Robert Ludlum's The Hades Factor: A Covert-One Novel (2006)

While the writing and the unrolling of the plot is a bit too flowery, the main theme would still be an interest (in particular for conspiracy theorists). Could it be possible for some (private in this case) organization to unleash a virus on the world's population for which they only have the serum to heal, and make an enormous profit as governments buy them out. With the advances in biotechnology, this might be becoming a closer possibility ...


The Tristan Betrayal by Robert Ludlum (2003)

Oh, my, this is a movie in a box. Spies and counter spies in the Second World War, in occupied Paris, Stalin's Moscow and Hitler's Berlin. All the right clichés, the idealistic young American, beautiful Russian lead ballerina in the "Bolshoi", agents gone wrong, agents turned, sadistic music lover Germans, the simple minded NKVD agents, and a surprising ending. Could it be true that falsified intelligence turned the direction of the war, and not just once? Excepting the bad Russian pronunciation, and the fake German accent, good listening.


The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis (2007)

This book offers a candid glance into the world of fiercely competitive world of high school and college sports, in particular football, through the story of Michael Oher (who is probably the exception, as he happened to be adopted the right time by a family being close to sports, and received excellent opportunities during drafting). Of course, being a "freak of nature" also helped, as Michael was already bigger during high school, than many NFL players, while exhibiting excellent athletic abilities, natural kinesthetic sense (coupled with below average IQ, as attributed to his uncaring upbringing).

Techniques of Tape Reading by Vadym Graifer, Christopher Schumacher (2003)

This book of somewhat misleading title (considering that the trading approaches offered are more technical/chart based) is a good read for anybody considering to get into daytrading, and it is not offering a rosy picture. In section Trader's Journey, the author offers a personal biography as related to the long process of becoming a trader, while in Trading System and Practical Examples details are offered by the trading approaches taken. The key passage to learn is: "Trade what you see, not what you think".

Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky (1942)

A story of love and betrayal, young and old, set in the French countryside, where the peasant/farmers only care about their own business, and so reluctant to get involved (with the authorities), that even suspected murder can go unreported. A gem.


Your Money and Your Brain: How the New Science of Neuroeconomics Can Help Make You Rich by Jason Zweig (2007)

A somewhat entertaining read summarizing "scientific" findings on human behaviour, as related to the field of investment. It might be worthy to know, how our preprogrammed brain kicks in very quickly during various circumstances, and drive our risk avoidance, primitive pattern seeking, anticipation of winning (apparently not dissimilar to a narcotic high) herding instinct, framing of facts, disregarding odds, overconfidence in our skills and predictions, physiological changes related to gains and losses, and more. Some practical approaches are offered, but the author's oft offered conclusion, that we all would be better just investing in index funds, might be just a manifestation of herding in regards to opinions of financial writers'. With the understanding, that many of these behaviours would not change very quickly, it was surprising to see many of these findings were being detailed by researchers multiple decades ago (no new research since?), and in many cases based on limited sampling (almost being on the verge of statistically not valid).


Trade Like a Hedge Fund: 20 Successful Uncorrelated Strategies & Techniques to Winning Profits by James Altucher (2004)

Mr. Altucher is a hedge fund manager and a protege of Jim Cramer of TheStreet.com "fame", and this unfortunately shows in this book. Of the promised 20 strategies, only 18 are really supplied, as the last two chapters give some generic advice on "what does not work" and what other books to read. As Mr. Altucher explains, he is offering these strategies, because he happens to like to write. Studying closely, there are some other patterns are also discernable, including the fact that several of the strategies touted show losses (or bring in T-Bill like returns) for current years. Basically they made it into the book, because they stopped working. Even for many of the assumed working ones (for these there is no year-to-year breakdown provided, so the possible deterioration cannot be quantified), the number of occurrences during multiple years is so low, that the results probably not to be considered statistically significant. Several of the strategies seem to be curve fitted (this is a very bad word for trading strategies), using specified number of days, percentages, and the like to enter/exit positions. There was one thing to be noted, based on calculations offered, many strategies cannot be mirrored, they how different results comparing long and short executions. Greed and fear apparently exhibit different characteristics. If these strategies are anything close to what hedge funds offer to us, than there is little reason to invest with them. To be read strictly as entertainment (if any ...)


Robert Ludlum's The Arctic Event (2007)

Starting out somewhat confusing, the plot unfolds nicely. Predictably, good Americans, bad Russians, coverup of cold war remnants, and of course at the end, the good guys come out on top, saving the world again. Good listening, except the presence of too many adjectives at certain places, making some sentences as from a school writing assignment. One also wonders, who will be the next bad boys for similar books in the future ...


The Billion Dollar Sure Thing by Paul E. Erdman (1973)

While slow flowing at times, this is still a good read. The information on the planned devaluation of the dollar is stolen (and just simply deducted by some quick minds), and memorable characters of international finance get into the action, including sleazy Swiss bankers, a US hedge fund manager, the Arab/Lebanese money changer and Russian foreign exchange bankers. The author, as the founder of a Swiss bank, is able to put real life perspective into the imaginary events.


Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner (2005)

The "economist with no unifying theme" explores various real life situations with the perspective of incentives triggering these said behaviors. If nothing else, the incentives discussed at work, unify the the discussions around the membership structure and finances of a crack gang, the relationship between Roe vs. Wade and the decreasing US crime at the end of the 1990s, cheating teachers and test scores, cheating in professional sports (like sumo) and child names selected (and they pretend to mean to parents).


The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort (2007)

Cautionary tale for any investors who still happen to believe that brokers are working for the benefit of their customer. This rough-and-tumble version of Liar's Poker runs on the same money fuel, never before those semi-literate kids from the working suburbs of Manhattan were getting so much money with so little actual work (although getting the money did involve ripping the face of their customers). Unfortunately the actual shenanigans receive minimal description (beside restricted stock parking/sale, stock hyping and boiler room sales, with the excuse that they like Robin Hood were cleaning out mostly the rich), so the book reads like a narcotics fueled frenzy (with cocaine induced paranoia and the like) of your average Hollywood star, than an actual financial "education" book.


Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer (1996)

This is a simple story, young man goes out to live alone in the wild, and found dead some time later. Of course discovering why makes this into a story. What sort of idealism drives an exemplary student young person to denounce and not contact his family, change his name and go on this adventure to never return from? Chris McCandless' travels across America, Mexico and Canada/Alaska are retraced, many people, friends, rubber tramps (the ones with vehicles) and leather tramps (the ones on foot) met were interviewed, and his dream to live alone (and self-sufficient/off-the-land) detailed. Was he mentally unbalanced or "just" an extreme idealist? The author tends to vote on the idealist side, but unfortunately Alexander Supertramp's (his chosen name) preparations didn't succeed, and likely a simple mistake of eating the wrong berries cost him his life. The wilderness is an unforgiving place. What makes this book even more intriguing, is the author's own young reckless adventure solo climbing the Devil's Thumb (also in Alaska), from which he barely made it out alive.


Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart, Daniel Klein (2007)

Do philosophy and jokes have the same roots? Reading this short-and-sweet book should prove that they do (although a philosophy treatise will take the long and times boring route to express them). As a quick introduction to all major philosophical approaches (and even offering a significantly condensed timeline), this could be your textbook for Philosophy 101.


Lords of Poverty: The Power, Prestige, and Corruption of the International Aid Business by by Graham Hancock (1989)

In this well researched book, the author offers the unfortunate conclusion, that government monies spent on foreign aid are mostly wasted, bringing no help and relief to people in need. While private charities fare better (as they are accountable to their donors), the various agencies of the United Nations exemplify the bureaucratic waste of (to large extent USA) taxpayer funds. The self pampering, special foreign compounds, first class air travel, high salaries and various perks are out-of-this-world (in particular when compared to the literally starving population in many cases a few hours of ride away). These bureaucrats offer no measurable improvements, and might have the self serving goal of perpetuating poverty, as a mean of keeping themselves employed (as no other reputable organization would be interested in their antiquated or simply non-existent skills). The WorldBank/IMF are also not faring any better, as although many of their projects are actually accomplished, they are of poor quality in most cases (and the cause for various environmental problems and disasters) and definitely not in-line with the needs and wants of the locals of whom they would be interested in serving. In many cases, clearly despotic regimes are funded and helped with these funds. As the U.N. is also an excellent example of "taxation without representation", is it time to abolish the United Nations?


Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer (2005)

You get two books in one here, in addition to describing the details of divinely inspired murders committed by Mormon fundamentalists, a detailed history of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints is also presented. From Joseph Smith's humble beginnings as a small time con artist, through the creation of the Mormon faith (which is the homegrown American religion, and very successful at it), to his mob lynching death. After the death of the prophet, the religion moved West, into a territory around the present day Utah, where the State of Deseret was proposed to be founded. In the process of becoming more mainstream, the church leadership prohibited polygamy/plural marriage and also spoke against divine revelations/prophecies not coming from the head of the religion. These prohibitions triggered the creation of splinter groups, the so called fundamentalist, who in addition also question the role of government in enforcing prohibition of religious practices (including plural marriages between consenting adults, although it seems that many of these marriages happen to underage girls). An excellent read.

Education Myths: What Special-Interest Groups Want You to Believe About Our Schools and Why it Isn't So by Jay P. Greene (2005)

The author examines the various myths (as perpetuated by various special interests, in particular of teachers), on lack of resources (schools need more money, too much is spent on special education, student poverty hinders education, smaller class size should fix it all, teacher certification is a must, teachers are underpaid), on school results (school results are declining, most students graduate from high school, social issues prevent minorities from attending collage), on accountability (cheating on tests is rampant, exit exams cause dropouts, accountability is expensive), and on school choice/vouchers (vouchers are ineffective, private schools have more money and they kick out low-performing students, school choice harms public schools, private schools do not serve the disabled, private school do not promote civic values, private schools are racially segregated), and founds them all lacking substance. After dispelling the myths, a short chapter offers the first step on fixing the system, bring back the incentives rewarding teacher performance (and remove incentives for categorizing more children as "learning disabled", as a means of getting a bigger slice of the educational money pie). What strange concepts ...


Retail cash management (ARS/VRDO/VRDN)

ARS - Auction Rate Securities
VRDN - Variable Rate Demand Notes
VRDO - variable rate demand obligation
Fatwallet thread
US Treasury description
Citi/Smith Barney descriptions
Fidelity description


Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity: Get Out the Shovel--Why Everything You Know is Wrong by John Stossel (2006)

ABC News 20/20 host John Stossel offers his sound blurb libertarian view on many myths (including highly charged political ones). Certainly a different point of view from the mainstream media.

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens (2007)

Read about all the bad sides of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim religions in this atheist manifesto. Muslims are on the forefront (in particular for the calls of killing the infidels) and Catholics are not far behind (with their cooperation with the Nazis), in the meanwhile the biography of Joseph Smith and the cargo cults offer a view on how today's religions come into being. Unfortunately, the tone of this book itself is on the poisonous side ...


The Other Shulman: A Novel by Alan Zweibel (2005)

Part comedy, part love triangle, part philosophical treatise, the middle age suburbanite, going-out-of-business small business owner Shulman decides to run the NY Marathon, as a starting point to change his life. Through the 26.2 chapters (as many miles as in the marathon), Shulman battles the imaginary(?) other Shulman (mythically created from his lost pounds during dieting), becomes a local hero fundraiser for the NJ AIDS movement, falls into and out of love, almost bankrupts, but than saves his stationary store, and finishes the big race last, and finally getting home to his new life beginning followed by a crowd of supporters. Excellent story.


How to Cheat at Everything: A Con Man Reveals the Secrets of the Esoteric Trade of Cheating, Scams, and Hustles by Simon Lovell (2006)

(Ex?-)Con Simon Lowell describes the cheating trade in great detail (we are to hope for the qualifier ex, as he as advising NYPD?). Many of the methods were already described in Big Con, while great details are offered on scams for various bar bets, carnivals/fair grounds, street hustles, Internet scams, cards, dice, 3-card monte, horse and dog races and more. While it seems to be true, that "no one can cheat an honest man", reading the cheats as related to various card games and dice (maybe even performed by your friends), might entice you to think twice before getting into a game, where money (or anything else?) is at stake. And one other thing is to remember too, when cheated, be careful of trying to get back what was taken, as in many situations unfortunately you will quickly meet the Muscleman (also called "Fourteen", as in that many days you will be in the hospital after being beaten up ...), walking away quietly might be a better option ...


Where Have All the Leaders Gone? by Lee Iacocca (2007)

So here is a book of rants by Mr. Iacocca on everything from politics, through running (auto) companies, Chinese industrial competition, US national debt, oil dependency and the US healthcare crisis, to what should rich people do in their retirement. While many of the issues brought up are real, one wonders, how Mr. Iacocca, hobnobbing with other elected and non-elected leaders, including Fidel Castro, Mr. Clinton, Al Gore, Prince Charles, other ex-presidents, CEOs, an the like and by his own admission helping to elect the current President Bush and being offered and ambassadorship by his administration, blackmailing the US government to save a private corporation, and contribution to the same oil dependency in all his career in the US auto industry, is to be part of any solutions, but he definitely seems to be part of the problem ...


The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't by Robert I. Sutton (2007)

Assholes, toxic persons and bullies are threat to workplace productivity and employee well-being? You bet they are. In this short book, some thoughts are offered on how to deal with assholes (and the negative atmosphere caused by them) at an organizational and a personal level, including suggestions on how to control our own "inner jerk". Here is the Dirty Dozen Asshole Tactics:
  1. Personal insults
  2. Invading one's personal territory
  3. Uninvited personal contact
  4. Threats and intimidation, both verbal and non-verbal
  5. Sarcastic jokes and teasing used as insult delivery systems
  6. Withering email flames
  7. Status slaps intended to humiliate their victims
  8. Public shaming or status degradation rituals
  9. Rude interruptions
  10. Two-faced attacks
  11. Dirty looks
  12. Treating people as if they are invisible
and here is the Certified Asshole Test. Of course, there are always exceptions to any rule, in this case one of them is Steve Jobs, asshole, who brings so much value to the organization, that the negative behavior is overshadowed. Fortunately (for employees and shareholders), many other C-level assholes are being cleaned out, as the likes of Chainsaw Al.


The Great Risk Shift: The Assault on American Jobs, Families, Health Care, and Retirement--And How You Can Fight Back by Jacob S. Hacker (2006)

A bit on the fearmongering side, sprinkled with lots of personal examples how things can go wrong with ordinary Americans, this book still points out a to be feared aspect of change in the US wage earning system, the volatility of year-to-year income continues to increase, together with the ever widening gap between the rich and poor (and the disappering "middle class"). It is not only expensive to raise kids (basically with no help from the side of the society, unless you happen to be on welfare), but it also increases the risk of declaring bankruptcy. The social safety net is also being dismantled, while Americans still do not quite understand, how self managed retirement savings work ("you are not supposed to withdraw and spend it all at the first opportunity"), so the "ownership society" is more of a pipedream ... Healtcare is also in a dire shape costwise, delivering good to excellent quality of care with ever rising costs (in particular for "risky" patients). While some personal and policy measures are proposed by the author, they do not seem to close these ever opening gaps. If of interest, you might also want to watch this lecture on the topic by Elizabeth Warren.


New Insights on Covered Call Writing: The Powerful Technique That Enhances Return and Lowers Risk in Stock Investing by by Richard Lehman, Lawrence G. McMillan (2003)

A somewhat basic treatment of covered call writing, offering a short overview of US tax implications (like writing a "deep" in-the-money call will reset the counter towards long-term holding, only LEAPS get long-term tax benefits), some "rules-of-thumb" on selecting the security, strike price, expiration and more. Studying the multi-year covered call writing results prepared by the authors for 20 large cap stocks (the data was collected from Wall Street Journal's microfiche, which demonstrates the openness of these markets well ..), the "ugly" truth rears its head. While the volatility of yearly returns decreased by 30%, the average returns were unpredictably effected, which is the consequence of the cap on maximum returns, when these calls are written. It would be hard to predict, which stocks would keep going constantly up (where writing calls is a limitation on the returns), vs. which stocks would exhibit more of a roller coaster like price change (where writing calls would add to the bottom line). Considering this, and the potential loss of preferred long-term and dividend tax rates (at least under the US tax code), writing covered calls for individual securities might not be a good idea. This is not to say, that an index or ETF based buy-write strategy or product (like BXM") offers no value, especially in a tax deferred account, where all proceeds are taxed at income rates.


On-demand book publishers

Lightning Press
Yurchak Printing

Fahrenheit 451: A Novel by Ray Bradbury (1953)

This book seems as relevant as ever, by looking at big screen TVs (although they are not taking up all four walls in the TV room yet(?)), people walking around with their ears plugged with iPods, most neighborhoods having nobody walking around, and no front porches, one wonders how far or how close we are to be required to view the world through a soap opera lens locked into a TV room ... And strangely this might not happen by government edict, but as an answer to the limited needs of the masses.


Limits to Medicine: Medical Nemesis, the Expropriation of Health by Ivan Illich (1976)

Ivan Illich, a social critic ahead of its own time, spells out the major issues with the health care system. Treatment offered (except when using a limited list of some basic medicines) might not even prolong life, and if it does, the quality of life is mostly absent. In addition, with the institutionalization of medicine, the fabric of society is also being destroyed. Words ring even more true today with all discussion on the problems of health case in the US in particular. The author stick to his principles, treating a cancerous growth on his face only with traditional methods.

A Dirty War: A Russian Reporter in Chechnya by Anna Politkovskaya (2004)

This first book of the late author is a list of interviews with all sides in the Chechen conflict, including mothers, who are not allowed to claim their sons' remains, some terrorist, who were interviewed near a military post where they were allowed to freely pass, showing the absurdity of the situation, struggling young soldiers and civil populations. Mostly absent from the list of interviewees are the local "businessman", the owners of the oil-wells, whom in addition to high placed Russian politicians and military leaders, Politkovskaya blames for creating or at least not resolving this situation. This is indeed a small corner of hell.


Closed end funds with dividend payments per year

Latest fad, dividend stripping with staying within the 61 days window required for preferred dividend rate. Currently there is no closed fund discount with these funds ...
Alpine Total Dynamic Dividend Fund (AOD)
Eaton Vance Tax Managed Diversified Equity Income Fund (ETY)
Eaton Vance Tax-Managed Global Diversified Equity Income Fund (EXG)
Evergreen Global Dividend Opportunity Fund (EOD)
Upcoming funds Advent/Claymore Global Convertible, Alpien Global Premier Properties, Cohen & Steers Enhanced, Eaton Vance Tax-Managed International, Seligman LeSalle International Real Estate.

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Make Yourself Unforgettable: The Dale Carnegie Class-Act System by The Dale Carnegie Organization (2006)

This excellent audio recording offer pointers in (simple, but not too simple) Dale Carnegie style on self and organizational improvements. Becoming a class act involves both simple and more difficult changes to your perspective and behaviour, but the results will speak for themselves.


Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America by Dan Savage (2002)

Don Savage, a known sex columnist, cruises America to engage in an of the seven sins, or to observe large groups of citizens (many of them upstanding middle class taxpayers) engaging in them (as consenting adults). And doing so, poking at the nose of social conservatives and pointing out, that "pursuit of Happiness" (with capital "H") is a right afforded in the Declaration of Independence. Based on this, everybody has the right to judge (or not to judge if so chosen), and this is about all the rights you get unless it is proven how those actions cause harms to others.

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The Clustered World : How We Live, What We Buy, and What It All Means About Who We Are by Michael J. Weiss (2000)

This is an excellent introduction to clusters used in marketing (and political marketing) and example based description of the 62 clusters used to classify US households, and some details on how similar clusters used in various other countries like Canada, England, and others (and even "world" clustering classifications). Instead of mass marketing, using clusters provide much better marketing results, and really this is "just" a giant step towards individual marketing (although it is debatable if you want some unregulated data gathering company to know that much about you ...). Your address is really considered to speak a lot about you (even if you consider yourself being nothing like any of your neighbors). The almost missing references to race in these classifications are a noteworthy detail, it seems that marketing people consider race having little relevance to how people are to be grouped (as compared to the various governments still clinging to their various race based classifications). Want to learn more about a neighborhood (or at least how it is seen by marketers), do a lookup at Claritas' MyBestSegments.


Sniper on the Eastern Front: The Memoirs of Sepp Allerberger, Knight's Cross by Geoffrey Brooks (2006)

Josef "Sepp" Allerberger, Austrian who volunteered to serve in Wehrmacht, decided to change "careers" after quickly recognizing that machine gunner do not have a long life on the front, they are the first one killed by the enemy during attacks. After an injury, practicing with a captured Soviet sniper rifle, he becomes a killing machine with 250+ recognized deaths (and based on the discussions with multiple hundred(?) others). While the book's backbone is the story of "personal growth" (if you can call it such, learning the trade, how dig oneself in, where to shoot a person depending on if you want them dead, screaming or screaming even louder) of a sniper, the gruesome and harrowing details of this bloody confrontation are on every page. A forgotten unit turning to cannibalism under the gun of their commissars, people blown to pieces and receiving grievous injuries, dead bodies piling up higher than a person during attacks, routine killing and in many cases torture of captured German soldiers (including extra suffering for captured snipers, if identified), the rampage of the Soviet army through "enemy" countries, killing, raping, robbing civilian population (although in many cases their own country (wo)men didn't fare any better), life in the trench were the enemy snipers can pick you out any time a part of your body shows, such cold weather that hostilities ceased as all weapons froze and the soldiers could only think about how to survive. The German unit was pushed and chased by the Red Army for more than 2 years from Voroshilovsk almost back into Austria, where Josef was lucky enough to avoid both the Soviets and the Americans (who were transferring captured soldiers into Soviet custody), so he avoided the forced labor camps. Excellent lesson in history.

The Namesake: A Novel by Jhumpa Lahiri (2003)

In a simple language, the author emphatically describes the emotional and cultural confusion of first and second generation of Indian immigrants into the US. On one hand, trying to comply with the demands of their foreign life, they also keep in touch with many Bengali speaking friends, and the homeland is dutifully and frequently visited together with the children (and the great number of relatives are kept in close contact with). There is influence even on the second generation, the children do learn to speak Bengali, but no longer can write. Gogol Ganguli, the son (who later applied for the name of Nikhil, still keeping up with the Russian "theme"), after always being different, ends up in something resembling of an arranged marriage (as his parents did, who had never met each other before their wedding), which does fail quickly. As the book ends, Ashima, the mother, whose husband Ashoke the university professor died earlier, has sold the house, and becoming a "citizen of the world", planning to split time equally between the US and India.

Make Yourself Unforgettable: The Dale Carnegie Class-Act System (2006)

Keeping with the style of How to Win Friends & Influence People, this audio recording gives practical advice on improving work relationships and productivity, as becoming a "class act" is the new differentiator in the ever competitive marketplace. Even following one or two suggestions could help you along in the workplace (or maybe also in your personal affairs).


The Smartest Investment Book You'll Ever Read: The Simple, Stress-Free Way to Reach Your Investment Goals by Daniel R. Solin (2006)

This book offers a simplistic view of the investing world, arriving to the conclusion that your money is best placed into low-fee index funds and that asset allocation is very beneficial. The initial sections on brokerage and mutual fund shenigans still could be a worthy read (unless of course you are well versed in the subject as it was described in numerous other books). But if you are forced to invest in mutual funds, as it is the case of many company sponsored 401k plans, you might learn of a few tidbits on what to look out for, and in what cases a "no-fee" mutual fund is low fee for real.


The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz (2004)

This books offers an interesting observation based on various psychological experiments and real life observations, the more choices we have, in addition spending longer choosing between them, we also less likely make up our mind and will be less happy with the choice made eventually. Why I agree with the observations, I would argue with the conclusions, that lesser choices available would make us happier. Maybe in the extreme cases, for example when doctors are unwilling to make (life and death) treatment decisions and pushing those choices back on the patients, this might be true, but I would argue that these choices available came into existence, because of the free markets and customer "needs", and they would quickly disappear when serving no purpose (read no longer profitable). Many areas of life, like a new car buying experience still suffers lack of choices, including a "direct from manufacturer" buying option, and so many other distribution channnels have the entrenched manufacturer/wholesaler/retailer model, which could be greatly improved by offering real choices to consumers. A bit repetitive, but still interesting read.


Selling Sickness: How the World's Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies Are Turning Us All Into Patients by Ray Moynihan, Alan Cassels (2006)

Does it seem that medical conditions which were earlier considered to be age, lifestyle, environment related now becoming medical conditions to be treated with prescription drugs? No surprise here. The medical establishment and big pharma are constantly broadening guidelines on what conditions should be treated with medications (bringing enormous profits to both doctors and pharmaceutical companies). The authors offer histories on high cholesterol, depression, menopause, ADD, high blood pressure, PDD (successor of PMS), social anxiety disorder (shyness), osteoporosis, irritable bowel syndrome, and female sexual dysfunction as examples how these conditions are approved and widened to include more "patients" by the regulators, doctors and pharma companies with a drug to find a use for, and how to "detailers" deliver more and more samples of all kinds of drugs to most doctors. Go and get a second opinion before you start some medication and invest in pharma companies (as there is no end in sight for this)?


Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk (2005)

This very personal memoirs with superb black and white photos bring the child and teen years of the author into life, as reflected on the history and places of Istanbul. The upper class family of the author has its fortunes come and go, and so do Istanbul's, which transitioning from being the center of the Ottoman empire into a capitalist/commercial center of Turkey. Unfortunately the city also lost its non-turkish population, losing their traditions and way of life in the process. There is a community melancholy in place, as signified by the fact that there is a special word "hüzün" used to describe it. An excellent window into the life of all Îstanbullus of a bygone era. A pleasure to read.

The Five Lessons a Millionaire Taught Me About Life and Wealth by Richard Paul Evans (2005)

At least it was a short book, little time wasted. It is always a pleasure to read the deep thoughts coming from "self-made" man (especially if they are targetted on selling more speaking engagements ...).

A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya by Anna Politkovskaya (2003)

How about a place, where the dead are ransomed for more money than the living by all sides of this conflict (including the military of your own country)? It is still not clear, after more than 10 years of fighting, what solutions can be offered to stop the bloodshed in this breakaway region, but it is clear that benefits from keeping up this conflict are flowing to both political and military leadership. In the meantime, starving citizens are caught in the crossfire, both figuratively and literally. Publishing books like this on this "internal affair", certainly won't produce much love from the leadership of her country.

The Future for Investors: Why the Tried and the True Triumph Over the Bold and the New by Jeremy J. Siegel (2005)

In his earlier book, Stocks for the Long Run : The Definitive Guide to Financial Market Returns and Long-Term Investment Strategies the author identifies the stock market as the place to be to fulfill long(er) term investing goals. In this followup, a non-mainstream view of selecting which particular stocks (and market segments to invest in) is presented, invest in established companies (paying good dividends) and avoid IPOs, as you have little chance to find the Microsoft (or even IBM), and newly issued stocks severely underperform. Dividends allow investors purchasing additional shares of the company, when times (or valuations) are bad, so in the end this leads to a significantly higher number of shares owned in the company. As for market segments, established companies with recognized brand names is the place to be, very similarly to the approach taken by Warren Buffett most times. While the author does not take its thoughts to their full conclusion, as to suggesting 100% allocation of one's funds into these "return enhancing" strategies, you will still be better off using these strategies, as compared to following the indexing crowd. In the second part of the book, a very optimistic view is painted, on how the US boomer retirement (and selling their fixed income and stock market assets) will play out. As per this view, the getting much richer investors in China and India might buy up these assets, and at the same time serve as a workforce to produce most of the goods in the world (while US, Europe, Japan retirees enjoy a pleasant retirement). The one missing point here seems to be, on why the investors would be willing to buy into ailing US, European and Japanese businesses (which might not even have a hardworking workforce to rely on, as taxation could be significantly increased to provide for the Social Security and Medicare of the boomer retirees), when they can invest into the bonds and stocks of their own country. I guess the thought is, that many of the existing "old" companies going international should provide a better investment than those newer companies. Of course, giving higher valuations to "home based" newly formed companies could become a self fulfilling prophecy, as the world might become less integrating than it is today, as those new powerhouse countries are less committed to international trade as the US is today. Recommended.


Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science by Charles Wheelan (2003)

This excellent book offers perspectives of an economist on every day things of finance and economy, including markets, the role of government, politics and globalization. While one might disagree with some of the conclusions reached, the book overall is a very down to earth read with clear explanations.

Don't Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It's Raining: America's Toughest Family Court Judge Speaks Out by Judy Sheindlin (1997)

The author of the book (who around the time of the publication became Judge Judy on TV as these views didn't seem to fly well politically) describes the warped world of the Family Court, encouraging total irresponsibility to child bearing and rearing (this includes both mother and many cases "unknown" father sides), and family relations. She is really making a strong case for abolishing the welfare system as implemented (and this was written after seeing the results of the Welfare Reform of 1996) and reforming family laws (and court attitude as be). The sad thing is, that it seems that nothing much changed around these topics for the last 10 years either ...


Uncommon Carriers by John McPhee (2006)

The author travels on many things moving, including 18 wheelers, a barge, small size replicas of tankers and ocean liners in the French Alps, on more. Some of these collected stories are a good read, including the story of independent truck owner hauling various hazmat chemicals across the US (and the ecosystem grown around him), and the story of the Nova Scotia lobster "apartments" and the enormous sized UPS package sorting facility in Louisville, KY, some others just seem drawn out.

100 Bullshit Jobs...And How to Get Them by Stanley Bing (2006)

The author offers an inspiring list of various bullshit jobs available with or without significant educational requirements (and also recognizes his own job of being of BS kind). This includes aromatherapist, road-kill collector, Feng-Shui consultant, life style coach, and up to the Chairman and the Vice President. While getting some of these jobs would require long climbing up the ladder, offer only minimal wage or unpleasant working conditions, there is a silver lining shining through, one might be able to discover some bullshit aspects in one's own job ... A good listening.


The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari: A Fable About Fulfilling Your Dreams & Reaching Your Destiny by Robin Sharma (1994)

It is fascinating to see how much psycho babble is out there. Lets take a quick look first at the author of this book. Mr. Sharma, based on his own admission, is travelling (and very likely not walking) more than 100000 miles a year, no wonder he sold that Ferrari, and likely bought a personal jet instead. If you can make a living giving lectures at several thousands (or maybe several ten thousands) dollars a pop, why exactly would you keep a 9 to 5 (or 6 to 9 in many of the worst cases) job working for somebody? The fable itself also raises some interesting questions. So what exactly happened to the money received when the very wealthy lawyer sold all his belongings? Was he able to place all those monies into some deferred taxation retirement accounts? There was certainly no mention of giving it all away ... And indeed how does this person afford and desire to fly between continents if he has nothing to his name and wanting to have a simple life? This seems to be exactly the lifestyle the author created for himself, which is good for him, but very likely not many of the readers would be able to copy his success. Strangely the yogi teachers referenced in the book have no desire to travel anywhere from their hidden village and even less desire to sell themselves on seminars (reminding us all those other billions of persons on our planet, who simply do not have the means to do these things regardless of any amount of daily psychobabble they would be engaging in).


Prisoner's Dilemma by William Poundstone (1992)

This is a story of game theory/minimax theory (which in one of its earliest form was used to identify bombing targets), with a biography of John von Neumann as related, the research and creation of first atomic bombs and the hydrogen bomb, the preventative war theory as subscribed to many in the US armed forces and government and the first think tank, the RAND.
A two person interaction can be categorized as Prisoner's Dilemma (gain by testifying against your conspirator), Chicken (think "game of chicken"), Deadlock (encourages defection) and Stag Hunt (encourages cooperation). Discussions and experiments suggest, that defection (non-cooperation, "selfish gene"?) could be a good strategy for many of single interactions, while cooperation works well for repeated interactions, where players use various strategies. Interestingly the best strategy for simulations of Prisoner's Dilemma is TIT-FOR-TAT (or "almost" TIT-FOR-TAT), where the player cooperates until the other party starts defecting, than it defects until the other party starts cooperating. While these theories do somewhat match the realities of two player games, they are much less applicable to multi party games, especially where players are allowed/encouraged to form alliances (as it happens in real life situations).


State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III by Bob Woodward (2006)

This history of events leading to the War in Iraq offers a view into the Byzantine political power struggles in the White House. The "king making" process of trying to find candidates to fill various posts in the administration, is based on already prepared lists, speaks volumes on the favoritism of these processes. Readers beware, this is not a pretty picture.

The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges -- and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates by Daniel Golden (2006)

If you hoped that admittance into US higher education is based on merit, think again. This book spends little time on public higher education, and its preference for affirmative action (which one can easily understand as racial preferences and discrimination) and other various social engineering approaches, but it exposes preferences of private collages towards "legacies" and children of donors (which in many cases happen to be the same, encouraging a caste system in the society). "Legacies" (children of graduates of a college) make up 40% of admissions for certain colleges, although the number seems to be "only" 10%+ for many of the Ivy league colleges, where many even on faculty seem to argue that this is to be the way of life ensuring financial future for their institutions (and just simply a way for a "subjective" selection process creating a "balanced" student population). The book is richly illustrating these briberies with actual real life examples. There are only three private institutions, which seem to be immune, offering admissions strictly based on merit, Caltech (less than 1% "legacies" admitted), Cooper Union in NYC and Berea College in Kentucky (this school basically requires the student to be poor to be eligible for admission, and requires students to work 10 hours a week for the school). But do not get desperate, even if you have not get the 1 million dollars plus to spend bribing an Ivy League institution for admission, you may only have to spend a few thousand or few ten thousands dollars to buy an admission into a second tier college. Or if all fails, start training your offsprings in screw, fencing, squash, golf, horse riding, skiing or polo, as these "white" upper-class sports also could be your ticket into the American Brahmin class. And no, studying harder is not your ticket to admission anymore.


No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy (2005)

Another morality tail from this known author. Set in 1980 in Texas, Moss, the Vietnam veteran, picks up the cash from a drug deal went wrong, and things are going downhill from there for him. The sheriff of this quiet Texas county, who has sympathy for Moss and his young wife, tries to help him (and save his life). But these are different days now (partially because of the imprint of the Vietnam war on the society), even the problems of the schools are facing changed for the worse. The violence escalates, as both sides of the drug deal hunt for Moss and each other, only one in person involved in the deal survives at the end, a psychopath contract killer. This is not the good old days, and considering the amount of cash changing hands in these deals, there is no way going back to them.

The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel by Diane Setterfield (2006)

A great plot, subplots, with secrets, half-truths and lies. A fine ghost mystery, and in particular the audio book is masterfully presented.


The Courage to Be Rich: Creating a Life of Material and Spiritual Abundance by Suze Orman (1999)

This fat book has lots of psychobabble and offers little content otherwise (although some details around marriage legalities, as related to money and property, annuities, (Roth) IRA, one may find useful). I kinda feel sad for the American public, who after finished reading this book might feel more confused about their finances than before, may decide that they do need to hire a financial advisor, like Suze herself. Considering her original background as a stock broker (one wonders what was her track record ...), her views of the investment world are surprisingly limited, by almost narrowing "investments" down to one's own house and to buying US Treasury securities. Hopefully this is just a reflection of honesty and integrity, as there are quite a few brokers, who do keep their own funds in US Treasury securities, while pitching much riskier investment to their own clients ...


Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky (2006)

This posthumous masterpiece of Irène Némirovsky, the Russian born writer (who became well known French writer in spite of not being a "native" speaker) will spellbound you. It is in the best tradition of the big novels in the 19th and first half of the 20th century. Reading the first two pages will place you into Paris during the air raids with the German troops rapidly approaching. And the rest of the pages will paint a bleak (but still with glimmers of hope) picture of mostly the worst, but sometimes the best coming out of people as the society's fabric unravels. We ought to be thankful to not living through those times and needing to make those choices. Planned to be a set of five books (only two of the books completed in handwriting before she was hauled away into Auschwitz to die, and those notebooks were transcribed by her by luck surviving daughter to be published as this book), the "Storm in June" and "Dolce" are indeed the first two parts of an unfinished symphony.

The Undercover Economist: Exposing Why the Rich Are Rich, the Poor Are Poor--and Why You Can Never Buy a Decent Used Car! by Tim Harford (2005)

The author applies David Ricardo's theory around "marginal" value to various aspects of our life, explaining why the coffee sold to commuters in the morning is so expensive (and how little of that money really goes to the growers, even when you are buying "Fair Trade" coffee), how high rent (real-estate or other kind) is caused by legislative or other scarcities, how the behaviour of consumers is used for price targeting (and here we are not only talking about Amazon.com's strategies) and why supermarket prices flip-flop between "full" price and a 30-50% sale for certain items (instead of lowering the price by 5% across the board, this is a tool to lure bargain shoppers into the store), how globalization and "sweatshops" are benefiting both trading sites (as "sweatshops" are still offering better wages and working conditions than other local enterprises), how P/E is still the king in the markets (and it will not work for you to buy the hype), showing a great number of examples why non-market principles fail (like the very expensive and underdelivering US healthcare system, and the confused price targeting of the pharmaceutical companies), and how market principles succeed (like externalizing London traffic congestion costs directly to the vehicles causing them, and the health and retirement system of Singapore, and China's recent economical rise). This book is a good read for a general readership, exploring some new issues in addition to the ones already presented in earlier books, in particular an interesting description of the failed US and New Zealand and successful UK auctions of cell phone spectrums, and great details on why Cameroon is slipping into into deeper poverty (despite the various foreign help given, and suggest that maybe better management could help?? and indeed I would argue that stopping all foreign help could bring positive changes to this and many other countries). It is always interesting to see how quickly questions arise on established under a rational light.


Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach (1970)

This is a strange short book with lots of photographs about a seagull, who decides that there is more to life, than fighting over scraps of food, and perfects his flying instead and comes to know that Heaven is reached when one achieves Perfection, and to do so you are the one who needs to take the steps. Life can and should be more than following the "Flock". A classic.

The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man by David Maurer (1999)

This is a reprint of a book published in 1940 by a linguist studying the language of con(fidence) man, and who was getting really familiar with their methods and with them in person. Details are provided for the three big cons (the wire, the rag, and the payoff), where the mark is sent (to get the money and bring it back), as contrasted to short cons (like the smack, the tat, the hot-seat, the tip, the money box, the last turn, the huge duke, the wipe, and others), where (mostly) only the money the mark has on him is taken. The characters and action described inspired the movie The Sting. The book also describes how local judicial and law enforcement were on the take, resulting in no prosecution and lenient sentences (if any at all). There were also special methods of cooling the mark, making sure that the law enforcement is not involved at all. The book is somewhat dated, as the feds were cracking down on many of these scams as mail frauds and many of the con men moved over to the stock fraud, as a more profitable passtime. As the book states, in many of these cons, an honest man is wanted to complete a dishonest transaction (which should remind one to the current Nigerian scams), and the smarter the person is, he maybe more suspectible to be hooked.


Sex, Drugs and DNA: Science's Taboos Confronted by Michael Stebbins (2006)

A leading scientist offers a "scientific" perspective on things happening around us, including why one needs to be very dedicated to wanting to become a scientist (how tenured positions seem to be a thing of the past, grant monies are becoming extinct, and so on), how politicians and the public have no basic understanding on stem cell research and cloning, sex education and discrimination, genetically modified food (and in particular how it was being done for centuries by plant and animal breeders), on race and race relations (including race specific drug treatments), global warming, biological and chemical weapons (and how little is and maybe can be prepared for them), the sad state of drug and healthcare in the USA, and the dismal state of science education (with thoughts on Intelligent Design), it is a wonder if anybody chooses to become a scientist after all this .... A good read.


Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris (2004)

This excellent audio book read by the author himself. The stories are based on personal and family experiences, and surely you will know David and his family well after you finished listening, maybe even too well. Not to be missed.


The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)

This dark book is set in an apocalyptic landscape, where the Man and the Boy (no names are given, nor needed) take up on the Road, trying to get to a warmer (or maybe a better) place in front of the approaching winter. Surviving on scarce finds of food, getting away from others turned into cannibals, driven mainly by love. Even in this deadly place, there is a glimmer of hope. Makes you think about just how thin the society's fabric is ...


Cracking the Millionaire Code: Your Key to Enlightened Wealth by Mark Victor Hansen, Robert Allen (2005)

If you want to waste some time listening to questionable business advice sprinkled with the "No money down/I will sell this house today" real-estate style peptalk, than here is your chance. Maybe you would even decide to signup for some seminars from the authors. Business advice received from imaginary advisors may not do much good, and the mention of the one(!) example of a great success following this "method" is not very convincing. Sure, Google's business grow exponentially, but this has no relation to how the businesses of the poor souls trying to follow the vague advice would grow the same way. No wonder that 90%+ of new businesses fail, considering the advice received from books like this ... The somewhat value ideas presented were regarding (charitable) giving and business related tidbits. But whatever goodwill I had for the Chicken Soup for the Soul is all gone In particular based on the discussion how to create market segment based chicken soup books, should a book for the soul be one, or maybe just a few ...), even considering the assumed "good intentions" this book was prepared with.

Season of Betrayal by Margaret Lowrie Robertson (2006)

As per the title, this is a story on betrayal, love and hate, set with the backdrop of the civil war Beirut in 1983. Personal relations and the society both speeding towards the inevitable crash.


Adventure Capitalist: The Ultimate Investor's Road Trip by Jim Rogers (2003)

It must be nice to be able to travel the world and throw money at the various places forgotten by everybody, and come back ten years later and check the results. Mr. Rogers lined up with the latest Tabitha just does exactly this. Some of us have really big balls, Mercedes has given him two expensive cars for free as "advertising", while multiple places in the book it is explained that in most of the world, Mercedes is the car of choice for strong man, drug dealers and the other menace to society, and they are likely to be paid for with monies gotten from the American taxpayers. I'm not sure how much goodwill was generated here, but pulling this off seems like a trait of a good trader. It is suprising (or maybe not ...) to see how much disorganization and corruption there is all over the world, except the first world countries and a selected few others, even a basic border crossing involves lots of haggling, and likely bribes of some sort.
Otherwise his ideas and analysis are respectable, and likely a moneymaker, especially considering his investment staying power.


The perfect thing : how the iPod shuffles commerce, culture, and coolness by Steven Levy (2006)

Is the iPod the perfect thing? Considering the obsession its "daddy", Steve Jobs attacks all issues, including esthatics, usability and more (as attested by the approaches taken for the original Apples and Mac computers, the doom of Next, the success of Pixar, and the triumphant return to Apple), it might not be a surprise that the iPods do turn out to be the perfect things. This book is written and published as the Shuffle works, the chapters are printed in a random order, so the copies of the book will be different from each other. This book also had the right timing to see Apple Computers to be renamed Apple, a name change which likely can be attributed in a good part to the financial success of iPod.


Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach (2006)

An investigation into the afterlife. From old(er) historical information to the latest scientific setups through multiple continents, on trying to measure, observe details of something different than our material bodies. Lots of information listed, but sorry, but there is no proof given (either way).


God Lives in St. Petersburg: and Other Stories by Tom Bissell (2005)

Another book with stories about Americans in foreign places where they (mostly) have no business to be, with sad (and deadly)endings. Maybe this is becoming a writing style itself, which speaks loud about the times we live in today.

U.S. Tax Forums and Resources

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The age of fallibility : the consequences of the war on terror by George Soros (2006)

This is a "typical" Soros book, reflecting on current world state of affairs from an 'open society" perspective. Sometimes not an easy read, but certainly offers a personalized view.