Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Art of Living

Cool post up on LifeHack today, entitled How to Live Artfully.

Makes a very important point - that being good at life (i.e. happy) is skill we should actively be cultivating - and starts on some basic ways to do so.

Saturday, December 06, 2008


Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
-Albert Einstein

I can't think of a better quote to describe today's world. While the specifics of our economic crisis are complex, the fundamental reason behind it is fairly basic: too much debt. Individuals can't pay back their mortgages, so banks (who lent money to these individuals) can't pay back their loans.

The lesson? Don't lend money to people who aren't likely to pay it back. And don't take on too much debt.

So what does our government do? Take on unprecedented levels of sovereign debt to lend money to financially unstable companies. Insanity.

With an auto industry bailout more than likely, the flood gates are poised to be thrown open, with every industry asking for their share of government aid. And the fact is that many of these companies will go under even with government aid - we're not going to get some of the money back.

My problem here isn't government involvement in private industry, and I'm not railing against these moves on the grounds of destruction of moral hazard (though both are substantial points, especially the latter - we really are setting an awful precedent of privatization of gains and socialization of losses).

But, very simply, in light of recent and potential future government action, I fear for the solvency of our nation. During this crisis, banks and businesses have gone (and will continue to go) bankrupt doing the same thing that our government is now doing, and that's scary. What's that? Youu say America going under sound can't happen? Tell that to Iceland.

One of the philosophical miscalculations behind this economic crisis was the systematic underpricing of risk, and I worry we're making the same mistake now. It's very similar Nassim Nicholas Taleb's thesis in Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness - that we underestimate the likelihood of highly improbably but potentially devastating events.

In the financial world, these events are, for example, currency movements or interest rate changes - the types of things that can (and have) blown up hedge funds and banks.

My argument, then, is that we are similarly underpricing the risk of negatively game-changing geopolitical events, leaving us more susceptible to sovereign insolvency than we've ever been. Figuratively speaking, we're walking the tight rope without a net. As we increase leverage, we owe other nations more and more money, subsequently increasing the likelihood of a circumstance where we don't have enough money to pay those countries back.

Or, more simply, if something else goes wrong - an Israel/Iran or India/Pakistan war, a mega natural disaster, a Chinese currency devaluation, a major terrorist attack, more bank/company failures, etc. - we're very possibly screwed.

And in today's world, something else probably will go wrong...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Let's define "Anti-American"

It's a bit absurd how low the Republican party is going these days. The latest wave of attacks has thrown the word "Anti-American" out there in describing both Obama and certain parts of the country (San Francisco and the Bay Area, my home, probably being one of those parts).

The divisiveness (and hatred) in these people scares me, especially when you couple it with their apparent ignorance. In their eyes, it seems that doing or saying anything to criticize our country is "Anti-American".

Let's break that down, in ways even the most die-hard Republican would understand. Every Sunday, I sit down and watch the 49ers play. For the majority of this decade, that has been a painful experience. When coaches make dumb decisions, I tend to get angry. I probably call them names, in the heat of the moment. I also discuss with friends why those decisions are dumb, and what I thought should have been done instead. For example, a few weeks ago, the Niners were down by 6 late in 4th against the Pats. The Pats had the ball, 3rd and 20, on our 40 - basically 5-10 yard out of field goal range. On that play, the Niners didn't blitz, only rushed 3 guys, and gave the Pats ample time to pick up 10 yards on a short pass. They kicked a field goal, going up by 9 and essentially putting the game out of reach.

That's a dumb decision. We should have blitzed in hopes of not letting the Pats gain a yard and forced a punt, giving us a chance to win the game. And I said it, and called friends and we all bitched about it together, wishing for Nolan's firing and the like.

Sound familiar? And, more importantly (to the Palin-crazies in the world), do you see the parallel? I love the 49ers. And yet I can criticize them. And call their leaders names. And point out, rationally, what they're doing wrong and how it should be fixed.

Is Jeremiah Wright right (no pun intended) for saying awful things about American? Absolutely not. But have you listened to his speeches? Yes, he says "God Damn America" (much like most Sundays I'm left saying "God Damn 49ers"), but have you been to the South-side of Chicago? I haven't, but if it's anything like West Philly (of which I really only got a taste in my 4 years there) - and apparently it's worse - then, yes, God Damn Us for not doing our job. We need to be providing education and social programs to clean up the streets and keep kids in schools.

And Bill Ayers? I'm mostly playing devil's advocate, but I think he has a defense too. Yes, he bombed our own buildings, which is awful. But, his intent was never to kill (and other than one accident involving a member of his group), and he never did.

So, sure, he caused tons of property damage. But who is more on the wrong - the government that orders us into foreign soil, resulting in the loss of thousands of civilian and military lives, or the person who goes too far in trying to call attention to our poor decision?

Think about it. Who loves a country more - those of us who refuse to believe we can do any wrong, or those of us who stand up and call our country out when we do stupid things?

Friday, October 10, 2008

I've always wondered this...

Basically, why is the extremes in sizes always end up being the ones that end up at discount stores? I sort of buy the guy's argument - that it's a form of price discrimination - but, still, something strikes me as not quite right.

Then again, the flip side is that if these companies could be making more money by varying production levels of different sizes, they probably would have already done so. Who knows.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

What is wrong with the Republican Party?

Today, the McCain campaign unleashed its first wave of new attacks - on Obama's character. Why it has come to this is baffling.

Does anyone ever wonder what happened to the Republicans? I'm not sure where to start. Perhaps at the top - if you can separate issues into social and economic, why do the ideas of the intolerant and stupid (NO on abortion, stem cells, gay marriage, healthcare, and just about everything but guns and creationism) have to be tied together with a rational, sound economic philosophy (less regulation, free trade, etc.)? But that's a tirade for a different day.

Also, thanks to the last 8 years, the Republicans are no longer the party of smaller government. Despite McCain and Palin's cries to "reign in spending," there is little evidence from their past to suggest we'll see a significant change in the size of government in a McCain administration (and if McCain gets us into another war, spending will go up even more). But again, this is also a tirade for another day.

What boggles my mind right now is why the Republicans have become the party of lies, secrecy, incuriousness, and dumb/puppet candidates. With the above worries, you can sort of see how it all played out (the demographics forced politicians to pander to the South and Midwest for the first concern, and Bush being an idiot caused the second).

For all the presidential elections of this decade, you've seen the Repubilicans far more than the Democrats engage in smear tactics and dirty politics. Sure, there are lies on both sides, but tweaking numbers to come up with impressive statistics when attacking an opponent's tax plan just doesn't compare to claiming Obama wanted to teach sex ed to kindergartners.

Why? Why do they need to lie about these things? Why do they need to resort to smears and character attacks? Our country is in dire shape, and when we need to talk about the issues most, they're essentially saying they want to use the final month of the campaign to attack Obama's character.

And why do the Republicans have to so actively glorify stupidity and incuriousness? What the hell is good about being "shooting from the hip" when that involves oversimplifying real world situations and making mistakes (Iraq - "oh I bet they have nukes" or Katrina - "they'll be ok"). And why do they have to select such dumb candidates??? McCain doesn't know the first thing about the economy. Think about that for a second - EVERY law on the books has some sort of economic impact (for example, speed limits affect driving habits affect gas consumption). To elect a presidential nominee who does not grasp the basic principles of economics is insanity.

And then there is Sarah Palin. The woman drives home all of these stereotypes - she doesn't understand any economic or foreign policy issues, and she PURPOSEFULLY speaks like a moron because she wants to connect with Middle America.

There was a basic lesson of the past 8 years - dumb, incurious people who are hotheaded and don't listen to others make HORRIBLE Presidents. So, the Republicans present us with... John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Now are we bombarded with outright lies and character attacks on Obama. And McCain and Palin don't go to the bathroom without running it by their campaign managers to make sure it's ok. And we're left wondering who is really pulling the strings, and why the Republican Party has come to this.

What sucks is that the net result of all this is to drag down the discourse of the campaigns - now Obama is planning to hit back with an attack on McCain's role in the Keating Five scandal in the late 80's (though even this is a little better than just taking swipes at associations, like the McCain camp is doing). I hope it doesn't happen, but the last month of the election could really devolve into a smearfest (significantly more so than it already has).

But there is one glimmer of hope - call me crazy, but I think we could see the end of the Republicans at some point. Political parties don't last forever, and you can't help but ask yourself what exactly it is that this one stands for these days. If Obama can continue and expand on his momentum, we could see a landslide victory for him - imagine he goes so far as getting North Carolina, Indiana, and Missouri (meaning he definitely picks up Florida, Virginia, Ohio, and Colorado) - crossing 375 electoral votes isn't out of the question. That sort of stinging defeat combined with the Dems picking up a super majority (60 seats) in the Senate (an outside shot that grows in likelihood with each passing day), and maybe the end of the Republicans might not be so far-fetched.

And wouldn't that be a great thing. The party that rises in their ashes could really move this country forward.

Friday, October 03, 2008

True Change

Fred Wilson has a great post up on AVC on what our country needs right now. And it's change. A lot of it. Our country is so screwed in so many ways - broken healthcare and education, crumbling foreign relations, and now this $700 billion (actually the new version is closer to $800 billion, I believe) bailout plan. Not to mention, we don't have the money for any of this, and we're plunging deeper in debt. This paragraph, in my mind, summed up what we need to do:

We have global ambitions that we cannot afford but we still pretend we can. We have tax revenues that do not cover our spending. And we don’t have the will to cut our spending. And in many cases, we cannot afford to cut our spending. We should not cut our spending on infrastructure, we should increase it. We should not cut our spending on finding cleaner and smarter forms of energy, we should increase it. We should not cut our spending on education, we should increase it. We should not live with the terrible health care system we currently have, we should fix it. And we continue to spend money on things like tax breaks for oil companies and subsidies for farmers that mystify me and most Americans. And we spend a lot of money fighting vices like drugs, prostitution, and gambling when we should simply legalize them, tax them, and regulate them and turn them into a profit center.

Interesting thought, especially the last part. It might sound like blasphemy to some, but I think it's coming, sooner rather than later. We're just way too in debt to be worried about spending federal money to enforce laws of morality. They're fairly pointless - not only do they not work (as the Prohibition taught us, people will engage in these activities despite the laws), but they cost the federal government money. The government should making money on this stuff, not losing it.

Very, very interesting times ahead...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

My favorite issues

Are the ones that rise above party politics in a hilarious and interesting way.

What prompted this post?

It's a thought sure to turn heads. Paying citizens to not reproduce. Disgusted? Intrigued? The reactions run the spectrum, I'm sure, though many are probably immediately repulsed.

And we should be. It's an awful thought, one that conjures images of Nazi Germany, among other things (as the reporter points out).

But if disgust is your only reaction, you're probably haven't been somewhere very poor and overpopulated. The land of my birth (India), for all its beauty and greatness, certainly is such a place. This type of policy, if implemented, would provide immediate relief to the hundreds of millions of citizens who are currently starving on the streets (if you're still repulsed that I sound like I'm endorsing this, which I'm not necessarily, read that number again - a population larger than that of America starving on the streets). Furthermore, it will pave the way to a smaller and more sustainable population.

Take a step back. In the grand scheme of things, the issue is way bigger than people living on welfare. Our current population growth, as a species, is fundamentally unsustainable. Unless the people all over the world realize this and start to have fewer babies (a possibility, albeit an unlikely one), at some point in the future, we will have to implement state-required birth control or, worse, mandatory sterilization. If that's the future, offering money on a voluntary basis for sterilization doesn't seem like such a bad idea.

Just a thought. But now the bigger point - if this future does pan out, and we need to implement some sort of limit on children, which party do you think will champion the cause? In the video, it's a Republican from the South (who contrasts greatly with the subtly shocked and "morally superior" CNN host). But, in the future, I'd bet it's the Democrats (the party of abortion and big government) that would be pushing such a bill (in a sense, it could even be seen as an issue of environmental policy).

Another interesting issue is that of marijuana legalization, and, specifically, the case of Gonzales v. Reich. In short, the case pitted the federal government against a California medical marijuana user who was growing his own marijuana.

This is classic liberals vs. conservatives, right? Wrong. Yes, you had liberal marijuana legalization advocates on the side of Reich. But another group rallied to his cause: far right libertarians. For this group, possible opposition to marijuana use was dwarfed by their desire for states' rights, and this was textbook case of state government against federal jurisdiction.

It's always fascinating when groups on polar opposite sides of the political spectrum are united by a common cause. Anyone know any other great examples?

Is this news?

So, what they're saying is, in our economy, with our structure of rewarding profits and punishing losses, with companies needing to show continued growth and returns to keep their stock up, banks were pressuring citizens to take on loans that might not have been in their best interest? Shocking!

As a sidenote, the one positive that will come out of our economic mess is a drastic contraction of the financial industry. We need more of our smartest workers creating actual value, instead of pushing money around (I know they do more than that, but it's crucial we have the bulk of our intellectual capital invested in the production of goods and services rather than in finance).

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

So much to say

So today...

Congress still didn't pass the bailout bill (and I'm not sure it should).

McCain decided to suspend his campaign and go back to Washington to "work on the crisis" (whatever that means). This means that the debate on Friday is probably off.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the American Empire is nearing its end, all but repeated his desire to wipe Israel off the map.

And, thankfully, Obama continued to trend upward.

The word that comes to mind: chaos. It feels like this is the most chaotic world situation of my lifetime. But then again, I'm certainly more aware about the "world situation" now than I ever have been, so perhaps I'm speaking out of ignorance. Who really knows anymore...

In any case, I'll start to try to get some stuff on this blog in the coming days - each day I go to bed at night with the goal of cranking out a post, but between work emails and a sneaking in a TED video before I sleep, it hasn't been happening. I'll try to rectify that soon.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The 49ers could actually win the Super Bowl this year

Or, at least, anything is possible:

Right now, the 0-2 (and, last year, 1-15) Dolphins are destroying the Patriots (undefeated in their past 18 regular season games. Past that, Oakland is on the verge of being 2-1 (leading the undefeated Bills), and Cincinnati has a 3 point edge on the Giants. Granted, a ton of this could change in the next hour, but wow. Go Niners.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Why the name change?

Because the insanity is no longer virtual. It's practical and real. It's metaphysical, metaphorical, perhaps a little spiritual, and certainly grammatical. Banks are going under on Wall Street, and conflicts are stirring in Iraq and Russia and Israel. We're fighting a war on drugs and a war on terror and a war on poverty. The price of oil is soaring, along with temperatures. Now that we finally have enough to eat, we're eating too much, and dying because of it. We have the power to recreate the fractions of a second after the big bang but not to educate our youth. Our economy is... well, we're not quite sure what it's doing. And did I mention that our government has been using one credit card to pay off another for a really long time?

The rise and fall of civilizations have characterized our past as a species. But with the internet and onset of globalization, we stand at the threshold of a new world (and human) order, marked by connectivity, prosperity, and, just maybe, understanding. And despite all our progress, our entire way of life hinges on a myriad of factors - our environment and energy, among others - which today appear to dangle by the thinnest of threads. Or perhaps it's our hubris in thinking our times are somehow more critical, consequential, or trying than those which have passed.

So what does it all mean? I have no idea, only that I'm opening this blog up for a wider spectrum of posts (and I think I'm going to start posting more often). Stay tuned, but don't look down. And good luck - we're all counting on you.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Wind Energy

I haven't posted in a very long time, but I came across an article that finally prompted me to put something up here, even if it's just a quick thought:

As the rage around clean energy grows, I can't help but wonder if we're being as short-sighted now as we were when we began to pump and burn oil for energy. We can't play God with the resources around us and not expect there to be some consequences of our actions. Our problem today, though, is that we assume that we know exactly what these consequences are, when in reality, we have no idea.

As the article (slightly) touches on, we're not really sure what the impact of tapping into wind power will be. The same applies for solar as well. What happens when, 50-100 years down the line, a very significant portion of our power comes from these source? We know next to nothing about how global wind and solar patterns shape our weather, so how can rationally assume that altering these patterns will have no impact on one of a number of other variables?

For example, El Nino ( drastically changes the weather in many regions, an effect that spills over into agriculture and can often result in famine in poorer parts of the world. All of this from a phenomenon we can't completely explain or, more importantly, predict. Clearly, a few windmills here and there can't change too much, but there is no bright line to tell us how many windmills is too many, or, if there is, we certainly can't see it.

A similar argument could be made in solar power as well. For the entirety of our existance, some of the sun's energy has been trapped in our atmosphere, providing warmth and light and fueling life. How much of this energy do you need to take out of our ecosystem to trigger climate (or any other kind of) change?

I'm not saying that putting up solar panels and wind mills are a bad thing - I think they're very necessary and certainly a positive development. I'm just worried that we'll take it too far. Because we, as a species, often have the arrogance to believe we know all the consequences of our actions, even when they involve complex systems that we don't fully understand before we start meddling with them.

Saturday, February 09, 2008


First off, apologies the blog has been quiet. I've been busy.

Particularly, I've gotten a few people asking me why I haven't posted anything on the Microsoft's potential acquisition of Yahoo. I asked myself that question, and the best answer I could come up with was this - honestly, I really don't care.

Don't get me wrong - I realize it's a big deal and, if it goes through, will be one of the biggest and most important acquisitions in the history of the internet.

But personally, I've used either company's website only once in probably the past 4 or 5 years (since I ditched hotmail for gmail). And that once was a couple days ago.

I was on a computer in Huntsman, one of the Wharton buildings, trying to pull up some info to present to a group I'm in. I opened a browser and entered my search query into the box in the upper right corner. The results came up, but something was wrong - not only was I unable to find the web site I wanted, but, on the whole, the results just weren't as pertinent as they should be.

What in the world could be wrong? In the midst of trying to stall, I realized the problem - I was on Microsoft Live search. Penn, in its infinite wisdom, has shunned Google and Apple, installing nothing but PCs and letting Live Mail handle student email (instead of Gmail). Those PCs contained only Internet Explorer, pre-installed with Live search instead of Google in the upper right corner.

I think the incident is telling. On the whole, Google's offerings surpass Microsoft's and Yahoo's in terms of quality, and especially so in search, which is clearly the most important offering.

So where does that leave the merger? If it goes through, theres probably and 80% chance it'll be a mistake, like almost every other big merger. Perhaps the geniuses in Redmond will figure out a way to make it a success, but I doubt it.

And, really, it's not going to impact my life in much of a significant way - I get my search from Google and my news from CNN, Fox, BBC, and ESPN. So that's mostly why I haven't blogged about it, till now - together, I still won't use either today and they're probably even less likely to produce something that I might use in the future.