Category Archives: Infotainment

Investing in the Age of Trump, 6-Month Review

It has now been 12 months since the election of Donald Trump as president, and almost 9 months since his inauguration. In May, I posted an article by a friend, which was originally written to advise me on how to invest in these “interesting times”. Well, it turned out to be the most visited page on my site—much to my dismay, of course, to think that that was more interesting than my own writing!

So, my friend and I decided to do the responsible thing and actually hold up the investment advice up to scrutiny. Something all investment advisors should do, that is.

If you knew my friend, you would not be surprised at all by the massive, thorough, and detailed tome that arrived yesterday, full of triumphs, mea culpas, caveats, and solicited and unsolicited advice. Investment advice is only as good as its performance, so you be the judge!

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Investing in the Age of Trump, 6-Month Review

by Anonymous

First off, if I am now going to be a pundit, I need to do some disclosures. 1) I do not follow my own advice, and neither should you, because it would be unwise to do everything someone tells you to do. 2) Relatedly, this analysis/advice is specifically geared toward Jennifer’s financial situation, as a person who will be retiring in a few years and has modest retirement savings to complement a decent Social Security income, and has some serious medical expenses coming up. Your situation is likely different.

I am using the publication date of the original article, 5/11/17, as the baseline for the 6-month review, and the closing price on Friday, 11/10/17, as the 6-month mark. For the baseline for Trump Trade in general, I am using the closing price as of 11/9/2016, the day of the 2016 general election. I could use 11/10/2016 as starting point, to make it a neat 12-month comparison, or 11/9/2017 as the end point—and sidestep the embarrassing gold crash yesterday—but these dates were picked a few weeks ago, and probably will not make a huge difference in the end.

I am also ignoring dividends, mainly because I am feeling lazy. I don’t think it will make a huge difference in whether I was right or wrong; if it does, someone else can do the work to prove it, but, if anything, my figures will probably look better, since my advice leans toward value stocks anyway.

 

Scorecard

As you can see in the accompanying spreadsheet, I’ve made some good calls and blown some big calls.

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Good Intentions and Evil

This is the fourth installment in my on-going musings on absolute evil.

I have now begun writing my next novel, based on the idea that absolute evil is that which consistently or largely creates evil out of good. I have characters who are basically good and well-intended, but are saddled with a curse that creates evil consequences out of well-intended actions.

I chose this angle mostly because I thought it would be an interesting thought experiment, rather than because I think this is the most rigorous definition of absolute evil. In the Cori books, I created a world in which things, mostly, work out. In Alone in a Strange World, the main character remains completely oblivious, and the story presumes that she would have made different decisions, had she been more aware. In the new book, everyone is fully aware of the consequences of their actions, and their actions to remedy this, in turn, produce more horrifying results. So, the theory goes, great evils do not happen just because the perpetrators were evil (even if some of them are), but because something turns all actions, well-intended or evil-intended, into great evil.

One problem with this conception of absolute evil did arise as I wrote the novel: it is hard to distinguish it from a series of unfortunate accidents. It isn’t rare that well-intended actions lead to unintended consequences. Are we truly in the presence of evil when that happens with alarming frequency, or is it just dumb luck? Conversely, many larger-scale atrocities occur because the perpetrators were (un)fortunate to have access to a greater means of destruction. Doesn’t it seem unfair to deem them more evil than less (un)fortunate perpetrators?

Another problem that arises is how to fight such an evil. If evil is being committed by a single person, it all ends when the person is stopped. Likewise with a group. What if the very act of fighting the evil contributes to it? (Sound familiar?) How does one win that war?

We’ll see how far I can carry this premise.

Conscience and Evil

This is the third installment in my on-going musings on absolute evil.

To define evil as that which has no regard for good makes sense, and it is compelling in many ways. Even if we cannot clearly define what is good, humans have this intuitive sense of what is good and what is bad. Our intuitions can fail us at times, but conscience, as in the little voice in our head that asks if we have considered the consequences, is something that holds us to our own definitions of what is good. Actively dismissing the voice of conscience, then, could be considered something akin to absolute evil.

This does get a little tricky with people who do not have a conscience. “Psychopaths,” as they are often called, often come up as examples of people who are evil. However, if they do not have a conscience, can they really be blamed for not using it? Sharks don’t have a conscience as we understand it; the only thing that comes close to good or evil in a shark’s life is whether something is worth eating or not. Are sharks therefore evil? Some people believe so, or react to them as if they are, but it is clear that they are not. They do occasionally do a lot of damage to us, but they are not evil in the absolute sense. Ergo, neither are psychopaths; they are merely people who are missing the ability to intuitively make decisions that others would find ethical.

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Absolute Good and Evil

This is the second installment in my on-going musings on absolute evil.

There are a few problems that come from defining absolute evil as that which is opposed to absolute good, and/or that which is distant from absolute good.

1) It requires faith, to believe that there is absolute good, and to know the nature of absolute good. Without faith, we end up with a circular definition of absolute good: absolute good is that which is divine, and divinity is that which is good. Without faith, there is no way to know if one has the whole God vs. Satan bit backwards. God has certainly ordained some evil-seeming things, like filicide and genocide and the apocalypse, and it is only through faith that one can believe that whatever God goes for is, in fact, good. Otherwise, we would need an independent way of judging whether this God character is good or evil in the first place; in that case, absolute good would precede God’s goodness, rather than follow from it.

2) The unfortunate fact of life is that the human race has worshipped many different gods who have very different expectations, and that even those who worship the same god have very different ideas about what the god wants in any given situation. It appears that absolute good that is defined as the divine is, in fact, good only relative to a given god, or even to a given understanding of a given god. Faith can give clarity to one group of believers, but it would hardly define absolute good for the rest of the world.

3) If evil is that which is not good, what exactly is absolute evil? How absent must the divine be? How far away? How strong an opposition must the anti-divine put up? The Greek gods, for instance, squabble against and oppose one another, sometimes to quite an extreme, but we would not name any of them as absolutely good or absolutely evil. In fact, they are all presumed to be good, even in their opposition to one another. This suggests that opposing the divine does not necessarily make one evil. Despite their feisty jousts, God and Satan may be working toward a shared goal, and in that case neither the followers of God nor Satan would be deemed absolutely evil.

This is all well and good as theological arguments, but I am actually just trying to write a novel, and I would like to be able to depict something that is absolutely, undoubtedly, unequivocally evil. There is something creatively unsatisfying with having to come up with an absolutely good character in order to be able to portray someone as absolutely evil. Can someone be hideously evil without some good person to oppose?

On Absolute Evil

In all my books so far, I’ve explored what one could call “relative evil”. Most of the evil has come from well-meaning people doing things that they believe are for good. Even people who do unspeakably evil things do so to pursue something that they value, or to protect something that is dear to them. The ends are justified, and so the means seem justified to the evil-doers; it’s only from the victim’s or a third party’s perspective that it doesn’t.

For my next book, I am hoping to write about something one could call “absolute evil.” Evil deeds or effects or presence that just is evil, no matter how anyone sees it.

And I’m having some trouble defining just what that would be and how it would play out.

So, I need your help. What is absolute evil? Is there such a thing?

Here are some theories about absolute evil of which I am aware.

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The Canadian Flag

PrintThis is the story of the Flag of Canada (2121 CE; officially, 2180 CE)

With the dissolution of the British Commonwealth in 2116 CE, the people of Canada began to complain about the fact that the red and white colors of their long-beloved flag represented the English monarchy. The First Peoples were especially vocal about updating the flag, and soon the Parliament was inundated with proposal after proposal to consider. Soon, English, Scottish, and French nationalisms were also fanned, and it became difficult for anyone to avoid a heated discussion about the future of the flag. This threatened to divide the consensus-driven nation, and, because of this controversy, the proposed designs for the flag became increasingly complex, if not outright messy, with every aspect of every group of people in Canada competing for a share of very limited real estate. “It would seem,” one politician quipped, “that we are trying to design a national encyclopedia, rather than a flag.”

It all came to an amicable conclusion in 2121 CE, however, when Abraham al-Wadi of Kindersley, Saskatchewan, a twelve-year-old son of Iraqi Immigrants, made an ingenious discovery. Every one of the proposed flag designs had featured at least one of two elements, usually both: the sugar maple leaf and the color white. The sugar maple had become a unifying symbol of Canadian identity regardless of national origin. The color white, like what remained of the arctic ice, had come to stand for the rugged spirit of the northern nation, as well as its natural beauty and its people’s purity of conscience. Al-Wadi proposed a simple design with these two features, with the color green for the maple leaf, representing vibrance of life, beauty of nature at its peak, and pan-Canadian tradition of environmental stewardship, and with a pale turquoise tint for the background, the color of glaciers. The leaf was symmetrical and centered, denoting Canadian traditions of pacifism and neutrality in world affairs. The idea quickly caught on, and displaced the Red Maple Leaf within a year. It was formally adopted as the Canadian national flag, unfortunately, only in 2180 CE, decades after it had become the de facto flag of the nation, and years after the death of Al-Wadi himself, thanks to another formidable Canadian tradition: unnecessary procedural delays.

Journey through the States is now available on Kindle and iBooks. Also available on Kobo and Nook, but there are some technical difficulties.

The Inner Oregon Flag

PrintThis is the story of the flag of Inner Oregon Autonomous Region (2275 AD, 1705 AH)

When the states of Oregon and Washington were split into theocratic and non-theocratic states, along the Cascades Mountains, the newly formed theocratic states of Cascadia and Columbia, respectively, adopted new flags that were only moderately modified from the original, and using the same color schemes. The biggest change was the addition of a Star of Bethlehem in the upper-left corner of the flags of the two overwhelmingly Christian states. This symbolized the hope that Christ himself would guide the hearts of the embattled citizens through the time of crisis, much the same way the Star of Bethlehem had guided the Three Wise Men to the Newborn King himself. It was also deemed that the Star of Bethlehem was somewhat more accommodating of other faith traditions than the cross of the Crucifixion was.

By the outset of the Oregon War of Independence in 2273 AD, 1705 AH, the states of Cascadia, Columbia, and Idaho were the Christian enclaves in an otherwise Muslim nation. At the conclusion of the war, they were combined to create the Inner Oregon Autonomous Region; Montana west of the Rockies, another Christian region, was purged of Christians instead, as was southern Florida. The background colors of the flags of the three states formed the blue-green-blue stripes of the new flag for Inner Oregon, and the Christian beliefs of the Regional Subjuncts were represented by three Stars of Bethlehem. The Stars were tinted yellow because all three states’ seals, as depicted on their flags, featured the color. The arrangement of the three cross-like stars evoked the image of the three crosses at Jesus’s crucification at Calvary, at once a symbol of defeat and triumph, a symbol of triumph-in-defeat, a fitting representation of the Oregon Spirit. It was customary in Inner Oregon for the crosses to be arranged somewhat at random, representing the independent spirit of Oregonians, and the distinct identity maintained by the various Christian denominations, which contrasted with the religious homogeneity in the Islamic States.

It was sometimes said that the three cross-stars represented United Christians, the Latter-day Saints, and the Fundamentalists, the three main divisions of Christianity, who were often at odds with one another, and therefore would not share the same symbol. Some also claim that the Latter-day Saints had long made a point of not using the rectilinear cross as a symbol representing their faith, which was the reason why the Star of Bethlehem, not the cross of the Crucifixion, was used. These claims were contradicted by the official transcripts of the Inner Oregon Autonomous Region Flag Committee meetings, still available at the Autonomous Regional Archives in Lewiston. The three Stars, simply, were meant to represent the three states, and still represented hope and divine guidance, which were concepts for which American Muslims also had much affinity.

Journey through the States is now available on KindleiBooks, and Kobo. Also available on Nook, but there are some technical difficulties.

The Newlander Flag

PrintThis is the story of the flag of the Federal Republic of New England, New York, New Jersey, and Northeastern Pennsylvania, also known as Newland. (2166 CE)

When the Second Civil War broke out in 2163 CE, Newland was still using the 54-star, 13-stripe flag, as was the United States of America. At the conclusion of the war in 2166 CE, the negotiators for the Treaty of Normalization arrived at an ingenious solution, which was for both nations to rightfully inherit 7 stripes each; among the original 13 colonies that had founded the United States, Pennsylvania had been split in two and was now divided between Newland and the United States. The number of stars was set to represent the 9 states in the newly formed union. It also seemed natural that they be arranged in the circular formation used in the Betsy Ross Flag.

Journey through the States is now available on Kindle and iBooks. Also available on Kobo and Nook, but there are some technical difficulties.

The Islamic States Flag

PrintThis is the story of the flag of the Islamic States of America. (2230 AD, 1659 AH)

When the Second Civil War broke out in 2163 AD, the 54-star, 13-stripe flag was still in use, despite the fact that many states had already seceded from the United States of America. Initially, both the United States and Newland claimed the Stars and Stripes as their flag. At the conclusion of the war in 2166 AD, the negotiators for the Treaty of Normalization arrived at an ingenious solution, which was for both nations to rightfully inherit 7 stripes each; among the original 13 colonies that had founded the United States, Pennsylvania had been split in two and was now divided between Newland and the United States. For Newland, the number of stars was a simple matter, with 9 states in the newly formed union. For the United States, however, it was not as easy as taking off the 13 states that had seceded. There was the blockade of Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico, effectively making them independent. Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico were now virtually uninhabitable, and were being administered by Colorado. Montana was being partitioned into Montana and Crow, with a few more such possibilities in the works. Texas was cycling through referenda after referenda for secession, division, and/or incorporation into Mexico. It was never clear therefore just how many states were truly left in the Union.

Then came the Federal Declaration of Sharia in 2230 AD, 1659 AH. It seemed natural that the flag of the New Undertakings of Medina in Minnesota (NUMM), or American Islam, be incorporated into the canton of the flag. The design of the NUMM flag had originally been hand-drawn by Prophet Bob himself, but had later been given formal dimensions. These dimensions, adopted into the Islamic States flag, were based on those of the national flag of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the homeland of the graphic artist who had been commissioned in 2000 AD to come up with it. Ironically, this artist was a Christian.

Journey through the States is now available on Kindle and iBooks. Also available on Kobo and Nook, but there are some technical difficulties.