Friday, October 31, 2008

A note on news interviews

I should have mentioned this in my previous post on Agnes Lin's interview being tweaked by the Straits Times.

Most journalists cultivate their sources zealously, particularly important and powerful people. Access to a newsmaker is one of the most prized resources of a journalist.

But a much less talked about fact is that journalists frequently use their own friends and acquaintances as subjects in their own articles (Candace Bushnell, of Sex and the City fame, has mentioned that her columns grew out of her own experiences in New York City, and that Carrie Bradshaw is her alter ego). Heck, I recycle my own and my friends' experiences in my own blog too.

Many Straits Time journalists, however, omit this little detail in their stories.

I know a few acquaintances that work in local media. The journalists' bylines appear in the newspapers regularly. And on more than one occasion, someone from the public they interviewed for a story was not, in fact, a random person but someone they already knew personally. How do I know this? Because the person interviewed was a mutual friend of ours.

Now, I'm not saying that the people interviewed in the Agnes Lin story were personal acquaintances of the journalist who wrote the story. I am not singling out the Agnes Lin story for particular attention. Neither am I saying that interviewing someone you already know for a story is an unpardonable transgression. Far from it.

I am just sounding an injunction that anyone who consumes media of any sort (and not just local stories, although I admit to a propensity to distrust local media) should be cognizant of the  possibility that an interviewee was not chosen at random. The so-called member of the public interviewed for a particular human interest story may not be a random disinterested (in the impartial sense) person whose opinion is solicited, but could instead be a person specifically chosen by the journalist on account of personal relationships, or to work an angle the journalist has chosen to focus on in his or her story.

This can put a whole different spin on the article depending on how the journalist wishes to frame the story.

For example, it's been striking to me how a certain pastry chef who is the young proprietor of a restaurant in Holland V called 2am has been mentioned a few times in the Straits Times, once on a feature on young chefs, and another time in a feature on late night dessert bars. There might have been other mentions of 2am in other articles. This is a remarkable achievement for a restaurant with little pedigree.

I may be wrong, but I can't help but wonder whether 2am was getting plugs in the local media because of some unseen friendship dynamic at work.

[You could argue that 2am dessert bar is famous in its own right and deserves all the press it gets. A quick Google search of 2am turns up multiple hits. To which I answer: chicken and egg. That's precisely why a restaurant owner might want her journalist friend to write up about her hot new restaurant. Buzz generates buzz.]

Separately, I actually have a co-worker who once dated an editor at Elle magazine (Singapore). They've since split up. Now, my co-worker is a nice guy and not bad-looking, but he's definitely not supermodel material. Ergo my surprise when I heard that he was once featured in Elle magazine as one of Singapore's "Top 25 Bachelors".

So you should forgive me if I seem to come off as being skeptical of local media...

Fed Swap Line Redux

I mentioned the Fed's swap line to Singapore in a previous post.

The Straits Times picked up the Fed release and published it in today's paper.

MAS has explained that the swap line is a precautionary measure, which is a reasonable explanation given what I, and many believe, to be the stability of our local banks. Having a swap line also means that the Singapore financial system is not disadvantaged vis-a-vis many of the Western European countries that have exising swap arrangements with the Fed. That's all good news indeed. 

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Letters of credit

Thanks to the ongoing financial crisis, it wasn't so long ago that the public had to be educated on formerly esoteric finance jargon like subprime security and collateralized debt obligation (CDO).

The next finance term that the public is likely to be acquainted with depends on which shoe is the next to drop. Until recently, I had thought that it would be credit default swap (CDS), which we are hearing increasingly more of.

(Personally, I believe that CDS's had something to do with the Lehman Minibonds and DBS High Notes that we had been hearing so much in the news about. Specifically, our poor Singaporean retirees who had been bilked out of their life savings were unwittingly writing credit protection to the big banks. But I digress.)

Now, I think it likely that the next (trade) finance term the public is going to hear about is letter of credit (LOC), which strangely enough, I came across for the first time in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time fantasy fiction novels (I swear, I'm not making this up).

Anyways, there's been a substantial amount of blogging and news about how the ongoing credit crisis is resulting in banks refusing to guarantee transactions between importers and exporters. This in turn has caused problems in shipping. All this is occuring in the background, with a plunging Baltic Dry Index in the foreground.

Recommended, but technical, reading is here, here, here and here. [And yes, in addition to being a full-time engineer, I am also something of a finance wonk.]

What's the likely fall-out from this side-effect of the financial crisis? Yves Smith from writes that it could metastasize into "Smoot-Hawley on steroids", or a manufacturing shut-down plus depression scenario (which is, no pun intended, really depressing to contemplate).

My interpretation of that is that in addition to severely depressed economic activity as a direct result of a slow-down in trade, we might also see persistent shortages of goods as well as higher prices. Inflation, or more properly, stagflation, could stage a come-back.

Of course, given the gravity of the situation, I can't imagine that governments around the world would sit back and do nothing. So perhaps such a dire situation is unlikely to come to pass. Still, it's one more thing to worry about.

So the Straits Times edits its interviews...Duh.

Agnes Lin claims to have been mis-portrayed by the Straits Times.

This did not come as a surprise to me. For the record, I happen to believe Agnes Lin. I remember reading about her shopping habits in the Straits Times, and it came off as so over the top that it read almost as caricature rather than an actual account of someone real.

Even if they were so extravagent, would someone really admit to such expensive habits in a period when green is the new black, even Hags are cutting back, and recessionista is the newest word in the fashion maven's dictionary?

I was once interviewed by the Straits Times via email (me being a overseas scholar and all, don't ask), and even though the subject matter was fairly innocuous, and my replies quite PC (unlike some of the content on this blog, I self censored), the reporter still managed to spin my answers to her questions to give the best possible polish to my words. I was mildly peeved, but I let it go since wtf, I don't give a rat's ass about what the Straits Times writes almost all of the time.

So I'm not surprised the Straits Times gave Agnes Lin Le Grand Editorial treatment. They so badly needed a foil for the poor folks who are genuinely suffering in these harsh times. Otherwise, the story wouldn't fly as a viable human interest story at all. Too bad for Agnes Lin though.

If you ask me, I would have suggested the Straits Times, as a foil, pick someone who probably really isn't suffering right now as a result of her pedigree, is a fresh graduate, and has tons of connections. Someone like Fazeela Abdul Rashid, who the Straits Times did feature waaay back in 2001, when the economy was also not doing well.

Oh, but if they did that, they might actually offend someone important *gasp*. Never mind the fact that a fresh graduate in current circumstances similar to Fazeela back then might actually still be really living it up while Rome burns, as compared to the much maligned Agnes Lin.

On a separate note: My opinion is that anything written by Nur Dianah Suhaimi from the Straits Times is not worth the paper it's printed on. Her writing is consistently stilted, sanctimonious and frequently masquerades as 'virtuous' advice.

The Fed provides Singapore with a swap line

I caught wind of this from one of the blogs I frequent:

The Fed is providing Singapore with a USD30 billion swap line. Now I wonder why this didn't make the local news? 

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"For Those Not Running, Training Can Be Just as Taxing"

From The New York Times

For Those Not Running, Training Can Be Just as Taxing


Published: October 28, 2008 

In response to the recent financial crisis, Caren and Jon Cohen, parents of two children and residents of the Upper East Side, enacted a family policy of increasing awareness of household spending — “taking a second look every time you make a purchase and making sure that it’s O.K.,” as Caren put it.

The recent financial crisis has Caren and Jon Cohen trying to cut expenses — except maybe when it comes to Jon’s marathon training equipment. 

In a bid to qualify for Boston, Jon Cohen has logged as many as 80 miles a week, some on a treadmill in his apartment. 

So it was with incredulity that she recently watched her distance-running-obsessed husband, deep in his preparations for the New York City Marathon, unbox a new electronic muscle stimulator, a gadget he had purchased for $900 to help aid his recovery from long training runs. 

“I really need this,” he told his befuddled wife.

As the accommodating Caren Cohen is well aware, marathon fatigue can be punishing this time of year, as tens of thousands of distance runners around the world are training for fall races like Sunday’s New York City Marathon, which will have a field of more than 39,000. And sometimes the fatigue has nothing to do with sore muscles or tired legs. The weight of the impending 26.2-mile race is often borne by the families, friends and co-workers of amateur marathoners-in-training — innocent bystanders who sustain the collateral damage. 

Less amused by her husband’s passion for the marathon is Rebecca, a 30-something Manhattan resident who asked that her surname not be published for fear of further marathon-related domestic strife. Her ambivalence about her husband’s marathon and triathlon training moves closer to resentment when she considers the effect it has had on their apartment, their social life and even their conversations.

“I miss my guestroom, which has become the garage and smells like a locker room,” she said in an e-mail message. “I miss talking about things other than Harlem hill repeats, and I wish we had put a down payment on an apartment with the money he spent on his stupid custom bike.”

Rebecca, who says her husband talks about his training “incessantly,” could be in for a long winter if her husband meets his goal of attaining a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon. 

“Usually after that first weekend in November, I think, O.K., now we have our Friday nights and Saturday mornings back,” she said in an interview. “But he’s not the kind of guy who will just say, ‘Great, I qualified — now I can take it easy.’ He’ll want to do really well next spring. So it’s not going to end for me.”

The all-consumed runner can make his co-workers feel as if they, too, are in an endurance event. Sunday mornings are popular for long training runs, sometimes 20 miles or more; Monday mornings can be grueling for the colleague in the neighboring cubicle who hears the stride-by-stride retelling of that run. And no one knows the true agony of blisters on the feet until he has heard his co-worker describe the arc of their progression — from development to drainage — in excruciating detail.

The colleagues of Jaime Sperling, the communications manager at the World Monuments Fund in Manhattan, are continually reminded that there is a marathoner in their midst. 

“I know I was a nightmare training for my first marathon, in 2004,” Sperling said in an e-mail message. “Icing my knees at work, worrying out loud about my mileage, bragging about my long runs. I think I even brought my finisher’s medal to work the next day (or the day after, since I made a big deal about taking off the day after since I’d be ‘too sore to walk’).”

Now, Sperling is training to run the New York City Marathon for the fourth time, and her colleagues are well aware that she frequently commutes to work by running the five miles from her home in Queens to her office in Manhattan, where she keeps several outfits hanging in her cubicle.

“Of course there are no showers at work, so she says she mops herself up,” Ben Haley said. “It’s pretty funny, because she comes in drenched in sweat, freshens herself up and starts working.”

The 40-year-old Jon Cohen, who is training to run the New York City Marathon for the fifth consecutive year, says he hopes to qualify for the Boston Marathon by running faster than 3 hours 20 minutes, the standard for his age group. In his bid to meet that time, Cohen has logged as many as 80 miles in a week, sometimes running twice a day or doing back-to-back long runs on the weekend. 

He acknowledges that it is a demanding regimen for someone who is not a professional runner. 

“There are times when you think, what am I doing this for? I’m not trying to qualify for the Olympics, and I don’t make my living doing this,” he said. “But there’s something inside that makes me strive for these goals.”

Cohen’s training routine extends beyond Central Park. At home, to the amusement and occasional disdain of his family, he behaves like many a fanatical long-distance runner: taking ice baths, mixing energy drinks, exhibiting an excessive germophobia and, as his largely unfazed wife put it, “rolling around the living room on his foam roller.”

For an obsessive marathoner-to-be, these are small sacrifices to make in the interest of performing well on race day, which is never far from mind. Whenever Jon Cohen drives his family over the Willis Avenue Bridge, he delivers a spiel that his wife and children know by heart. 

“This is the toughest part of the marathon right here,” he lectures his eye-rolling but otherwise indulgent children, ages 12 and 8. “When you hit the bridge, it’s the 20-mile mark, and from here, you have the toughest six miles to go.” 

But while marathoners like Cohen prepare to count down the miles and minutes on Sunday, many spectators already have the finish line in sight.

As the beleaguered but good-natured Haley said last week in reference to Sperling’s marathon: “I’ll be pretty relieved once it’s over.”

"The Mysterious Cough, Caught on Film"

From The New York Times

The Mysterious Cough, Caught on Film


Published: October 27, 2008 

In Roald Dahl’s novel “The B.F.G.,” the title character, a big friendly giant, captures dreams in glass jars. At Pennsylvania State University, a professor of engineering has captured something less whimsical but no less ephemeral — a cough — on film. 
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The image, published online Oct. 9 by The New England Journal of Medicine, was created by schlieren photography, which “takes an invisible phenomenon and turns it into a visible picture,” said the engineering professor, Gary Settles, who is the director of the university’s gas dynamics laboratory. 

Schlieren is German for “streaks”; in this case it refers to regions of different densities in a gas or a liquid, which can be photographed as shadows using a special technique.

“In my lab we use this technique a lot,” Dr. Settles said. “Often it’s used for other things, like in supersonic wind tunnels, to show shock waves around high-speed aircraft.”

The process involves a small, bright light source, precisely placed lenses, a curved mirror, a razor blade that blocks part of the light beam and other tools that make it possible to see and photograph disturbances in the air. In the world of gas dynamics, a cough is merely “a turbulent jet of air with density changes.” Though coughs spread tuberculosis, SARS, influenza and other diseases, surprisingly little is known about them. “We don’t have a good understanding of the air flow,” Dr. Settles said.

To map a cough, he teamed up with Dr. Julian Tang, a virus expert from Singapore. A healthy student provided the cough. The expelled air, traveling at 18 miles per hour, mixed with cooler surrounding air and produced “temperature differences that bend light rays by different amounts,” Dr. Settles said. 

He went on: “The next thing is, you get a couple of people in front of the mirror talking, or one coughs on another, and you see how the air flow moves, how people infect one another. Or you look at how coughing can spread airborne infection in a hospital. This is really a suggestion for how we might study all that. The techniques used in wind tunnels can be used to study human diseases.” 

Other schlieren images show the churning air and shock waves that emanate from a pistol’s firing; an Airedale sniffing a small flower; and the unseen, shimmering world around a candle burning in a breeze. 

The final photograph, in a full-scale mock-up of an aircraft cabin, captures in microseconds the flash of an explosion under a mannequin in an airplane seat and the propagation of shock waves into the cabin. The blast was a re-creation of a terrorist’s attempt in 1994 to bring down a Philippine Airlines flight with a nitroglycerin bomb. The plane did not crash, but the explosion did kill the passenger seated over the bomb. The simulation used a less intense explosion than the actual bombing.

“The simulation helps to understand how the energy of an onboard blast reverberates around the cabin,” Dr. Settles said, “and it is also useful to check the results of computer blast simulations.”

"Big Marathons, Already Packed, May Still Grow"

From The New York Times

Big Marathons, Already Packed, May Still Grow


Published: October 28, 2008 

Having run the New York City Marathon 32 years in a row, Dave Obelkevich has a simple approach to navigating the increasingly clogged course.

“I just pray,” he said, “and hope not to get mowed down.”

Such is the experience for many participants in the sport’s glamour races, like the marathons in New York, London, Chicago, Berlin and Boston. Bursting with runners, those races appear to be at their saturation point, with several fields hosting more than 35,000 competitors. Some of those events have doubled in size from a decade ago. 

Still, race directors are looking for ways to make their 26.2-mile races even bigger, while somehow maintaining a safe and enjoyable experience for runners.

To ease congestion on its five-borough course, New York is implementing a new starting system this year, when more than 39,000 are expected to compete. Recreational runners will begin the race in three intervals, 20 minutes apart.

The race director, Mary Wittenberg, and New York’s deputy mayor for economic development, Robert C. Lieber, have discussed expanding the field. More than two-thirds of the runners come from outside the tristate area, bringing the city more than $220 million, organizers say.

Lieber said he could envision at least 50,000 runners in New York’s marathon. 

For the 57,665 people who applied to run in last year’s New York City Marathon but were denied entry, that may seem like great news. It would be a disappointing turn, however, for many runners who already find big-city marathons unmanageable.

Liam Mycroft, a 50-year-old tax auditor from Dublin, is a veteran of 22 marathons, including the Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Boston, Winnipeg and Rotterdam races. He ran the London Marathon twice, the last time in 1998. But never again, he said, because of the crowds.

Some streets in big-city marathons, like London’s aptly named Narrow Street, were clearly not fashioned to handle a sea of 70,000 sneaker-clad feet and the 35,000 runners attached to them, Mycroft said. 

“You’re running in some places that there are some really tight bends, so you’re almost walking the first three miles and you don’t really get going until six or seven miles in,” he said. “It’s a fantastic, brilliant experience to run toward Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, closer to the end of the race. But when you’re still weaving around people, it’s annoying and not very much fun.”

Bigger fields mean more challenges for race organizers. As the number of entrants increases, so does the number of volunteers, police and medical workers, said Carey Pinkowski, the executive race director for the Chicago Marathon, which caps its registration at 45,000. 

“Could we take 60,000 participants? Sure,” he said. “But that’s not a simple process. Right now we’re at a number we feel very comfortable with.”

Race directors in Boston and London say it would be impossible to add more runners to their already crammed courses. 

In 2002, the Boston Marathon had 16,939 entrants. It then relaxed its race standards for runners 45 and older, and the field grew to 25,283 this year. And that, apparently, is the maximum the course could handle as it winds through eight cities and towns, the race director Guy Morse said. The field size for 2009 will be limited to 25,000.

“You are a victim of what you accomplish,” Morse said. “We want to be as big as we can be without compromising the integrity of the event. There’s a breaking point, and you may not know what that is until you get there. We don’t want to find out.”

Mary Pardi, 38, from Falmouth, Me., competed in the Boston Marathon in April, and said she ran shoulder-to-shoulder with other runners through Mile 18. She said she was “up on lawns, weaving in and out of people and wasting a lot of energy,” because the course was so packed. She failed to reach her goal of finishing in under three hours, crossing the line in 3 hours 3 minutes 44 seconds.

“I think they should make the standards a little harder because people are getting in better and better shape,” Pardi said. “But, no matter how hard it is to qualify, I think there will always be 20,000 people running it. Everyone wants to run in Boston because it means you are the best of the best.”

The attraction of running in a big-city marathon, where the course passes famous landmarks and goes through boisterous neighborhoods, has increased the demand for spots in races like the London Marathon. It already has 118,500 applicants for the 2009 event in April. About a third of them will be accepted. 

David Bedford, the race director, said in an e-mail message that London was considered a marathon that many “want to do at least once in their lifetime.” He added that participants simply find ways “to cope” as they made their way through gridlocked parts of the course.

Although London organizers feel as if their race has reached its limit, New York officials are looking for their race to grow.

The wave start being used Sunday in the New York City Marathon is intended to ease crowding at particularly jammed points, like near the Brooklyn Academy of Music (Mile 8) and the Willis Avenue Bridge (Mile 20), said Wittenberg, the race director.

She said that she and other organizers have studied video, photographs and data from computerized timing chips on the runners’ sneakers to assess bottlenecks on the course. The start is an obvious point of congestion, but the finish area is also a problem because runners gather to reunite with friends and families.

Race organizers and city officials have discussed altering those two areas to expand the field.

“The No. 1 driver to get bigger is that more people can run the race and there is more economic impact,” Wittenberg said. “We think it makes sense just as long as the quality of the experience remains high.”

Pointing out that New York had more finishers than any other marathon last year, she added, “We want to be the biggest marathon, but never at the cost of being the best.”

Lieber, the deputy mayor, said he would not mind if the race was both. He scoffed at those who said the race was too crowded.

“That’s baloney,” he said. “It’s all about how you set it up.

“We’re not going to go from 39,000 to 50,000 in one year. It will happen over time.”

Obelkevich, who has competed in the race every year since 1976, finished his first New York City Marathon in 1974, when there were 527 entrants. He shudders at the thought of the race growing any larger than it is right now. Even so, he said he would not turn his back on it.

“I’d never think of skipping it,” said Obelkevich, 65, a retired music teacher from Manhattan. “What other race do you run with hundreds of other people helping you through the tough miles? Where else will you hear 26 bands along the course playing the theme song from ‘Rocky’?

“Now that I’ve got this streak going, I just can’t skip a year. Even if I broke my leg, I’d do it on crutches.”

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Rash of Remorse

No, this post isn't on the ongoing financial crisis.

It's about one of my running quirks.

Some people I've mentioned this to find this personal quirk of mine impossibly weird, gross and/or funny. So be warned before you read further.

I cannot go more than 4 consecutive days without running. After 4 consecutive days of no running, the next time I run, I inexplicably break into this strange rash on and around my torso and lower limbs.

It's not really a rash rash. Nothing nasty with hives or ugly red splotches. Instead, I get a generalized itching sensation around my torso and lower limbs. And it drives me crazy; I claw at my skin while I'm running, and I normally stop after about 4 kilometers of this because the itching just makes it impossible to continue. After this initial run, assuming my next run takes place within the next 4 days, I will be fine again. No rash. Not until the next time when I go for more than 4 consecutive days of no running.

My (unsubstantiated) theory on this is that running causes the core body temperature to rise, and this induces the capillaries to the skin to dilate to allow more blood to the surface of the skin. This allows more heat to be lost through conduction. When I go for more than 4 days of no running however, the capillaries return to their more constricted state. Hence, when I return to running, the rapid dilation of the capillaries just below the surface of the skin results in that maddening generalized itching sensation.

I call this personal tic of mine the "Rash of Remorse". In a way, its great because it forces me to run regularly and frequently. However, running is something I would do anyway because I love running. The awful thing is whenever I have to put off running because of overseas trips or injuries. Then the dreaded rash returns. At least for the first run.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Minibonds compensation

Now that DBS, among other banks, is starting to compensate investors, this opens up whole new issues to consider.

For starters, the definition of who's going to get compensated is bound to make some people very happy, and some very unhappy. Frankly, I think the whole episode of compensation stinks. It just seems so arbitrary who's going to be made whole and who's going to be left out in the rain. 

I like the Hong Kong plan better as it forces banks to make a market for these highly illiquid securities. Now do bear in mind that investors will have to swallow major losses by selling these securities at 'market' prices back to the banks (it remains to be seen how market prices will be arrived at when these securities were never meant to be traded on a secondary market).

The reason why I dislike the Singapore version of the Minibond resolution is that it conflates the two issues of investment risk and legal liability for product misrepresentation/mis-selling.

Everyone who bought the Minibonds should be on the hook for losses, regardless of educational level, retiree status, life savings on the line etc. But if investors feel hard done by misrepresentation or mis-selling of the Minibonds, then it should be the courts and the legal system that should decide if the banks should pay damages to the investors (which may be the total sum invested, or perhaps even more to take into account 'emotional distress' and the like). And in the public interest, perhaps it should be a regulatory authority like the MAS that undertakes legal action on behalf of all investors, and not just those that lost money in this Minibonds fiasco. In doing so, MAS could also seek to impose a punitive penalty on banks that actively hard-sell such risky products to retail investors, and hence discourage such behavior in the future.

Instead, we have some banks (and not every bank who sold the Minibonds) arbitrarily deciding who to make whole based on some in-house measure of whether the product should have been sold to so such and such investors or not. That is just so wrong. But then again, maybe this is what our vaunted monetary regulatory authority wants: to leave "doing the right thing" open to interpretation so it absolves itself of responsibility, doesn't have to take an unambiguious stand (in any direction),  and hence doesn't have to  offend anyone at all.

As for other peripheral issues:

DBS shareholders are probably none too pleased by this turn of events, but frankly, bad publicity is more costly than just $80-$90 million dollars. DBS had already committed itself to this fiasco when it decided to distribute this risky structured product. Oh, and my previous comment on how this will indirectly cost taxpayers still holds.

Thus far, it appears that DBS will compensate those investors it has decided to make whole out of its own funds. However, if I were one of those investors not compensated, I would be mighty suspicious about whether the compensation were to be at my expense, that is, if the compensation monies could possibly have come out, at least in part, from the dregs of what remains of the Minibonds. This is a very remote possibility, but if I were such an investor, this would be exactly what I would be asking DBS management.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Some quick thoughts on the Minibond fiasco

I have less time these days to blog in-depth about topics I am interested in, but nonetheless, I will pen down some quick thoughts. This post is on the Lehman Brothers Minibond fiasco.

I wrote a post on structured products about 3 months ago, and it is as relevant now as it was before.

Notwithstanding the plight of retirees losing their lifesavings (which is regrettable), I can't say I have much sympathy for the people who lost thousands of dollars in this most recent investment debacle. The golden rule is: don't know, don't touch. If people were more diligent with their investments, asked a few more questions, had a healthy dose of skepticism, and weren't swayed by the greed for an improved yield of a few percentage points over the fixed deposit rate, without questioning the disproportionately higher level of risk they were shouldering, they wouldn't find themselves in this situation today, gullible things that they are.

As it stands, my opinion is that their only case for getting their money back is to sue for misrepresentation of the product they were sold. And the chances of success for that are slim to none. After all, information on the product could be found in the prospectus, in black and white. The investor should take responsibility for their own actions. Even if he or she was unable or unwilling to read and understand the prospectus, he or she could have sought professional advice in doing so.

[To would-be flamers, please note that I am NOT indulging in an exercise in schadenfreude. I just think that investors should bear some responsibility as well for their losses. Ignorance is a poor defence for one's actions.]

Some other quick thoughts:

How much do I think investors will get upon dissolution of Minibonds? At best, pennies on the dollar, and more likely, nothing at all. Numbers like 50-70% are pure fantasy.

Separately, if the local banks (like DBS) do compensate investors out of their own balance sheets under overwhelming public pressure, you should realize that this comes indirectly out of taxpayers' money. Why do I say that? Because the government has recently tweaked the laws to allow it to spend more of our reserves, and the government owns large stakes in many banks (including DBS and Citibank) through its sovereign wealth fund holdings. I am not presuming a judgment call on whether bailing out the 10000 disgruntled Singaporeans (including impoverished retirees) is the right thing to do (or not). I am merely stating categorically that thanks to the government's byzantine layers of ownership of stakes in local banks, there are taxpayer dollars involved here should investors be compensated.

As for MAS's laughable comment on local banks to "do the right thing" and PM Lee's remarkable silence on the fiasco:

MAS is showing how toothless it really is. It can say anything it wants on this matter, but it either lacks the power or (perhaps more likely) the political will to enforce any of it.

As for the PM, I think it's a good move (for him) to say nothing. As the old adage goes, if you have nothing good to say, don't say anything at all. If the PM comes out with a speech that is anything less than in strong favor of making investors whole, investors who have been incessantly portrayed in the media as being impoverished retirees who have lost their life savings, he risks huge loss in credibility, empathy, political name it. On the other hand, if he does make such a speech, you can kiss goodbye to all the hedge funds, slush funds, private equity and other monies that have made their way here thanks to our friendly, welcoming, lightly regulated, and most importantly, discreet and circumspect environment.

Friday, October 17, 2008

And that makes five!

My massage therapist chides me every time I'm prone on the table that my calves and hamstrings are "super-tight" and that I need to stretch more.

I say I do stretch! But the tightness just doesn't seem to go away. So I just ignore it and hope that nothing bad happens. Well, it appears that the chickens have come home to roost.

I've mentioned previously that I've run through (sic) pretty much the whole gamut of running injuries at some point or other. Turns out after adequately addressing and preventing the previous 4 types of injuries I've experienced before, I missed a common one along the way, and it's decided to ... make its presence felt.

From the crepitus, I think I have Achilles paratendonitis.

It figures that the weakest link is always the one that you ignore while dealing with all of the other moving parts. Well, looks like I can't ignore it any longer.

Turns out that tight gastrocnemius and soleus muscles are a risk factor for injuries of the Achilles tendon. I'm not exactly in pain right now, but there's a niggling discomfort when I walk and it gets painful enough during running that I have to stop a few minutes into a run. Oh, and my calves are still "super-tight".

For some reason, injuries frequently strike me when I resume running after a hiatus, the most recent one of which was my conference/vacation trip. I managed to squeeze in a grand total of just one run during the two weeks I was away (and it was a brilliant one, in cool weather with fall colors in New Hampshire).

Well, it appears that I'll have to lay off the running for a spell while working up a more serious stretching routine.

And I sooo need to make an appointment with my therapist post-haste.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

CPF Tax Relief

Many working adult Singaporeans give a portion of their paychecks to their parents each month. And a number of parents actually don’t need the money at all. In some cases, the parents may still be working and may in fact be drawing larger paychecks than their offspring. In other cases, the parents may already be retired but have very substantial retirement savings or investments to draw upon. In such cases, the money given by adult Singaporeans to their parents is symbolic, a reflection of filial piety.

If you fall into the category of Singaporeans who give money to retired parents who do not have working income, but also do not require your contribution to get by, here’s one way to make your dollars work harder for you.

The CPF Board allows up to SGD7000 contributed each year into the retirement accounts of retired Singaporeans by their offspring to be eligible for tax relief. In other words, if you already give money to your retired parents, and they don’t need it, it’s far better to contribute it into their retirement accounts with the CPF than to give them cash. This way, you get to claim tax relief on the amount contributed. In the current low interest rate environment, your parents also get to enjoy the higher interest rates that the CPF provides (assuming they would have kept the cash in a lower-interest rate bearing bank account).

Full details are available at the IRAS, CPF and Singapore Budget websites.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

So I'm back ...

One of the annoying things about going on vacation is that the work in the office doesn't also go on vacation.

Instead, it silently piles up in the email inbox, in the meeting calendar, in the list of things to do...

And if the vacation immediately follows from an official overseas trip, when a trip report is due right after that official trip, then heaven help you.

Or me, in this case.

Anyways, I won't be available to offer my fresh new insights on the world or on matters near and dear to my heart anytime in the near future.

Not that there isn't anything else exciting out there to mind. I mean, the entire global financial system is practically teetering on the edge of an abyss. I know I'm paying as much attention to that as anyone possibly could.

Till the next time, when the spirit moves me to blog...