Thursday, 26 August 2010

The Great Depression II

Forget about all the talk of recession. According to a number of the world's leading economists, we are now living through the second Great Depression. After a brief respite, the world's economies are set to plummet.

As long ago as 1997, British economist Fred Harrison predicted the current crisis. He places the blame on the prevalence of land and property speculation. The scenario painted in The Fred Harrison Blog is not a pretty one, but is one that must be taken seriously. Governments could fall, unemployment could rise dramatically and a depression could ultimately lead to World War III. Unfortunately, governments are not listening.

David Rosenberg has already declared that the US economy is in a state of depression. Rather than improve, the situation is likely to get worse. Already, the July 2010 statistics show a 27% fall in the sale of real estate in the US - the worst fall ever recorded. Rosenberg believes that there has not been a recovery at all and that the worst is still to come.

Arthur Laffer, well known for the "Laffer Curve" that illustrates that lower tax rates can produce more revenue than higher tax rates, believes that the US will head into full scale depression once the Bush tax cuts expire in 2011. He cites the record and unsustainable levels of debt as being central to the collapse of the great economies of the world.

Other economists have joined the trend, naming the current crisis as The Great Depression II.

There can be little doubt that the policies being followed in the UK and Europe are likely to cause hige increases in unemployment and possibly even deflation. By the same token, the US fiscal rescue package is not being put to use or is being used in ways that will not stimulate the economy or produce jobs.

In the meantime, it seems that we are all aboard a sinking ship that is sinking fast.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Smoking - a real killer & how to quit

I went for a general check-up yesterday morning. I was sent for chest xrays because I had been a smoker for so long. The xrays show very dark areas that should be my lungs. It reveals obstructed airways and the possible beginnings of emphysema. 
The doctor was not totally happy with the ECG, so this morning involved a journey to the cardiologist. Electrodes were placed all over me and my blood pressure was taken as ECG readings were taken. An ECG or electro-cardiogram measures the electrical impulses of the heart. These are placed in all sorts of positions surrounding the heart so that any damage can be detected. 
The next step was to get onto the treadmill. It started out as a fast stride. Every few minutes the speed increased until it was just too fast to walk and I had to break into a jog. I watched as the lines on the graph became more and more hectic. Eventually, I began to run out of breath. I found that I was less fit than I had thought. 
I was asked about chest pains and other signs that could indicate a problem. 
Next can an ultrasound scan. I saw my heart beating away. The scan showed the four chambers. 
Eventually, I was allowed to dress and speak to the cardiologist. Much to my relief, my heart is fine. The cardiologist told me to stick with the non-smoking. He told me that smokers are the people that keep him in business, and that it is not only heart problems that are caused by smoking. 
It is now close on two weeks since I had my last real cigarette. I have been smoking an e-cigarette for about a month and this has been the most amazing way to stop smoking. 
Like Mark Twain, I have given up smoking hundreds of times. I have tried nicotine chewing gums, Wellbutrin, and other methods. The big difference now is that my wife was also willing to quit using the e-cigarettes. 
I purchased one of these as a major pharmacy chain. It worked. Then a colleague introduced me to the Twisp. This is an e-cigarette made by a European company called Janty. It produces a far superior smoke with a smooth and rich taste. 
The e-cigarettes consist of three parts - a battery, an atomiser and a cartridge that holds the liquid. The atomiser transforms the liquid into vapour. The e-cigarette does not produce smoke or secondary smoke. It does have some nicotine, but not the thousands of other chemicals and tar contained in normal cigarettes. 
Seeing the xrays of my lungs has reinforced the decision to quit. Now that both my wife and I have quit, it will be for good. The secret is to do it one day at a time. 
I must return for more tests in about six weeks - to see the difference after being free of cigarettes for that time. 


The western obsession with materialism has led to the raw display of greed on an unprecedented scale. It was greed on a vast scale that precipitated the sub-prime crisis and subsequent collapse of banks, insurance and investment companies. This financial misadventure has now led the world into a deep recession. All of this has happened in the unrestrained pursuit of wealth. This is materialism in its most vulgar form. Investment bankers pursued quick money without regard for the underlying value of the investments. No-one noticed that the underlying value of these investments was a mere fraction of the prices at which they had been trading.
The only way that such a catastrophe can occur is through the unleashing of pure naked greed. Many people trying to enrich themselves. The investment had been producing unbelievable returns. A real get rich quick scheme and who cares why the performance is so good. The investment could be leveraged to the bulk of its value. It became possible to earn phenomenal returns with virtually no investment of your own.
The stock exchange boom leading to the 1929 crash has some remarkable similarities. Shares were trading at values that bore no relation to the underlying values. Prices were increasing merely because of the massive demand. Banks jumped on the bandwagon and were quick to lend money to finance these investments. Many grew rich very quickly, often with other people's money.
In either case the bubble had to burst sooner or later. In both cases it was later. The fundamental problem was that assets were being traded at many times their underlying value. No-one looked at the fundamentals. The dream was the reality.
Materialism in its purest form is the pursuit of wealth and material goods above all else. Spiritual, philosophical and other values fall by the wayside in the pursuit of material goods.
In the western economies of the 1950's a middle-class family could live quite comfortably on a single income. Not so in the nineties and the first few years of the twenty-first century. Maintaining their standard of living often came to mean a two income family with the frequent addition of a second job by one of the primary bread winners. Feeding the family had become much more difficult than it was for the equivalent fifties family.
One of the main differences is that the modern family has much more in terms of material goods. During the fifties one television per household was enough. Only a minority of families had more than one car. IPods, cell phones, computers were not household items. People saved for expensive items and used credit much more sparingly.
Many of the items that have become today's necessities were luxury items in the past. The modern world demands one cell phone per person, one car per driver, a television set for each room, the latest in kitchen and bathroom design - the list goes on.
Unlike spiritual wealth, the novelty of material wealth wears off very quickly. No sooner has the latest gadget, accessory or appliance been acquired that the excitement and interest wanes and another new item is sought. The purpose of materialism is simply the accumulation of more and more goods.
The reasons for a materialistic outlook are frequently competitive, a question of keeping up with the Joneses. People evaluate their financial and material status based on what they don't have. The absence of a plasma TV or spa bath causes a sense of inferiority and low self-worth. Many materialistic individuals may see things very differently if they simply compared themselves to those that are worse off.
One definition of a person that is wealthy is one that is content with what he has. In this definition, a truly materialistic person will never be wealthy. There is always the lack of something that must be pursued.
Unfettered materialism can be quite destructive at a personal level. Many work for twelve or more hours per day. They spend many months away from their families. They subject themselves to huge amounts of stress.
The basic material needs of Homo sapiens are really quite modest - food, shelter clothing, education and healthcare. Anything else is a bonus. But few realise just how much they actually have. If they did, then there would be many more wealthy people populating the world.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

How to survive a recession

"We are not participating in the recession" read the sign in the shop window. The owner had decided that in spite of the recession, it was "business as usual".
Difficult economic times provide a measure of new opportunities. Business opportunities to provide services needed to cope with hard times abound. Repair services are in greater demand as people repair rather than replace. Second-hand goods - furniture, books, even clothes - become more attractive as disposable incomes diminish. Demand for child-care services will grow as more mothers are forced to work to supplement the household income.
The sub-prime crises landed the world in a major recession followed by a slow and tentative recovery. Almost everyone had to cut back in some way to survive.
But while the majority were tightening their belts, some were not suffering.  Some have capitalised on others’ misfortunes. Investing in cheap homes was one way of making money.
A recession means that many investments have become cheap. If you have some cash or are able to raise finance, then now is the ideal time to invest.
The banks now have a massive stock of re-possessed homes that must be sold. These homes are going for a song! If you are in a position to buy, then buy now. These houses will prove to be an excellent investment in the longer term.
It is possible to improve the way you live by changing your spending habits. Cut out fast foods and eating out. Replace these with quality home cooked meals. Discover your artistic abilities in the kitchen. Cut back on driving, use a bicycle instead and get fit.
If you smoke, now is an excellent time to give up. Smokers usually underestimate the cost of smoking, but the savings produced by quitting could provide much needed resources to spend elsewhere.   
Debt can be a drain on your finances, even during good times. When things get tough, debt could be the last straw.
Make a plan to eliminate debt. Cut back on living costs for a few months and use all available resources to eliminate debt. Getting rid of debt requires a major short-term sacrifice. Cut your expenses to the bone plough every spare penny into reducing debt. The short term sacrifice will pay huge dividends when you are able to live a debt-free life-style.
Taking on a second job or starting a business is always a viable option. Perhaps you can find a way to transform your hobby into cash. This can take time, but once your second and third incomes become more established you will have some extra income to fall back on. A new business could just be the vehicle to ride out the difficult times and propel you into an era of wealth and prosperity once the economy turns.
Remember, you don't have to participate in the recession!

Sunday, 15 August 2010

How to take better holiday snaps

Holidays are over all too soon leaving only memories. Although the photographs capture some of the scenes and people present, their impact fades over time. Friends and family show little interest when shown your holiday photographs. This is a signal that it time to find a way to get better holiday photographs. To make the most of your holiday snaps, follow a few simple rules.
The most important rule for great photography is to carry a camera with you at all times! Opportunities for pictures occur when least expected. A good cell-phone camera is extremely mobile and can do the job. Keep the SLR for photo shoots of the landscape and for great portraits of your girlfriend, boyfriend or spouse and the children. Many cell phone cameras have a 5 mega pixel (some even have a 10 mega pixel) resolution that is good enough to produce excellent results for most purposes.
Look after your camera and remember to protect it from sand and sea water at all times! The last thing you want is to lose the camera and your precious pictures.
Ensure that you have enough memory (or film) to take as many pictures as you want, and don't forget to charge the batteries. An extra memory card may be the answer.
Before embarking on your journey take some time to get to know your camera. Get to know what it can do and its limitations. Many cameras have special settings for landscapes, portraits, close-ups and night scenes. These can help produce great results.
A common holiday-maker mistake is to try to capture people and landscapes in one shot - for instance the spouse or kids posing in front of the Eiffel Tower. Both lose out! Although it tells you that "I was there," the people are way to small and the landmark is not really in focus. A good rule of thumb is that people photos should focus on people. Make the person the primary object, and take the photograph from a fairly close range. The pyramids make a great backdrop, but don't try to do both. Spontaneous people pictures are often the most memorable. Children caught at play, people admiring an unusual scene and people celebrating. If you have a zoom option, then keep your distance and zoom in on unsuspecting subjects and capture the moment!
While shooting everything that presents itself to you, pay some attention to the composition of the picture. Avoid symmetry and use the rule of thirds by placing the horizon on the upper or lower third of the frame. Placing interesting objects or people on the vertical thirds helps to produce interesting results. When photographing people remember that the people should almost fill the frame. People have a role in landscapes to provide perspective.
Children can be photographed in almost any lighting conditions, but older people benefit from indirect lighting. Back lighting only works if you adjust the exposure to suit the portrait or use a fill-in flash.
Holidays are often spent in beautiful and sometimes spectacular surroundings. Look through the camera to find interesting shots. Experiment with different angles. If your friends or family are with you let them explore the scene and capture them as part of the shot. A person near a pyramid provides a sense of perspective. The time of day can make a huge difference to the results. Look at the lighting, and try to avoid huge contrasts. Our eyes adjust easily from strong sunshine to a dark shadow. Cameras don't manage these that well. Your camera will respond differently to the same scene at different times of day.
Events and celebrations benefit from lots of photographs. Too many is better than too few. More is more! Most modern digital cameras perform well in at night with or without a flash.
Back at home, touch-up your pictures by using good photo editing software. Remove the red-eye from the people's faces and enhance the picture using the automatic or manual adjustments features in the software. Crop photos to focus on an interesting detail. Great holiday shots make calendars, key-holders or table mats. Print some enlargements and laminate them for stunning results!

Saturday, 14 August 2010

The electric cigarette that really works

I have smoked for many years. My wife was a smoker long before we met. I have tried to quit many times and found it really difficult.
Now I have found an alternative!
A little over a month ago, we decided to opt for an e-cigarette. We purchased one that looked like a quality product, but it disappointed. Then a colleague told me about the Twisp. "Don't go for the cheap alternatives," he said. "I have tried them all. The Twisp is the best e-cigarette on the market."
I made another investment. This time I bought a Twisp.
For two weeks we continued to smoke both the Twisp and regular tobacco based cigarettes. For seven days, we have smoked only the Twisp and are still going strong.
There are two huge benefits of smoking an e-cigarette. The first is cost. A pack of cigarettes in South Africa costs about R30. We have been spending close to R1800 per month on smoking.
The e-cigarette that we selected is priced at R799. It comes with a small bottle of smoking liquid. A 10 ml bottle cost R129. If we use two of these per month, then we have already saved in the first month!
The other benefit is health. Even if there are risks associated with the Twisp, there can be no comparison against the health risks presented by smoking. Both my wife and I have lost close family members to tobacco smoke.
Twisp is not being marketed as a quitting aid but as an alternative.
We have used it to quit! For the first time, I am succeeding. My lungs feel clearer and our home is now smoke-free. We breathe fresh air in our home. The newly painted ceilings and walls will not turn an ugly yellow from tobacco smoke.
We will live longer and stay healthy. 

Friday, 13 August 2010

Rekindling the hippy spirit ...

The hippy spirit of the late sixties and early seventies had many positive features. It was concerned with the pursuit of meaning, of love and peace and caring for each other. The Woodstock festival of 1969 embodied that spirit in three days of peace, music and love. Half a million young people got together in peace and cared for each other. 
Rekindling the hippy spirit in modern society would mean recreating the conditions that were prevalent in those days. Hippies belonged to a particular era. It was the late sixties with the United States was embroiled in an unpopular war in Vietnam. Pop music had broken away from simple three chord songs to complex music where the band members wanted recognition as musicians, and folk music and protest music had broken into mainstream musical culture.
The hippy spirit encompassed the ideals of peace and love with plenty of marijuana and other psychedelic drugs. The sixties was a time of relative prosperity in the Western world, and materialism had been gaining importance in social culture. The world had become more secular and religions were struggling to maintain their congregations.
Perhaps the hippy spirit was an attempt to break out of the culture of dullness and meaninglessness. Young people undertook journeys to the East exploring India, Nepal and Afghanistan. The search was on for meaning. Hippies sought out religious experiences without necessarily belonging to an established religion. Some joined Hare Krishna or became Buddhists.
The music of the hippies included bands like Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Bob Dylan ruled the musical waves.
The hippy era meant a return to conscience. Hippies had a strong sense of right and wrong. They opposed a big brother society advocating instead freedom and self-expression. Uniformity and conformism were out.
"Turn on, tune in, drop out" was a key phrase coined by LSD guru Timothy Leary. This was a key phrase of the generation. Ken Kesey led a group of Merry Pranksters around the United States, listening to the Grateful Dead while tripping on LSD.
Dropping out was fine for the children of the wealthy. Simply not participating in the mainstream world could only work when there was some money available for food, drugs and clothing.
The era was a very creative era. Alternative or 'Underground' newspapers and magazines made their way into the world. The UK saw the birth of It (international times), Oz and Time Out while Rolling Stone magazine took its place in the United States. These publications explored new ways of writing giving birth to the New Journalism.
The Hippies were amongst the first to highlight ecological issues and animal rights. Health foods began to make an appearance on supermarket shelves.
The next few decades saw a strong move away from the hippy philosophy and lifestyle. Many hippies turned 'straight' taking on respectable jobs and tying themselves down to the mortgage. Subsequent generations have bought into the material dream focussing their energies on acquiring more and leading lives devoid of meaning.
The hippy spirit is not dead. It lives on in people that are concerned with establishing peace in the world. It lives on in the spirit of musicians that devote time and money to fighting poverty and AIDS.
But the hippy spirit as it presented itself in the era of the late sixties is gone forever.

Get rid of stress!

Stress is one of the big killers of the day. Stress can wreck the health, relationships and career of those that suffer from its effects. We all know how it feels and how it affects us at home and at work. As one of the main health-hazards of the age, stress must be managed on an ongoing basis to minimise its impact.
After a stressful day at work many find themselves in a bar in a vain attempt to drown their sorrows. Some take on illicit relationships or indulge in narcotics, gambling or overeating. These are not solutions! In the long run destructive practices can lead to even greater levels of stress.
A few simple yet effective techniques can help!
Exercise is a key remedy. You can start with a few breathing techniques. Deep breathing is very beneficial and can help to turn a stressful day into one that is relaxed and under control. Breathing can be done in any position standing, lying down or sitting. Begin with a four-part cycle. Inhale to the count of five, hold your breath for a count of five, exhale to the count of five and finally leave your lungs empty for a count of five. Repeat five to ten times. Both inhalation and exhalation are through the nose. Apart from promoting deep relaxation, deep breathing ensures greater circulation of oxygen through the body. The breathing techniques can be applied on rising, before retiring and at key times during the day.
Running, walking or exercising at the gym are healthy and constructive outlets. A bio-kineticist may help to identify precisely what exercise you need. Stressed people often avoid exercise, but a few minutes per day of physical activity can produce very beneficial results. Yoga provides a more gentle but equally beneficial alternative. Remember, a healthy body leads to a healthy mind.
Creative activities
Creative activities such as drawing, painting and music are known for their therapeutic effects. Consider joining an art class! Listen to music. Words come from the heart, music from the soul. If you can play an instrument, then make a practice of doing it. Find people to play with you. Music puts us into a different mind-set and can help to change our levels of stress in a very real way. Take yourself out of your usual stressful environment into a world where the power of your brain's right hemisphere is unleashed. Art is a very effective stress reliever.
Family time
Spend more time with your family. One of the harmful effects of stress is to push our family into take second place. But isn't it family and friends that that are really important? Think of activities in which the whole family can take part. Make time for real communication. Find time to listen to your partner and your children. Find out who they are. Do things together.
Getting away
A day in the country, a weekend of boating or a few days at the coast away from the rat race can work wonders. The annual summer holiday has great benefits, but the results tend to be short lived. Making more of the weekends and more often can help to provide that much needed balance. Put the stresses of daily life aside for a while. When you return with less stress, you will be better placed to face the world.
Finally, get yourself a pet. The benefits of forming relationships with animals are well documented. Retirement homes and hospitals have introduced the concept of animal visits because of their profound therapeutic effects. A dog or a cat can provide a lot of comfort and company. Animals do not judge but give pure love.
Relieving stress is not only vital to our health, it is fun! Remember. Less stressed people are happier and live longer. Begin a stress relief programme today!