Thursday, February 26, 2009

Why Yahoo! Sucks

I'm looking for the full text of Obama's inauguration speech (to reference a line out of it), so I google it. The top link is a Yahoo news story that claims to have the full text. I click on it, and it's a dead link. Ok, I guess that happens from time to time.

Then, beneath the Yahoo 404 message, it offers Yahoo search results for my google search phrase (obama inauguration speech full text). Again, the top link is a Yahoo news story claiming to have the full text (though a different URL than the Google result). Again, it's a dead link.

So... this Yahoo news page is down (and has been for a while, I think), but even Yahoo's own search results haven't updated and continue to send me to a bad page. Perhaps this isn't so bad, but for some reason I don't seem to ever have ran into this problem with Google...

PS - random issue encountered while typing this post: Do you capitalize the "G" in Google when you're using it as a verb? As a noun, I see the need for capitalization. As an adjective as well. But for a verb, I'm thinking no... (wow, I must be tired...)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Quick thoughts on Slumdog Millionaire

Wow. Slumdog Millionaire won 8 Oscars tonight, including Best Picture.

I think it's a great development for movies as a whole, even though I'm not entirely sure it was literally the Best Picture. As films go, I thought Dark Knight and Wall-E were better, and I haven't even see Benjamin Button, Milk, and a few others yet.

But, at a larger level, I think it deserved the award (and all the others it got) because it pushed the envelope and hopefully has ushered in a new era in film-making. It proved that America has an appetite and curiosity for cultures other than it's own. While other movies have been based in foreign countries, Slumdog truly broke ground by focusing so intimately on a way of life that is so different from that which we have here in America. And what's more is that Americans were genuinely interested. The movie became a hit not because it was that well made (some plot elements were sketchy) or had fantastic acting (I'm sure I wasn't the only one to get some cheesy Hindi movie vibes) but because it brought to life a culture and people in a way that fascinated viewers but also allowed them to relate to it at some level.

Aside from the pride of seeing a movie from the land of my birth attract such a wide following and critical acclaim, Slumdog appealed to me most for this very reason. Each culture is to be celebrated, and I really hope Slumdog's success encourages a more international and eclectic side of Hollywood. Perhaps it's naive or premature, but I honestly believe the movie could mark a turning point in the types of movies that get green lit, and we could see an increased number of foreign culture-focused films come out of Tinseltown.

The American people, it seems, are perhaps not as shallow and self-centered as pop culture might have you believe...

(As always with this blog, and especially now that I'm venturing to realms about which I honestly have no clue, you probably want to take the above with a huge grain of salt. I watch about 5 movies a year. It just strikes me as ridiculous/awesome that a movie so about India won so many Oscars and has gotten so much national attention. Americans seem to be fascinated with Indian people (makes sense, we're sort of awesome), but I think/hope it also reflects a larger fascination with the world as a whole...)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Why we don't stand a chance (a food post)

I thought I'd break up the depressing economic/political commentary with a random moment of insight (or madness) about food. I ventured to the kitchen for a snack recently and, lo and behold, there was a box of Wheat Thins on the counter. Despite knowing to avoid packaged food and yearning for some delicious Indian food (dahl and chaval (lentil soup and rice)), I couldn't help myself, and snagged a couple while checking out the box.

A few things popped out. The marketing on the package screamed "HEALTHY" - they were trying to do everything they could to convince the consumer that this product did the body good. The Wheat Thins bragged about having "low fat" and was covered in little wheat symbols and such. Of course, quick turn to the nutrition facts showed that, despite it's relatively low fat, it had huge amounts of sodium (11% of your daily value in one serving).

As a side note, to channel a little Michael Pollan, that's the secret of packaged food - it hits you with abnormally high concentrations of fats, sodium, and/or sugar (those far, far higher than any food found in nature). That's it. Nearly every single packaged food is basically a carrier for one or more of those macronutrients. It doesn't matter how "healthy" the product says it is, or whatever cool marketing it has on it. Just fat, sugar, and/or sodium (or maybe one of those cancer-causing fake sugars).

But it just tastes good. Or, rather, the instant it hits your tongue, the chemicals that go surging through your brain feel awesome for a split second. Because in reality, it doesn't taste good at all - go try and taste whatever packaged food is lying in your kitchen. Try to savor the thing the entire time it's in your mouth. It's impossible - at some point, the "food" becomes a sort of cardboard-textured mess. Compare this to fruit or veggies, or any home-cooked meal - stuff that has flavor, texture, and true taste. There really is no comparison - seriously, try the experiment.

And this is why we don't stand a chance. I know this (and I've probably pissed off friends and family by belaboring the point since reading Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma last summer), and I still couldn't help myself.

The companies that make our food have intimate knowledge of our evolutionary response system, and leverage it to make food that they know will release a flood of "reward" chemicals in our brain and keep us coming back for more. To top it off, their food can brag about things like "low fat," "low sugar," "antioxidants," and "omega 3 fatty acids" while the spinach (very low fat), banana (very low, and natural, sugar), pomegranate (full of antioxidants), and avocado (deliciously filled with omega 3s) must remain silent, unable to make a case for being purchased.

And they wonder why we're the most unhealthy nation on the planet...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Market Reaction

Just a quick note, but, wow, the market really hated Geithner's financial rescue plan. I really liked what Obama had to say yesterday about the stimulus (we should be investing in projects that will save us money and reap rewards down the road), but I have to side with the market on this one - Geithner's plan doesn't cut it.

Bottom line is that most US banks today are probably insolvent. I think he failed to articulate a clear strategy to turn this around (though the public-private partnership to public toxic assets might be a start), and he completely missed the notion of holding people responsible and investigating the fraud that occurred. And the latter point is important not because of vengeance but rather trust - ultimately, his plan does not address the root of the problem, which is a completely lack of faith in US markets.

Also, here is a very interesting article in the Times chronicling what apparently was the internal debate on the stimulus. I'm disappointed to see the exec compensation limitations largely left out...

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Changes (and hey Stu)

After my last post, a good friend from college, Stu Stein, sent me a great one line email:
Dude, come back to your Whartonian roots. You've been spending too much time in Berkeley.
I reread my last post and laughed to myself. He's probably right. (Although, in my defense, Berkeley is great.)

Really, I'm not sure what to say. Times change, people change. For starters, I'm not sure I ever was much of a "Whartonian" in the first place - those of you who were there probably remember my rants on Wharton's culture or my stubborn desire to only wear sweats to class (mostly for comfort, but also as a metaphorical finger to all the kids who took themselves way too seriously:).

But Stu is right about one thing: I've shed much of my ideological support for capitalism.

Don't get me wrong - I am an entrepreneur, first and foremost (at least as professions go). And entrepreneurship needs capitalism, at some level.

But, ultimately, there needs to be a better check on two innate human flaws - short term thinking and greed. For all its merits, capitalism often encourages the former and always relies on the latter. Now, this is often a good thing, as pointed out by Milton Friedman in this must-watch for capitalism haters.

His point is simple - greed will exist regardless of the system in place, and capitalism is the best way to harness this greed to produce positive outcomes for society. However, he discounts one aspect of the situation, on which I'll base my argument against capitalism as we practice it: culture.

Basically, our culture in American has spiraled out of control. While greed is a fine driver for enterprise, when left unchecked, it can have disastrous consequences. And we encourage it, deifying the rich and famous, so much so that much of our population, particularly those at the top, the ones throwing around the kind of money and making the kind of decisions that can bring our economy to its knees, base their self-worth on their bank accounts.

Wow, this totally turned into a rant on materialism. Didn't intend for that to happen. But what are you going to do - it's true, and it's the root of our country's problem. Maybe I've changed and now I can see it, maybe it's always been there. Who knows.

And then the more important question - what do we do? How do you change culture? Because as long as we glorify extravagance and excessive opulence, our problems will continue, in one form or another. Clearly you can't solve the problem in one fell swoop, but if we had a society that shamed the bankers, regulators, and other perpetrators of the fraud and greed that led us here - truly put them to public shame - we'd be in better shape. If we didn't feel the need to buy another car, house, or flat screen TVs so intensely that we were willing to take out debt to do so, we probably wouldn't be here.

In short, we need a cultural force more powerful than capitalism to keep capitalism in check. Religion is the only one that comes to mind. But, of course, that brings us Nietzsche, and I'll leave you with his most famous words...
God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?
ps - for the record, I'm very agnostic and identify more with a godless religion (Buddhism) than any other. but the quote certainly frames our society from an interesting perspective.
pps - hey stu. having fun selling out in new york? :P