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Archive for July, 2007

Whenever the stock market takes a hit, some people (and lolcats) act like the SKY IS FALLING. As scary as a drop like this seems, it’s a good thing for the vast majority of us. For people who are retired and living off of their investments, or those who need to sell them for one reason or another, a huge dive like this really bad news. Hopefully, those people invest more conservatively than I do. Whenever the market takes a dive, my portfolio seems to get punished twice as much as the rest of the market. That’s probably due to the fact that I tend to invest in either less known or less popular stocks that institutional investors would want to distance themselves from at the first sign of trouble. Losing a bunch of money by investing in the same thing that everyone else did, is one thing. Losing a bunch of money in some stock nobody’s heard of is something else. Fund managers buying into Microsoft at the end of 1999 had plenty of company. Those who loaded up on Gigamedia like I did last week might face some tougher questions.

As usual, there are some cooler heads at the Motley Fool. For the majority of us, a drop in prices is a good thing. That’s because most of us who invest plan to be net buyers in the near to mid-term future and when we’re buying, we want prices to be low. It’s only for those who chose to, or, due to excessive margin debt, are forced to sell now, that low prices are a bad thing. There’s an old Chinese chengyu related to this situation.


Literally, 杞人 just means a person from the ancient country of and 憂天 means worry (about) the sky. This phrase comes from an old story about a man from Qǐ who often spent time sitting by himself considering all manner of problems. One day, he considered that the sky might collapse some day. The more he thought about it, the more worried he became. Realizing that everyone, good people along with bad would certainly be crushed by the sky when it collapsed, his spirits continued to sink. It disrupted his sleeping and eating and in the end, he worried himself to death. Ever after, “Qǐ man worrying about the sky” has been a short phrase associated with needless and possibly self-destructive worrying.

In the case of stock investing, selling out of everything after a sharp drop in prices is about as self destructive as it gets. A more logical position is that of Warren Buffet’s old mentor Benjamin Graham- be greedy when others are fearful. He should know, considering he made his fortune by buying stocks during the great crash early last century and then literally writing the book about value investing. The way I see it, whatever stocks I thought were good purchases three days ago are now even better purchases.

Right now, most of my portfolio is worth less than what it was in June, and most of the companies should be worth a bit more, since they’ve continued to grow. Considering the 15% plus dive in 盛大 prices, I was strongly tempted to buy more. It’s done so well since I bought it the last time the sky was falling that it represents a huge chunk of my portfolio, though. Buffalo Wings has dropped a bit, but it still isn’t what I would call cheap. Harris and Harris, Gigamedia, and Middlebury to a lesser extent, look awfully cheap, though. Other stocks I’ve been looking at also offer some bargains. A couple of Chinese power companies developing green power, Huaneng Power and Suntech Power, both look intriguing, as does online real estate company Loopnet. With this many bargains around, I’m very, very glad that I’ve been working so hard to keep a low margin balance and allow myself so much room for days like this.

In the end, I decided to make three investments.

1) Panera Bread- My investment choices continue to reveal my love of food. Fortunately, it’s a pretty safe bet that Americans will continue dining out in greater and greater numbers. Like Chipotle, Panera has an experienced, successful leader at the helm, is in the midst of regional expansion, and offers high quality, fresh, yummy stuff. Unlike Chipotle, Panera has hit a couple of set-backs in terms of meeting estimated EPS, and its price reflects that. I bought 50 shares at $40.47.

2) Panacos Pharmaceuticals- They’ve got a promising HIV treatment that’s making it’s way through phase 2b trials. It works on a different pathway than existing treatments, and it’s showing effectiveness on people who have already been given other treatments. The risk on this investment is extreme, but so is the upside. I bought 600 shares at $3.23.

3) Gigamedia- I did a thorough analysis of Gigamedia last week. With absolutely no new news, its price is down by nearly 20%. Buying the exact same good for way less than I was willing to buy it for two days ago is a no-brainer. I bought 175 more shares at $10.96.

Legal Disclaimer: All of the information in this article is accurate to the best of my knowledge. However, I make no guarantee about the accuracy of anything written above. I’m not responsible for any mis-typings, or any other errors in the information. If you purchase any stock solely because I did, you do so at your own risk.

This is insanity. I had eight hours of class yesterday. While that may not sound like so much to some, for a teacher at least, it’s a lot. While I’m in class, I’m basically at the front of the room, pacing back and forth like bull, shouting out directions and whipping my students into a (controlled) frenzy. Phonics drills for beginning level students are especially hard on the voice; I exaggerate and draw out each vowel sound at the top of my lungs.

Normally, a teacher at this kind of school only does four hours a day of class, but I’ve managed to line up twice that on Mondays. Part of it is that unlike many of the Modawei-decended schools, I not only have evening classes for third graders and up, I also have early afternoon classes for first and second graders. For most of the year, that has meant that on Mondays and Thursdays, I have five and a half hours of class. Then came the problem with Kristen.

Kristen is the cutest, most adorable second grader in the world, and she tried to take my evening class. I recommended to her parents that they wait six months and then have her start my class. You know how willing Chinese parents are to put off any sort of schooling for their children… In the end, we gave it a shot. She worked hard, I gave her a few remedial classes, and I kept in touch with her parents. It didn’t work, though. She was too little. She had a hard time remembering the grammar, her writing was too slow, and her homework was taking her way too much time. Over a couple of months, she slowly started disliking English class. She always had a great attitude while she was there, but she complained at home.

The solution was simple- move her into an afternoon class. There was a problem, though. I only had one class for first and second graders, and they had already been studying for 7 months. They’d finished almost all my phonics curriculum. They’d also gone through level five of Up and Away, 20 Up and Away readers, and eight Dr. Seuss books. There was no way she could fit into that class. That class doesn’t end until fall, and by then Kristen will be a third grader and won’t get out of school early enough for my afternoon classes.

Faced with all of these problems, I did something crazy. I pulled her from my evening class, and opened a summer first and second grader class for her. It’s two hours a day on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 12:45 to 2:45PM. So far, she’s doing wonderfully, she loves English again, and fortunately for me, five other students have trickled into the class. After eight teaching hours yesterday, I woke up feeling like I’d swapped voices with a 50-year old smoker, though.

Milton Friedman, who passed away less than a year ago, was undoubtedly one of the greatest minds of our time.

Milton Friedman (July 31, 1912 – November 16, 2006) was an American Nobel Laureate economist and public intellectual. An advocate of laissez-faire capitalism, Friedman made major contributions to the fields of macroeconomics, microeconomics, economic history and statistics. In 1976, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for his achievements in the fields of consumption analysis, monetary history and theory and for his demonstration of the complexity of stabilization policy.[1]

According to The Economist, Friedman “was the most influential economist of the second half of the 20th century…possibly of all of it.”[2] Alan Greenspan stated “There are very few people over the generations who have ideas that are sufficiently original to materially alter the direction of civilization. Milton is one of those very few people.”[3] In his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom, Friedman advocated minimizing the role of government in a free market as a means of creating political and social freedom.

Wikipedia: Milton Friedman

Friedman’s words about the War on Drugs are just as relevant today as they were two decades ago. Currently, America leads the entire world in prison population, both in total number, and on a per-capita basis.

The proper role of the government is to prevent other people from harming an individual. Government never has any right to interfere with an individual for that individual’s own good. The case for prohibiting drugs is exactly as strong and as weak as the case for prohibiting people from over eating.
We all know that over-eating causes more deaths than drugs do.”

-Milton Friedman

The following video is about Milton’s idea about the limited role of government:

Milton’s definitive work on the subject, considered by many to be amongst the 100 most influential post WWII books ever written, is Capitalism and Freedom.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama laid out list of political shortcomings he sees in the Bush administration but said he opposes impeachment for either President George W. Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney.

“I think you reserve impeachment for grave, grave breaches, and intentional breaches of the president’s authority,” he said.

USA Obama: Impeachment is not acceptable

At this point I’m wondering what Bush or Cheney would have to do in order for Obama to consider their actions a “grave breach” or “intentional breach of the president’s authority”. I guess lying to Congress, lying to the UN, breaking the Geneva Conventions, illegally firing federal prosecutors, claiming the authority to declare martial law, revoking habeas corpus and torturing people who haven’t even had a chance to see a lawyer doesn’t cut it. Would Obama draw the line at gas chambers?

Or, is he hoping to inherit those authoritarian powers rather than abolish them?

Thomas Jefferson was already onto this problem nearly 200 years ago. In 1819, he said: “Experience has already shown that the impeachment the Constitution has provided is not even a scarecrow.” Those who seek power are the last to condemn their authoritarian predecessors who extend its reach.

This is great. My favorite Democratic candidate in the primaries, Mike Gravel, made it to the Colbert Report, and absolutely pwned Colbert!

Colbert: Let’s face facts. You’re a little bit behind in the polls. As a matter of fact, The USA Today poll has you running neck-and-neck [at 1%] with Someone else.

Gravel: Yes, but I’m here and I’m going to get the Colbert Bump… if you can get me to double-digits, I would consider you as vice presidential material.

Related post: Mike Gravel: People are dying and they’re interested in the symbolic vote?
Related post: YouTube fame propels Ron Paul to mainstream media coverage

According to the Washington Bureau Chief, the Senate has passed the “Lieberman Amendment” on Senate Bill 1547: National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008. With a final vote of 97-0, the bill is passed and the possibility of another war has just inched forward.

WASHINGTON – The Senate Wednesday put aside a growing schism over the conduct of the Iraq war and rallied around a strongly-worded warning to Iran authored by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman.

The House version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (H.R. 1585), passed 397-27.

Update: The record of the Senate vote is now online here. Only three senators were absent from the vote, Brownback (R-KS), Johnson (D-SD), and Vitter (R-LA). Everyone else in the senate, including presidential candidates Clinton, McCain and Obama voted for the amendment.

Further commentary available here.

Unsurprisingly, Ron Paul was one of the few brave souls to vote against this bill in the House. Earlier this year, he publicly denounced the growing military rhetoric against Iran:

Unfortunately, the war-mongers are far more numerous, and the drum beat continues to get louder.

Update: According to the L.A. Times, most of the foreign insurgents in Iraq come from Saudi Arabia, not Iran.

Update: The house has passed a bill to cling on the United Nations Security Council to charge Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with violating the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the United Nations Charter because of his “calls for the destruction of the State of Israel”. It passed 411-2; only Paul and Kucinich voted against it.

Like many other Americans, I’ve been sorely disappointed with what the Democrats have done since regaining control of Congress in the 2006 elections. Bush hasn’t been impeached, violence in Iraq is increasing, and the illegal federal wiretapping program continues. Somewhat similarly to the Republican primaries, only one candidate in the Democratic primaries is speaking out against the war in Iraq- Mike Gravel.

Gravel: those presidential candidates that are standing up with me, they’ve got the power to end this war and they’re not doing anything about it. And that in my mind is immoral, because as we we’re talking then, as we’re talking now, George, human beings are dying

He was one of the first voices of dissent against the war in Vietnam, and at one point, he held a one-man filibuster against the draft. Though unpopular at the the time, it does add some weight to his denunciations of hypocrisy in the current Democratic elite. Unfortunately for Gravel, he is gaining little traction online, or off.

Stephanopoulos interviews the long-shots:
Mike Gravel’s interview starts at (7:58)

ABC News: This Week, July 8th
continue reading…

Ron Paul is the undisputed “internet candidate”, but he’s not the only one to get a boost from Youtube. Barack Obama has also been able to turn the net to his advantage, largely due to his mild anti-war stance. Despite the vast number of political connections and pre-built fundraising infrastructure that Hillary Clinton has at her disposal, Obama has beaten her out as the top fund raiser. The internet is almost certainly the reason.

Vote Different
This ad is a re-mix of Apple’s famous anti-IBM ad played during the 1984 superbowl. Now, Hillary is “big brother”.

“I Got a Crush…On Obama”
This one is a music video.

While Obama doesn’t have nearly the number of videos out there, his popular videos are absolutely huge. They are also very, very well produced. For the most part, they focus on feelings, not political issues. This may be because Obama’s platform is so similar to Clinton’s.

Don’t tread on me
This video is completely about the issues, and is filled with debate clips and quotations.

Stop Dreaming
This video showcases Ron Paul’s most controversial ideas, once again with factual information.

I want Ron Paul
This is the only purely “emotional” Ron Paul video I managed to turn up. It is very low-budget compared to any of Obama’s. It is overflowing with conviction, though.

All in all, Ron Paul’s videos look more like a genuine grass-roots attempt. There are no sophisticated graphics, some words are misspelled, and each has a smaller reach. There are thousands of them, though! In total, Ron Paul’s Youtube channel has 19,887 subscribers, leaving Obama in a distant second with 8,736. No other candidate tops 5,000 yet.

Will 2008 be remembered as the “Youtube Election”? I don’t think broadband internet usage is widespread enough in the US for it yet, but the Youtube effect can’t be ignored. Ron Paul, an incredible long-shot with very little campaign funding to begin with has harnessed the same sort of viral internet marketing that has built so many online businesses over the past few years. He has actually made the transition from the “answer to a trivia question”, as one commenter put it, to broadcast TV coverage.

Ron Paul on The Daily Show with John Stewart

Ron Paul on Tucker Carlson
The Galveston Flood and Hurricane Katrina

Ron Paul On Real Time With Bill Maher (3-30-07)
A tough interview. Bill Maher is very skeptical of Ron Paul.

Bill Maher Defends Ron Paul’s Debate Position
Bill Maher asks why no Democrats have the spine to stand up to the Neocons on the war.

Ron Paul On Real Time With Bill Maher (05/25/07)
Maher is now thoroughly won over. Ben Affleck also present.

Ron Paul on Colbert Report 6/13/07
It’s not easy to for Colbert’s character to decide what to think.

By the time he made it to Colbert’s studios, it was clear that Ron Paul’s web-roots support was starting to translate into people on the streets in the real world.

Update: A commenter has called my attention to another video that looks about as mainstream as it gets
“The View” with Joy Behar and Rosie O’Donnell

It was 10 years ago that Hong Kong returned to the mainland. It was also the first time in my life I had gone over-seas. I came to Taiwan, hoping to learn something about myself, and hoping to experience something really different than the life I knew back in Colorado. With very little planning, no ability to speak Chinese, and no idea what to expect, I put the plane ticket on my credit card and came for a few weeks.

At the time, it was a breath-taking experience- the humidity, the Chinese written everywhere, and the rain. It was pouring when I got to the train station. I don’t know how the heck I managed to find a youth hostel, but I did. It was a run-down place named “Happy Family” up on the fifth floor of a concrete building. I must have been quite a sight when I got to the top. A gangly hundred and sixty something pounds, lugging three suitcases, dripping wet and grinning like crazy.

In the hostel I met all sorts of free-spirited people who had abandoned various degree programs or goals to become travelers. There was a bare-chested Canadian guy with long curly hair, who had dropped out of school because he was sick of just reading about anthropology and wanted to see something. There were a pair of Australian girls who were interested in New Age philosophy and wanted to learn something about Chinese traditions. There was a middle-aged American guy who came for a fresh perspective on life after his wife had left him. Dozens of others were just stopping by for a couple of months to fund the next leg of larger travels.

Everything about those weeks I spent here is etched into my memory. What strange, though, is to be able to examine those same memories from my current perspective. I couldn’t understand much Chinese at all then. By necessity, a great deal of my contact was with with the foreigners in the hostel. The area around the train station was torn up for construction and I didn’t know why. At the time I never would have imagined that I’d return to Taiwan six years later, much less still be here now, another four years after that.

I watched the Hong Kong handover on TV then. Seeing it again on Youtube now brought back this wave of nostalgia.

That trip changed my life. There’s no doubt about it. It was my first time going anyplace truly alien. It was the first time I shaved my head (actually the two Australians shaved it for me). It was the first time I went to a bar or a dance club. It was the first time I really got the idea that entire huge places are filled by people speaking a foreign language. If I hadn’t come to Taiwan, there’s no way I would have abandoned my math major for linguistics and then later Japanese.

Related: Former HK Administrator Chris Patten Reflects on the HK Handover (The Guardian)