Wall Street on the Tundra – What the hell happened to Iceland ?

Nice article in Vanity Fair about the complete bankruptcy of Iceland. Basically, fishermen became currency traders overnight without so much as a single day’s training. The whole country went finance-mad.

In just three or four years an entirely new way of economic life had been grafted onto the side of this stable, collectivist society, and the graft had overwhelmed the host. […] In the end, Icelanders amassed debts amounting to 850 percent of their G.D.P. (The debt-drowned United States has reached just 350 percent.)

Seven pages long but fascinating.

Have you ever legalized Marijuana ?

There’s an excellent, insightful and very funny article by Steve Yegge on his blog about complexity. Well worth a read. While clearly in favour of legalizing marijuana, Steve suggests that next time anyone actually suggests legalizing marijuana they should have to answer at least these preliminary questions first :
  • Is it legal to drink alcohol in a TV commercial? No? OK, what about marijuana, then? Can you smoke it in a commercial? Can you SHOW it? Can you talk about it? Can you show marijuana smoke at a party, without anyone actually being seen smoking it? Can you recommend its use to children under the age of 9? What exactly are the laws going to be around advertising and marijuana?
  • Do we let everyone out of prison who was incarcerated for possession and/or sale of marijuana? If not, then what do we tell them when they start rioting? If so, what do we do with them? Do we subsidize halfway houses? Do we give them their pot back? How much pot, exactly, do they need to have possessed in order to effect their judicial reversal and subsequent amnesty? A bud? An ounce? A cargo ship full?
  • Is it legal to sell, or just possess? If the latter, then how do we integrate the illegality of selling it into the advertising campaigns that tell us it’s legal to own it?
  • If it’s legal to sell it, WHO can sell it? Who can they sell it to? Where can they sell it? Where can they purchase it? Are we simply going to relax all the border laws, all the policies, all the local, state and federal laws and statutes that govern how we prioritize policing it? All at once? Is there a grandfather clause? On what _exact_ date, GMT, does it become legal, and what happens to pending litigation at that time?
  • Are we going to license it? Like state alcohol liquor licenses, of which there are a fixed number? What department does the licensing? How do you regulate it? Who inspects the premises looking for license violations, and how often? What, exactly, are they looking for?
  • Is it OK to smoke marijuana at home? At work? In a restaurant? In a designated Pot Bar? On the street? Can you pull out a seventeen-foot-long water bong and take a big hit in the middle of a shopping mall, and ask everyone near you to take a hit with you, since it’s totally awesome skunkweed that you, like, can’t get in the local vending machine? If it’s not OK, then why not?
  • Can you drive when you’re stoned? What’s the legal blood-THC level? Is it state-regulated or federal-regulated? For that matter, what is the jurisdiction for ALL marijuana-related laws? Can states override federal rulings? Provinces? Counties? Cities? Homeowners associations?
  • What exactly is the Coast Guard supposed to do now? Can illegal drug smugglers just land and start selling on the docks? Are consumers supposed to buy their marijuana on the street? What happens to the existing supply-chain operations? How are they taxed? Who oversees it?
  • Can you smoke marijuana on airplanes? Can airplanes offer it to their customers in-flight? Is it regulated in-flight more like tobacco (don’t get the smoke in other peoples’ faces) or alcohol (imbibe as you will, as long as you don’t “appear intoxicated”?) What about marijuana brownies? Are you allowed to eat it in areas where you’re not allowed to smoke it?
  • Can an airplane captain smoke pot? A ship captain? A train conductor? The driver of a car? An attendee at a Broadway musical? A politician in a legislative session? What is the comprehensive list of occupations, positions and scenarios in which smoking pot is legal? What about eating pot? What about holding it? What about holding a pot plant? What about the seeds?
  • Speaking of the seeds, are there different laws governing distribution, sale and possession of seeds vs. plants vs. buds vs. joints? If so, why? If not, why not?
  • What laws govern the transportation of marijuana in any form into or out of countries where it is still illegal? What policies are states able to enact? Is it OK under any circumstances for a person to go to jail over the possession or use of marijuana? If so, what are those circumstances?
  • Are there any laws governing the use of marijuana by atheletes? U.S. military personnel? Government employees? Government contractors? U.S. ambassadors, in title or in spirit? What are our extradition laws? What do we do about citizens who are subject to the death penalty in countries like Singapore for the possession of sufficient quantities of what we now consider to be legal substances?
  • What about derivatives? Are the laws the same for hashish? How do we tell the difference? What if someone engineers a super-powerful plant? How do the new laws extend to a potential spectrum of new drugs similar to THC?
  • For driving and operating machinery, do we have legal definitions that are equivalent of blood-alcohol percentage, and if so, what are these definitions? How do we establish them? How do we figure out what is actually dangerous? How do we test for these levels? When they are established, do we we put up signs on all roadways? Do we update the Driver’s Education materials? How do we communicate this change to the public?
  • How does legalization impact our public health education programs? Do they have to immediately retract all campaigning, advertising and distributed literature that mentions marijuana? How does legalization interact with the “Say no to drugs” programs? Do we need extra education to differentiate between a drug that is now legal (but wasn’t before) and drugs that are still illegal? What’s our story here? What about other drugs that are even less addictive and/or less intrusive than marijuana?
  • Monsanto is eventually going to sue the living shit out of someone for using genetically-engineered pot seeds. Can they sue individuals with a single plant in their windowsill? (answer: yes) Will Oprah step in and help that beleaguered individual? (answer: we’ll see!)

Jade Goody – A Cautionary Tale

Whatever any of us might think of Jade Goody. Whatever uncharitable thoughts we might have harboured for her in life. In death, and today of all days, we should remember that somewhere there are two small children to whom she was everything. To say nothing of the rest of her family and friends.

As much as the world needs its heroes and shining examples, it also needs its cautionary tales. It’s a cliché, I know, but sometimes a person’s most important role in life is to serve as a warning to others. Given the more than 30% increase in smear tests since her plight was publicised I’d say that not only has she fulfilled that role, she has excelled at it.

There is no “right way” to die of cancer aged 27. If there’s anything in this world which is excusable to do any damn way you please, then that is probably it. To those whom Jade’s life or death have offended, you have only yourselves to blame. No one forces you to watch that kind of television or read those kinds of newspapers and magazines. I’m just sayin’.


South Ossetia

It seems that some of the attrocities cited in my previous post are finally coming to light : http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/7692751.stm.

South Ossetia

Alan is a client of mine whom I have known for many years.
He runs a very successful private equity firm in London with offices in Moscow and Hong Kong.
He’s also one of the nicest people you could hope to meet with an easy smile and a charm that instantly puts people at their ease.
I received the following email from him this morning.
I hope it can help provide additional perspective to the current situation in South Ossetia that is perhaps lacking from the current media coverage.
My dear friends,
It is with unbearable pain in my heart that I am writing this letter to you. I want to tell you what happened in Ossetia, a place where I grew up and where my family lived until few days ago.
First of all, some historical background. Ossetians are a tiny nation, the only remaining branch of the ancient Alans (Alan is still the most widespread name in Ossetia). Like many other nations, they have a great heritage and great culture.
Historically, Ossetians have co-existed with Georgians. There were mixed marriages, even on a Royal level, the two cultures intertwined. Unfortunately this co-existence has not been peaceful in the 20th century. In 1920s, over 4000 Ossetians were killed by the Georgian Menshevik government. During that terrible ethnic cleansing, my grand-grandfather had lost all his family but managed to save one son (my grandfather) carrying him over the mountains to the relative safety of Russia.
Then came the times of the Soviet Union, when Stalin changed the map and the structure of many small nations in the Caucasus, including Ossetia. Part of Ossetia found itself as Autonomous Region of Georgian SSR. I spent 12 years in Ossetia at the end of the soviet period (1975-1987). Even though I was a child, I could clearly see the unfair treatment, shameful discrimination of South Ossetians by the politicians governing Georgia. Those who lived in Ossetia were quite limited in their rights.
Around 1990, following the collapse of the USSR, Georgian president Gamsakhurdia went even further. He decided to annul the autonomy of South Ossetia, adopt Georgian language as the only official and do other things aimed at annihilating the Ossetian culture and their national identity. Ossetians resisted, but Gamsakhurdia sent in armed men to force the “samachablo” (the Machabeli slaves, as he arrogantly referred to Ossetians). A massacre erupted, with my compatriots tortured and killed, entire villages erased from the face of the earth, the capital city of Tskhinval half-destroyed. Many of my friends have died in that war, trying to protect their families, their land, their way of life. My family survived thanks to the courage of young Ossetian boys who gave their lifes and thanks to the Russians who stepped in as a buffer force between the two sides and stationed UN-sanctioned peace-keeping troops in South Ossetia ever since.
It had become obvious for Ossetians at the time that no future was possible together with Georgia, and they declared independence. Ossetia adopted its own constitution, elected a government, created armed forces to defend themselves. The independence was not recognized by Georgia, of course. Moreover, Georgian PR machine did excellent job discrediting the South Ossetian government, misinforming the world about what really was happening in Ossetia. I bet you have never heard about the non-stopping economic blockade of Ossetia by Georgia, about Georgia-sponsored terrorist attacks on Ossetians, etc. And I bet you’ve heard a lot about the “democratic” and “progressive” leadership of president Saakashvili and about the “illegal separatist regime” in “Tskhinvali region” (a bit more politically correct label for Ossetia than that of Gamsakhurdia). Extremely artful is the Georgian government’s propaganda, very smooth, very efficient, skilfully and convincingly serving whatever lies they invent in the interests of the rulers of “democratic” Georgia.
President Saakashvili often says Ossetians are criminals. He says he only attacked the criminals. My mother was not a criminal, neither was my aunt. One was as an ill elderly woman, the other one was a doctor. They both believed in good, they wanted their country to prosper and they refused to run from Tskhinval to a safer or more comfortable place, no matter what hardships life in represented. My mum believed in God, she was asking me to pray, pray, pray. She believed the Russian peace-keepers would protect them if something bad happens. She hoped though that Saakashvili was a well educated, civilized man and that he would not start a brutal war as did some of the earlier Georgian rulers. She was so wrong.
Not only Saakashvili turned to be a lying, cynical bastard, he is a ruthless murderer. In 3 nights and 3 days in early August 2008, he killed my mother and my aunt and many, many, many more innocent people just because they were Ossetians. His plan codenamed “the clean field” was executed by his NATO-trained army. They came to kill Ossetians and take away their land. They used military aviation, tanks, missiles, special force troops to kill children, women, elderly and the sick. They have destroyed schools, hospitals, they run people over by tanks, burned them alive, all without hesitation. These animals are not an army, they have no honour, no humanity.
The dead body of my aunt could not be collected in one piece. We had to carry parts of her brain and skull and hair in a plastic bag. The face and the body of my mother was turned into a blood-chilling mess. Two of the best people in the world have been killed by hundreds of sharp metal pieces, a weapon supplied to the Georgian army by the “democratic” countries of the West and applied against Ossetia by a maniac who must be tried for his crimes.
Mr Saakashvili’s hands are all dirty, covered with blood of the innocent. And he dares to talk about Russia destroying the “democracy” in Georgia and present white as black and black as white, and the Western governments and media, particularly the US is giving him a helping hand (or do they have their own agenda?). I hope you will not be fooled by all this noise. The main thing to know and to remember is that Mr Saakashvili, inspired by some people in the US administration, decided that he has a right to mark innocent as criminals and murder them, that he attempted a genocide of a small nation, that he took away my sweet mother. God will judge him.
Kind regards,
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