January 11th, 2010
12:13 PM GMT
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For an entertaining, thought-provoking and sometimes infuriating read, Marc Faber’s aptly titled “The Gloom, Boom & Doom Report” fits the bill. Among the wide swath of topics he tackles in his New Year’s Day edition this year, this section on the potential for cyber attacks jumped out at me:

“I, for one, am convinced that sometime in this next decade we shall experience successful cyber attacks, which may result in electricity blackouts, airport control tower failures, traffic jams, train and underground collisions, erroneous missile launches, a breakdown of the Internet, and so on.

“And whereas I perfectly understand their entire investment strategy around such highly disruptive events, they should at least prepare themselves for the day, week, month or even year when they may not be able to access or use their credit cards, bank and brokerage accounts, the Internet, and their mobile phones, and when they may have to live without oil and electricity amidst acute food shortages and poisoned water…

“It’s all wonderfully depressing, and some readers will consider me to be an alarmist. But the fact is that the likelihood of one or other of these conditions occurring sometime in the future is actually rather high. Therefore, I advise my readers to take out some insurance (but not with … any insurance company) in term for being prepared for an emergency situation.

“I suppose most people keep a small toolbox in their cars for emergencies, a fifth wheel in case of a flat tire (the Fed chairman doesn’t need a spare wheel because he wouldn’t know how to replace one in the first place), and a small home pharmacy for treating minor injuries. So, being prepared in the event of a major disruption in our lives might be considered prudent (especially if other people, such as small children) and not just an unnecessary warning by an insane alarmist. Hoping that all will go well is just not an option at this stage.”

Yikes! Sounds like science fiction. But as he quotes Arthur C. Clarke, famed writer of “2001: A Space Odyssey”: “If we have learned one thing from the history of invention and discovery, it is that, in the long run – and often in the short one – the most daring prophecies seem laughably conservative.”

January 11th, 2010
10:16 AM GMT
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Tokyo, Japan - Today is a joyous national holiday in Japan known as the Coming of Age Day. The day marks the time when girls and boys become women and men.

Young people celebrate Coming of Age Day in Tokyo.
Young people celebrate Coming of Age Day in Tokyo.

All over Tokyo, young women who are turning 20 this fiscal year are decked out in the fanciest, brightest, and most expensive kimonos you’ll ever see. Young men show up in the sharpest (and likely their first) black suit. The women are adorned with all the stylings of youth: huge hair, flowers, furs and silk. You have to forgive them if they’ve gone a bit over the top — you only become an adult once in Japan.

At the Shibuya ward office, 1450 people arrived at the important Coming of Age Day this January 11, 2010. Compare that number to years past, and you get a glimpse into one of Japan’s most pressing economic problems.

Five years ago, Shibuya ward had 1,917 people turn 20. Ten years ago, that number was 2,462. Twenty years ago, it was 4,380. That’s a steady decline in 20 years, down almost 70 percent. The number of young people is declining, not just in Shibuya, but all over Japan.

The birth rate in Japan is 1.37, among the lowest in the world. Japanese women, in survey after survey, report they’re holding back from having children because of the lack of daycare, inequity of domestic duties in marriage, career concerns and the high cost of living in Japan.

At the same time, the number of elderly is growing. By 2050, Japan’s government predicts 40 percent of its population will be over the age of 65. It’s a crippling population problem which analysts say will make this current recession and recovery look like a brief hiccup.

Japan celebrates its young today. But the joy diminishes every year.

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