Financial crisis revving up, not down

With the news of Citigroup getting guarantees worth US$300 billion in addition to a direct bailout from the TARP funds, there goes hopes that the financial crisis is coming to an end. Remember that not so long ago, before its share price got heavily hit by the mess, CItigroup was the biggest bank in the world by stock market capitalization. As Crooked Timber noted, not only is Citigroup the very definition of “too big to fail”, it’s so big that not even the mighty U.S. government could save it if it goes down.

Here’s a couple of links to some of the best articles on the crisis that I’ve read. A short history of modern finance from The Economist explains the two demonized financial instruments at the heart of the crisis, Collaterize Debt Obligations and Credit Default Swaps from a historical perspective. The article not only explains how they work, but also when and why they were invented and what purposes they serve in finance.

The End of Wall Street’s Boom published by Portfolio and written by Michael Lewis who gained famed for his 1989 tell-all book Liars’ Poker about the bond market. This article covers the boom and bust of the subprime mortgage market from the perspective of various industry insiders.

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I’ve still playing GRID in between bouts of killing vast numbers of nearly naked natives in Medieval 2. I’m just about done with it though. I’ve been able to win every event consistently except for the drifting ones, and although I can understand how drifting works in the game, I can’t muster the patience to practice enough to get good at it. I curse the day racing game designers decided that making drifting a separate event was a good idea, as opposed to being a technique that’s generally useful for racing on twisty tracks.

I have to admit however that it feels immensely satisfying when you actually succeed in pulling off a good drift while racing. I won my street races in Japan using the Nissan Skyline but I’ve tested the same tracks using a Subaru Impreza and I can see how much faster you can shoot through the tracks using properly executed drifting techniques. My favourite race event is actually Pro Togue, which is racing up and down twisty Japanese mountain roads, Initial D-style, against a single competitor and you’re not allowed to touch one another’s cars. You generally need a good bit of drifting to win these events. Anyway, here’s a gallery of GRID screenshots just because they look so cool.

Should atheists organize?

Should they? The Wall Street Journal has a report on the attempts of various atheist organizations in the U.S. to make atheism more acceptable to the general public. Atheists are in many ways the least represented and most reviled minority in the U.S. with opinion polls consistently rating atheists as the least trustworthy group, below homosexuals and Muslims. The Economist noted in an article last year that only one U.S. congressman out of 535 would publicly admit to be an atheist, making him the highest-ranking politician to do so.

At the same time, atheists represent a fairly significant proportion of the population, though the exact figures depend on whom you count as an atheist. According to, if you count the people who put themselves in the secular, non-religious, agnostic or atheist categories as a single group, they would form the world’s third largest religious group. This is admittedly not entirely fair. The site takes pains to note that plenty of people in this category are theistic or spiritual but do not profess affiliation with any religious denomination. For many others, it would be more accurate to say that they are indifferent to religion rather than being non-believers and would not be interested in organized atheism anyway.

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China should buy Malaysia, jokes The Economist

The Economist, one of the most influential and respected news outlets in the world, is well known for its concise and informative writing style. Regular readers however will note that there’s often an element of dry wit as well, and at times even a touch of whimsy.

One recent article presents an excellent example of this sense of humour at work. Inspired by the new president of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed’s public musing that his country should set aside a portion of its revenues from tourism to buy a new homeland to replace its islands that are expected to be engulfed by rising sea levels, The Economist has extended the idea as a solution for all kinds of problems. Note the following line:

China could stop making aggressive gestures towards Taiwan and buy Malaysia instead. It’s already run by Chinese, so they’d hardly notice the difference.

I would imagine that the Malays would be none too amused to read that but you really have to credit those crazy editors at The Economist for their imagination and creativity in coming up with this wild scheme.

Massacring natives for fun and profit in the New World

Since I’ve bought the Medieval 2 Gold Edition which includes the Kingdoms expansion, I thought it’d be a waste if I didn’t play any of it at all. The expansion consists of four additional campaigns, each of which is actually a separate installation and executable. The campaigns are the Americas, covering the arrival of the Europeans at the Americas in the 16th century; the Britannia campaign, set in the 13th century during which various factions fought for control of the British Isles; the Crusades campaign covering the Third Crusade in the 12th century and the Teutonic campaign covering the struggle between Christian and pagan forces for control of what is now Germany.

I chose to play the Americas campaign first because it’s easily the one that’s most different from regular Medieval 2. Basically you can choose to either play as New Spain, representing the newly arrived Spanish forces, or one of the established nations in the Americas, mostly meaning Mayans or the Aztecs in the south or the Appacheans in the north. It’s pretty obvious that playing as New Spain is where most of the fun lies, what with the special mechanics and scripted events in place for that faction, so that’s what I chose.

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Malaysian libertarians

On a whim I googled the phrase “Malaysian libertarians” the other day and was pleasantly surprised to learn that there is indeed a body in Malaysia dedicated to advancing and propagating libertarian thought. The group is called the “Malaysia Think Tank” and seems to be associated in some way with the U.S.-based Cato Institute. The website,, appears to be the main platform used to disseminate and publish their views.

I’ve signed up for the site and commented on a couple of articles, but things seem pretty quiet over there. I have no illusions about the group having any significant influence over policy or even the public mindset, but it’s heartening nonetheless to read about Malaysian political and social issues written from a libertarian perspective.

In Malaysia, where there is no significant political base familiar with libertarianism, I’ve found it frustrating sometimes when trying to communicate my views. People often miscontrue my opposition to government intervention in a matter as my personal views on the matter. For example, as an individual, I find gambling to be distateful and to bring out the worst in people, and would think less of people if I knew that they indulged in it frequently. But as a libertarian, I would oppose any government sanctioned ban on gambling because I believe it to be a personal choice. This means that libertarians often have conflicting opinions amongst themselves on a wide variety of matters, but what unites them is the belief that government has no business interfering in the private lives of its citizens, so long as they do not harm anyone else.

The famous phrase attributed to Voltaire about defending to the death the right of people to say even the things that you disagree with is widely accepted now, with different caveats depending on where you live in. Libertarians would just like to extend it to include the right of people to live in the way that they please.

The unexamined life is a life not worth living