The US is trying to shoot itself in the foot again, with this move

Yesterday, the Trump administration announced new immigration policies that concern specifically international students or F-1 visa holders. Per the new policies, if students already in the US attend only online courses in the upcoming fall semester, they will face deportation. To avoid that horrible fate, students can transfer to another institution where in-class sessions are available and take those classes. For prospective students who are coming to the US for online-only programs, they can no longer come here. The policies sparked an outrage by anyone who has a vested interest or those who really care about this country’s competitiveness moving forward.

Let me tell you a personal story. 3 months after I came to the US, my two Belgian friends and I joined a 4-day hiking trip with some American friends to Badland National Park. It was my first hiking trip ever. We spent time before the trip getting to know each other and learning the ABCs of the adventure. During the hike, we spent the whole four days talking and doing various activities together. It brought us closer. Towards the end of the trip, on the last night, we sat around a bonfire and had to identify one person in the group that we learned the most from during the trip. Half of them chose me.

The point here is not to boast, I just don’t know any other example, but to say that international students can help Americans gain exposure to other cultures. I was really surprised that some people I met in Nebraska had never boarded a plane before, let alone going overseas. If there were no immigrants here in the US, how else could they gain real-life exposure to other cultures and widen their horizon? That’s one of the benefits international students bring. Well, unless you don’t think knowing about another country or culture is a good thing.

Another real benefit is the contribution to the economy. A study estimated that international students contributed $45 billion in 2018 to the US economy. That’s a significant sum. This policy wouldn’t normally affect that sum too much, I suppose; however, given the pandemic still raging on in the US, a lot of schools now have to offer online courses to protect both students and staff. The current situation makes this policy more dangerous and seriously more harmful to the economy that already took a hit from Covid-19.

For years, the US has benefited greatly from brain drain and the arrival of immigrants. Many immigrants founded great startups here after school, created jobs and contributed to the economy. Many immigrants came to study and stayed to contribute to the academic and scientific advances for the US. Many immigrants are still running the biggest tech companies in the US.

With these policies, the US basically says no the future influx of skilled immigrants. In the past, the country might get away with it, but globalization made the competition for international talent fiercer. Other countries with immigrant-friendly policies such as France, Canada and Germany are more than happy to pick up skilled workers that the US turns away.

While I was still in school, I met two Americans who were roommates to my Belgian friends and I am not exaggerating when I say this: they don’t know how to do basic maths as 20-year-olds. What does it have to do with the newly announced policies? 1) the presence of international students shouldn’t affect the learning of Americans. Whether we are here or not, Americans should be able to learn unimpeded or affected. 2) If some Americans don’t know how to maths while in university, how can they compete with skilled and educated immigrants for high-paying and technical jobs? If some local students refuse to get educated and work in STEM fields, how would the absence of international students help technology companies and other businesses in the US?

In summary, I don’t see a single one beneficiary of these policies. Universities will suffer financially because foreign students pay much higher tuition fees than locals and contribute greatly to the student communities. The economy will suffer financially because those $45 billion contribution will be reduced significantly. Businesses will suffer because there will be less talent. If schools force staff and students to go back to the classrooms under the government’s pressure, don’t be surprised that we will still have Covid-19 decimating our communities at the end of the year. Think about 5 months ago. Did anyone of us imagine that by July we usually break record for the number of cases in a day?

All of this is nothing more than a couple of xenophobic, cruel and terrible policies whose sole objective is to fire up a support base at the expense of the country and to hide the failure in dealing with the pandemic. Sadly, the US is shooting itself in the foot, again.

Winner-takes-all election and Trump’s new suspension of work visas

Yesterday, the Patriot Act team released an excellent segment on the US election. It discussed the core issue of the elections in America, the issue that leads to so many malfunctions in the way this country is governed. Yes, we are familiar with voter suppression, electoral college and gerrymandering, but Hasan Minhaj went to the root cause of all: the winner-takes-all system. I’ll let him explain it to you.

Hasan said something pretty significant in his piece: America is a minority-ruled country. Democrats won more popular votes than Republicans in many of the last elections, on many levels, but the party that has controlled the three branches and even the judicial system is Republican. Worse, more than 50% of eligible voters want a 3rd party candidate, yet they can’t have it.

If a country is minority-ruled, does it still have a democracy? The two parties hate each other and increasingly over the years. I don’t see the end of such extreme and toxic partisanship in the future. The implications include the erosion of America’s competitiveness. When the parties in the government are busy fighting with each other and cancelling out the other’s policies, where would progress come from?

At the end of the piece, Hasan made a proposal on how to eliminate the winner-takes-all system and help with the partisanship. The proposal was actually tested in Maine and brought promising results. However, given the politicians on both sides are more concerned with keeping their seats, I don’t see it happening soon.

Speaking of the erosion of America’s competitiveness, Trump signed an executive order today to suspend H1B and other work visas till the end of the year. America relies on foreign talent a lot. After all, it calls itself: The land of opportunity. People around the world, including myself 4 years ago, looked to America as the land to make our lives better and realize our dream. The anti-immigrant rhetoric since Trump took office has been anything, but welcoming to immigrants. Yet, the action today took it to another level. American companies, universities and research academia can’t attract foreign talent for the next 6 months. The executive order seems easy on paper, but significant in real life as it affects thousands of lives. People will go somewhere else for higher education and jobs. People who are already in the US will ponder what to do next. Personally, this action today will mean that I won’t be able to see my family in Vietnam in the next few months. If I visit Vietnam before this Executive Order ends, I won’t be able to come back.

People around the world used to hold America to a very high standard. You guys often like to say it: we are a beacon of hope. I bet many still do now. If you ask my dad, he’ll tell you how much he admires America. So, it’s sad to see the standard being lowered every day.

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver on The Police

I am a John Oliver fan. His show is entertaining and consistently offers well-researched content that is undoubtedly biased, yet as close to impartial as you can find. I have seen many brilliant segments in the last 6 years from him and his crew, but this piece below is one that they knocked out of the park. Brilliant, well-delivered, carefully researched and on point.

We are all busy and there is so much news floating around that most of us don’t have either time or stomach to digest it. Yet, on important issues around us such as police brutality, we must be informed. Hence, do yourself a favor and watch this clip. It’s worth 30 minutes of your time. The last couple of minutes is both powerful and heartbreaking. You can see John almost close to tears and I am sure he isn’t the only one.

While I am against looting and destruction of properties, especially those owned by hard-working folks who haven’t done a thing wrong, I support the movement and I can see, not understand, where they are coming from. When law enforces who are supposed to protect citizens pose a threat to black people and the judicial system isn’t exactly behind the threatened, what exactly can they do? When the social contract they signed is repeatedly and mercilessly broken, what else can hold them back?

There is also one other reason why I like the mix of journalism and comedy like the clip above. While the cable news media do try to be as precise and honest in their reporting, they often use language, photos and videos to create headlines that intend to grab attention by stirring emotions. Watching a lot of cable news isn’t healthy to anyone’s mind. At least, content like John Oliver’s segments carries some humor that makes the bitter pill easier to swallow.

Supreme Court’s role in immunity for the police – the importance of voting for democracy, not partisanship

How Supreme Court puts its thumb on the scale to seemingly savor the police

Qualified immunity is a legal protection granted by Supreme Court to shield government employees from frivolous lawsuits. In the case of the police which can exercise lethal forces upon citizens, the implications of qualified immunity can be profound. While it’s legitimate to offer police officers latitude in doing their job, qualified immunity can also be overused as a protection from misdemeanors. In this article, Reuters looked into how Supreme Court sided with the police in case involving use of excessive force. I highly recommend that you read the article. Some highlights that I think are important are as follows

In a dissent to a 2018 ruling, Sotomayor, joined by fellow liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, wrote that the majority’s decision favoring the cops tells police that “they can shoot first and think later, and it tells the public that palpably unreasonable conduct will go unpunished.”

In that case, Kisela v. Hughes, the justices threw out a lower court’s ruling that denied immunity to a Tucson, Arizona, cop who shot a mentally ill woman four times as she walked down her driveway while holding a large kitchen knife.

A year earlier, Sotomayor in another dissent called out her fellow justices for a “disturbing trend” of favoring police. “We have not hesitated to summarily reverse courts for wrongly denying officers the protection of qualified immunity,” Sotomayor wrote, citing several recent rulings. “But we rarely intervene where courts wrongly afford officers the benefit of qualified immunity.”

Source: Reuters

The main challenge for plaintiffs in excessive force cases is to show that police behavior violated a “clearly established” precedent. The Supreme Court has continually reinforced a narrow definition of “clearly established,” requiring lower courts to accept as precedent only cases that have detailed circumstances very similar to the case they are weighing.

In February, the federal appeals court in Cincinnati, Ohio, granted immunity to an officer who shot and wounded a 14-year-old boy in the shoulder after the boy dropped a BB gun and raised his hands. The court rejected as a precedent a 2011 case in which an officer shot and killed a man as he began lowering a shotgun. The difference between the incidents was too great, the court determined, because the boy had first drawn the BB gun from his waistband before dropping it.

In other recent cases, courts have sided with police because of the difference between subduing a woman for walking away from an officer, and subduing a woman for refusing to end a phone call; between shooting at a dog and instead hitting a child, and shooting at a truck and hitting a passenger; and between unleashing a police dog to bite a motionless suspect in a bushy ravine, and unleashing a police dog to bite a compliant suspect in a canal in the woods.

The Supreme Court in 2009 raised the bar even higher for plaintiffs to overcome qualified immunity. In Pearson v. Callahan, it gave judges the option to simply ignore the question of whether a cop used excessive force and instead focus solely on whether the conduct was clearly established as unlawful.

By allowing judges to consider only the question of clearly established law in excessive force cases, the Supreme Court created a closed loop in which “the case law gets frozen,” said lawyer Matt Farmer, who represented Lewis’s family.

Source: Reuters

I am not sure I know of situations where the odds are stacked against citizens more. Citizens, in general, do not possess weapons or resources to self-defend against authority which, ironically, is supposed to protect citizens in the first place. In cases where abuse of power is apparent, the laws, as you already see, are not on citizens’ side, either. It’s obviously a disturbing phenomenon to witness. One must wonder whether this qualified immunity and the Supreme Court’s tendency to rule in favor of the police contributes to the abuse of power and excessive use of force.

Vote. Vote. Vote. On every level.

Former President Obama penned a thoughtful blog post detailing his opinion on how the country can move forward from the current crisis. You can read it here

Second, I’ve heard some suggest that the recurrent problem of racial bias in our criminal justice system proves that only protests and direct action can bring about change, and that voting and participation in electoral politics is a waste of time. I couldn’t disagree more. The point of protest is to raise public awareness, to put a spotlight on injustice, and to make the powers that be uncomfortable; in fact, throughout American history, it’s often only been in response to protests and civil disobedience that the political system has even paid attention to marginalized communities. But eventually, aspirations have to be translated into specific laws and institutional practices— and in a democracy, that only happens when we elect government officials who are responsive to our demands.

Source: Barack Obama

Unfortunately, voter turnout in these local races is usually pitifully low, especially among young people — which makes no sense given the direct impact these offices have on social justice issues, not to mention the fact that who wins and who loses those seats is often determined by just a few thousand, or even a few hundred, votes.

So the bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform.

Finally, the more specific we can make demands for criminal justice and police reform, the harder it will be for elected officials to just offer lip service to the cause and then fall back into business as usual once protests have gone away

Source: Barack Obama

The former President said it better than I think I can. So, vote whenever you can because our life depends on your votes a lot. It’s the most powerful weapon you can have in a democracy. What I really hate is that some folks relinquish their voting duty because their “guy or gal” isn’t a candidate or there is only one or two issues that they disagree with their candidate.

Vote for democracy, not partisanship

A study published on Cambridge Press examined whether Americans were willing to trade democracy for partisanship in voting.

…in states and districts where one party enjoys a significant electoral advantage, politicians from the majority party may be effectively insulated from an electoral punishment for violating democratic principles. To get a sense of the real-world relevance of this implication, consider that in 2016 only 5.1% of US House districts were won by a margin of less than 6.9%—the smallest margin that Table 4 implies is necessary for violations of democratic principles to be electorally self-defeating. That share of districts was still only 15.2% in 2018. Put bluntly, our estimates suggest that in the vast majority of U.S. House districts, a majority-party candidate could openly violate one of the democratic principles we examined and nonetheless get away with it.

Source: Cambridge Press

Our analysis of a candidate-choice experiment as well as a natural experiment consistently found that only a small fraction of Americans prioritize democratic principles in their electoral choices when doing so goes against their partisan identification or favorite policies. We proposed that this is the consequence of two mechanisms: (i) voters are willing to trade off democratic principles for partisan ends and (ii) voters employ a partisan “double standard” when punishing candidates who violate democratic principles. These tendencies were exacerbated by several types of polarization, including intense partisanship, extreme policy preferences, and divergence in candidate platforms. Put simply, polarization undermines the public’s ability to serve as a democratic check.

We conclude by discussing the implications of these findings for our understanding of democratic stability in the United States and the rest of the world. We saw that roughly 10–13% of our respondents—depending on the type of contests considered—value democracy enough to punish otherwise favored candidates for violating democratic principles by voting against them

Source: Cambridge Press

What does that mean? In my opinion, if voters were more willing to cross the partisanship line and vote for a person of a different party, it means that the partisanship and the divide within the country would be less severe. Lawmakers would be forced to be more accountable and to offer bipartisan legislations. The world is too diverse and lively for any of us to stubbornly stick to a rigid ideology. If one party is too egregious and the other party’s candidate shares more values with you, you should vote on shared human values, not partisan ideologies or “stick it to somebody else”.

What is happening in front of our eyes? Absolute madness

In this entry, I want to provide you with what I have encountered so far during the last several days of absolute madness and chaos. My intention is to offer evidence of some perspectives that are floating around so that you can make your own judgement

Police brutality

First and foremost, you may want to look at the video of George Floyd being arrested and killed by four policemen. It’s tragic and horrifying, but it shows the worst of the abuse of power from the police. Here is another incident when they kicked a powerless girl

Protesters tried to protect properties from looting

There are real peaceful protests, not just the violent ones that seem to attract more attention

There is a population among police who decided to join the protest

There are white people who compassionately and bravely stepped up to help their black brothers and sisters

There are also legitimate and terrible looters

There are also cooler heads

In the process, the police attacked the press and the First Amendment Right

I am sure there are other incidents that back up each of these perspectives or bring out new vantage points from which you can look at this whole chaos. These are multiple separate issues, each of which deserves its own investigation, national discussion and dramatic overhaul of what is currently in place. However, they are currently lumped into one confusing mess to muddy the waters. You can absolutely call for justice for George Floyd and other victims, and demand racial equality while absolutely condemning the looting that some terrible individuals carried out. The two are mutually exclusive. Just like you can appreciate the job of the police and justly call out the brutality whose frequency is so high that you can’t call it “a few bad apples” any more. Like a friend of mine from Belgium said, no one ever said this about plane crashes: well it crashed, but it’s one bad apple. Indeed, no one ever.

I hope these are helpful to you while you are processing the whole chaos unfolding in front of us.

Dark days in America. What’s next?

Do you even remember how this week began? Do you remember that we are still in the middle of a deadly pandemic that killed more than 100,000 people in America?

What has happened in the last few days is scary, infuriating and sad. It blurred that happened before earlier this week or almost many events that occurred. A black man was arrested by four police officers in Minnesota and brutally killed after one officer put his knee on the victim’s throat for a few minutes. The offender, ironically a police officer in this case, continued his act even after George Floyd repeatedly pled for air. He died at a hospital shortly after. The whole episode was filmed by a few folks that happened to be at the scene and were kind and brave enough to ask the four policemen to stop. It sparked anger and riots across the country that called for justice for the victim. Violence took place. Destruction of properties happened. Police intervened. Politicians voiced opinions and of course, the President poured gas on the fire with his controversial tweets. The whole country is in chaos and suddenly, arguably the worst pandemic ever seems to take a back seat in people’s mind.

As I have been following coverage on this tragedy and the aftermath, I feel sad, angry, scared and worried about what comes next for America. The country is increasingly deep into chaos. The problems that America faces seem impossible to overcome. Let’s go over a few

  • The government is in disarray. The two parties are more willing to win at all cost than to do what’s best for the country. The current administration rolled back a lot of regulations that the previous one put in place. The next administration, if from the opposite party, will install back what was removed. The cylce may continue on
  • There is no longer a uniting, calm and compassionate leadership at the helm. Whenever the current leader gets involved in an issue, things tend to take a turn for worse
  • The trust in authorities is seriously eroded. Scandals, misinformation, corruption, cover-up, violence, ineffective policies, unkept promises
  • Courts seem to be politicized
  • Racism is still alive and well in America. What happened with George Floyd is just one of a few that were caught on camera. It’s 2020 and we still are having to deal with this
  • High unemployment rate amid a pandemic that doesn’t seem to end soon
  • Voter suppression
  • Income inequality

Those are just a few significant challenges that US faces. Can you imagine even with the new leadership and Congress things will change? Can you imagine the divisiveness that we have right now will be lessened with a new administration? Can you imagine racism will go away when it hasn’t after decades? Can you imagine the trust in authorities will be regained soon?

What’s next for America? I think about this a lot because this is where I intended to reside for a while in the future. While China is still growing as an economy and a global power with a less democratic yet effective and stable leadership, America has too many structural challenges to deal with. Do a quick research and you can see America’s standing in the world also slipped over the past 3 years. The anti-immigrant policies make America less attractive to foreign talents. A couple of my friends who wanted to do PhD in the US already ruled out coming here. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend anyone to study here any more.

Perhaps, I am being pessimistic. But if right in the middle of the worst pandemic the social and political issues can dominate everyone’s mind, and we know that given enough time (a few weeks) there will be a bigger scandal, what’s the future looking like for the country? I hope I am wrong, but I don’t see too bright a near future

A word on the fight between the President and social media

It started when the President sent out a tweet about mail-in ballots. Twitter put a note below the tweet to suggest other content to fact-check what the President put out there. Trump took issues with it.

He then sent out a tweet on the debacle in Minnesota with language that seemed to call for violence. Twitter warned users of the content, but didn’t take down the tweet (see below)

Trump, his fanbase and allies accuse the company of violating First Amendment Right and censoring him. He was supported by Mark Zuckerberg, who disagreed with Twitter’s approach. Trump signed an Executive Order to curb protection for platforms like Twitter.

Now, I won’t get into the debate whether First Amendment Right is infringed here. I do want to talk a bit about the fine line social platforms are walking now. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter want to do both:

  • Enable expression and access to information, including what politicians say
  • Promote an impression that they are a safe place for users and that they contribute positively to the world

The challenge is difficult, but it’s not impossible. It becomes much more difficult when bad actors want to distribute misinformation for their agenda. Leaving misinformation intact is detrimental to our society; which contradicts one of the two things platforms want to do. Censoring misinformation will cause outcry over infringement of First Amendment Right and contradict the other. As bad actors want to take advantage of social media to aid their propaganda, the disregard for truth intensifies. Platforms like Twitter are stuck in a dilemma between censoring harmful or false content and abiding by free speech and expression.

In the case of Twitter, they are doing the best they can. They didn’t take down the President’s tweets despite repeated requests from many other users. They did put a label on two of his most egregious tweets recently. But that’s not enough, from both sides. Concerned users want a complete removal of some of Trump’s tweets while Trump is using his popularity and power to arm-twist the company not to.

When the two sides cannot compromise, platforms like Twitter, as some sort of a middleman, will soon have to pick a side. Eventually. The walking-a-fine-thin-line will likely not work for much longer.

5 things I wish I learned/knew sooner than later

What do you wish you knew sooner or later? I ask myself that question all the time. Here is what I came up with for myself.

Know how to curate what to read and how to read

A popular and widely cited stat reads that 90% of the world’s data is generated in the last two years. Regardless of the figures, I think the premise is true. We encounter a lot of information and data every day. News, social media, photos that we take, tweets that we write, new movies or shows that streamers release, songs that artists launch. The deluge of information makes it incredibly challenging for a person to know what information to absorb and from what source. There are days when I spend hours reading and there are days when I get information fatigue. What makes it more tricky and challenging is misinformation. It’s harder than ever to distinguish between accurate information and false information. The accuracy is only just relative, depending on how you look at things. For instance, somebody may claim that the government did a good job with the economy prior to Covid because the stock market hit all time highs and unemployment rate was rate. Well, that may be true, but it’s only part of the story. There are other serious issues to look at including but not limited to federal budget, minimum wages or income inequality. When you take those into account, the assessment won’t look as rosy. Additionally, while there is value in being informed in many areas, specialization into a few may serve you better. It would be valuable for us to learn how to curate what to read, how to read and how to say “no” to information.

No one knows everything all the time

Because we are overwhelmed by a lot of information every, as mentioned above, it makes everyone prone to mistakes in judgement. Hence, even established authorities in certain areas become wrong at times. Legendary investors lost money. Famous economists erred on their predictions. Analysts screwed up on assumptions and evaluations. Scientists’ claims were challenged and debunked. We often associate previous successes with the ability to be right all the time or successes in one area with knowledge in other areas. That often is not true. One tech founder that may succeed in building a billion dollar firm can make disastrously wrong claims on biology or sociology or even in other business areas such as fast food, hospitality or energy.

To figure out when an authority with credibility errs is tricky. How often do you read a scientific article from The Lancet and question it immediately? How often do you read a report from World Bank and pick it apart detail by detail? Or do you share them first? Past track record and credibility help, but they don’t guarantee accuracy all the time. Hence, although it’s good to respect and appreciate greatness, I think it’s valuable to learn to think for ourselves and be vigilant.

Focus. Focus. Focus

I sometimes have to stop myself from multitasking. Modern societies have trained us to constantly want to multitask. We have all been there. Listening to music or podcasts during work. Putting on radio while driving. Chatting while studying at night or doing homework. It’s incredibly difficult to stay completely immune from distractions. I don’t believe anyone can do that. Nonetheless, it is extremely helpful and valuable to learn to be “in the zone” more, even for just a few hours every day to do deep work. I do believe that the more a person can do so, the more he or she can succeed

Learn to write

I think writing is as important, if not more important, than coding which is touted as something we all should learn as early as possible. The ability to communicate in writing, even in the form of an email, a report or an article, is essential nowadays. First, writing is a form of communication with others. A well-written piece can carry a message effectively and there can only be good things coming from effective communication. Second, writing is thinking. When thoughts go into words, we think about the thoughts at hand more. We pick apart every aspect of our thoughts more to make them more refined. So when you come across some good content, it mostly comes from a vigorous thinking process beforehand. It’s not a coincidence that Jeff Bezos replaces the use of Power Points at Amazon with a 6-page memo. Therefore, learning to write is highly important

Learn to different yourself

Whatever you want to do, it’s impossible that you are the first or only person in the world to do it. If you want to launch a cryptocurrency hedge fund, there are hundreds out there. If you want to launch a newsletter, there are thousands already in the market. If you want to build an Asian eatery in the local community, it’s impossible that there is none already in operations. Modern societies and technological advances make it easier than ever to launch individual ventures. At the same time, it’s also exceedingly challenging to stand out from the crowd. What I think can make each of us stand out are individual uniqueness and work ethic. Nobody in the world can beat you at being you. Each of us has a different unbringing, life experience and personality. Infusing that uniqueness into our work, I believe, can make us stand out more. For instance, millions of people can speak English. If you speak English, it’s nothing special. If you add a foreign language such as Japanese, it narrows down the competition. If you add another such as Latin or a special specialty such as flying a commercial jet, it narrows down the competition even more. The chance of standing out from the crowd is now higher. Hence, capitalizing on our unique experience, personality and perspective can be very useful.

The second piece is work ethic. Even if you have all the talent in the world, it means nothing if you don’t put in the work. Athletes like Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Michael Jordan, Cristiano Ronaldo put in hours of work every day even after achieving success and fame. If you don’t have genius-level talent, like most of us, the ability to put in 12-15 hours of work a day will differentiate you from a lot of folks that are not willing to work beyond the required 8 hours. On the other hand, even if you work long hours every day, yet you don’t have a factor that can help differentiate you from others, it doesn’t mean anything. That’s why thousands of blue collar workers who work two or three jobs a day are not as famous or rich as others. The work they do deserves respect, but it is nothing different from the work of hundreds of thousands of others.

Learning about your uniqueness, deploying it and working hard is important and the sooner one does it, the better.

Learn to avoid jealousy and self-pity

I believe it is tremendously important to learn about controlling jealousy and self-pity early in life. Everyone in the world should be happy. Life is too short not to. Though we differ from one another in the things that make us tick, there are a few common factors that contribute to happiness such as being healthy, avoiding jealousy or feeling sorry for yourself all the time. While they seem obvious, they all require practice and learning. If you sit on the couch on the time and eat fast food every day, chances are that you won’t be healthy. If you don’t purposefully train your mind not to be jealous of others or compare yourself to others, chances are you may not be able to do it. If you are trapped in self-pity and don’t make effort to get out of that trap, how can you? I grew up in Asia where your parents subject you to comparison with other kids all the time. If you get a 9 out of 10 from a school assignment after putting in a lot of work, you may still be scolded if other kids get 10. I was trained and wired to be jealous as a kid. I worked really hard in the past few years to escape from that and I make concerted effort every day to stay away from the jealousy and self-pity. Does it make me completely happy? No, because there are other factors at play: work, family, relationship, goals. But it surely helps me not be unhappy.

What do you wish you learned/knew sooner than later?

Beautiful and inspirational speech by John Bradley on being comfortable with yourself

John Bradley, who played Sam Tarly in Game of Thrones, had a beautiful inspirational speech on accepting himself and being comfortable with finding his own way through life. He used to feel shy and sorry about himself before Thrones, until the two Executive Directors chose him for a very important role in arguably the biggest TV show ever in history. They chose him because of his virtues or what he considered as his failures. I can relate to the shyness and the self-consciousness.

Like him, I often went to bed, thinking that when I woke up, some things about myself would be different. In the past, I got jealous of folks who were more famous and richer than me, especially my peers. The jealousy has been reduced over the past few years after digging into how to live a happier life and the harm of jealousy. Nonetheless, the trap of jealousy and self-consciousness is always there, lurking around and waiting to take over at any time. It’s a real constant struggle to keep it at bay. I am sure that I am not the only person with that struggle. It feels encouraging to hear from a real life case study, especially a famous celebrity bravely talk about it.

We should make some much needed amendments to the Constitution

On this Friday night, I did something that I hadn’t done before, but I should have: read the Constitution itself. The document is often referenced in politics and in our life. It is one of the Founding documents upon which this country is built. After almost 250 years, I think it needs some much needed amendments sooner rather than later.

Take Congress. As far as I know, there is no term limit to congressmen or congresswomen or Senators in Congress. We see many folks who serve multiple terms and are still in office despite being of age. There is undoubtedly the benefit of wisdom that comes with age, but there is also a risk that elder folks do not catch up with the technological and societal advances in our life. If you watch hearings on technological issues that took place in the past, you can see how much our lawmakers don’t understand technology. There is a minimum age at which one can apply to be in Congress. So why isn’t there an upper limit on age?

Another issue I can think of is the Electoral College. Electoral College favorably gives power to Midwestern States, which are much less populated than coastal states. In 2016, Hilary Clinton won the popular vote, but lost the election due to the Electoral College, something that happened 5 times in the past. In my opinion, a democracy should follow what the majority say. Hence, that’s something we should change. Getting ride of the Electoral College doesn’t strip anyone of their vote. Each individual vote would become equally important. As of now, that statement cannot be said about the Electoral College.

The same vein can be applied to the Senate. Each state sends two Senators to the Senate. As in the case of the Electoral College, the rule doesn’t take into account the population size of each state. Consequently, senators from less populated states have the same power as senators from usually coastal states. When it comes to votes, senators represent folks from their state. Put it this way, let’s say every vote from a senator is worth a million points. One state’s two votes are worth two million votes at a time. If California has 40 million people in population, each Californian’s representation is 0.05 points. If Wyoming has 500,000 in population, the representation of each citizen of Wyoming in the Senate is worth 4 points. So, isn’t it against the tenet of democracy that the two states’ voices carry the same weight?

Another amendment that should be added relates to the 2nd amendment or the right to bear arms. First of all, I do agree that the freedom and right to bear arm should be given to citizens. What I think should be clarified in the writing of the Constitution is that such a right should be in accordance with regulating rules. We are entitled to drive a car to the streets, but we all have to get licensed to do so. Then, why is it different for bearing arms? And since so many folks get hung up on the language of the 2nd amendment, the best way for this country to move forward on this issue is to give more clarification to the amendment.

Lastly, the impeachment. The Constitution says that a President can be impeached for “High Crimes or Misdemeanors”, but it fails to clarify what High Crimes or Misdemeanors actually means. When there is ambiguity in the language, there is a change that it will be misused and taken advantage of by folks with motive. To avoid the situation, we should clarify as much as possible what the terms mean. The Office of The President is extremely powerful. Because of the power it wields, we should be as precise as possible in how we can hold Presidents accountable. I don’t think we take into account all scenarios in one update of the Constitution. What we instead can do is to keep it a living document, updating it frequently.

Barriers to entry become liabilities during Covid-19 & remote working

Barriers to entry become liabilities

For the past few weeks, I have seen people claim that Disney is doomed because it reported millions of loss due to the closure of its parks and resorts which, in normal times, bring a lot of revenue and margin to the table. In the same vein, airlines are called a horrible business since there are a lot of costs involved and it’s capital intensive, making it extraordinarily vulnerable in the face of a pandemic like the one we are going through.

They have a point.

However, it’s also important to remember that the current liabilities are what make barriers to entry in their industries so high. Restaurants have low barriers to entry, so it’s not unusual to see a new restaurant in town every day. How often do you see a new airline come up? Because the barriers to entry are so high, airlines at least don’t have to worry too much about a new competitor enter the fray often. Similarly, operating a park like Disneyland is no joke. It requires employing hundreds of employees and a tremendous fixed cost as well as maintenance expenses. How many parks at the same scale as Disneyland enter the market every week/month?

This crisis will blow over. It has to. It’s unfathomable to think that we will be in this self-quarantine forever. Once we get back to normal, whatever it may be, people will fly and go to Disneyland again. Although I don’t deny that what reduces new competition for those businesses now becomes sort of liabilities, it’s worth remembering that nothing good comes easy. The same logic applies to business

Remote working

Plenty of discussion online has been about how people will adjust their working style post-Covid19. Even in my company, talk has been going around on how folks will continue to work remotely for a while and how preparation should be looked into to accommodate that need. Personally, I think there will be a mixed working style moving forward. Indeed, working remotely saves everyone time from having to dress up and driving to work. Nonetheless, there is also value in face-to-face and human interaction. There is a reason why companies design common areas, hoping that folks will randomly bump into each other and creativity will spark. Plus, speaking from personal experience, I am sick of sitting at my desk, staring at the screen for hours and putting more time into work. I miss my workplace, my coworkers and casual conversations at work. So, even though folks will prefer working remotely 100% in the short term, in the long run, I expect it to be a mix.