My thought on Mitt Romney's decision

The impeachment hearing is over. The result is exactly what many who had been following this saga and I expected. The defendant was acquitted along the party line. Much of the noise that came out of the hearing was Mitt Romney’s decision to join Democrat senators to vote in favor of the article(s) of impeachment. Ever since, the former presidential candidate has received plenty of praise for the act.

I wouldn’t particularly get on that train and give him total credit. To be clear, I am in no position to speculate what was behind Senator Romney’s decision to support the impeachment. His coming out to support the Democrats was at the end of the hearing when it was mathematically impossible to remove the President from office. His decision came already too late and looked suspiciously a bit self-serving.

The main reason why I suspected the Senator’s motive was that he didn’t vote to subpoena evidence and witnesses. He already swore his oath at the beginning of the hearing and I believe in my heart, regardless of how I would have preferred the trial to turn out, that his duty was to be as impartial and fair as possible. Impartiality would involve getting as much information and truth to light as possible and that meant calling for evidence and witnesses. Had he come out in support of the subpoenas, other Republican senators on the fence would have had more leverage and support. Democrats would have had more momentum. THAT would have been a true and undisputed example of courage and upholding the faith that he talked about.

I believe that Senator Romney’s character played a role in his decision. I am not that paranoid or cynical. However, I would have believed him more if he had come out in the end and said: sorry everybody, I messed up on the subpoena votes, I am sorry and I now support the article(s) of impeachment. Or if he had voted on the call for witnesses or evidence. It’s exceedingly tough for me to overlook the fact that he went along with his party at the expense of the oath that he took.

Book: When breath becomes air

I came across this book thanks to suggestions on this Twitter thread. So a shoutout to those who recommended it.

The book is a memoir penned by a dying young neurosurgeon named Paul Kalanithi. Paul was diagnosed with a lung cancer when he was on his way to earn a doctorship. He staged an inspiring battle against cancer while continuing to do what gave his life meaning. In the end, he passed away roughly two years after the first diagnosis and shortly after his daughter was born.

His life, his focus on his calling and the bond between him and his wife were inspiring to read. Though it left me in a downbeat mood for the obvious reason, I was glad that I picked up the book and through the words of the Kalanithi, went on a journey with them and learned from them.

I recalled listening to Steve Jobs saying that death reminded us how we were all going to die and it put everything we do into perspective. We only have one shot at life and need to make it count, no matter what it means to each of us. Reading the book plummeted me into realization and somewhat fear that life was too short. One moment, Paul was a marathon runner, a hotshot neurosugeon in California with a great family and a splendid career awaiting. The next moment, he found himself in a losing battle with death and powerless in his final days to the point that even eating was a torture.

Similar to all other book-related posts, below is the list of some of my favorite passages. I highly recommend you give this book a chance.

Only later would I realize that our trip had added a new dimension to my understanding of the fact that brains give rise to our ability to form relationships and make life meaningful. Sometimes, they break

Source: when breath becomes air

I had come to see language as an almost supernatural force, existing between people, bringing our brains, shielded in centimeter-thick skulls, into communion. A word meant something only between people, and life’s meaning, its virtue, had something to do with the depth of the relationships we form. It was the relational aspect of humans—i.e., “human relationality”—that undergirded meaning.

Source: when breath becomes air

Our patients’ lives and identities may be in our hands, yet death always wins. Even if you are perfect, the world isn’t. The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, that you will lose, that your hands or judgment will slip, and yet still struggle to win for your patients. You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.

Source: when breath becomes air

If the weight of mortality does not grow lighter, does it at least get more familiar?

Source: when breath becomes air

Everyone succumbs to finitude. I suspect I am not the only one who reaches this pluperfect state. Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed

Source: when breath becomes air

When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.

Source: when breath becomes air

I expected to feel only empty and heartbroken after Paul died. It never occurred to me that you could love someone the same way after he was gone, that I would continue to feel such love and gratitude alongside the terrible sorrow, the grief so heavy that at times I shiver and moan under the weight of it. Paul is gone, and I miss him acutely nearly every moment, but I somehow feel I’m still taking part in the life we created together.

Source: when breath becomes air

No philosopher can explain the sublime better than this, standing between day and night. It was as if this were the moment God said, “Let there be light!” You could not help but feel your specklike existence against the immensity of the mountain, the earth, the universe, and yet still feel your own two feet on the talus, reaffirming your presence amid the grandeur

Source: when breath becomes air

My failures in the last year

Holidays are the time for reflection and thinking forward. I have had some ups and downs over the past year. While it is tempting to write about what I achieve, which is by no means numerous, I prefer writing about what I failed at and what I can improve on in the near future.

Insufficient focus

Like many others, I succumbed to the constant distractions in our daily life. News, friends, entertainment, TV shows, sports, music, you name it. I wasn’t as focused as I should be. The amount of deep work time wasn’t as much as I would like it to be. It definitely sits at the top of my personal to-do list this year and moving forward.

Gained weight

When do you think you would spend more time in the gym: while working 20 hours at school, 20 hours as an intern at work and taking a Dual Master’s degree or after you graduate and have only your full-time position? For me, it’s the former! I know, shame on me. I did manage to spend less time in the gym for the past year than when I was still in school. The consequence? 12 more pounds was gained. Clothes became tighter. Confidence was sapped.

Lost control of expenses

The second half of 2019 witnessed arguably my wort self in terms of personal finance. Some expenses were inevitable such as learning to drive, buying a car and paying for accompanying costs such as insurance, car washes and maintenance. What worried me was my reckless spending on booze, unnecessary dining and excessively expensive coffee while I could have free coffee from work and my own building. Since my H1B status limits what I can earn in addition to my full time job, the failure to save money effectively was pretty embarrassing on my part.

Missed calls on the stock market

Apple stock stood at $142 on 3rd January 2019 after Tim Cook’s letter to announce a revised guidance. I didn’t load up on the stock. 12 months later, the stock is around $290 today. It’s just one of the few examples of how my indecision hurt me financially. I did have some stocks in my portfolio that didn’ perform as expected. However, the disappointment with such stocks didn’t eat me up as much as the regret over indecision. Lesson learned.

Lack of sales skills

I am not good at sales. Emphatically not good enough. I ought to be better at selling my ideas, my opinions, my work and myself. At the end of the day, we humans interact with one another and having decent sales skills can be helpful in my career and personal life.

Dearth of volunteering work

I need to start involving in the local community more. It’s not a high bar when the total number of volunteering hours l accrued this year is a grand zero.

I may sit here at this time next year and write about the same failures again. I do plan to work on some, if not all, of them in the next 366 days. Regardless, I do want to keep myself honest and accountable.

Connecting the dots looking backward

“You can only connect the dots looking backward” – I think those words or something along that line came from Steve Jobs.

When I was 15, I joined High School for the Gifted, a high school that was 20 mins from my home. I was the first person in the family that went to a high school outside of a 10-min radius from my place. All the years studying maths in secondary school led me to sign up for the entrance exam to the maths class at that high school. I failed by 0.5 points. I thought that was it, but I was offered a second chance to join either the IT, Chemistry or Physics class. I chose the latter despite knowing almost zero about physics. When I graduated, I didn’t know much either. Back then, I didn’t even know what a USB was and I was certainly clueless about A LOT of things. But my friends and peers saved me. Their wanting to go overseas motivated me to follow suit and enabled me to dare to dream. The seed was planted in those days and I started to plot my way to go overseas.

After high school, I took on the SAT mission. I couldn’t remember the score anymore, but it wasn’t high enough to secure a scholarship. Two months after the SAT test, I passed the entrance exam to a polytechnic university in Finland. Back in the day, education was free in Finland, even for foreigners. My family’s finance wasn’t great. As a result, I took that chance to go and study in Finland. A few months after coming to Finland, I used my SAT to get into Aalto University, the best university in Finland. That turn of events opened the doors for me later which led me to the University of Nebraska at Omaha and America several years after.

Around 2015, I was working in the Marketing department for a small hotel in Hoi An, Vietnam. Being small and lacking personnel, our hotel didn’t have a designated person to take care of revenue management. I volunteered to assume such responsibility since I was eager to learn and felt comfortable with numbers. Little did I know that the experience was the answer in the interview 4 years later that landed me my current job.

It has been 10 years since the first date I went overseas for the first time. A little more than that since the day I walked into my high school. A lot of things happened and even though it felt insignificant at the time, the events usually took place for a reason and led to bigger consequences later in my life. Like Steve said, we can only connect the dots looking backward. My point is that if you stumble upon this post and read this humble account of a Vietnamese stranger, keep in mind that whatever you go through may pay dividends later. Well, it may also bring about consequences, but a Friday night does call for a little extra optimism, doesn’t it?

We are prone to simplifying a complicated world

As human-beings, we are all entitled to freedom of speech. Everybody should be able to voice his or her opinion, but the right isn’t absolute. When one person dishes out lies about others, the lies strip the victim of the right to be perceived truthfully. The problem is that who will decide whether the culprit should be punished, what punishment there should be and who will be the judge. Nobody can have an answer that satisfies everybody, whether the answer is governments or corporations such as Facebook, Twitter or Google. Defining the limits of free speech while preserving such a right is a highly complex question.

A big topic that receives a lot of attention and debates is socialism and capitalism. Each social system has its own strengths and weaknesses, and each only works with a certain set of conditions. It’s similar to our personal life. What we think at 16 doesn’t work when we reach 25 or 40. Conditions evolve and systems need to evolve to adapt too. Yet, what happens is that folks tend to swing to an extreme end to advocate for his or her belief, neglecting the complexity of a social system and what is required to make it work.

I believe that it is possible to evaluate the performance of a government. It’s fair to say that the Singaporean government did an exceptional job in bringing a country with few natural resources to where it is today. Or it is fair to say that the Japanese government did a great job in elevating the country after World War II. What I don’t believe is that one metric in a snapshot can be telling of a government’s performance. We often see in the media politicians take credit for unemployment rate or a number of jobs created. Well, we have to ask questions, including but not limited to 1) what kind of jobs were created 2) do we have a growth in wages? 3) how is it compared YoY and 4) at what cost? Let’s say that the government increased spending in order to generate jobs but received little in revenue in return. It means that it’s true that there are jobs created, but at the same time the federal deficit increased. The government or the nation sank deeper in debt. Therefore, it’s not easy at all to say with certainty how well a government performs, especially only over a short period of time. But do we see that sentiment on the news?

Another polarizing debate is climate change. Both the doubters and proponents of climate change present their respective scientic studies and data to back up their case. The problem is which side is correct. We generate a lot of data that can be sliced and interpreted in different ways in order to create various narratives. Some politicians or celebrities call “climate change” the defining problem of our time or something along that line. They may be right, but it’s not easy to know the answer to that.

The older I get, the more I realize how complicated and complex the world is. Yet, folks tend to make definitive statements on highly complex issues for various reasons, myself included to be frank. We are all prone to simplifying a complex world more than we should. Perhaps, a little reservation, a little prudence, a little thinking it through, a little humility, a little self-honesty will make the world a better place.

Some random observations in Vietnam

I am in the middle of a visit to Vietnam. Here are a few casual and randome observations I have had so far

Service fees

In addition to VAT, there is a new, at least to me, item on each bill: service fees. Based on my experience, it’s about 5% of the original bill. I hadn’t seen anything similar before.

Grab drivers in Hanoi don’t shift gears

A lot of Vietnamese people use manual scooters to commute. To be an effective and efficient driver, you need to shift gears so that you have more power after a stop and more speed when you are already moving stably. Effective gear shifting makes a ride more pleasant and protects the engine better. However, I noticed from a few Grab rides in Hanoi that drivers don’t shift gears. A few shifted gears, but it’s nowhere near enough to be effective

Grab drivers double charge customers the airport fees

At Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon), there is a toll that automobile drivers need to pay only once when they are getting out of the airport. On my way home from the airport, I was asked by the driver to cover that fee, which amounts to 10,000 VND (roughly $0.4). I was fine with that because I saw him pay the toll. However, when I was in a car entering the airport, the driver never had to pay anything. Yet, he still charged me the same amount. I am sure that he would ask the next passenger to pay as well.

Traffic jam at the airport

Knowing the ridiculous amount of traffic overflow that Tan Son Nhat has to handle, I booked the second earliest flight to Hanoi and got to the airport around 4am, thinking that the check-in would be short and quick. Boy, was I wrong! It was super crowded. It took me 75 minutes in total to complete check-in and security checks! At 4AM! Imagine the normal or peak hours!

Difficulty in exchanging currencies

Before I left the US for Vietnam, I withdrew some cash to cover my expenses. The ATM gave me only $20 bills; which I had no problem with since I didn’t think there would be any issues. On the first day in Vietnam, I tried to convert it into the local currency and it was not the smoothest thing in the world.

Firstly, you are charged a lower exchange rate with $20 bills than with $100 bills. Secondly, if your bills have small tears, some ink – no matter how small, or the print blurried a bit by time and excessive contact with human hands, the bills won’t be accepted by banks in Vietnam. You either have to go to local jewelry stores to do the exchanging or keep your dollars.

Grab – On its way to become a Super app

Gab entered Vietnam as a competitor of Uber. It proceeded to buy out Uber. Now, every person I know uses Grab for commute. I am sure other ride-hailing apps have customers, but Grab is by far the dominant player. Plus, you can do a lot of things with your Grab account including ordering food, paying bills, booking hotels and paying subscriptions

Smaller government or smarter governing?

One of the conservative ideologies in governing is that we need a smaller government and freer enterprise. The premise behind that thinking, I suspect, is that we trust companies to do well by doing good. The problem is they don’t often do so.

Here is the new initiative by AT&T

Enjoy more data. Starting with your October 2019 bill, you’ll get an additional 15GB of data on your Mobile Share plan. This bonus data comes with a $10 price increase. AT&T confirmed to The Verge that there’s no way to opt out of this “bonus.” Here’s the company’s statement:

“We are communicating with some customers regarding changes to their mobile plans. Customers have the choice to change their plan at any time and can always contact us with questions or to understand their options.”

This probably won’t surprise AT&T customers one iota, of course — this is the company that was just finally slapped on the wrist with a $60 million fine for throttling what were supposedly “unlimited” plans back in 2011, and the company that’s now pocketing an extra $800 million in “admin fees” every year after more than doubling that inexplicable surcharge last June. This is the company that’s now making you pay its property taxes on your business internet bill, while it repeatedly jacks up the rates of its few remaining grandfathered unlimited cellular plans.

Source: The Verge

The predatory practice is so disturbing that I don’t have the word to describe it.

Another example is Boeing with their 737 Max woe.

“The culture was very cost centered, incredibly pressurized,” Adam Dickson, who worked for Boeing for 30 years and led a team of engineers that worked on the 737 Max, told BBC Panorama in a program airing Monday night.

“Engineers were given targets to get certain amount of cost out of the airplane,” he added.” Certainly what I saw was a lack of sufficient resources to do the job in its entirety.”

Source: Business Insider

The cost-cutting goal at Boeing led to the company using $9/hour engineers on the planes that sell for millions of dollars and can decide the fate of thousands of passengers. This is a company that enjoys a duopoly of the sky, along with Airbus.

There are certainly a lot more examples of how companies do not volutarily act in the interest of consumers. You will find out more by watching a few episodes of either Patriot Act or Last Week Tonight.

My point is that companies care more about bottom line than consumer interest. Sometimes, those two issues align and be sure that they will advertise the hell out of what they do “for you”. Unless there is a party that can help keep the companies in check, consumers will be at their mercy. There are a few cases in which consumers can threaten the existence of companies such as the #DeleteUber movement a while ago, which suddenly kept Lyft from administration. However, those cases are not common or not common enough.

That’s why we need rules and governments to enforce those rules. It is understandable that red tape and unnecessary regulations are a pain and should be removed (trust me, as an immigrant dealing with all these immigration policies, I already had a bit of American bureaucracy). But that means we need to be smarter in governance , not less governance. By removing all regulations, we help companies reduce compliance costs and be legally less responsible.

As citizens, we don’t have the time and resources to understand all these regulations and conduct studies on how they affect business. The job is left to people who are dedicated to making laws: lawmakers. Hence, whenever somebody mentions that we ought to remove regulations, be sure to ask who and what will protect us citizens from the excessive corporate greed?