Let's Drive Away People Who Can Make This Country a Better Place 
Monday, January 12, 2009, 11:18 PM
A classmate of mine in my MBA program at Berkeley is afraid that when one of the six people in her group at Barclay's Global Investors are laid off tomorrow, the casualty will be her. At class we suggested that this would give her the opportunity to transfer into the full time MBA program and avoid paying the higher evening MBA tuition.

She responded that her immigration status didn't allow her to enroll as a student full time -- this despite the fact that she's been in this country for 12 years. She even raised the possibility of going back to Korea. Here we have a 12 year resident, one of the smarter people I've met, an incredibly decent human being, and someone who adds tremendous value to our society. And our immigration system is on the verge of sending her packing.
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Lincoln Again 
Monday, January 12, 2009, 04:51 PM
From his second inaugural address:
Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

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Immigration 
Sunday, January 11, 2009, 10:32 PM
There's been a recent trend at the Justice department to find criminal statutes to prosecute illegal immigrants with, rather than simply deporting them. This of course is quite different than arresting someone for a crime, and then discovering they are an illegal immigrant. In this case, the discovery is made that the person is an illegal immigrant and then a search is undertaken for a crime that they can be charged with. Examples include stretching the definition of identity theft to include an illegal who provides a false social security number to an employer. Most of these prosecutions involve a departure from how the law is traditionally applied, and involve massive plea bargains (with up to 40 people being sentenced at a time) extracted from individuals with minimal command of English and very little idea how our justice system works.

I think putting these people in jail instead of shipping them back across the border is a waste of my tax dollars, but the NYT carries it a step further in arguing that such prosecutions are taking resources away from much more important crimes:
Immigration prosecutions have steeply risen over the last five years, while white-collar prosecutions have fallen by 18 percent, weapons prosecutions have dropped by 19 percent, organized crime prosecutions are down by 20 percent and public corruption prosecutions have dropped by 14 percent, according to the Syracuse group’s statistics. Drug prosecutions — the enforcement priority of the Reagan, first Bush and Clinton administrations — have declined by 20 percent since 2003.


The article details that the Justice Department has implemented a policy that they will not prosecute marijuana cases involving less than 500 pounds. Anything less than 500 pounds is referred to local authorities, many of whom are unprepared for the sudden influx of new cases and who also lack the resources to carry the investigation further up the chain. In other words: to placate the anti-immigrant sector of the Republican party, we're now letting drug dealers go free. Awesome. Sounds like a huge win for our country.
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On Eroding Our Nation's Security 
Sunday, January 11, 2009, 05:53 PM
The New York Times has another one of its famous exposes, that dig into the secrets of government and bring them into the light. Sometimes this is absolutely necessary. All too often under this current administration information is hidden not because it impacts our nation's security, but because it might impact the political prospects of a select few or cause an ugly PR scar. Unfortunately, it would appear that this most current information falls decidedly into the former category.

In speaking regard the current covert program to undermine Iran's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, the article says:
Knowledge of the program has been closely held, yet inside the Bush administration some officials are skeptical about its chances of success, arguing that past efforts to undermine Iran’s nuclear program have been detected by the Iranians and have only delayed, not derailed, their drive to unlock the secrets of uranium enrichment.


You what really doesn't help a covert program's chances? Being published on the front page of the New York Times. As someone who seriously flirted with a career in journalism, I'm sympathetic to the paper's desire to get the news out. Journalistic ethics are what they are -- you have to assume that the paper will publish. The people I'm disappointed in are the public servants and government employees who handed this information over to the Times. They could have no more damaged this program had they shared this information with the Iranians in exchange for money. In that scenario, at least we'd have some Iranian money for the bargain. Instead, we're simply stuck with a compromised intelligence program.

Given free speech, the paper probably didn't violate the law. However, those in government who passed this classified information to the media most certainly violated the law, and should be prosecuted as such.
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Gettsburg Address 
Sunday, January 11, 2009, 03:44 PM
Have you read it recently? I stumbled up on an article that caused me to re-read these words that Lincoln spoke so long ago, and was again reminded how powerful they are.


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Army Video Games 
Monday, January 5, 2009, 09:59 PM
The NYT has an article up a new video game experience the army is using to attract new recruits. That isn't what caught my eye, however:
Civil liberties groups have criticized the Pentagon for its efforts to reach high school students.


This just drives me up the wall. The Army isn't trying to recruit high school students -- it's trying to convince high schoolers to join once they've graduated from high school. People don't graduate from high school, wake up the next morning and say "now what am I going to do with my life?" They PLAN. If you want someone to join after graduation, common sense dictates that you talk to them while they're still in high school.

Once you're 18, you can have unspeakable acts permanently recorded on camera, distributed to sleazebags throughout the country, and be left with only a pittance to show for it. Joining the Army may not be all that bad in comparison.

In fact, for the urban youth who are the subject of the NYT article, the Army may represent the only viable path towards something that resembles normal middle class life. Without the Army they may never escape their communities and the cycle of destruction that drags so many down. The Army represents good training, a stable income, good benefits, a solid retirement, and provides good discipline. These individuals can then return to their community as an example to encourage others that it is in fact possible to rise above a seemingly hopeless situation.
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Stanley Fish Gets His Just Desserts 
Sunday, January 4, 2009, 05:35 PM
Over on his blog at the New York Times, Stanley Fish has a post up complaining about AT&T's customer service. Mr. Fish owns two homes and lives half the year at each one. When he changes homes, he has to turn on his phone service again:
“I’ve been away for some time and my services were reduced. I’d like to have them restored to what they were when I left in June.”

It turned out that this was not possible. Even though I had paid to retain my phone number, I was going to be treated as a new customer, which meant that I would have to answer a bunch of questions and decline services I had never had.


Phone companies probably don't prepare for the contingency where residential customers regularly rotate through several houses -- it is simply too small a fraction of the population that enjoys such luxuries. When adding a new customer, it makes sense to try and sell them as many services as possible.

The real thing that set Mr. Fish off, however, was the fact that the agent greeted him with the grammatically incorrect question "With whom do I have the pleasure of speaking with?":
I should have quit when I was (somewhat) ahead, but I couldn’t resist returning to the greeting, with its double and ungrammatical “with.” I explained that the second “with” was superfluous, as the second “to” would be if the offending question had been, “to whom am I speaking to?”, or the second “about” if the question had been “about what are you worrying about?”

Somehow that didn’t make much of an impression on her. She said that her instructions were to greet callers in that way and that she would continue to do so. I replied that it was scandalous that a multi-billion-dollar world-wide telecommunication corporation would order its employees to commit an egregious (and comical) grammatical error millions of times a day.

She said, “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

I lost it. It has nothing to do with feelings, I ranted. It is a factual matter as to what is and is not syntactically correct.


Is it just me, or is there something wrong with taking out your frustrations with a multinational corporations on the nearest poor slop getting paid $9 an hour who happens to work for that company? After all, she obviously has no control over her employer's actions. It reminds me of a similar situation at San Diego airport the other day. Fog had grounded the planes the night before and the next morning flights were still slammed, with stranded passengers desperately trying to get out. Every single passenger service counter at each gate in the terminal had a line, as harried agents rushed to reroute passengers as quickly as possible. It took me over 40 minutes to advance 4 places in line because a man at the front refused to accept what the agent was telling him.

"Why can't I wait until the 3 p.m. flight to Portland?"
"Because that flight is full, sir."
**Five more minutes of haggling**
"I don't understand why you're trying to route me through Oakland. There's a flight at 3 p.m. to Portland."
"Sir, the flight at 3 is full. The trick right now is getting out of San Diego, and there's a flight from Oakland to Portland at 2:30 p.m. today."
**Continue ad nauseum for several more minutes**

It was as if the man thought that the agent was holding out on him -- that, like a street vendor, it was possible to wear the man down and get a better deal.

In the end, as Mr. Fish discovered, taking out your frustrations on the nearest customer service agent isn't always the wisest plan:
She changed the subject by informing me that the social security number I had given when she asked for it was not the number she had on record. I asked her to change it, but she pleaded incapacity: “No, I can’t do that. I’ll connect you to the department where they can.”

That was a promise made subsequently by five other people as I was repeatedly transferred to someone who told me, “No, I can’t do that.” Everyone I talked to assured me that within seconds I would be talking to the right person. My last interlocutor took pity on me, and although he too was not the right person, he knew someone in his division who was and said he would talk to him directly. When he came back, it was to tell me that the social security number on record was in fact the one I had given him. The whole thing had been a wild goose chase.


Oops! I'm sure it was just an honest mistake...
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En Route to Hawaii 
Saturday, December 20, 2008, 07:02 PM
Small boy: What's wrong with your arm?

Old man: I lost my arm in Vietnam.

The old man then shuffled on.
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Quotes Worth Reading 
Monday, December 15, 2008, 08:58 PM
From a friend's blog, on the danger to foreigners in Thailand:
...in the US, several people died and women miscarried in WalMarts on Black Friday being stomped to death by angry shopping mobs. Exactly zero foreigners have died in Bangkok from these protests. You had a better chance of being hurt shopping the day after Thanksgiving than I did watching the overgrown boys in cargo shorts and backwards baseball hats throw back shots here in Bangkok.


From this past Sunday's NYT, on Clint Eastwood:
Despite what you might have read on Wikipedia, Mr. Eastwood is not a vegan, and he looked slightly aghast when told exactly what a vegan is.


And while we're on Thailand, make sure you read this article by the Economist.
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Investments 
Sunday, November 30, 2008, 04:06 PM
I was researching opening a brokerage account when I read the following description:
With a Margin Account, you can buy and sell most of the same types of securities as you would in a Cash Account, but you'll have the added advantage of leveraging your investments.


Ummmm... no thank you!

If people a lot smarter than me are loosing money by the truckload in the stock market, I'm not arrogant enough to believe that trading on borrowed money is a wise personal choice.
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