Sunday, November 19, 2017

More on Trickle-Down Economics

How the GOP sees the world

The GOP tax "reform" plan -- in quotations because it's mostly a tax cut -- doubles down on trickle down economics: that giving more money to rich people and corporations will drive broader benefits for everybody else.  No serious economist believes this.  Even Wall Street is skeptical of the plan; they worry about the adverse impact on consumption and the housing market, and it may even trigger another recession(!!!).

New Yorker columnist John Cassidy best summarizes the counterarguments in his article covering a Reuters panel discussion featuring several experts.  Ex-Federal Reserves board member Alan Blinder and Moody's chief economist Mark Zandi showed charts showing no correlation between GDP growth and tax rates -- something that everybody outside the White House readily points out.  Another economist showed that tax cuts have historically gave more money into shareholders through dividend payouts, as opposed to making new investments or giving increased salaries to employees.

The final panelist, billionaire investor Mark Cuban, makes the point from a job creator's perspective: taxes are not the primary driver of hiring, salary or capex decisions; the most important business considerations are always supply-demand dynamics and competition.  Technology is another major factor: in the past 25 years we experienced two rounds of digital revolutions: internet boom of the '90s and smartphone boom of the 2000's, which created new industry giants such as Google, Alibaba, and Tencent.  These days a neighborhood store owner isn't losing sleep over tax rates, she is worried Amazon is eating her lunch!  Another round of technological dislocation is at our doorstep, as autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence/machine learning, and advanced manufacturing robotics become the norm -- these are guaranteed to create backlash and discomfort as many industries will be upended, putting many inappropriately-skilled workers out of comfy jobs.

Cuban also hits another common-sense point: if the intent is to give more money to the working class, why not cut payroll taxes, which everybody pays (as opposed to income taxes)?

Cassidy summarizes as follows:

"... The Republican tax plan is based on false premises; it won’t give the economy much of a boost; it will raise the deficit; it will primarily benefit corporate shareholders and C.E.O.s.  And, as Cuban said, it is a distraction from the great policy question of the day, which is how to insure at least a modicum of shared prosperity in an economy being roiled by technological change, global competition, and demographic transformation. [...] If Trump wanted to help out the working stiff, why didn’t he take Cuban’s advice and call for a cut in the payroll tax? To pay for the reduction, he could also have proposed abolishing, or substantially raising, the payroll tax’s upper-income threshold, which enables someone who earns a million dollars a year to escape the tax on about seven-eighths of his income. Such a policy package could have boosted take-home pay, financed itself, and also helped to reduce income inequality."

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Lesser of Two Evils


In light of the Roy Moore scandal, the important lesson is to NOT choose the Lesser of Two Evils(TM).  NEVER abandon your principles in the face of bad choices.

From Michael B Dougherty (National Review):

"...Telling yourself that 'this is war, and in war you have to make less than ideal choices' is a great way to excuse the destruction of your charity and the lifting of restraint, with collateral damage to your integrity.  Choosing the lesser of two evils is a fantastic way to prepare yourself to do worse and worse evils.  And following it to the end is a bitter fate indeed.

The worst tragedies of recent history were driven by masses of people giving in to existential fear and hatred.  There are many alive today in Central and Eastern Europe who made themselves into Fascists or Communists in order to resist or avenge the Communists and the Fascists. But the names we remember and revere are those who carefully and bravely stood apart. It’s time to think about where the line in the sand will be. What behavior won’t you excuse? Where won’t you follow your party? Because the way things are going, these questions won’t be hypotheticals."

From David French (also at the National Review):

"... I keep hearing these words from Evangelicals: 'We’ve got no choice, the Democrats are after our liberties. They’re seeking to destroy our way of life.'  Some even say that even if the allegations against Moore are true, they’ll still hold their nose and put him in office to keep [Doug] Jones from serving in the Senate.  Sorry Evangelicals, but your lack of faith is far more dangerous to the Church than any senator, any president, or any justice of the Supreme Court. Do you really have so little trust in God that you believe it’s justifiable — no, necessary — to ally with, defend, and even embrace corrupt men if it you think it will save the Church?

Yes, I know there are many instances in which godless kings did good things for God’s people. God can turn the heart of any man. But there is a vast difference between seeking favor from an unrighteous ruler and choosing, defending, and embracing the unrighteous ruler from the start. Evangelicals, you’re putting people like Donald Trump and Roy Moore in office. You’re declaring to the world, “He’s our man.” In graver times, God’s people have demonstrated much greater faith.  We stumble when the stakes are comparatively low.  Our failures will come back to haunt us. There will be woe to those who’ve compromised with evil through lack of faith. A reckoning is coming. May God have mercy on us all."


Saturday, October 07, 2017

Last wishes

When I die:

1. I hope my kampung will throw a block party. But not like Saddam, dear God no.

Party in Minneapolis after Prince's death

2. I hope Ross Douthat can write my eulogy:

"Hugh Hefner [...] was a pornographer and chauvinist who got rich on masturbation, consumerism and the exploitation of women, aged into a leering grotesque in a captain’s hat, and died a pack rat in a decaying manse where porn blared during his pathetic orgies.

Hef was the grinning pimp of the sexual revolution, with Quaaludes for the ladies and Viagra for himself — a father of smut addictions and eating disorders, abortions and divorce and syphilis, a pretentious huckster who published Updike stories no one read while doing flesh procurement for celebrities, a revolutionary whose revolution chiefly benefited men much like himself."


Friday, September 29, 2017

Earth had life very early

Disko Bay in Greenland

New research found Canadian rocks that are nearly 4 billion years old with signs of primitive life.  At the time, Earth was only ~200 million years old -- still a baby (in geologic terms), and who knows what the climate/atmosphere looked like back then. 

Which goes to show the different kinds of (crazy hellish) environment where life started, and questions where else life may have/still exists in this universe...?


Monday, September 25, 2017

Rohingya Crisis, Explained in 6 Points

Rohingya refugees coming into Bangladesh by sea

1. They are the world’s most persecuted minority group

The Rohingya is an ethnic group, majority of which are Sunni Muslims, which has inhabited the Rakhine (Arakan) district of Burma (Myanmar) over one hundred years.  Before the recent violence, an estimated 1.1m Rohingya live in the country.  They are despised by the country’s Buddhist majority and live in apartheid-like conditions.  The government refuses to recognize them as an ethnic minority, describing them as illegal immigrants and interlopers from neighboring Bangladesh.

The refugee crisis has strained neighboring countries' capacity for compassion

Clashes in the Rakhine state between the inhabitants and military/security forces erupted numerous times since the 1970s.  Since 1982, when a new citizenship law was passed, the Rohingya has been stateless with no rights to vote, study, work, travel, practice their religion, and access to healthcare services.  According to the UNHCR, one out of seven stateless people in the world is Rohingya.

After renewed violence starting in 2012, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya has fled to neighboring Bangladesh, as well as India, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries.  The UN Secretary General has dubbed the attacks as "textbook definition of ethnic cleansing".

2. They have been in Burma for ages

19th century mosque in Akyab

Modern-day Burma was part of the British India empire back in during the colonial rule (1824-1948).  Migration of ethnic Indians/Bengali into Burma was not limited in any way, as they are considered one contiguous territory;  British policy actually encouraged Bengali inhabitants to migrate into the then-lightly populated and fertile valleys of Arakan as farm laborers, and in the early 19th century, thousands of Bengalis from the Chittagong region settled in the area seeking manual work in the paddy fields.  The British census of 1872 reported 58,255 Muslims in Akyab District (modern-day Sittwe/Rakhine district); by 1911, the Muslim population had increased to 178,647.

During the Second World War, the land of Burma (like many parts of Southeast Asia) was annexed by the Imperial Japanese Army.  Native Buddhists mostly sided with the Japanese, because they wanted British colonizers to leave.  On the other hand, the Muslim minority, who has made good living and planted roots as agricultural workers as well as other skilled laborers, mostly stayed with the British's side.  The British even armed its ethnic Indian populace, leading to mass killings in the hands of the Japanese.  Eventually Britain, of course, won the war and they remained until Burma's independence in 1948.

After the Burmese declaration of independence, the government passed the Union Citizenship Act.  The Rohingya, along with other minority groups, was initially provided a real pathway to citizenship.  However, after the 1962 military coup and the subsequent 1982 citizenship law, the Rohingya were marginalized and rendered stateless overnight. 

Since the 1970s, a number of crackdowns in Rakhine State have forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to flee.  During such incidents, refugees have often reported indiscriminate shootings, rape, torture, arson and murder by Myanmar security forces.  Burmese military dictatorship ended with the 2012 free elections, but many central figures of the military remained powerful.  For the victims that suffered atrocities under the military regime, the power that the military still wields means that human rights abuses are expected to continue.
Source: The Economist

3. The Burmese really, really hate the Rohingya

In case you're wondering, Burma's Buddhism is starkly different from familiar western perception of the religion.  Theravada Buddhism (widely practiced in Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, and Sri Lanka) does not recognize the Dalai Lama, and their teachings can be actually quite militant -- they are staunch defenders of blood purity and against minority groups.

Buddhist nationalist propaganda dehumanizes the Rohingya by calling them "descendants of snakes and insects".  In that manner, mistreatment of these people are considered OK as they are not really humans.  These views continue to be popular amongst the educated and the elites.  With state-controlled media, barrage of fake news and internet trolls, laypeople are generally ignorant of what's really happening to their neighbors. 

There are many perceptions and historical factors that contribute to Burma's longstanding hatred of its Muslim minority:
  1. They are just different: the Rohingya (Muslim, ethnic Bengali/Indian) starkly differ in appearance, with darker skins and foreign traditions vis-à-vis the majority of Burma (Buddhists, ethnically closer to Chinese)
  2. The Rohingya do not control births.  This is difficult to show, since there is no state-sponsored healthcare service and no census for non-citizens.
  3. The Rohingya are drug smugglers and criminals.  Again this is also difficult to prove, but in many cases marginalization doesn't leave them much choice. 
  4. Finally, a widely held opinion among the elites and educated: the Rohingya are foreign-influenced, jihadi-inspired, overseas-funded, separatists eager to take over the country and overthrow its leadership.  During the years leading up to Bangladesh’s independence in 1971, the Rohingyas fought in the Mujahid insurgency. They wanted northern Rakhine, where Muslims were concentrated, to be annexed into Pakistan/Bangladesh, and Burma saw this as disloyalty and treason.  More recently local media highlighted ethnic Rohingya who were implicated with al-Qaeda and Taliban.

Massive fires in the Rakhine district, as seen from Bangladeshi borders

4. The government is mostly silent on the humanitarian crisis

Three factors may explain de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence.  The first is domestic politics.  From Harvard Politics:

Ashin Wirathu

"..The 969 Movement, a nationalist Buddhist movement led by monks including Ashin Wirathu, has grown increasingly powerful and is responsible for increase in Islamophobic sentiment among the populace. In addition to encouraging the Burmese to boycott Muslim stores, the movement has also incited violence.  In 2013, monks led rioters to burn homes in the Muslim neighborhood of Meiktila, which led to the deaths of more than 40 Muslims.

In a country where nearly 90% of the populace practices Buddhism, Suu Kyi risks alienating a sizable proportion of the populace should she condemn the Buddhist nationalists.  Furthermore, many government officials are also sympathetic to the movement, including former President Thein Sein, who not only passed four “race and religion” laws that targeted ethnic minorities on issues like religious conversion and interfaith marriage.  Suu Kyi remains soft on the issue of Buddhist nationalism to avoid offending the monks, and her own government officials...."

The second factor is the military.  By constitution, the Tatmadaw (Myanmar defense forces) has a number of seats in the parliament and discretion to declare a state of emergency.  It also controls important ministries in the government and many other centers of power.  The country’s leadership is managing a delicate balance of power and cannot afford to upset the balance.  In this sense, the Buddhist nationalists and the military have joined forces in their decision to persecute the Rohingya as “deadweight” and “interlopers”.  The government is stuck trying to keep up with the alliance, although many indications also show that the three generally agree on the matter of the Rohingya.

Third, it's just about popular views. There's every indication  that the elites and the majority of the population do not care for the rights of Muslim minority.  More moderate viewpoints see citizenship as the key question: that citizenship rights shouldn't be awarded without extensive scrutiny -- dare I say, extreme vetting.

5. World powers are also silent

It's not because of lack of forewarning.  From Foreign Policy magazine:

"... in 2005, the member states of the United Nations endorsed the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) framework, which obligates the international community to protect civilians from mass atrocities when their governments are “unwilling or unable” to keep them safe. R2P was borne out of collective guilt over the mass slaughter of civilians in Rwanda and Bosnia and promised a new era of “timely and decisive” atrocity response. In pursuit of this goal, early warning efforts to identify the precursors of mass atrocities became a focus for both international and state actors.

[…] The plight of the Rohingya suggests that early warnings do little to prevent atrocities against vulnerable groups. The high risk of mass atrocities was clear from the escalating communitarian violence, the documented uptick in online hate speech beginning in 2012, and the tightening of official restrictions on the Rohingya’s movement and activities."

Simultaneous humanitarian crises in South Sudan, Central Africa Republic, Syria and Yemen, have desensitized the world in the face of potential genocide.  UN Security Council permanent members China and Russia, which are battling dissidents within their own borders, doesn't want to invoke the R2P lest it would be against them in the future.  Furthermore, in the aftermath of the NATO-led 2011 Libya intervention, where R2P was explicitly invoked, decision-makers are concerned they might be making a bad situation worse

Money politics is also a concern.  China has been the largest investor into Burma.  Fmr US President Obama, refusing to let the country fall under the Chinese sphere of influence, made official visits to the capital in 2012 and 2014, praised the country's fledgling democracy, and lifted decades-long sanctions.  It is clear that complex geopolitical games are in play, and unfortunately, the Rohingya and human rights are not pieces in the puzzle.  Meanwhile, Donald Trump's America First is willfully abandoning the world stage, showing apathy and paying diminished attention to human rights issues.

The government and the military, with dominant national support, branded the Rohingya as Islamic militants.  Tapping into international counter-terrorism narratives simultaneously bolsters the legitimacy of the military operation against the Rohingya and undermines their status as innocent victims of state abuse.  Amongst the Burmese people, the rhetoric aborts empathy for the Rohingya by declaring them militants and potentially dangerous.

The neighboring governments most directly affected by the refugee crisis, Bangladesh and India, have generally just allowed the Rohingya into their borders -- but as matter of policy, they declare that the refugees cannot stay permanently, which is understandable given the heavy burden and lackluster, unsustainable conditions of the camps.

6. Finally: you can help

Monday, September 11, 2017


So Jared Kushner, the unpaid White House aide who's now tasked with handling Middle East peace, opioid addiction crisis, and American innovation(TM), used to be a Baltimore-area slum lord.  But he dumped all those in favor of a $1.8bn Fifth Avenue building that can only attract investment from shady origins.  No wonder DC elites don't care much for them....

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

More Soviet Jokes

From CIA declassified files:

A Soviet worker stands in a long liquor line.  He says to his friend, "I've had enough of this.  Save my spot, I'm gonna go shoot Gorbachev."  Two hours later he returns to claim his spot in line.  His friend asks, "Did you get him?"  "No, the line there was even longer than it is here."

Monday, July 17, 2017

Singapore Healthcare: Is it such a good model?

Khoo Teck Puat Hospital - Singapore

With Obamacare repeal talks ebbing and flowing in the States, conservatives mention Singapore ( as well as Scandinavian countries) as role models for well-managed healthcare systems. But is the Singapore model really that good? The thing is:  Singapore is a really weird country, and generally it is a model that will be difficult to apply to other countries.

Singapore is an island city state, with 5 major hospitals which are largely government-owned 

Singapore healthcare system is centralized and mostly government-run, albeit with the support of the private sector.  Drug prices are controlled, as are doctors -- not entirely sure how it is compatible with conservative pro-business, free-market economics world view.  Hospitals also make non-trivial income from medical tourism: visitors from Indonesia, Malaysia, and China come to Singapore for medical care and vacation at the same time, and the hospitals charge them premium over Singaporeans' subsidized prices.

Unique location

Because of its geographic position in Southeast Asia, strategically located as a major trade hub, surrounded by developing countries, hospitals in Singapore can buy drugs relatively cheaply.

Singapore culture is also totally weird  

People don't drive that much, due to affordable high-quality public transport in the city state.  People walk everywhere, making obesity a non-issue.  There is no drug problem, as drug trafficking is punishable by death.  There is no guns whatsoever, despite the mandatory draft into the Singapore armed forces.  The young population is highly health-conscious, and weekend biking is a popular culture.  Air pollution can be a problem at times, but it's mostly due to smog from forest fires in neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia.

Economics also matter  

The average Singaporean is also wealthier than the average American, this is just a fact.

Main lesson:  things are easier when costs are lower

Singapore historians highlight their young, immigrant-welcoming demographics, and well-educated population.  Some also point to the country's sustainable healthcare financing system.  But the main point is that all of the factors above reduce healthcare costs.  And managing a healthcare system is that much easier when costs are lower, and buying powers higher.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Is the electric guitar dead?

A few thoughts on Washington Post's latest article on the woes of guitar companies:

  • An article about guitar spends so many paragraphs on Taylor Swift? I guess that's where we're at right now...   Also it's not all about Clapton or BB King; there are younger guitar gods around: Derek Trucks and Gary Clark Jr. are probably around my age.  Also worth mentioning, musicians dont need to be Eric Johnson-calibre talent to make cool stuff; I respect guys like Ed Sheeran who writes music prolifically and can lead a full-length concert with just his Martin acoustic and loop pedal (no band!). 
  • Millennials don't like/can't afford to spend money in general, thanks to (among others) student loans.  Not just a guitar problem, but look at decline in home ownership. Declining interest in golf. And so on. 
  • Speaking as a terrible guitarist, it's really hard to justify buying a $3,000 American Fender when I can spend $400 (or $200 used!) on something Indonesian-made that sounds just as terrible on my hands. And I reckon 95% of guitar buyers are probably not good players.
  • Music nowadays feels more about the production that about playing instruments, with software such as Ableton and Garage Band. Which makes me respect for musicians and vocalists who really spend the time honing their skills -- people like Mark Tremonti, whose riffs I can probably never play, not even one.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

... that time the Mountains kicked my arse...

Friday (6/24/16) -- H-1 (the day before)
5.00PM - Board Citilink flight BPN-CGK
6.30PM - Land at CGK
8.00PM - Arrived home, had dinner.
9.00PM - Kissed the baby, put stuff in backpack, went to bed
11.00PM - Regretting the ice coffee I had at lunch.  Read last week's Tempo again.

Starting point

Start of the hike

Saturday -- D-day
2AM - Finally got some shut eye
3.15AM - Alarm vibrate goes off.  Get up and shower.
4.00AM - Quick bite, off I go on the loaned Toyota Camry
4.15AM - Picked up friends at Ritz Carlton hotel, off to the freeway
7.00AM - Arrived at Gunung Salak - Gathered at the starting point.  Elevation 700m.  Started our hike up
8.00AM - Left behind, lost track of most poeple in our group
11.30AM - Completely out of breath, almost out of water.  Gave up at Checkpoint 3 - Elevation 1,700m (Peak would be at 2,800m).  Sat down for 15 minutes, decided that resting in the cold is a terrible idea.  Made my way back down
13.00PM - Out of water.  Tapped the mountain spring water pipes.
13.30PM - Got lost, couldn't find tracks.  Thought to myself, "OMG, am I gonna die here?", several times.
14.00PM - After backtracking, rendezvous with groupmate who had already reached the top and went back down
15.00PM - Reached starting point.
16.00PM - Collapsed at a local house.  Got some shut eye for about an hour while waiting for the rest of the crew.
18.00 sun finally sets. Two in our gang still haven't reached the starting point.  A sherpa is sent for rescue.
20.00PM - Left for home
23.00PM - Arrived at KFC - Bought a bucket (9 pieces) for 4 people + sides.

Around the point where I threw in the towel

All I could see is green

Sunday -- The aftermath
2.00AM - Arrived home. Collapsed. Didn't wake up until 11.30AM.

Lessons learned for future hikes (ha!):
  • Bring tons of gear -- more than you think you need.
  • Situational awareness is your best friend. 
  • Bring lots of water, canteen 4 Liters minimum -- I sweat a ton, other people may not.  Regardless of your sweat, you lose water through your sweat glands.  Dehidration, exposure to the elements, are deadly.  Even mild cases of dehidration does wonders to your decision-making.  Find sources of water.  Mountain spring, streams, leaves, moist plants, anything will help you.  Diarrhea later is preferable to dehydration now
  • Bring change of clothes - wet clothes will get you cold faster
  • Don't veer off path
  • Keep track using GPS -- use things like Google's My Tracks, Endomondo or something like that so you can track your way back
  • Altimeter - something as rudimentary as a Casio G-Shock.  Again, situational awareness is key.  Having a sense of how far you are from the top, or from the bottom, allows your mind to re-adjust and ignore the voices that come along with dehydration. 
  • Power bank (battery pack) -- obvious
  • Food (something light): carbs, proteins, sugar. Sweets to get your sugar level back up.
  • Rubber tubing or a small straw - to get water from streams or pipes.
  • Get yourself into shape.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

How to read Scholarly Journals efficiently

Pulitzer-quality, if there's such a thing in scholarly journals

If you're in academia, or in the middle of a postgraduate program, you are going to have to read and write a lot of research papers.
It's important to understand how these papers are structured.  They are not the same as the kind of essays we write in undergraduate classes.

In most cases, scholarly papers cover just a small portion of a larger question and shows supporting/disputing evidence on a limited set of hypotheses.  For instance, an astronomy paper may cover the big question: "What is the climate like at Jupiter's moon Ganymede?", and the paper seeks to show that the atmosphere consists of 3.7% Helium gas (Editor's note: I totally made this up), in addition to other gases that have previously been shown to exist.  The "meat" of the paper would show the spectrum analysis of photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.  The paper would then end with what could be the implication of  finding He in Ganymede, conjecturing that the moon was made out of totally different materials from Jupiter itself.

My proposed strategy:

  1. Start with the Abstract.  Read in entirety.
  2. Read the opening section.
  3. Read the closing section.  By then you will have an idea where the problem starts, and where does the research end.
  4. For the middle section, start with all the charts and tables, see if any of these make sense to you in the scheme of the problem statement.
  5. Take a step back and review. 

The above strategy should give you a sense of what the paper's actually trying to accomplish.  If it's interesting, go ahead and read the paper in its entirety.  Otherwise, move on.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A Russian in Poland

Vladimir Putin arrives at Warsaw airport and hands his passport to the immigration officer.

Officer: "Nationality?"
Putin: "Russian."
Officer: "Occupation?"
Putin: (smiles) "Not this time, just a short business trip."

h/t Foreign Policy magazine.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Primer on North Korea

Democratic People's Republic of Korea

Fact Sheet

  • Supreme Leader: Kim Jong Un
  • Capital: Pyongyang
  • Population: 24.9mn (2013E)
  • GDP: US$25 bn (2015E)
  • GDP/Capita: US$1,000
  • Main industries: Mining & industrial (34%), services (31%), agri (22%)
  • Trade partners: China, Russia

Note:  South Korea GDP: US$1.3trn (2015)


918-1910 AD: Unitary Dynasties (Korean Empire) included parts of Inner Mongolia. Tributary system with Chinese empire
  • 1868: Meiji Restoration in Japan
  • 1894-1895: Qing-Japan War over influence in Korean peninsula
1910-1945: Japanese occupation of Korean peninsula
  • 1939-1945: WW2
1945-1948: Post-WW2 Division of Korean peninsula (Soviet occupies North, US in the South)
1948: Foundation of DPRK; Kim Il-Sung appointed as Chairman
1950-1953: Korean War:
  • Jun 1950: NK (supported by Soviet and China) invasion of SK.  US forces intervened to defend the SK.
  • July 1953: Armistice; border restored with DMZ
  • 1955-mid 1970s: Vietnam War
  • 1970s: China sought to reset relations with US, re-evaluates NK relations
  • 1991: Soviet Union dissolved; aid to NK stopped immediately
  • 1992: Kim Jong Il
  • 2011: Kim Jong Un

Korean War (1950-53)

The USAF dropped more bombs in North Korea than the entire WW2 Pacific Theater, including tens of thousands of tons of napalm.  Bombing campaigns targeted urban areas, key infrastructure and agricultural farmland.

Pyongyang -- Before and After the War

Over the three years, we killed off maybe 20 percent of the population [of North Korea]
- USAF Gen. Curtis LeMay (1984)

Modern-Day Military and Weapons Program

Size of Military (Pentagon estimates):
  • 1mn soldiers + 3mn military reserves
  • Short-range and intermediate ballistic missiles (200-2,000 miles); 400+ launchers (incl mobile)
  • Small arsenal of nuclear weapons (potentially 10-15)
  • No ICBM yet (+3,000 miles; nuclear payload)
Strategic Goals:
  • Leadership’s existential crisis; needs to demonstrate winnable war strategy; prevents coups and foreign interference
  • Propaganda and national pride
  • Industrial development
Source of Funding:
  • China (+75% of NK trade)
  • Overseas labor/remittances (China and Russia)
  • Weapons sales (several African countries, Iran?)
  • Drugs (methamphetamine)
  • Cyber crimes

THAAD Missile Defense System

Infographic - Lockheed Martin

South Korean objections:
  • Limited range of interceptors (~150km) cannot even protect all of SK
  • Missile defense not worth the massive hit in relations with China and Russia
  • National sovereignty undermined by the rapid and massive increase of US presence
  • “South Korea will pay $1bn [for THAAD]” –Donald Trump
Russian objections:
  • “Deployment of anti-missile system poses a threat to the existing military balance in the region” -Russian FM
Chinese objections:
  • Geopolitics: China remains an ally and major trading partner of NK
  • Advanced radar system has a range of >1,000km, penetrating into Chinese airspace

Saturday, April 08, 2017

The US enters the Syrian War, bigly

Tomahawk cruise missile

The United States under President Trump launched its first strike against Syria, launching 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles with 1,000lb warhead each to hit the Al-Sharyat air base outside Homs.  The US military has been active in Syria for many years since the start of the war in 2011, but past strikes have only hit terror groups (ISIL, Nusra, other al-Qaeda offshoots) and ground troops were merely acting as "advisors" behind the front lines.  This time it's different, as it directly hit assets of the Assad regime -- a close, longtime ally of Russia and Iran.

The strike on Thursday was a decisive response to the chemical weapons attack in Idlib that killed 70 civilians the previous Tuesday.  In formulating this strike, the US military worked to avoid casualties on any sides by giving advance notice to Russians and Syrians and striking at 3am local time.  The intent is to "send a clear message", destroy infrastructure of war while minimizing risk of unintended escalation.  No suspected chemical weapons depot was targeted, since there would have been risk of exposing poisonous plume to civilians in the area (these chemicals would normally be destroyed safely at sea).  Note: local reports say that although several airplanes, fuel depots, and reinforced hangars were destroyed, regime planes were still taking off of the runway after the strike  -- leading POTUS to respond that he chose not to hit the runway because it was "easy to fix"   ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

In the aftermath of 2013's deadly chemical weapons attack in Ghouta that massacred 1,400, then-President Obama wanted to avoid committing military resources to Syria when Iraq and Afghanistan still needed significant attention.  The Russian-led agreement that followed, in which Syria surrendered all* of its chemical weapons arsenal in return for US military standing down, was a knockout victory for Assad since he received carte blanche to continue killing with impunity -- bullets, rockets and barrel bombs kill just fine.  (*Now we can all see that either Assad still keeps a hidden cache, and/or the country still has industrial capacity to produce chlorine/sarin gas).  After 2013, Assad and Russia knew the US had no willpower to interfere in Syria, and Fmr. Secretary of State John Kerry's delegation was degraded into begging the Russians to allow humanitarian aid into besieged places like Eastern Aleppo.

Is this missile strike against Assad the right move by Trump?  Only time will tell.  However, most Obama-era team involved in the Syria deliberations, including most notably Fmr Secretary of State Hillary Clinton(!!) and her successor John Kerry, supported the move.  Obviously the old way is not working.  If the strike can give the US more leverage in future negotiations, then consider this a successful mission.  But if this leads to retaliation by Russia or Iran, or an emboldened Assad, then we will see the American response or maybe just fingerpointing in the coming weeks.  However, one thing is certain: inaction is *not* neutral.  "Do no harm", or in Obama lingo "don't do stupid shit", can lead to tremendous harm -- if the Syrian war has taught us anything, this is the main, costly, painful lesson.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Wearing and Maintaining Mechanical Watches

Oris Divers Sixty-Five 40mm

Setting your watch

  1. Don’t wind or set the time on your wrist, as it may put lateral strain on the stem.  Take the watch off your wrist, then set the time.
  2. Don’t overwind.  Consult your manual for the optimal number of turns (modern Seiko watches recommend 20 full rotations).
  3. Don’t set the date between 9pm and 2am, as you may break the date-change mechanism.  When setting the date, change the time first to somewhere outside of this range. 
  4. Don’t set the time backwards.
  5. Avoid watch winders, as they continuously strain the watch’s winding mechanism. Let the watch stop when you're not wearing it, and set the time when you're wearing it. That said, it's probably a good idea to have a quartz watch handy, for when you need to grab-and-go. 

What to Avoid: Water and the Elements

  1. Avoid water if your watch is not water-resistant.  Pay attention to specific instructions by your manufacturer about how much water pressure your watch handle, even if your watch is water-resistant.  If you wear a watch in the pool, while the water may not harm your watch, chlorine can still be damaging.
  2. DO NOT pull on the crown of the watch while underwater, even if your watch is a diver watch or water-resistant. This will cause water to flood the inside of your watch. 
  3. Avoid showering with your watch. Shampoo and soap can be harmful for the gears. 
  4. Seals to resist water can also crack over time, so just be careful and remember to schedule your regular maintenance, including pressure tests and (if necessary) gasket replacements.
  5. Mechanical parts may shift with shocks and hard impact. Don’t split wood, work power tools, play physical impact sports, while wearing mechanical watches.
  6. Don’t place your mechanical watch in close proximity to strong magnets like those found in speakers, TV, or your iPad. Most modern watches are magnetic resistance, but still be wary of strong magnets
  7. DO NOT start the chronograph underwater. Timing underwater should be done with a uni-directional bezel rather than the chronograph pushers. Pressing the pushers underwater can compromise the seal, allowing water into the movement, causing rust that can damage the dial or internal gears.


Like any car, mechanical watches need regular cleanings and oil changes to continue running effectively.  Maintenance costs vary depending on brand and complications, but most watchmakers recommend regular maintenance every 5-7 years.

Cross-threading the Crown

  • A very common way to damage the crown, other than pulling it at the wrong angle, is when you are threading it back in. Not all watches have a screw down crown but if yours does, be cautious when closing it. The crown can become jammed and cause permanent damage.  Modern Rolex watches have intricate stems specifically designed to avoid cross-threading.
  • A crown that is slightly out of alignment can allow water to get into the movement and dial, causing further damage. To avoid cross-threading and jamming the crown, take your time while screwing it back in, avoiding force. Crowns typically rotate 1.5 full turns and could be up to three. Be careful of screwing the crown too tightly, it could also become impossible to unscrew! 
  • I usually turn the crown backward first to make sure it will enter the thread smoothly when I push and turn clockwise to screw it down. If in the middle of screwing down there's a resistance, that means the thread was not entered into the thread smoothly from the beginning. Move backward again to release the crown and start it all over again from the beginning, otherwise the thread will be stripped.
  • If the crown doesn't screw in all the way and doesn't lock and seal properly, the crown is cross-threaded and need replacement. Water resistance is also affected so don't take it in water. 

Friday, March 03, 2017

"Trumped-up" Trickle Down Economics

Pretty much.

The theory propped by Trump and Paul Ryan: lowering taxes for businesses and wealthy individuals leaves more cash in their pockets, spurring more investment and hiring, and boosting growth -- which in turn would also generate new tax income to pay for the cuts. Win-win-win!

Supply-side economics, also known as trickle-down economics or Reaganomics, have been debunked. The simple reason is that regressive tax cuts doesn't have large enough broad economic multiplier.   In other words: If you give $20,000 to someone who makes $30,000 a year, he or she will spend the extra income on food, clothes, education, and healthcare; but give the same money to someone who makes $1m, and that extra money will probably just sit in a bank.  Others went even further:
There is no evidence that the previous repatriation tax giveaway put Americans to work, and substantial evidence that it instead grew executive paychecks, propped up stock prices, and drew more money and jobs offshore,” said Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the [Senate Subcommittee on Investigations], in a statement [in 2011].Those who want a new corporate tax break claim it will help rebuild our economy, but the facts are lined up against them.”

Furthermore, the mythical growth benefits of lowering taxes are largely long-term. As a matter of policymaking, in the short-term, the revenue shortfall from tax cuts would need to be paid for -- or else expenditure cuts (i.e. fiscal austerity) would be unavoidable.  Tax cuts generally never pay for themselves in long-term growth.

Proponents often cite strong economic expansion of the Reagan era, which was driven by decreased marginal taxes and looser regulations.  However, economist Paul Krugman argued that the growth was driven by Paul Volcker's monetary policy and favorable business cycle as unemployment rebounds from a high peak.  Federal spending notably expanded (from 20 to 22% of GDP), and public debt balooned (from 26% to 41% of GDP), implying Keynesian economics at work between 1980 and 1988.

The state of Kansas is already ailing from ill-advised, five-year tax policy experiment.  Clearly tax breaks are no substitute for pro-growth policy of actually building an environment conducive to creating good quality jobs. Otherwise, the United States may end up just like Trump's many past businesses.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Is Bitcoin dead ???

In God We Trust

YES, It's dead as a dog:

  1. Speculators are not buying it in droves for it like they did before.
  2. It's the currency of choice for criminal activities, notably fraud, malware and extortion -- and no legit businesses want to be associated with these kinds of things.
  3. Technological limitations, namely the number of transactions that can be processed per unit of time, mean it's not scalable.
  4. Bitcoin miners are highly-concentrated in China, where the internet connectivity is notoriously laggy, and the whole state censorship defeats the whole libertarian ideology.  Venezuela, where food and medicine are scarce but electricity is basically free, also hosts a lot of Bitcoin servers. 
  5. Since the whole Silk Road debacle, longtime proponents, namely drug dealers, have given up online and mostly went back to back alley trades.
  6. Fractures within the community, as different factions want to go in different directions.

NO, the cat still has eight lives bro:

  1. People have written Bitcoin eulogies many many times before.
  2. Lots of money has been and continue to be invested into bitcoin-related businesses.

MAYBE Yes maybe not?

Bitcoin is too complex, too user-unfriendly to be useful as mainstream digital currency, and doesn't solve real world problems except at the margins -- dollar bills, coins, debit and credit cards are simple enough to use.   It will stay useful in the corporate setting, maybe, and even that isn't guaranteed.  But the blockchain technology may just evolve and morph into something totally new and unexpected.   Who knows?

Best two-fer job interview question

  • "Tell me about the last time you solved a problem."
  • "Tell me about the last time you walked away from a problem.  Explain about your efforts and why they didn't work."

Leave a comment if you can suggest a better question.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Why risk minimization mind-set is hindering progress

Why risk minimization mind-set is hindering progress
Lin Che Wei, President Director
Jakarta Post: [2007]

Let's say that one day you are standing at a railway junction where a runaway train is about to pass and go all the way to a tunnel where forty men are working. At that point, it is within your power to pull the lever to divert the train to another tunnel where 'only' five men are working.

You need to make a swift decision between doing nothing and letting forty people die -- but you will not be faulted for it -- or pulling the lever and killing five men instead. So, will you kill or let die? (Baggini, 2006)

Most people in Indonesia would choose to do nothing -- even though this is suboptimal -- for fear of being blamed or worse, penalized. Why? Because our society tends to adhere to asymmetric profiles of risk and reward.

Losses suffered as a result of taking risk are severely punished; while on the other hand gains received from risk-taking activities are not adequately rewarded.

Hence, we often seek to minimize risk instead of maximizing risk-adjusted return.

The act of minimizing risk is prevalent among bureaucrats and commercial bankers. The Indonesian economy is a commercial bank-dominated economy. In a bureaucratic system, the decision-making process is often laborious and time consuming, and therefore people often choose to only consider low-risk projects despite the relatively lower anticipated returns.

The same mentality also reigns in commercial banks, which operate in the so-called "belt and suspender mode". These banks will only disburse loans if there collateral is offered as a guarantee, and if the project can provide a steady stream of revenue and predictable cash flow.

That is why, micro, small, and medium enterprises face serious difficulties in securing loans from the commercial banks.

Excessive risk aversion leads to suboptimal economic development for three reasons.

First, it limits the universe of possible investment projects. The risk minimization mind-set prevents financial providers and decision-makers from considering projects outside their risk comfort zone.

Consequently, so many frontiers are left unexplored. The failure to venture into uncharted waters means limited possibilities of promoting creativity and fostering innovation. In the end, the finance industry and the economy as a whole become static.

The second reason is a concentration of liquidity in only traditional commercial banks, even though these commercial banks only cater to a limited range of clients.

As shown by the chart, there is substantial demand for financing among industries outside the scope and coverage of the commercial banks, which are constrained by their "belt and suspender mode".

With limited collateral, these riskier sectors are deprived of the financing necessary to develop their business. In the end, the nation's economic growth is hampered as fledgling industries are unable to fully develop to their full potential.

The final reason is that the risk minimization mentality stunts the development of advanced risk management techniques in financial institutions. Lenders that never bother to consider risky projects will not invest time and energy in quantifying and mitigating risks.

Within the government, the current excessive anticorruption drive and political witch-hunts exacerbate the risk-aversion problem. As a result, decision-makers often choose the easy way out. They pick the "safe" decisions instead of committing to "risky" decisions that could end up losing money.

In order to reform the mind-set and remedy the situation, there are three things that need to be done.

First, there needs to be a distinction between business risk and fraud. Losses suffered as a result of fraud should be penalized heavily as these losses originate from the dishonest intention to take advantage of the company or country for individual gain.

By contrast, however, losses arising from business risks should be addressed appropriately without excessive penalties or unnecessary scrutiny that could scare people from making necessary business decisions.

Second, there must be clear legal and operational frameworks so that private companies, SOEs and the different branches of the government understand the appropriate risk appetite for their business and the desired risk-adjusted return.

Third, there needs to be a sustained and far-reaching public information campaign on this issue. Without public education, it will be almost impossible to achieve satisfactory results.

If we take these three steps, the banks will expand their lending and jumpstart the real sector; SOEs will partake in profitable ventures based on management's best business judgment so as to optimize shareholder value; and eventually the country will benefit from faster economic growth.

The fear of taking risks is part of human nature. However, Ambrose Redmoon is correct in saying that courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. In this case, it is our nation's development.

Neda Tanaga and Driya Amandita contributed to this article

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Monday, January 30, 2017

How to defeat ISIS

... So DJT spent the campaign trail hailing about his "secret plan" to defeat ISIS, which is supposed to be so much better than Obama's....

Sunday, January 29, 2017