Archive for September, 2008

Apathy: Presidential Politics and the Spirit of the Age

Saturday, 12 September 2008

I should be excited about the presidential election in America this year. The Democrats had a thrilling presidential primaries which pitied Hilary Clinton against Barack Obama; a white woman vs. a black man. It went to the wire, yet it seemed so meaningless.

Maybe it’s because I live and have lived on the opposite side of the world for more than a decade and I no longer feel “in touch” with America.

Maybe it’s because I decided to stop “consuming” mainstream media after the run-up to the war in Iraq, and now the power-struggles of the elite have taken backseat to the power-struggles of the weak and marginalized.

Maybe it’s because I have succumbed to the spirit of the age: Apathy.

Just look at the way I described the Democrat’s presidential primary in my first paragraph; it’s like how I might describe a new season of “24” or “Lost.”  It’s entertainment that I no longer find entertaining. It’s a fad that has fallen out of fashion. But more importantly it demonstrates that apathy has taken over, because something that should have significance has lost all its meaning.


A life-long friend recently contacted me through facebook. He wanted to share his thought about Palin, McCain and the GOP’s choice for VP. He also wished for me to share my thoughts, but as I said above, the election seems so meaningless.

Here is what my friend wrote:


by Paul  Sept. 6 2008

So, I’m thinking about the whole Palin thing and listening to Paul Simon while I should be working…

I certainly don’t share the GOP’s politics, but damn they understand strategy and know how to compete in elections.

So you’re a white voter. Maybe you’re one of those Ohio or Pennsylvania or Florida Dems who subconsciously (or consciously) doesn’t feel comfortable voting for the black guy. Or maybe you’re a Hillary supporter who still feels bitter. (In the words of Johnny Rotten, “Ever get the feeling you been cheated?”) But Obama would be a historic choice…

Voila! Now voting for a 72 year old wealthy white Republican IS a historic choice! No need to feel guilty! You’re striking a blow for women everywhere by smashing the glass ceiling! (It’s helpful to forget that the GOP helped kill the ERA and that they’ve consistently opposed legislation to give women equal pay for equal work. And let’s not even get started on reproductive freedom…) That’s what Palin is: a permission slip.

The choice also goes along way toward neutering Joe Biden, particularly in the debates. If he crushes Palin with his superior knowledge and experience, he looks like a bully. If he backs off, Palin – who is smart and not easily intimidated – looks like his equal. The bar is set pretty low for her, as it was for Bush.

While I tip my hat to Republican strategists, I find the hypocrisy of the choice almost unbearable. Let me get this straight: for three months you’ve been hammering away at Obama – particularly on national security – because of his lack of experience. So, while running the oldest candidate in history who’s already had a couple of bouts with skin cancer, you choose a woman whose been governor of one of the least populous states in the nation for 20 months?

Also, why exactly is the stuff about Palin’s pregnant daughter off limits? Seems to me that if you tout your conservative Christianity and “family values” as reasons for people to vote for you and if you actively oppose sex ed and contraception for adolescents, you should expect to face a few questions about how you square your beliefs with the behavior of your seventeen year old, pregnant, unwed daughter. And by the way, why are you an affront to morality and American culture if you support gay folks who marry and settle down, but a paragon of virtue for championing a daughter who CLEARLY doesn’t buy in to the abstinence only stuff? Could that be… GASP… moral relativism?!

One last thing: Sarah Palin has foreign policy experience because Alaska is close to Russia… Palin has more executive experience as mayor of Wasilla (pop. 6700) than Obama and Biden combined… I don’t really have a punchline here. It’s preposterousness of PYROTECHNIC proportions. When someone says stuff like this, you half expect them to be struck down by lightning. Any reporter who does not IMMEDIATELY sock these people with an enormous polo mallet full of horse manure should have his/her press pass permanently revoked.


Thoughts; do I have any thoughts?


I suppose I do. But I’ve also heard the thoughts of others.  For example, Tony, an American guy from Singapore who I met at Glenda’s house on Friday night made something similar to the following statement: “I wouldn’t vote for her [Palin], but she’s a MILF.”


Then there was the ‘Hot Mike’ excerpt from some Republican strategist which got posted to You Tube  in which they remarked that Palin is a “cynical” choice all about “narrowing” the ticket to appease the religious right wing of the party, and then there’s Paul thoughts about how this might in fact plausible strategy that will effectively steal votes from the Democrats because it subtly uses gender and race to distract both the voters and the candidates from the issues.  


 To a certain extent I think everyone is right. For example, since I have chosen to cut myself off from mainstream media, I saw none of either convention. When Tony first called her a MILF, I assumed it was sarcastic and I assumed that when I googeld her I would get a Bushesque matriarch. I was rather stunned when the first picture appeared.
















Obviously I knew that this picture was photo-shopped, but it still wasn’t like anything I would have imagined and I have a vivid imagination. Then the thought struck me: Tony’s right in a sex-sells kind of way.



 After I googled her image I then began a more extensive inquiry. I stumble first upon her religious views and then upon the ‘hot mike’ conversation between Republican strategists (same as above). The fact that she admits to being a religious conservative and the fact that she has said she often prays for gas pipes certainly makes her choice as narrow and as cynical as the Republican strategists suggest. It seems obvious that certain advisors in the McCain camp want to pander to the religious right. Furthermore, she is a perfect “trophy VP” for all the oil money that has poured in to the McCain coffers .   


Finally, Paul is right, because politics is more often than not about the irrational: Fears (conscious and subconscious), beliefs and values. I especially think that Paul is right that suddenly Palin makes McCain, for some voters, a more plausible choice. They can defend/rationalize their choice; it becomes more acceptable in a deceptionally historic kind of way.


But more importantly choosing Palin helps to distract the candidates and the voters from the issues. Obama has said that Palin’s 17-year old daughter’s child out of wedlock is “out of bounds.” But regardless of whether the candidates say it’s in or out of bounds the idea is already in play as a kind of distracting side-show which the media will be sure to monitor. The more time the media, the candidates and the people worry about what is and isn’t in/out of bounds the less discussion there is of the issues.


And there are plenty of issues that need to be discussed; for example:  The economy, the abuse of complicated financials by the finance industry, energy (fossil fuels vs. alternatives), the budget and it’s deficit, the budget and it’s pork, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (their costs – moral, financial and in the number of human lives), nuclear proliferation, medical research (stem cells, HIV, and of course everyone’s favorite malaria), government debt, civil liberties/privileges (freedom of choice vs. pro-life, spying on citizens, Gitmo and the lack of due process, net neutrality, voting rights in the electronic age, drinking age and college culture that promotes binge drinking), the relationship between education and innovation, and so forth…       


My final thought is: In essence the candidates shouldn’t matter as much as they seem to, because they ought to be vehicles for a policy platform, but both parties try to avoid the issues. If both parties are avoiding the issue or only pay lip service to the issues, how does it matter? Even though I will vote as a kind of habitual reflex action, I guess this why for me apathy has won.


 **This post was delayed because I was waiting for Paul’s permission J**

Friday, September 19th, 2008

House of Cards

Friday, 19 September 2008

I am an insignificant monthly investor. I only put away a few hundred dollars a month. I have been doing this regularly since 2004. got me started and I now have a small diversified portfolio of about 12-15 stocks and ETFs.

I have been rather smug at my cautious approach. Although my portfolio hadn’t exactly fared well (down 10% on 9/13), I was certain that many people with more money and investment acumen had fared worse.

A week has passed and I’m feeling a lot less smug. My portfolio lost another 10% of its value thanks in a large part to AIG.

Through facebook I said to Paul:

Things seem to be falling apart nicely in the US these days. Merrill Lynch, Bear and Stearns, Lehmans Brothers, WashMu, Countrywide, AIG, Fred and Fan all terminal.

I successfully steered clear of most of this mess, but AIG hurt me. Thankfully I can’t lose a lot of money because I don’t have a lot of money to invest, but I did lose about a month’s pay on my AIG investment, and to think they were supposed to be Blue Chip. I avoided most financial stocks because I knew that it was only a matter of time before the house of cards that they began building in the late 90’s would come crashing down. I figured that an issurance company whose job is to manage risk through the selling of insurance policies would understand what deratives to invest in and which ones to thumb one’s nose at. Obviously I was wrong. Seriously wrong.

Yup, it was supposed to be Blue Chip but I guess cheese is where it’s at because Kraft is replacing AIG on the Dow.

I remember reading an article in the Economist in the late 1990s that looked at the pros and cons of derivatives, hedge funds and other complex financials. The article, after looking at the two sides of the issues concluded that complex financials were all about risk management and how, it believed, that the financial community was getting very good at assessing and placing a value on risk.

A couple of years later I remember Warren Buffet saying how complex financials are just too complex for anyone to understand therefore how can you know if they are correctly priced.

It seems that Warren Buffet was more correct than the Economist. I wonder if Warren was for or against going into Iraq. The Economist certainly took Bush and Blair’s bait; hook, line, and sinker. I wonder if the Oracle of Omaha was as prescience about Iraq as he was about the impending implosion of our financial institutions. I think this is something I will have to check out.

In any event, because no one knew how to price and, therefore, value these complex financials, we are experiencing the biggest realignment of our financial institutions since the 1930s. Hmm, didn’t the last major financial crisis start under Republican stewardship? Is this just coincidence or a suspicious trend? Is George Bush the next Herbert Hoover? Actually, he isn’t, because Hoover was slow to open the magic piggy bank (link/archive) to the collapsing firms. Hoover truly believed in small government and that government is separate from business. Bush is from Texas so he doesn’t do anything small and he has no illusion about what his role in government is. After all he was a failed businessman himself, before government (politics) rescued him. He is in office to make sure the magic piggy bank is available to those institutions that need it.

Friday, September 19th, 2008

The Patio/Garden Office

Monday, 8 Sept. 2008

We are happily all moved into our new apartment. Everything is unpacked, but seemingly nothing has been found.

Moving in Korea has its advantages and disadvantages. On the upside, all that you are responsible for are your valuables and keepsakes. You gather them up and let the moving company do the rest. In Korea moving companies pack up your old place and unpack it in the new place. They can do both in less than half a day. (Our moving company arrived a little after 1:30 pm and departed from our new apartment a little after 5:30 pm.) On the downside, even though we are all moved in, we still can’t find a bloody thing and it’s been almost a week since the move.

The new place is palatial compared to the old place. Anyone who remembers the apartment at English Village should remember the claustrophobic feelings it tended to generate.  That apartment, which we lived in for two-and-a-half years, seemed like an elevator caught between the twelfth and thirteenth floors.

We are still waiting on IKEA to deliver some additional furnishings. We are short a bed or two, we lack desks, a couch and a kitchen table. We also lack a working TV, but that not an item that Anna and I believe is a must have item, so we’ll wait until after the new-year and buy ourselves a flat-screen TV.  Last year there were steep discounts on various models of flat-screen TV in February. We almost bought one then, but decided againt it because we had no space for it.

 Anna, however, did make a huge score on moving day. Some people in our apartment complex wanted to get ride of their four-piece, hardwood wardrobe set (see picture below). They said it was going to cost them $500 to have it removed and they were willing to give it to us for free if we could find someone willing to move it. Anna somehow convinced our moving company that the wardrobe set was actually ours and now that we had a larger apartment we would like to make use of it. The moving company believed her. Seeing how the wardrobe set is only slightly smaller than our last apartment, I suppose it seemed like a plausible story.  

Wardrobes are seen as a necessary item in Korean apartments because Korean apartments tend to lack a dearth of closet space. Furthermore, wardrobe sets are typically given as wedding gifts when a new couple moves into their first apartment. Because they tend to be bought by the parents, grandparents or some combination of the two, they are seen as being extravagant presents. Consequently, they are priced accordingly. Anna did a little research online and determined that to get a similar wardrobe set made of a similar hardwood would run us in today’s market close to $US 10,000! Thankfully I had already had my morning constitutional, or otherwise I would have shit myself. I just hope my IKEA bed-frame and mattress doesn’t develop an inferiority complex hanging out with the rich, elitist wardrobe clique.

One thing I especially love about our new place is the patio garden we have. Even though we live in one of those concrete apartment complexes common throughout the developing world, we have a first floor apartment. A first floor apartment in this complex comes with a nice little benefit, a garden/patio that effectively increases the size of our apartment by 6-8 pyoung. The patio/garden comes with a picnic table, a parasol, and a BBQ. I’m looking forward to using the BBQ this holiday weekend. It’ll be Chuseok (Thanksgiving) here in Korea this weekend.

The patio/garden is also the perfect place to steal bandwidth from unsecured -home wireless networks.  It’s not ideal because the signals tend to come and go – In fact they tend to go more often than they come, but until we can get high-speed internet dude to set us up, I will be forced to make the picnic table my home-office. In terms of atmosphere it’s an excellent place to work. I might even add my own wireless router to the cacophony of wireless signals, so that I can continue to enjoy my patio/garden office but with a more predictable signal. 

      larger size (link 1link 2)

       larger size (link 3link 4)

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008