In a world of Google and Mapquest and that site that gives you a bird’s-eye view of the globe, this is retro at best. But this Barnes & Noble atlas would make an extraordinary gift for the high school student in your family. Or the college kid, except it’s too heavy to take back and forth to college each year (and even if it weren’t, you wouldn’t want to see it go). There is so much in it, from our planet’s place in the Milky Way and phenomenal double-page satellite photos of the continents at night, to a photo of the world’s tallest waterfall, to . . . well, the whole world.


Alex: ‘Three Democrats — Senators Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka of Hawaii and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana — joined 48 Republicans in supporting drilling by voting no. Please explain to me again why I should give money to the Democratic Party?’

☞ Because 48 Republicans voted the wrong way versus just 3 Democrats? And because with Gore or Kerry or whoever comes next, this would never have been proposed in the first place?


Gennady: ‘Goes like this: there is a fixed exchange rate between the dollar, pound and ruble: a pound of rubles costs 1 dollar.’

Anna: ‘Re your point yesterday that we see ‘close neighbors as more important than distant neighbors,’ I highly recommend The Monkeysphere. The language is a bit, uh, informal, but the insights and examples are unforgettable. Also relevant, from Jaron Lanier: ‘You have to draw a Circle of Empathy around yourself and others in order to be moral. If you include too much in the circle, you become incompetent, while if you include too little you become cruel. This is the ‘Normal form’ of the eternal liberal/conservative dichotomy.”

☞ The Monkeysphere is fun. But the language is a bit, uh, informal.


Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed the green highlights in yesterday’s column, perhaps ascribing them to St. Patrick’s Day. No, it was my exceptionally subtle way of suggesting shares of American Express. You know, the ‘green card’ folks. (Well, originally.) Retailers aren’t crazy about Amex because it takes a bigger slice out of each transaction than Visa or MasterCard. But in the wake of a seemingly decades-long litigation, banks can now offer their customers the Amex card. I think I even saw something from MBNA about switching Visa or MasterCard holders to Amex – presumably to get some of that premium Amex charges retailers. Not to mention what could be decades of newly prosperous Eastern European and Asian travelers, winers, and diners, who just might like the cachet – if our President doesn’t permanently turn the whole world away from anything with the word ‘American’ in it – of carrying the American Express card.

Another item I’ve picked up this week are the January 2007 25 LEAPS of Prepaid Legal Services (stock symbol, PPD; LEAPS symbol, VPXAE) at $11.80. With the stock at $35, you are paying a $1.80 premium for nearly two years’ control of the stock (being able to buy a $35 stock for $25 has an intrinsic value of $10, so paying $11.80 is paying a $1.80 premium). I know very little about the company – and it is controversial to say the least – but one of you who seems to have done his research likes it. (The company is doing well, he says, selling some kind of program to help cover people in the event of identity theft. He expects good results that he believes are not yet reflected in the stock price.)

I would stress, as always, that the sensible thing for most people is to invest steadily in two or three no-load, low expense mutual funds of the type I recommend at the back of my book. And to invest in the market only money they will truly not need to touch for many years. Certainly PPD LEAPS entail significant risk. Click here to see why. But say you’re rich and can afford to risk $11,800 for the right to buy 1,000 shares of PPD at $25 anytime between now and January 2007 (by which time any profit on the sale of the LEAPS would have gone ‘long-term’ and be lightly taxed). And say, further, that the stock rises 50%, to $52.50. Your $11,800 becomes $27,500 ($52.50 less the $25 strike price times 1000 shares), so you have more than doubled your money. More interesting than the return on a savings account – but with the very real risk that you could lose the entire $11,800 (less the value of the tax loss in lowering your income tax).

Have a great weekend. Hop up onto a satellite and take a look back at Earth. Or visit the Monkeysphere.


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