Sunday, September 26, 2010

always a work in progress

I was having, let's call it, a very honest conversation with my manager yesterday. The details are not especially relevant but during the course of the conversation, I realized I was being needlessly adversarial and somewhat of my classic smart-alecky self. If you don't know the smart-alecky me, first imagine high school. Now imagine the guy who thinks he knows everything (and is admittedly closer than you at that being true), moderately witty when it suits him, sharp-tongued, knows how to push other peoples' buttons and get under their skin, and is an unrepentant asshole. Now, dial it down a notch or two and that was me at my finest hours. Ok, after you've built whatever picture that creates for you in your mind, we still must alter it a bit more. This time, imagine that person in a "professional" setting (and I use quotes since nothing here is truly professional) and is skirting the edge of acceptable behavior for the "office" by being conversationally aggressive, playing coy or sharp as it suits him, and dragging up the past (though it's really the present situation as well in play). Ok, who knows what you've pictured, but whatever.

The real point of all this is that when it was all said and done, I was rather disappointed with myself. I have a choice. I can bury the hatchet and move on, by putting past issues behind me and accepting present flaws, or I can expect some sort of justice and proper consequence to occur from the past, for lack of a better word, idiocy. I should learn to accept my own advice. Things are what they are, fairness is a concept, not a reality, and what I lack the power to change, I should learn to view differently.

cell phone driving ban

About time this gets real consideration. Look, you may all feel great talking on the phone while driving with the fancy pants hands-free systems you all have. But every study I have seen indicates it is no safer than holding a phone. You are still a mentally distracted driver. My own employer has had a no cell phone while driving policy from before I started.

On a semi-related note, I don't really peruse the San Jose Mercury website that often. Yes, I know about the gas explosion in San Bruno, but that's about all the local news I know about. That, and some less-than-stellar ex-CEOs are running for office.

Monday, September 13, 2010

beach availability

It's sort of a goofy thing, but much like how I was never into going to the touristy parts of San Francisco while growing up, I also never really went to the beach a whole lot either. I reckon I've been to the beach more times in the last year (gotta count the cruise along with Port Gentil) more times than the 10 years before that. Perhaps this is driven by the only somewhat gloomy fact that there's not a whole lot to do here other than go to the beach (and work of course), but it is a nice beach. Actually, it's a couple different beaches, so really, it's like there's more than one place to go.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

still no interest in property

This seems like the point in my life, and by proxy, the lives of many of my friends, where the acquisition of property would be taking place. While I acknowledge the 'specialness' of the Bay Area housing market, I find what Ritholtz says on the subject here and here pretty compelling. Of course, he's been saying it for months, really years about the depth and breadth that housing had to fall and/or plateau for before we would be back to normal pricing levels. And with unemployment remaining stubbornly high, we're really not going to see a big pick-up in housing demand any time soon, or at least not at current prices.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

my shuffle left

This another of those posts that I've been noodling with for a long time in my head and even a couple months in draft versions. I've passed on perfection, and possibly even coherence. I just need to get this out and off my mind.

When I was 18 years old, I registered to vote. I registered as a Republican. When I was 22 years old and moved to New Mexico, I registered as independent. I continued that independent trend when I registered in Texas three years later. Since then, I have seen nothing that would make me want to register with the current Republican party again.

Over the past several years, I have generally engaged in a political shuffle to the left. As I have grown older, more fiscally successful, I have not drifted right, but instead left. This is not to say I'd call myself a Democrat or a liberal, but merely that I have moved from somewhere right-of-center to somewhere less right-of-center. When I was younger, I thought I was a mild conservative and the Republican party seemed embraceable. By Californian standards, that might have even been true. Fiscal conservatism, personally somewhat conservative, socially moderate (or so I thought) and personal accountability seemed like a passable platform. Oh, how little I knew.

(An aside: Perhaps the political center has shifted more than anything else in the last 50 years. From this admittedly very selective offering of the 1956 Republican Party platform, one must wonder what happened.)

Then I left upper-middle to lower-upper class suburbia. And learned a lot. In a most basic sense, I learned that the world is ugly, oh so ugly, and in many ways and many places. It is not a fair place. It's not like I had never traveled outside the suburban bubble while growing up, but the realization never truly set in. Perhaps I never truly believed it was fair to begin with, but this was made all the clearer to me when I lived outside the Silicon Valley. And the world will never be fair. That's just how it is. People get what they get and we should be honest about that. What they deserve is something else entirely. The concept of fairness is just that, a concept, not a reality.

This concept of fairness troubles me. Well, not the concept, but the perception that some people have that the world is fair, that the system is fair, that our standing before the law is truly equal, that success is only a matter of hard work, and that people get what they deserve. No. They don't. To pretend they do is an insult. I think this is why I have also shuffled, not just away from the political right, but also away from libertarians. Yes, the world could certainly be a nice ideal way. However, it's not that way and to pursue policy under this false assumption is insulting at best, and deceitful and spiteful at worst. We have to accept reality as it is, not as we wish it were, before we can successfully work within it. Like my job, it doesn't matter if we have the best designs and equipment if we're not even at the correct location.

Furthermore, I am incredibly disenchanted with the current level of political discourse in the United States. This is especially true of the right-wing squawkers on platforms like Fox News. However, the left is hardly innocent of trolling and needless sound-biting, but the political right engages in more despicable tactics, lies, race-baiting, hate-speech than I thought people could stomach. But I have apparently vastly underestimated the political value in appealing to the ignorant and hateful of this world. This rolls right into the next point.

Anti-intellectualism is perhaps the biggest long-term threat to America's (and the entire world's) prosperity that we currently face. It is why we cannot have intelligent and reasoned debates on meaningful topics. War on terror? War on drugs? Evolution? Education and basic science research? Financial regulation? Energy policy? Taxation? Why bother when people are so apt to fall back to the often incorrect talking points and anecdotal evidence. It is distressing to see (social) conservatives actively promote this as well through the criticism of universities, scientific processes, and even big words. I'm torn between rage and despair when I think about this and realize that this is an intellectual battle that may never be winnable when the opposition acts like the concept of truth is entirely malleable.

Is this a rant? Perhaps. More than anything though, this is my long overdue goodbye to the political right.

Monday, September 06, 2010

the view from here

Working outside the U.S., in particular, during my time here, you become more aware that there are reasonably significant numbers of Muslims in many countries. In Africa, there's a general trend of countries that are further north will have larger percentages of Muslims. Case in point, Congo is probably about 5% Muslim, while Gabon is closer to 25% and Cameroon perhaps 30% or more. In speaking with a Cameroonian colleague, he said Gabon is a bit of an aberration since the Arab empires of yore never really made it this far south. It is countries like Cameroon, Sudan, Nigeria, Chad, Mali, etc that are desert in the north and jungle or at least non-desert in the South that have a heavy Muslim/Christian split based on this geography. Here in Gabon, while perhaps an aberration, I have been told many Muslims here are immigrants from other African countries. I actually drive by a mosque on my standard route to work.

About a month ago, during a standard 'safety stand down', which is basically an Area level safety presentation, working during Ramadan was brought up. (This Area consists of Europe, most of Africa, and the Caspian region). Attention was drawn to try and do strenuous work before sunrise or after sunset and generally take the necessary precautions to avoid fatigue and injuries while people fast during the day. Nothing earth-shattering, but definitely not a point of discussion I would have ever heard during a U.S.-based safety stand down.

Speaking of the U.S., I'd be more concerned with Eid al-Fitr being misinterpreted and blown out of proportion by the right-wing fear-mongers. Wait, I don't need to worry if it will happen. I know it will happen.

Speaking of all this blather, I thought the WTC site was "sacred ground" and not for religious sites a mere block away. Oh wait, only the 'right' religions are allowed.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

natty gas

Hey, I know what we haven't done in a while: look at natural gas storage in the U.S. Coming into last winter with record high storage levels, the storage fell to below record levels, but still above 5-year averages, on the generally colder than average winter. This was despite continued weak industrial demand. However, coming into spring, storage levels rose back to record levels as weather moderated, drilling activity stabilized from the 2009 free-fall, and the economy remained weak. Now, once again, weather has played its hand with an unusually warm summer in much of the country and drawn down storage levels off the record highs of last year. Fun stuff.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

ritholtz on investment

As regular readers (all six of you) know, I make no bones about being a Barry Ritholtz fan and his most excellent blog/website The Big Picture (not to be confused with the Boston Globe's generally very good photo site).

If you want general investment and sound economic advice, read through his old articles from his time with (which has become a parody in my opinion as Jim Cramer is an entertainer first, and investor second), many of which are linked from here. In particular, the 'Know Thyself' column might be very apt along with a piece on psychology and turning points for understanding how we are often our own worst enemy.

Friday, September 03, 2010

question for the beer drinkers

I have a question for the beer drinkers among you. Ok, so I've been socializing and other such things and having a bit of beer in the process. My question: Is beer ever supposed to taste good? It's all quite blah to me.

Perhaps I'm drinking the wrong beers, but they're all pretty much marginal at best. The only beer I can recall actively liking, and not merely putting up with or grimacing through, was one of the two blondest beers from that six beer sampler my brother and I had while in New York back in January.