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A.West

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  1. SHOW: Topic A with Tina Brown 8:00 AM EST CNBC October 3, 2004 Sunday "Ms. ANGELINA JOLIE: What am I reading? I've been very into Ayn Rand, so I've read "The Fountainhead" and then "Atlas Shrugged." I just think she has a very interesting philosophy. You re-evaluate your own life and what's important to you." I'm not sure that having Ms. Jolie like Ayn Rand's novels is an entirely good thing, given her past erratic behavior. I hope this is a new beginning for her.
  2. Over a decade ago I vaguely remember noticing an Objectivist who was a home inspector in the NJ region. Well, I'm looking at homes right now, so if anyone can refer me to a skilled home inspector, I'd greatly appreciate it. Thanks, Andrew West Scotch Plains, NJ
  3. "Perhaps the Chinese also demonstrated that they could get really large groups to do things precisely by drilling them for months on end." Indeed, this is what I found to be quite dull about the opening ceremonies. It was generally quite flat, using hordes of people. At least with tv cameras we could see the occasional close up, but in the stands it wouldn't have been as good as it could have been. It seemed that there was a general principle, that all major operations in the ceremony must include "the masses". This is of course, consistent with China's collectivist premises and the Communist Party's alleged principles. The ship sequence was a strange one, particularly given China's relatively poor historical track record of naval exploration, due in part to government policy. To me, the opening ceremony's themes were nationalism and collectivism, not coincidentally the two major themes I pick up in Chinese culture. The collectivism has been a constant for a long time, the nationalism is newer and angrier.
  4. My wife and I took my 6 year old daughter and her friend to see the Kit Kitteridge movie. It was full of hackneyed altruist themes, and watching the movie was much like being forced to work in a soup kitchen. The theme was approximately something to the effect that no matter how tough things get, you have to stick together and help out your friends, family, and the hobos who live down by the river. The main positives were: The lead actress was good at portraying spunky persistence in wanting to become a journalist (though the movie failed to portray her effort in working towards that goal). There were some mildly humorous moments. The positive characters do what they can to get by during the depression, and would rather do things to make money than rely on charity. The main negatives: Specific attacks on self reliance. Massive altruism and wealth redistribution propoganda. Specific gratuitous praise for FDR's CCCC program. Has anyone else seen this movie? Almost all kids shows and movies push altruism, but this one seemed particularly aggressive.
  5. Here are some compressed videos from my trip on youtube: Here are my Russian videos on youtube: Norilsk Evraz http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCnpGLFAmZA http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MkI3CktoOpA Raspadskaya http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kS32W2DBVf8 NLMK http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CxqOkxgIFZs http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cv2uRZCF8JQ
  6. I recently returned from a research trip in China and Russia, where I met with a number of companies, particularly steel, metal, and mining firms in Russia. I took a number of photos, first miscelaneous photos in Shanghai, and then in Russia of locations in underground nickel mines and processing plants, steel mills, and open pit coal mines. I'll bet many of you remember vividly Ayn Rand's descriptions of Hank Rearden's steel plants, and may be interested in seeing such factories operating up close in person. Below is the link to my photo album of that trip. http://picasaweb.google.com/Andrew.H.West/...ssiaTripMay2008
  7. It's very clear what the meaning is regarding pawnshops. Wynand pawned his soul in return for "power," and he knows that he'll never be able to reclaim his soul.
  8. I cover the global transportation, steel, and auto industries for an investment management firm in NJ, Harding Loevner. A few years back I worked near Wall St. for another firm, as a transport industry analyst, but not for an investment bank.
  9. I've yet to tour steel plants around the world, yet. I have some invitations, so expect more tours in time, in different locations. Chinese plants are among the newest, because that's where most of the world's new capacity has come in the past 7 years. Chinese now make about 35% of the world's steel, and consume most of it. Korea is supposed to have the world's most efficient steel complex. Japanese are supposed to be capable of making the highest quality steel. These Russian plants are still in the process of being upgraded, most of the complexes were originally built in Soviet times, but are privately owned now by investors globally. Their competitive advantage is that these companies also own iron and coal mines, and that Russian demand for steel is growing rapidly, a big advantage during this time of rising input costs. Quality is good enough, but not generally the highest end products like specialty steel. NLMK does make a lot of electical steel though. Russians are less restrictive environmentally on these sorts of operations. In mining, they can pay about $12,000/year. Europeans of course are the highest cost producers, given their unions, and various environmental taxes.
  10. A.West

    Thus Spake Zarathustra

    I favor the Kauffman translation, he favors a more direct style. There are plenty of sections in Zarathustra that shouldn't be too hard to comprehend.
  11. A.West

    Attention Deficit Disorder

    Anyone know what % of kids diagnosed with ADD have difficulty paying attention to their favorite video games or TV shows?
  12. A.West

    South Park

    South Park usually attacks the right targets, and attacks them well. Those are their best episodes. But sometimes they attack the wrong targets too, or attack from the wrong angle.
  13. A.West

    South Park

    I really enjoy South Park, but stand by my statement that it's essentially a negative show. The best South Park episodes are reactions against bad ideas, behavior, or institutions. That's what satire is about. Stan and Kyle aren't heroes. Stone & Parker have said as much - they are essentially normal kids with some common sense and the ability to see through hypocrisy. Their occasional displays of honesty and integrety primarily serve as a foil to the targets of Stone & Parker's satirical attacks. To me, that's funny, and so is toilet humor to a degree, so I like the show. But I don't kid myself and pretend that it's an uplifting experience. South Park is about making fun of people, which means that the focus always on those who deserve scorn, not those who inspire by example. I actually like South Park's "preachy" episodes the best. These are the episodes where Stone & Parker really care about the subject matter, and someone they really want to fight against. Like organized religion, or liberal platitudes. When they don't have a target, their underlying outlook on life shows up more clearly. Take one of their worst episodes - Episode 1014 - Stanley's Cup. In it, they satirize the concept of "happy endings" in films by allowing the climax to be Stan's hockey team losing a contest which in turn drives a teammate to die of cancer.
  14. Off the top of my head, I think the right scale would be one that allows for Y axis to range from the maximum and minimums of average temperatures for the period beginning with the existance of mammals on earth. That would provide a relevant framing of the data for humans. Tufte's first book on visualizing data provides advice on the creation of such charts.
  15. A.West

    The Falling US Dollar

    That's the general idea Softwarenerd and GB. The difficulty is trying to determine how much of the Chinese economic growth is built on value-added investment, and how much on value-destructive investment. The heavy RMB expansion and multiple government financial system refinancings (recapitalization of past bad loans) means that malinvestments are almost never liquidated in the Chinese economy. Property investors barely care about return on investment - if they can get a loan, and permission, they will build. Some people are beginning to say that Chinese are "developing for the sake of development" rather than economic return. But there's also a lot of hard work at low cost being done in China. I try to never forget the images I've seen of people running machine tools out of their 2-room home/workshops at 11pm Sunday nights. They are competing against Joe sixpack who thinks he has a right to earn $70,000 a year doing the same thing and putting in half their hours.
  16. A.West

    The Falling US Dollar

    Quite true, GB. One of the big current puzzles related to global investing and economics is whether the Chinese investment boom of recent years is driven by distortions in the US and Chinese financial systems that provide incentives for malinvestment. The big challenge is that malinvestment rarely looks like malinvestment to most people at the time it's initiated. I can find anecdotal and causal evidence to support the hypothesis that at least some of China's massive fixed asset investment is negative IRR over the long run. The hard part to determine is how much of it. Unfortunately, one really only knows until the tide of credit expansion goes out and economies begin to slow. China has had bank loans growing at 30% or so for years, with fixed asset investment representing around 40% of economic activity. Since the start of the decade, it's annual steel consumption has more than tripled, with most of this going into construction uses, much of it directed by bureacrats who have much to gain and little to lose if a project (office or residential real estate) is completed, and with government controlled banks providing the lending, banks with a very poor track record in differentiating good from bad loans. That smells like malinvestment. It may well be that monetary policy in the US is tied to investment trends in China in this case, and perhaps vice-versa.
  17. A.West

    Drunk Objectivists

    I don't understand drinking in general. I haven't found a drink that actually tastes good. For me, a "good wine" is one that tastes less unpleasant than usual. There are some nice-tasting mixed drinks and cocktails, but would taste just as good or better without the alcohol. And beer combines bitterness with the smells of fermentation. More importantly, I don't like the way alcohol makes me feel, even after a drink or two - namely, less in control of my own mind, and with dulled perception and clarity. So, yes, the attraction of drinking (not just by Objectivists but in general) is simply foreign to me. My vice is junk food - perhaps some are attracted to a drink like I am to a dish of ice cream.
  18. A.West

    Rebirth of Diesel?

    Modern diesel engines offer some real advantages, but are also generally more expensive to produce than gas engines. More metal, a turbocharger, and special emissions equipment all add to the cost. When fuel is expensive, people can still benefit from paying an extra $1000 or more per car, over time. But some people simply can't afford to buy a car at a higher price point. A diesel hybrid would boost efficiency, and it would also boost the up-front costs, to a degree that may never be recovered from long-term fuel savings.
  19. As an investment professional who has worked in global equities research for 16 years, I think watching any investment TV channel too much is counterproductive. It was mentioned that CNBC uses "real" financial terms like "Bollinger bands" while Fox Business uses less sophisticated terms. Investment jargon is actually one of my pet peeves, because I often find that investment promoters/salesmen like to use what I consider Wall St. Jargon to make themselves look more sophisticated than they are - crap like "this stock's RSI is up over 75 so I'd put in a bid" is just a floating abstraction to most people, and is usually worthless from an investment/analytical perspctive. But it allows people to simulate intelligent conversation about a multitude of topics about which they have only a faint understanding. I have seen a little bit of Fox Business news - one show looks like it invites various gasbags to opine freely over various stocks while drinking beers at a Wall Street Bar. Seems like an Oprah Winfrey show for wealthy retired guys. On the other hand, I have seen some decent business shows on Fox, and am glad they feature serious Ayn Rand fan Jonathan Hoenig to discuss investment topics on "Cashin In". He has frequently offers radically rational views on a wide range of business/political topics. My guess is that since CNBC targets the retail brokerage audience (including stockbrokers who want to sound tied in to market action), Fox Business may be seeking to penetrate a less "sophisticated" but broader personal finance audience not necessarily looking to trade stocks every day, but might want wider advice about home buying, asset allocation, savings strategies, small business, etc. Unfortunately, all business channels appear to be quite light on real fact-finding and reporting. It's mostly a combination of the easy to get reporting of short term price changes, which has little lasting value, and short, shallow discussions with representatives of companies and investment firms, which they consider to be more or less free PR opportunities.
  20. Well, my wife, who grew up and went to school in the PRC, read Atlas Shrugged after she had been in the US for 2 yrs. She's very smart, but I don't think she's a particularly gifted linguist. She'll probably look at the Chinese translation within a year or two. Yes, the big concern I have is that the translation will be literal (especially if the translation was machine-aided) and lose or distort a lot of meaning that can never be recovered regardless of reader effort. Even someone at a seventh-grade reading level can handle the English language Atlas Shrugged, if he or she has a dictionary available to fill in blanks. Which is why I think that the people who could be moving Ayn Rand forward in China are probably going to be reading the English edition. To reach the average mandarin speaker, they would need to make a TV mini-series instead.
  21. I'm not thinking of the average student here, I'm thinking about the exceptional students and high acheivers, who are the people most likely to change the culture. Many of these high acheivers in China take private English lessons, and I've seen for-profit bookstores with very well-stocked English language education materials. So for at least the upper echelon of students in China, interest in learning English seems a lot stronger than just taking a few mandatory classes. My niece in China was a poor HS student, however, much too lazy in her studies, and thus is a pretty poor English speaker, which brought a lot of shame to her family. Her English is much better than my Mandarin, however. We'll probably order her the Chinese edition, as she probably couldn't handle the English version.
  22. I think most educated people in Hong Kong and Taiwan would be able to read Atlas Shrugged in English. From what I gather, most of the young adults in China's top universities have also had many years of English training. But even the intellectuals/educated in China over 30 would typically not know much English. Having both the Chinese and the English edition in China's top universities would be a big help, though I suspect that today's top students would gravitate to the English version.
  23. "The Most Offensive Song Ever" by Trey Parker The Most Offensive Song Ever Indeed it is pretty offensive, most especially to Christians. But a good way to give the finger to the religious side of Christmas.
  24. A.West

    Ratatouille

    Excellent movie. I think the theme is: anyone who pursues their passion with enthusiasm and integrity is a success.
  25. Interesting interview with Dennis Miller recently. He identified himself as very much a fan of Ayn Rand, and gave Dr. Brook a good opportunity to present key ideas. The interview begins about 2/3rds into the show. http://www.dennismillerradio.com/programhi...71E161?pid=1237
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