Wednesday, April 25, 2007

For those of you intested in investing rather than mere speculating, check out It's a site dedicated to revealing "the things that companies try to hide in their routine SEC filings."

Which is great because most people are too lazy to go through these so it's a good place to start noticing the kind of honest assessments companies actually give of their own operations to investors or anyone else willing to put in the work and read through 10-Ks.

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Lakisha Jones from American Idol

I have a talent for looking at people and finding a resemblance with famous people.

Here is the first in what I hope becomes a regular installment. Any good ideas for a name for this section?

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Hedge Funds and salaries

I was reading this interesting article on the New York Times on the ridiculous salaries some hedge-fund managers are pulling in. Check it out, the one guy they talk about made $1.7 billion.

That's $1,700,000,000.

That's 42.5 million dollars per paycheck if you're getting paid biweekly like most people.

What on earth do you do with that money?

So what exactly makes a hedge fund different than a mutual fund or any other investment device? Well, here is a good article to get you up to date if you're interested.

Basically, the difference is that hedge funds are only open to accredited investors (you need to have a lot of money) and you can short and long a stock, that is you can bet on it going up or down, which a lot of people (think of Overstock's CEO Patrick Byrne here) think is shady.

But ultimately, the thing that people have a problem with is the amount of money changing hands. That $1.7 billion is something we just can't understand—it leads many to believe something illegal is being done to earn that kind of dough.

As for the people who put their money into these funds, look at the returns some of these guys are getting on their money. They are obviously content in paying the high fees associated with hedge funds because they are getting a great return on their investment.

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Executions in America

I was reading this article the other day on how the lethal injection method isn't as "humane" as we all thought. But one line caught my eye:

Of the 53 executions in the United States in 2006, all but one were by lethal injection.

All but one? So I was curious what other methods are still used in the US to kill people.

According to this article from Amnesty USA, electrocution, lethal gas, hanging, and firing squad are still legal.

Now, whether they are still used or not, I don't know, but firing squad? Even in Guatemala we got rid of that one! Give me a break.

As for my stance on the death penalty, I think some people definitely deserve to die, but at the same time wouldn't the harshest punishment for some of these people involve keeping them alive and locked up? Probably, but that's way to expensive to bank on.

If you're interested in death penalty stuff as related to proving or disproving the holocaust (I know, seems like a stretch), check out Dr. Death.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Watch out for a new Blog coming soon

I recently took a class with MediaBistro on column writing and I asked myself what I could bring to the table that was different, interesting, and interesting to me.

So I decided to write some articles on what it's like to be a foreigner in the US that looks nothing like a foreigner. Someone that in fact looks more American than his original heritage.

This someone is me of course, who else.

Some of the stuff will cover my ability to spy on Hispanic people in public places (which is even cooler when they are talking about you) since they think I'm an American that doesn't know Spanish, immigration issues, personal things I've dealt with, and other general things in the media.

If anyone is reading this blog, let me know if that's at all interesting.

I'm doing it anyway, but it's always fun when someone posts a comment on here for me.

Solar Power

Ever since I can remember, I've loved the idea of solar power. This is when I was 10 years old and there was no such thing as "green."

The reason I thought it was cool was from a technological/cool factor perspective.

Running all the appliances in the house on solar power? Sweet!

Check out this article on how much solar power can save you and the different ways it can be incorporated into existing or new design of a house.

What caught my attention is that a typical system can provide about 25% of a house's total electric consumption.

Want to know what's even cooler? Net-metering. It means if you produce more electricity than you consume, you can sell that excess back to the electric company for a profit.

I just went on a family business trip to a sugar mill in Nicaragua and they produce 40 megas of electricity while consuming just 15 (ignore what a mega is or what it stands for, it's a unit of measurement of a lot of electricity).

So not only are they being "green" by producing their own electricity (which they do by using every bit of the sugar-can process and being extremely efficient with it), they don't have an electric bill, they have an electric check that they collect every month.

Cool, huh?

US Health Care system

I was in Paris when Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 came out and it is what probably caused my political awakening, among other things. So I've always kind of looked forward to the "next one."

Well, his next one is Sicko, which looks at the American health industry and takes a big baseball bat to it. All I know is that in one part, Moore takes some people suffering from respiratory problems thanks to 9/11 (the terrorist attack) to Cuba so they can see what it's like to be treated in Cuba.

We all know Moore's style by now so it's hard to know how bias this will be, but this article from Alternet is pretty interesting. I've always enjoyed the discussion of how one country (mainly my own, Guatemala) compares to others (mainly to the US, since everyone in the States things they have the best system and that all other doctors are probably just sticking leeches on people).
From the article:

We are paying for a massive, inefficient bureaucracy. The increasing cost of prescription drugs also is increasing the healthcare bill, and U.S. drug costs are the highest in the world; Americans pay 30 percent to 80 percent more for prescription drugs than citizens of any other country.

You might think that this excess money goes into developing new drugs, but you would be wrong: Only 13 percent of drug costs go to research and development, and little of that goes for pioneering new drugs to deal with life-threatening conditions; 51 percent goes to marketing, administration and profits.

Profit. That's the biggest problem with the system. In other countries, it's a service the government provides for its citizens to help them cope with sicknesses. But not here. Here it's a business, which is an awful way of "taking care" of people.

Whenever I tell people that I have had this or that procedure done in Guatemala, they look at me and kind of fidget.

"But, like, no offense but . . . is it safe? Are the doctors . . . OK?"

This is after I've already told them I've gone and had it done. It's not a lack of sensitivity, it's just a lack of understanding that the system in the best country in the world isn't the best in the world.

We'll see how Michael Moore verbalizes all these things.

Bee Season—Review

Who's in it? Richard Gere and Juliette Binoche.
What's the deal? Gere is a religion professor who takes his work home with him and blabs on and on about God and Kabbalism to his family. The son is fed up with it once he falls for a blond hottie that seduces him into what I call Krishna school. The daughter, meanwhile (the only likable character in the whole movie), is winning spelling bees left and right, but no one cares at first.
Do I detect some negativity? Yeah. I don't like Gere, and he's a real dick in this movie.
How does the girl spell words she's never even heard of before? She closes her eyes and in what is a nifty little effect, the word comes to life, cluing her in on how it's spelled.
Is that cheating? Not sure what the bee rules are on mystic powers but I'm pretty sure it's not allowed or at least discouraged. But who cares, without the girl this movie is just awful. And it still is, actually.
Why it's still awful: There's nothing to it. Nothing happens. At the end the characters play it off like some huge catharsis has gone down. And you're looking for the explanation and there is none. And Gere is in it, remember.
What to tell anyone considering renting it: She throws the national bee at the end to "save" her family. There, you've ruined it for them and they won't go see it now. Then say "You're welcome."
Another sign this movie sucks: Juliette Binoche is very blah in it.
Don't forget: Richard Gere is in it.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


What's the deal? Comic book come to life story of how 300 Spartans held off a huge Persian army (purportedly led by man/god Xerxes) via a series of sweet special effects and blood splatters. Love story sort of mixed in—for both country and wife (with a dab of father-son love too). But action, mostly action. The good kind.
Who's in it? No one, as far as I can tell. Maybe some of the LOTR secondary or tertiary characters, but no one you'll recognize right away, especially since everyone is jacked up so much.
Why now? I wanted to see this when it first came out on IMAX but I just couldn't make it. Plus that's like 15-20 bucks. I ended up seeing it for a cool $5 with Kerosotes' Five Buck Club, which lets you see movies that have been out for two weeks for five bucks. Sweet, huh?
Is it just a dumb action movie? Well, no. It's filled with action, it has a compelling lead actor, and some history thrown in to boot (which is mangled, from what I've been told). It's kind of like Gladiator light (lacks that emotional punch to the gut of that movie) in comic-book form, which turns out to be incredibly compelling in its own way (think Sin City here).
So the action scenes are really sweet? Yes. It's all computer generated, mind you, but those splatter effects become second nature right away, and when the bad guy's leg gets lobbed off you will grab your date's thigh (or the armrest) and kind of clench, going "Ooooh!"
What was the Spartan's preferred attack move? Ahh, the spear lunge, grasshopper. Sound boring. Maybe. But these guys do the best with what they've got, turning the spear lunge into an art, a tradition, and a pretty good kill move.
Did any of this really happen? I'm not sure. I may or may not research this. But I do remember a little bit from my classical rhetoric classes and the Spartans marching, building a wall, and fighting off invaders in boats—it kind of rings a bell. That 300 men held off so many doesn't, but who cares. You'll be too busy trying to find evidence that all this was done with blue screens—ALL OF IT. The two (or more) heads lobbed off are especially good.
The only thing that made the gore and couple of sex scenes seem awkward: That a couple behind us brought along their six-year-old daughter with them. Every time blood splattered she went "Oooooh!" just like the rest of us and then her dad would chatter something in here ear . What it was I can't imagine, "It's OK baby, that's not really a wall of dead bodies nailed to a tree. Blue screens honey, blue screens."
Why Xerxes was clearly not a god: He was a Transsexual, listen to his voice and look at how tall he is.
Why Xerxes was clearly a god: He got a bunch of naked chicks to get all freaky with the disgusting Quasimodo character.
What to tell your gf to get her to come see it: Six packs. Every Spartan between the ages of 15 and 50 was apparently hitting the gym twice a day. These dudes are JACKED up and don't wear any shirts, only the "Spartan red" capes. Which is weird because all the Spartan old men are short and look to be in pretty shitty shape, which you don't have to tell your gf, obviously.
What to tell your bf to get him to come see it: Sweet action scenes, sweet battles, good enemies, and a little sex thrown in there too. If your guy is into it, you may want to mention the forced-sex scene (hey, you never know, different strokes).
One more thing: Two, actually. This is basically Gladiator mixed with Braveheart on steroids without the star power. The other is about the oracle. There's a scene where she's in a trance and she was clearly shot underwater to give that strange effect you see in shampoo commercials. But she's sped up and slowed down to the point that it kind of puts you in a trance. Just FYI is all.
Bonus: As we walked out of the theater, I looked back to watch the parents who had brought their little girl to this violent, R-rated movie, and the girl was just sitting there like "WTF?" and the two parents (who were around 35 or 40) were making out. WTF?

Wal Mart Effect—Review

Genre: Business book.
Why I read it: It was one of the editor's picks for the best business books of 2006 over at amazon.
What's the deal? Wal Mart, as the biggest non-oil company in the world, has moved to a place where the rules simply don't apply. There are two sides to the Wal Mart effect, the good (low low prices, every day and making it's suppliers more efficient) and the bad (Wal Mart forces it's suppliers to be so "efficient" that some of them decide to cheat to maintain their end of the bargain). This means mistreating employees, lowering the quality of their product, or firing employees to accommodate a move to China.
Something I didn't know: How shadowy and mysterious Wal Mart is as a corporation. Also, I had no idea of their size or influence on so many other companies and the economy itself.
Fun Facts: - 90 % of Americans live within 15 miles of a WM.
- WM is the largest retailer in the US, Canada, Mexico, and 2nd largest in the UK.
- How many people went to WM last year: 7.2 billion. Earth's population: 6.5 billion.
- WM is as big as Home Depot, Kroger, Target, Costco, Sears, and K-Mart combined.
- WM sells more by St Patrick's day than Target does all year.
You have to hand it to: Sam Walton, much respekt, yo.
My favorite parts: The first one on how, thanks to WM deodorant no longer comes in boxes. The Makin Bacon story, Snapper lawnmowers, and the Salmon part.
What it all comes down to: "That kind of dominance at both ends of the spectrum—dominance across a huge range of merchandise and dominance of geographic consumer markets—means that market capitalism is being strangled with the slow inexorability of a boa constrictor. Choice is an illusion."
Says a lot: Even people who get laid off because of WM's low prices go back to shot there. Why? Prices are so low.
You can tell: This was originally an article—probably a really good one. You can tell because it looks very drawn out, very deliberate. Some of it isn't very well organized, he starts spouting facts with very little context. Informative, for sure, but a little disorienting.
Verdict: Eye opening, for sure, and very interesting. The writing could be better, especially when he has to explain complicated business stuff. But it's pretty clear and above all informative, if not longer than it needs to be.
What's next: Suite Française

Power of One - Review

Who's in it: Morgan Freeman in a supporting role.
What's the deal? South Africa, Apartheid, a jail, a British boy, a friendship with a black man, love, etc.
How old is it? Really old. I cried the first time I saw it, but I saw it again and certain parts were pretty corny. Still cried though.
What else is so good about it? The soundtrack. Lots of chanting in African tongue.
What I never realized about it the first time I saw it: How many shitty things happen to this kid in his life. It really sucks.
Another cool thing about it: The Afrikaner accent, it's like a mix of Australian and Jamaican.
Added plus: Teaches you about South African history in a totally passive way.
Who you think is playing the bully character (Botha) after you really take some time to look and listen closely - you'll swear it's him circa 1980 and you'll congratulate yourself on recognizing him before he made it big as James Bond and Munich: David Craig. Turns out it's some random guy you've never heard of, though.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

TV Commercial Ratings

Here are a couple of articles from Ad Age that should interest everyone that watches television, regardless of whether they're interested in ads or not.

Turns out a new system is being set up to rate ads on whether or not consumers "liked" them. The idea is to rate ads the way shows are rated. In other words, if your ad—no matter how much you've paid—causes viewers to change the channel, you'll be punished because of it.

One of the articles believes that, by putting ads and shows on an equal measuring scale, a new era of creativity will emerge. Not in TV (unfortunately) but in the ads sandwiched around those shows:

Proper commercial ratings -- the type that rate each individual spot, even on a second-by-second basis -- have the potential to reinvigorate creativity. Just as the TV buyer can call the seller after he or she receives the overnight ratings to discuss why a program isn't pulling the promised numbers, commercial ratings will give marketers a real insight into whether people actually want to watch their commercials. Marketers and their agencies will be able to see the exact drop off in viewers and compare that across different types of creative.

A top creative at BBDO makes a good point though, indicating one of TV's biggest flaws: it's American Idol-ish democracy:

"You'd hate if every ad became the equivalent of 'Two and a Half Men,'" he said.

As someone looking to get into the business, this all sounds very cutting edge and exciting, though I'm sure ad veterans may feel their current models are threatened.

We'll see what happens.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Babel - Review

Who's in it: Brad Pitt, Kate Blanchett, some goats, a Japanese perverted deaf girl.
What's the deal? Four different stories (or is it five) about the relationship between parents and children are flimsily joined together by random shit like a rifle and an illegal babysitter.
Is that a negative tone I'm detecting? Yes. The movie was nominated for all these Oscars (didn't it win a bunch too?) and I finally get to see it and I wasn't blown away. When I don't understand why so many people liked a movie I assume they bought the hype or that they are pretending, all of which aggravates me.
What's the deal with Brad Pitt's eyes? I guess they wanted him to look older, but those wrinkles and the grey hair just make him seem perpetually tired.
My favorite of the storylines: Probably Brad Pitt and Blanchett. It really could've been a movie in itself, it wouldn't've been so long (140 minutes) and I would've gotten more attached to the characters. Although I did like figuring out their historiesfrom the bits and pieces of information that were parsed out.
Mindy's one-sentence review: "I don't even know." (she was tired here and barely paying attention—look for more on point remarks in the future from the Minster)
What to tell your girlfriend to get her to see it: Umm, Brad Pitt.
What to tell your boyfriend to get him to see it: A Japanese schoolgirl in a super short miniskirt and no panties keeps flashing her cooter and, later, is completely nude.
What the Netflix label says it's about that I would never have guessed from watching it but that could probably be said about 90% of all movies: Human
Why I watched it: The hype. I'll never learn.
Why it's called Babel: I still don't know.
What I said five seconds after the movie ended when I was asked whether I liked it or not: "I don't know . . . yet."
What I think the reaction should be to qualify as a great movie: "Wow, yes, that's incredible."
Movie where I said that: Requiem for a Dream, Gladiator.
Movie it will remind you of: Crash, after all, it's the same posse that made that one. A little bit of Haven too, an obscure Orlando Bloom movie that came out last year and no one ever saw.