Thursday, November 26, 2009

My Ignorance

A couple days ago someone sent me a link to some photographs of an amazing place:  the caves of Ajanta in India.    Here is a link.  They aren't really caves as much as buildings carved out of rock.  The amount of work done to create these building and statues is just mind boggling.  Religion has been responsible for much pain and suffering but it has also been the catalyst for some magnificent art.

The whole web site, is amazing.  I know so little of this part of the world.  The internet can be instructive as well as magical.  Have a good one!

"Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world."  Arthur Schopenhauer

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


The American holiday of Thanksgiving is Thursday.  It's always been my wife's favorite holiday so we are preparing; perhaps it is my favorite as well.  Agnostics don't really have a lot of holidays!  Religion seems to bring with it excuses for parties, we just don't have that.  I love my country but the 4th of July just brings memories of idiots with fireworks.  The 1st of the year is ok, I like the 'summing up' aspect of that day;  the year is gone, what can we do with the new year. 

Anyway, I'm in the mood for being thankful.  And I have a lot to be thankful about.  What's the old saying about being "healthy, wealthy and wise"?  I'm 61 and need take no medications to keep me going; we have enough money to live comfortably, and, though I babble at times, I can actually carry on a conversation with people.  So I guess I'm making it.  My wife takes a couple of pills a day but not for anything really life threatening.  Our relationship is great; hopefully better than ever.  Our son & daughter are both employed; making their ways in life.  They have trials and tribulations but isn't that what life is about?  So life is not simply good, it's GREAT!

There is a primal part of me that is almost afraid to say how wonderful life is.  I'm simply afraid that it will end if I mention it.  I know it's BS but... it's there.  I think a lot of people feel it but don't want to admit it; certainly I don't like admitting it!  I think about years gone by; when I was laid off from work or one of us was acting badly or we were worried about something one of the kids was doing.  There were still many things to be thankful about; and I knew it.  Actually, getting laid off was one of the best things that ever happened to me; it got me started in a whole new field.  Hell, I might still be working at Sears if things had gone differently.

The photo is of a sunset last May; the wonders of nature never fail to amaze.

So, I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving even if you don't celebrate it.  Take a moment to find a few things to be thankful about and I assure you, your time will be well spent.  Take care!

"Beggar that I am, I am even poor in thanks"  William Shakespeare

Saturday, November 21, 2009

ETFs - maybe

Back to ETFs, that is Exchange-Traded Funds in English.  Yahoo Finance has a nice write up about them here.

I won't repeat the points made in the Yahoo article but I would like to point out that traditional mutual funds and individual stocks also have some advantages.  Good management in either a mutual fund or in a single company can cause their fund or company to do better than an ETF.  I've heard that some ETFs may be coming out that are managed ETFs (rather than the index type that we mostly see now).  Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing must depend on the expertise of the manager. 

One of the things that I personally like about ETFs is that there are many with a very narrow focus.  I don't care for something like Standard & Poor's 500 Index Depository Receipts (SPY:AMEX) which tracks the S&P 500; going along with the crowd just isn't much fun.  I much prefer somthing like SPDR Gold Shares (GLD) which attempts to track the price of gold or iShares MSCI Japan Index (EWJ) that tracks the MSCI Japan stock market index.  That sort of focus is very difficult to find outside the ETF market.

One type of ETF that especially don't like (for me!) is the type that trys to double or even triple what the market does.  One such ETF is UltraShort S&P500 ProShares (SDS).  "The investment seeks daily investment results, before fees and expenses, which correspond to twice the inverse of the daily performance of the S&P 500 index." is a quote from the writeup for SDS in Yahoo.  That means that if the market goes down 10%; SDS trys to go up 20%.  Unfortunately it also means that if the market goes up 10%; SDS will try to go down 20%.  This sort of investment may work for investing professionals but for those of us who don't watch the markets minute-by-minute I think it is downright dangerous. 

Do I own ETFs?  Yes.  I've got a couple that focus on certain parts of the market.  Will I ever go 100% ETF; of course not but I may get up to 25%.  I always follow what I wanted to attribute to Ben Franklin but apparently I was wrong.

"Moderation in all things."  Terence c190-159BC in Andria(The Lady of Andros)

Friday, November 20, 2009

ETF madness

We've had money in traditional mutual funds for a long time.  For example, when I started working for a new company in 1988, one of the funds available in their 401k was Fidelity's Contra (FCNTX) and I still own those shares.  It's not like I intentionally invest for the long term but 20 years certainly isn't short term!

My basic philosophy is to save as much as you can then invest in something that you expect to be more valuable in the future.  I figured that whatever I bought at forty would be more valuable when I was sixty.  (Of course I'm not talking about a six-pack of  beer that didn't make it past my fortith birthday!)  It isn't really a difficult thought!  So I bought some stocks and some mutual funds and we did ok.  Let's face it, folks, this isn't rocket science. 

The folk who are objecting at this point are the ones who just started investing about two years ago.  You can hear the howls "I bought XXX  in 07; look how I'm doing!"  Well, I feel for you.  I bought Armstrong Flooring not long before the company went under due to asbestos claims.  I bought Thornburg Mortgage before the mortgage debacle. Back in 1974 I bought IBM just before the market crashed.  Trust me; worse things will happen to you.

Invest in the market; invest broadly; read about the companies; then read the papers & pay attention:  you will be fine.  If I'd read about the asbestos claims; I could have gotten out of Armstrong.  I drank the coolaid about Thornburg being a 'different' company.  More fool me!

So now we have ETF's.  You can buy small sectors of the market or large ones via these products.  Some are managed; some are indexes.  There are a lot of new ways to invest here.  We can talk about them later.

"The trouble with most people is that they think with their hopes or fears or wishes rather than with their minds."  - Walter Duranty

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Getting chilly in the desert

All of a sudden it seems it's cold - a few degrees of frost every night and we had fairly heavy snow on the mountain a couple days ago.  It's mostly melted by now but it'll be back.

About this time we all start thinking about the holidays.  For us in the U.S. Thanksgiving is coming up.  It's my wife's favorite holiday; nothing religious but simply family and realizing how lucky we have been.  Today was a minor addition to that luck; our daughter had a colonoscopy and was declared ok.  Even a minor test brings some fear of failure.  I have the results from the MRI on my neck; nothing unusual wrong but it's not like I'm twenty-five any more!

From Thanksgiving to Xmas seems like only a moment.  Not true for children, of course, but it sure goes fast for me!  We don't do much to celebrate (being athiests!); I can only imagine all the pressure that is on the truly Christian among us.  We are continuing our support of the local economy by ordering a cover for our rv.  That sun in the summer is just amazing; leaving the rv out just isn't an option.  Next year we may even leave Pahrump for a while during the worst of the summer but this will protect the rv during the other ten or eleven months. 

I've been thinking about changing the tenor of my blog.  What I do every day is think about our investments and how they are working in the current environment.  I'm thinking about talking a lot more about that process.  Anyone have any comments? 

"Money may be the husk of many things, but not the kernel.  It brings you food, but not appetite; medicine, but not health; acquaintances, but not friends; servants, but not faithfulness; days of joy, but not peace or happiness."  Henrik Ibsen

Friday, November 13, 2009

Not going hungry anyway....

Opened the fridge this a.m. and realized that I've been on a cooking spree.  The oldest thing is the tail end of a charcroute garni - sour kraut with potatoes, pork chops and sausage.  Then there is beef barley soup and finally, yesterday, I did carnitas.  Lots of leftovers!

Don't know how Mexican's do carnitas but mine is from a comment left on Epicurious.  The writer was chastising the writer of a recipe and I liked what he said so tried it.  I take a big piece of pork shoulder, cut it up roughly and brown it a bit.  Then add a can of Rotel, a can of chicken broth, a diced onion, several cloves of garlic and seasonings:  ground cumin, chili powder, oregano and curry powder.  I let it cook for a couple hours then remove the meat and shred it, then put it back in the pot.  About this time I tasted it and added a teaspoon of salt and one of red pepper flakes.  Another 10 minutes or so and we had dinner.  You are supposed to dry it out by frying it then eat it in a tortilla.  We just eat it with spoons from a bowl. 

The beef barley soup came about because the store had a special on a large package of sirloin.  We had steak on the barbie one night then had about a pound that we hadn't cooked.  Hmmmm.   Diced it, browned it and cooked it in some beef broth and red wine.  Added some barley and a big bunch of diced vegies.  Yum! 

Hmmm, think I'll go have some soup for breakfast!  Have a good one.

"Our country is the world - our countrymen are all mankind."  William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879)

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


Finally got to go somewhere - only San Diego, CA but it's not bad.  It was a week long trip and will end tomorrow; tonight I'm writing from an rv resort in 29 Palms, CA.

The first two nights of our trip we spent in the Jojoba Hills SKP park not far outside of San Diego.  We love the organization and thought it would be nice to visit the park.  It was ok; much larger than some of the other parks and more elaborate; for example, they have a woodshop for the residents.  It is also out in the middle of nowhere; at least they have a jojoba bush there!

Went on to San Diego.  Visited our son, his significant other (wife in all but name), and the zoo.  Guess that's what we like about San Diego.  Not really, there is a lot more to see but that's all we saw this trip.  We are just getting used to the fact that we can get there in a day; even towing the trailer.  We did enjoy the zoo.  So much so that we are talking about getting season tickets.  They are $129 for a couple not living in San Diego and a daily ticket is $35 for a single person so, why not.  Two visits a year would pay for it; especially since we'd rather be there for two hours a day two days running than four hours on a single day.  That's what we did this time and it was pretty tiring.

We did a certain amount of driving in the California hills.  It was pretty but not always pleasant.  Saturday there were a lot of motorcycles out.  One heading up a pack of perhaps twenty wasn't completely on his side of the road.  If I can keep my truck in one lane I'd like to think that dipshit could keep his bike in the other!  Today we were towing the trailer on a similar road.  I pulled over six or eight times to let people pass.  There is a law saying you must but it's only common sense to let people go; they just get crazy if you don't and that's when the accidents happen.

Also today we visited the Joshua Tree National Park.  Pretty cool!  There are lots of joshua trees (of course) and larger ones than I have seen elsewhere.  There are also just amazing rock formations.  We are ready to come back some time.  It isn't the easiest place to find but it's certainly worth it for us!

Gotta go.  Tomorrow we should make it home.  It's always good to get home.  Take care, y'all!

CYNIC n. A blackguard whose faulty vision causes him to see things as they are, not as they ought to be.  Ambrose Bierce