Sorry about the market, but look: As I’ve been suggesting, it was probably overvalued even before the awful bombing. Yesterday’s 6% drop, in light of these events, is not a big deal. The real news is that, amazingly, everything functioned just fine so far as I know, even as 2.3 billion shares traded hands in an orderly way.

So maybe the market drops another 3% today and then 1% Wednesday, and then a little rally, and then some more declines grind us down pretty much through the end of the year and – well, I don’t know where the Dow will go. But I do know that if you had told folks ten years ago, when the Dow was 3,000, that it would triple (not even counting dividends) over the coming decade, they would have been disbelieving. And if you had then added that, ‘yes, and people will be wringing their hands that it’s so low’ – that it had slipped below 9000 – they would have been more disbelieving still.

So I’d be a little surprised if we’ve seen the bottom. But it really isn’t the end of the world if stocks that were selling at 30 or 40 times earnings sell at 15 or 20 times earnings for a while. Or if we have a recession – we always used to have them – and earnings themselves decline, so there’s less ‘e’ in the price/earnings ratio by which to multiply.

Not that I wish this on us, obviously. I strongly don’t. Recessions are rotten, as are bear markets. But they end. It’s important to keep perspective.

I also think that for those lucky few of us who have some cash we can really risk, there are some interesting bets to begin to make. NOT ON MARGIN! Not until the credit card balances are paid off and the 10% car loan is paid off and there’s plenty of emergency money in the bank!

I’m buying a little Boeing ($36) and American and United Airlines (both around $18), because (a) Boeing, down 17% yesterday and at half its high for the year, is also a defense contractor (and they all went up yesterday); (b) all three have great brands and loyal customers; (c) the government won’t want them to go broke, not unlike the way it didn’t want Chrysler to go broke; (d) the hijacking problem may be pretty largely, and relatively inexpensively, solvable. (Sealing off the doors to the cockpit is one solution. But an even better one may be here.) This is risky! Airlines can go broke! Rising fuel prices will kill them, too! As will rising interest rates if we reflate all the way to inflation! So I really, really mean that you are probably best off not trying to play the market . . . but rather buying, month after month all your working life, shares in a couple of index mutual funds.

Still, these are some fliers I’m taking.

Two more: Juniper Networks, at $12, if only because I made such fun of it within the part year – the stock, not the company – at $244. And the Honda Motor Company, at $66.25 on the open yesterday (down from $80 the trading day before), because the Honda Insight gets 50 miles to the gallon, which could become a popular feature. (But what do I know about automobiles? I can barely tell a carburetor from a cauliflower.)

Even with these purchases (added to a portfolio already long oil-related stocks, REITs, and even a couple of defense contractors, among other dogs), I have only a fairly small proportion of my tongue-in-cheek vast fortune . . . getting less vast all the time . . . in stocks. But I much prefer buying Boeing at $36 than $70, Juniper at $12 than $244.

(Lest I appear to be bragging about this, please note that the TiVo stock I was so pleased with myself over – for about half an hour, when it doubled briefly – is now barely above $3, and heading into what may be a brutal tax-selling season. And I have lots of other patently stupid holdings as well . . . except that, for reasons I can’t really explain, I managed to avoid suggesting many of them to you here. A few. But I’m holding on to them, so even they are not dead yet.)

And now, back to Kabul.

No – wait:

Gregory Lawton: ‘Recently I’ve discovered the value of purchasing “reconditioned as new” products. Overstock.com is one retailer that sells reconditioned products. They look like new and usually contain the same warranty as a new product, but often at 25% (or more) discount off the retail price of a new product.’

And now, back to Kabul.

This remarkable e-mail has been making the rounds – you’ve probably already seen it – launched, apparently, by the college roommate of a man named Tamim Ansary, who grew up in Afghanistan. I am obviously no expert in any of this, but to me it seemed well worth reading.

Thu, 13 Sep 2001

Dear Friends,

Yesterday I heard a lot of talk about “bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age.” Ronn Owens, on KGO Talk Radio allowed that this would mean killing innocent people, people who had nothing to do with this atrocity, but “we’re at war, we have to accept collateral damage,” and he asked, “What else can we do? What is your suggestion?” Minutes later I heard a TV pundit discussing whether we “have the belly to do what must be done.”

And I thought about these issues especially hard because I am from Afghanistan, and even though I’ve lived here for 35 years I’ve never lost track of what’s been going on over there. So I want to share a few thoughts with anyone who will listen.

I speak as one who hates the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden. There is no doubt in my mind that these people were responsible for the atrocity in New York. I fervently wish to see those monsters punished.

But the Taliban and Ben Laden are not Afghanistan. They’re not even the government of Afghanistan. The Taliban are a cult of ignorant psychotics who captured Afghanistan in 1997 and have been holding the country in bondage ever since. Bin Laden is a political criminal with a master plan. When you think Taliban, think Nazis. When you think Bin Laden, think Hitler. And when you think “the people of Afghanistan” think “the Jews in the concentration camps.” It’s not only that the Afghan people had nothing to do with this atrocity. They were the first victims of the perpetrators. They would love for someone to eliminate the Taliban and clear out the rats nest of international thugs holed up in their country. I guarantee it.

Some say, if that’s the case, why don’t the Afghans rise up and overthrow the Taliban themselves? The answer is, they’re starved, exhausted, damaged, and incapacitated. A few years ago, the United Nations estimated that there are 500,000 disabled orphans in Afghanistan–a country with no economy, no food. Millions of Afghans are widows of the approximately two million men killed during the war with the Soviets. And the Taliban has been executing these women for being women and have buried some of their opponents alive in mass graves. The soil of Afghanistan is littered with land mines and almost all the farms have been destroyed . The Afghan people have tried to overthrow the Taliban. They haven’t been able to.

We come now to the question of bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age. Trouble with that scheme is, it’s already been done. The Soviets took care of it . Make the Afghans suffer? They’re already suffering. Level their houses? Done. Turn their schools into piles of rubble? Done. Eradicate their hospitals? Done. Destroy their infrastructure? There is no infrastructure. Cut them off from medicine and health care? Too late. Someone already did all that.

New bombs would only land in the rubble of earlier bombs. Would they at least get the Taliban? Not likely. In today’s Afghanistan, only the Taliban eat, only they have the means to move around. They’d slip away and hide. (They have already, I hear.) Maybe the bombs would get some of those disabled orphans, they don’t move too fast, they don’t even have wheelchairs. But flying over Kabul and dropping bombs wouldn’t really be a strike against the criminals who did this horrific thing. Actually it would be making common cause with the Taliban–by raping once again the people they’ve been raping all this time.

So what else can be done, then? Let me now speak with true fear and trembling. The only way to get Bin Laden is to go in there with ground troops. I think that when people speak of “having the belly to do what needs to be done” many of them are thinking in terms of having the belly to kill as many as needed. They are thinking about overcoming moral qualms about killing innocent people. But it’s the belly to die not kill that’s actually on the table. Americans will die in a land war to get Bin Laden. And not just because some Americans would die fighting their way through Afghanistan to Bin Laden’s hideout. It’s much bigger than that, folks. To get any troops to Afghanistan, we’d have to go through Pakistan. Would they let us? Not likely. The conquest of Pakistan would have to be first. Will other Muslim nations just stand by? You see where I’m going. The invasion approach is a flirtation with global war between Islam and the West.

And that is Bin Laden’s program. That’s exactly what he wants and why he did this thing. Read his speeches and statements. It’s all right there. AT the moment, of course, “Islam” as such does not exist. There are Muslims and there are Muslim countries, but no such political entity as Islam. Bin Laden believes that if he can get a war started, he can constitute this entity and he’d be running it. He really believes Islam would beat the west. It might seem ridiculous, but he figures if he can polarize the world into Islam and the West, he’s got a billion soldiers. If the West wreaks a holocaust in Muslim lands, that’s a billion people with nothing left to lose, even better from Bin Laden’s point of view. He’s probably wrong about winning, in the end the west would probably overcome–whatever that would mean in such a war; but the war would last for years and millions would die, not just theirs but ours. Who has the belly for that? Bin Laden yes, but anyone else?

I don’t have a solution. But I do believe that suffering and poverty are the soil in which terrorism grows. Bin Laden and his cohorts want to bait us into creating more such soil, so they and their kind can flourish. We can’t let him do that. That’s my humble opinion. — Tamim Ansary

 

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