Saturday, December 18, 2010

Strange dreams

Over the last two nights, I have had some rather strange dreams.

Last night, I dreamed that I was in Indonesia (I am not sure why) and that what was represented as a tsunami arrived. Oddly, it was not one huge wave, but a number of smaller, gentler ones--very much unlike the real thing. I and others did not seem particularly worried or concerned--we just stood in front of a house as though its walls would somehow shield us. There was no panic. I don't even recall being bothered by the sea water that splashed in and would, presumably, have made us wet and hit our heads, splashing into eyes and nose. This was clearly not a real life tsunami. One probably cannot be held responsible for what one dreams, but I feel rather guilty about having had this vision of what, in truth, is a devastating and terrifying event that actually kills people and imposes a severe hardship in its aftermath. It was almost a bit of a "reverse nightmare" where the bad things that, under the circumstances, would have happened in real life did not.

The night before last, it was clear in my dream that both my grandparents had passed away--as they have in real life with my grandmother passing away nearly two years ago and my grandfather, perhaps symbolically, passing away on December 31, 1999. What was strange, however, was they had somehow--toward the later years of their lives--moved to an apartment that I had never seen. I--and possibly other members of my family--went there for some reason that I do not recall. I do not have the impression that the apartment had been sold, and I have no idea why they would have moved there.

This latter dream parallels a number of dreams I have had about moving. Often, I dream that I never checked out and moved my things from the apartment that I rented back in college. There have also been dreams about moving away from the farm where my family lived in Denmark in the early to mid-1970s. One time, we somehow skipped the one we moved to before coming to the U.S., having already moved to the U.S.without vacating the Danish property.

Dreams about complications and delays in moves might clearly be related to my discomfort with change. Any alternative interpretation or interpretation of last night's dream?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Government accounting standards

Back many years ago in the MBA program, I took a class on Accounting Policy. One day, the professor made an off-hand comment that has intrigued me ever since: If the Government used the same accounting standards as businesses do, it would, in fact, be running large surpluses rather than deficits.

Although the specifics of both government and industry accounting are complex, the basic difference is that government accounting is based largely on income and spending. In industry, in contrast, credit is given for money spent to buy or produce a long term asset. That is, when the government creates a highway or building, the money spent is ordinarily "expensed" when payment is made. In contrast, when a firm builds a new factory, the money spent is generally balanced on the books with an asset that reflects the long term value of the investment made. Over time, a factory is then "depreciated," recognizing that it has a finite lifespan and future income generating potential.

What does this mean? It does not mean that it is OK to run up unlimited budget deficits as a way to "invest" in the future. Even if the money is put to good use, large deficits result in the so-called "crowding out" phenomenon: As the government borrows more money and pays increasingly higher interest rates, it is more difficult for businesses to borrow money. When firms have to pay higher interest rates, that reduces investment since, with higher interest rates and less certainty of the availability of capital, many new investments--such as factory expansion and new product development--become less attractive or, in technical terms, have a lower "net present value." Consumers, too, will generally--all other things being equal--end up paying higher interest rates on credit cards, mortgages, and other loans.

What these Government accounting standards do suggest is that not all budget deficits are created equal. Money spent on projects that--worthy as they may be--do not generate lasting value are more serious than those which create a long term asset. One can question whether we need another freeway, but once it has been constructed, it will be around for a while. Similarly, investing in education can result--from a purely pragmatic point of view--in a more competent and productive work force.

It should also be noted that, if put off, the maintenance of certain infrastructure such as power grids, bridges, and water distribution can become a lot more expensive in the future. As such, then, investing in those facilities that are Government operated and providing tax incentives for upgrades to privately owned facilities may make good fiscal sense.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Dinge Dong

Each year, many European countries participate in the Eurovision Song Contest. As the name suggests, each country selects a song to be sung at an annual event that alternates among locations. Many of these songs become hits.

In 1975, the Netherlands' entry, sung by a group named Teach-In, won. The song was reportedly criticized for its apparent non-sense title and lyrics.

When songs are "ported" from one language to another, the lyrics are changed completely. For example, the lyrics that go with the melody of the song "Killing Me Softly With His Song" in Danish go "Chicken, hotdogs, and soft serve ice cream." When the song "Ding Dong" was ported to Danish, it became "Dinge Dong." Now it involves a woman on her wedding day reflecting on the impending event. The "dinge dong" first refers to the sound of her alarm clock and later to the church bells that ring. "Listen to how [the bells] bring joy with each beat." Some of the additional lyrics go "I am wide awake and can hear someone. The mail carrier rings the bell. There are letters and cards. Many people have written to congratulate. Flowers in bouquets and telegrams. ... With a 'Yes' and 'Amen,' we are tied together and you are mine from today on."

My family left Denmark for California in November of 1978. At that time, the song was popular and something apparently stuck with me. For the last two years, I asked friends from Denmark if they knew the song. Nobody could identify it based on the few fragments of the lyrics I could remember back then. However, my cousin suggested that I contact Radio Denmark and they identified the song for me two weeks ago. I was able to order the CD by mail and it arrived today.

This is a touching song. It almost seems it must be to be remembered after more than thirty years.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010


One of Stevie Wonder's lesser known songs is rather concisely titled "As." Listening to the lyrics, I would have guessed that the title would have been something like "I'll Be Loving You Always," but for some reason the briefer and less descriptive title prevailed.

Arguably, "As" is Stevie Wonder's best song. Not only is touching; the similes are amazing. Unfortunately, the song does not show up on any of the "greatest hits" and other compilation albums.

One potential reason that this song did not do well on the chart is its length--seven minutes and eight seconds. The late singer Harry Chapin once remarked at a concert that he had difficulty getting his songs played on the radio because they tended to be "too long." He joked that he once had a song--W*O*L*D--which made it to the charts and "stayed there for fifteen minutes." It was actually more like eight, but for the radio, eight is apparently too much.