They vote. Eighty-five percent turned out. The only thing 85 percent of Americans ever voted on was Sanjaya.
Maybe the high turnout has something to do with the fact that the French candidates are never asked where they stand on evolution, prayer in school, abortion, stem cell research or gay marriage. And if the candidate knows about a character in a book other than Jesus, it's not a drawback. There is no Pierre Six-pack who can be fooled by childish wedge issues. And the electorate doesn't vote for the guy they want to have a croissant with. Nor do they care about the candidate's private lives: In the current race, Ségolène Royal has four kids but never bothered to get married. And she's a socialist. In America, if a Democrat even thinks you're calling him a liberal he immediately grabs an orange vest and a rifle and heads into the woods to kill something.
The conservative candidate is married, but he and his wife live apart and lead separate lives. They aren't asked about it in the media, and the people are OK with it, for the same reason the people are OK with nude beaches: because they're not a nation of 6-year-olds who scream and giggle if they see pee-pee parts. They have weird ideas about privacy. They think it should be private. In France, everyone has a mistress. Even mistresses have mistresses. To not have a lady on the side says to the voters, "I'm no good at multitasking."
France has its faults -- the country has high unemployment, a nasty immigrant problem and all that ridiculous accordion music. But its healthcare is the best, it's not dependent on Mideast oil, it has the lowest poverty rate and the lowest income-inequality rate among industrialized nations, and it's the greenest, with the lowest carbon dumping and the lowest electricity bill.
France has 20,000 miles of railroads that work. We have the trolley at the mall that takes you from Pottery Barn to the Gap. It has bullet trains. We have bullets. France has public intellectuals. We have Dr. Phil. And France invented sex during the day, the ménage à trois, lingerie and the tongue.
And the French are not fat. Can't we just admit we could learn something from them?

Hear, hear.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Qaid Main Hai Bulbul*

Back after a long hiatus…may not be missed too much, though, buddy, you really kept the faith! And so did the Missus (she’s pulled through 5 months and has only minor regrets…so far!)

The reason for getting back is that I have the blogging-equivalent of that delicious feeling that overtakes you, if you’re of the poetic, literary bend…examples, of which, are provided below. That overwhelming feeling of wanting to compose a few lines of lapidary elegance and limpid grace…the gentle restlessness in your soul (also called, most effectively, as “fudakna” in Hindi) urging one to be sensitively evocative of an evanescent feeling…that fleeting moment of crystal clarity when one realizes the inner rhythm of ones’ soul…In other words, ladies and gentleman, the Hopelessly-Amateur-AND-Bad Poet

In the Washington DC area, where I currently reside, there is a Sunday morning TV program called “Chitramala”, which purports to be a weekly “catch-up” for all things cultural, social, financial and health-related, for the desi “bhailog” & “babylog”. In reality it consists of bad Bollywood songs and interviews (which, actually, consist of just some Bollywood stars saying “I am in the nations capital, Washington DC and you’re watching Chitramala”), mind-numbingly irrelevant financial advice, thunderingly obvious legal advice, bad Bollywood interviews, immigration advice by this dude who you can’t understand because of heavy Urdu usage, health advice from a doctor from “the Chantilly Medical Center located in Chantilly”, bad Bollywood interviews…you get the picture. Just your regular badly produced, immaturely hosted, extremely poorly researched and jarringly disjointed desi TV program in the Amreeka. But the best (worst) part is all of the dudes, above, when they say their piece, they usually follow-up with some of the most resoundingly bad “shayri” ever heard on this planet, nay the galaxies, nay in all of the parallel universes! There is, especially, this Sardarji who seems to be the resident poet, and who’s entire purpose, on this unintentional-comedy program, is to inflict his (non) poetry on us. One example (these guys don’t have a website, hence can’t link to anything here), which goes something like:

“Zindagi se kya shikva karre,
Dost aattee hain, chale jaate hain
...Aur phir naye aate hain”!!

[What shall I complain about life,
Friends come, and then friends go,
...and then new friends come!]

Then there’s the lawyer who looks to be an, frankly, offensive combination of fake empathy and sickening knowingness who nevertheless morphs into an “ustad” as soon as he’s done dispensing with his tie and putting on his favorite greasy soulful look. One of his priceless mutterings goes something like:

“Khamoshi ka kaisa aalam hai,
Tanhaiyee ka kaisa aalam hai..”!! (that’s it! Looks like it was time to get up from the potty, before he could compose something more at the end there!)

[Silence creates such an environment,
Loneliness creates such an environment...]

And, of course, there’s our main man, the anchor for the show. This dude deliberately makes his hair look like porcupine quills, doesn’t move even the slightest throughout the show as if he’s got hemorrhoids up the wazoo and delivers his shayri in such pathetic-accented Hindi that even Ghalib himself would’ve stopped writing his priceless poetry and taken up beedi-making if he knew his art were to inspire such awfulness. Picture hearing something like the below, in heavily accented Hindi:

“Manzil saamne hai aur tum bhi hoo,
Sochta hu kisse pehle pakdoo”!!

[My goal is in front of me and so are you,
Which one should I grab, methinks!!]

Sunday morning hilarity unlimited.

* - Reference to the popular song, from a Hindi movie, in which the Bulbul is metaphorically compared to India (the song, I think, was about inspiring people to throw off the colonial British yolk in the pre-independance days). Needless to say, we need some more liberating.