More Thoughts on Russia’s invasion

With all the reading I’ve been doing on the invasion, the gods of algorithm showed two interesting viewpoints of why Russia is invading Ukraine.

1) It’s for the resources. Apparently, there are huge deposits of resources in the Black Sea off the coast of Ukraine/Crimea as well as natural gas deposits under Ukrain.

2) It’s historical. The birthplace of Soviet Russia originated from Ukraine and are thus “one people” with Russians.

Again, I absolutely believe the western democracies HAVE to retaliate in force. It’s democracy at stake. Where are all the Republican hawks who are spouting how great US democracy is and how great freedom is?

My thoughts on Russia Invading Ukraine

In the past 48 hours, Russia is invading Ukraine.

Let’s think about it… a soveriegn nation is actively attacking and invading another sovereign nation. The last time this happened might be when Iraq invaded Kuwait (I think?). The rest of the world MUST respond by sending troops to defend and free Ukraine. It is the ONLY ACTION to take. If the world doesn’t commit any military action, it sends a signal that any nation who has a large military can attack and invade a smaller weaker neighboring nation while only suffiner “sanctions.”

The current sanctions will not do any good now that the fighting has started. Sanctions probably would never have worked against Russia. Russia doesn’t care about the money. It has enough resources and neutral parties (namely China) to trade with. What Russia wants is to annex Ukraine via puppet government similar to the old Soviet Union/USSR days. Russia is actively calling out Western democracies bluff on the use of force and the world needs to come together to show Russia cannot bully the world.

What can the world do? Here are my thoughts:

1) The United Nations should also seek to remove Russia from the Big 5. It should be replaced by another country (India? maybe an African country? a vote from the remaining assembly members?). There should be some sort of bullshit rule the UN assembly makes that specifically amends the UN rules that kicks out Big 5 members by a vote… maybe a majority of Big 5 + majority (or 60%, 65%, 75%?) of the assembly members. Russia after all has to be punished.

2) The democracies of the world MUST react with force to defend the principle of democracies.

3) China… yes China… if they want to take an active role as the 3rd super power… China should actually be leading the charge and be the first to put ground troops in Ukraine. Why? In the weeks leading up to this invasion, Russian “rhetoric” to justify invasion was centered around “freeing/liberating” the breakaway Ukrainian provinces. Or “supporting the breakaway provinces” plea to free themselves from “Ukrainian tyranny.” US intelligence apparently debunked most of these stories. Does any of these “free from tyranny” language sound familiar? Tibet? Xinjiang? What if a neighboring country decides to “Free Tibet” like how Russia is “freeing these breakaway provinces”? China absolutely needs to take a stand against Russia if anything to protect it’s own borders but more importantly shift the focus away/out of the bad parts of China and brand itself as Ukrainian liberators against Russian hegemony. China is probably in the best global position to act. They either need to stand up and become the 3rd super power or remain as a lackey to the Russians.

The Ocean Cleanup

Readers of this blog may have heard of this “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” It’s actually two regions in the Pacific Ocean where the ocean currents are collect and “round up” so to speak the various floating plastics and other man-made debris gets washed off, tossed off, drained away, and generally discarded on land and somehow makes their way into the ocean and ocean currents.

ALmost 10 years ago, I heard a Ted Talk of a young environmentalist seeking to change and clean up the oceans. From time to time in the past 10 years, I heard about his successes and failures in the news but much of that news was drowned out by COVID19. Late last year, I read an article that demonstrated the successes of one of his systems. After many years of not seeing/reading updates, I read through and watched quite a few of the Ocean Cleanup YouTube videos. It turns out the Ocean Cleanup has been busy not only developing more efficient systems to clean up the garbage but also on ways to recycle and reuse the recovered plastic into more interesting things. One of these reuses is to make sunglasses and sunglass container.

This effort to clean up the garbage is admirable. To support this project, I paid and recieved these $199 sunglasses. Are they expensive? Yes… but instead of thinking how expensive it is… I’d like to frame it as paying to clean up the plastics in the ocean while also paying to fund alternative methods to resuse the plastics collected. These sunglasses show that the technology exists to reuse discarded plastics. The biggest issue now is to be able to scale up the process enough so that this Ocean Cleanup is self-sustaining to support itself. I bet the founders would love to tell people that they have recycled/reused all the plastics in the world and there is no longer any more plastics to recycle and reuse.

One man’s trash is another man’s $199 treasure….

Overdraft Fees

I recently heard The Indicator from Planet Money’s Overdraft Fees podcast episode. Two statistics immediately jumped out at me.
1) Banks made $15.5 BILLION dollars on the fees in 2019 (CFPB Link).
2) Less than 10% of the banking population generated approximately 80% of the fees.

HOLY CRAP… #2 surprises me the most yet at the same time doesn’t really surprise me at all. Given the income wealth inequality… many people on the lower end of the income distribution are literally cash strapped and living paycheck to paycheck. I’ve heard instances when banks charge a set fee for every transaction that’s overdrawn. That’s fucking ridiculous. Why doesn’t the consumer opt out of this predatory behaviour? Apparently the consumer was under the impression that they HAD to sign up for overdraft fees without realizing that they can opt out. EGADS!!!

I will say that early in my career, I also got hit with overdraft fees. I learned two valuable lessons at that time. First, the ACH transfer delay is a fucking joke since the ACH transfers now could be same day if the banks wanted it so. Also, why use ACH when payments can be electronically delivered immediately through other applications like the bank supported Zelle, Venmo, and Paypal? Second, pending transactions by the bank doesn’t work in your favor and acts as if money is not there. I got hit a few times mainly because I didn’t plan ahead to transfer the money I needed.

I wonder though… if this issue masks a much larger issue of the lack of financial literacy in the US population.

The Dems f-cking it up!! >[

The fact that Sinema and Manchin were “holding out” from joining the Democratic causes that propelled the Dems into the congressional majorities should have been the FIRST warning sign that neither of these senators are going to give a shit about the Democratic causes in Build Back Better. What’s in Build Back Better? The White House website (wiki, link 1, link 2) has a fairly good synopsis. After also reading the other links, here’s my interpretation of it…

Build Back Better (BBB) will probably help families with kids through tax credits, childcare subsidies, universal pre-school programs and probably most importantly paid family leave (link). In US laws, there currenlty is 12 weeks of UNPAID leave (60 working days or 240 hours). Some states have added exceptions and require paid family leave.

BBB also has a concerted effort in pushing US towards a green infrastructure platform to combat climate change and hopefully establishing a future clean energy technology growth. Climate change needs to be enacted at the governmental/federal level. The overwhelming majority of climate scientists (97%) believe there’s climate change (link 1, link 2, the 3%?, another 3%?).

BBB is also trying to bring affordable healthcare to everyone. Although short of providing single payer healthcare to everyone, it will at least try to shore up some of the deficiencies from the ACA (Obamacare). The US healthcare is horribly inefficient at receiving healthcare based on how much it pays (link 1). Spending nearly 20% of annual GDP and with citizens one medical emergency away from bankruptcy, the US’s laissez faire approach to healthcare needs to change.

BBB will try to help the middle income families through affordable housing and affordable college education. The average student loan debt of a graduating senior has been increasing and for 2021 sits at $30,600! There are a number of different options you can use with that amount. A college graduate could buy a reliable Japanese car like Honda/Toyota and drive 10 years before it breaks. And to be realistic, a college graduate doesn’t neccessarily need to drive a high end luxury car like BMW, Mercedes or Lexus straight out of college unless they’re in a customer facing job like sales. Or alternatively, the 30,600 could fund a 10 year passive investment account with a 5% rate of return and $200 monthly contributions which would yield nearly 80K at the end of 10 years. Or, if there’s affordable housing, the graduate could use the money on a down payment for a condo/house which leads to real estate investment wealth.

BBB says it’s “fully paid for” which I highly doubt (confirmed). However, these kinds of programs are meant to be investments in the future. And even if the future is unknown, the US government needs to act quickly because not doing anything might be worse thing to do. Unfortunately, the US government is anything but fast.

OKLO Aurora Nuclear Reactor

I saw this video on YouTube about a new kind of nuclear reactor called Oklo’s Aurora (wiki). To be fair, I have heard of companies pursuing the niche space of making “clean/safe mini-nuclear reactors” in order to generate eletricity for 1000-10000 households. I even read that Bill Gates is also working towards a small reactor (link 1, link 2)!!

Listening to her talk about the technology and reading (link 1, link 2, link 3) a little more about it… this is much smaller than what Bill Gates is working towards. What is awesome about the reactors is the intent to use “spent nuclear fuel” to power the reactor and generate even more energy from the spent fuel. You’re literally using waste no one wants to touch in order to generate power shaving off the half-life of the fuel from potentially millions of years to something at least manageable. What I find also interesting are the concerns related to theft of spent fuel. I do suppose consequences are severe if the radioactive fuel was stolen and/or misused for evil deeds.

The Debt Limit again!?

Seriously… can we as a nation start to hold both Democrats AND Republicans accountable? Back in 2017, the Republicans believed in raising the debt ceiling. When Republicans had the House, Senate and the White House to pass spending bills, of course the debt ceiling will be raised. But god forbid… when Republicans do not control the White House, they are absolutely against raising the debt ceiling.

This political bickering between Dems and Reps is hurting the country. The cyncism behind such flip-flops by both parties is why there’s such low voter turnout.


Bite Toothpaste

Bite Toothpaste

You’ve seen the Instagram / Facebook ads. You’ve read their environmentally sustanability pitch to reduce plastic around dental hygiene (toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, floss). After considering how much plastic you’re using just around dental hygiene, you believe their environmenal goals are noble. You’ve also questioned how can such a small size be enough “toothpaste” to brush your teeth…

Well, I certainly had many of these thoughts. A friend of mine actually ordered some of these Bite toothpaste bits to try. I was gifted a few days supply of the toothpaste and mouthwash bits to try as well. I tried both these bits and I’m a surprised that they both work fairly well.

For the toothpaste bits, I had to use two bits in order to get enough the feeling of enough “foam” to bruch my teeth. I had to actually grind them with my teeth fairly fine in order to get it to foam when brushing. I enjoyed how strong the mint flavor was but the strength dies out much too quickly as I brush. I think these would actually be great to bring on trips instead of a normal toothpaste tube. They are solid and are not constrained by the TSA “liquids and gels” restrictions. The one downside might be the cost. Bite sells an approximte 2-4 month supply of toothpaste bits for $30 (depending on if you use 1 or 2 bits per toothbrushing activity). As comparison, Costco sells a 5-pack of toothpaste for about 12 dollars that lasts at about 8-12 months. For cost conscious and value seeking customers, the Costco alternative is much better.

For the mouthwash bits, one bit was enough to get a powerful minty breath. It actually worked really well much to my surprise. You just bite to break up the bit then sip a little bit of water. And then the bit dissolves into a mouthwash like any typical mouthwash. Since I prefer strength, I usually used two for a that minty power. Similar to the toothpaste bits, these are solid and would be great on trips too. Although, I think people don’t always use mouthwash on trips.

Overall, the experience of using this product was very interesting. There’s certainly an appeal around their sustainability values of reducing plastic. However, this does come with a cost increase. I think there is an opportunity as a niche market for as a travel toothpaste alternative. Like alot of direct to consumer business, I think we’ll probably start seeing these pop up in Target as they start reaching economies of scale.

Here’s a size comparison of how small the toothpaste bits are.

Nation Building Never Works

20 years… Trillions of dollars later… Countless military lives lost…

I never understood why countries do not learn from history. Nation building is only successful when you absolutely take control of EVERYTHING and rebuild it from the ground up. Like Japan after WW2, the US rebuilt a demoralized Japanese population into a functioning democracy. They did so by taking control of the government, minimizing any militaristic threat, and helped the people recover from the ravages of war. But… I don’t think the US did any of that to any degree of success in Afghanistan. The Taliban’s militaristic threat was still present. The new government still clung to the old religious views and clearly corruption still remained. After reading numerous articles and opinions in the past 20 years… I came to the conclusion that the US seemed to be “half-assing” this “nation building exercise.” They never pursued all means necessary to eliminate the Taliban threat completely including leveraging Pakistan to eliminate the Taliban from Pakistani borders. The US also never fully committed to building essential services for the the people. Sure some infrastructure projects were built… but is that truly enough to win over people? If you think about Maslow’s heirarchy… Safety/Security and Survivability/Food comes first. US never provided these two items to all the Afghani people. It’s no wonder there nation building failed.

To be honest and to my surprise, a search of “why did Afghanistan nation building fail” gave me two links (link 1, link 2) and a PDF to read. The two links all point to the need to take control of everything or commit the necessary resources for success. A quick read points to the facts that the US could never have won this war because 1) the scope of the war changed from War on Terror to Nation Building 2) the US political system could never agree on the type and level of support needed. These two major issues limited the resources needed for a complete US domination. Bush Jr never fully was able to commit to a US domination since it would have technically required Congressional support (in both troops and money). So… the war on terror / nation building was doomed for failure from the start. Here’s an interesting VOX article about Biden’s history discussing the Afghan War. Egads…

So what now….? 1) The US should accept any and all females who are seeking refuge/refugee status. 2) The US absolutely must help any and all Afghanis that aided the US troops in the war. 3) Rebuild all the lost reputation and good will from the past 20 years.

So the cable company called me…

So I just got a called by my cable company inquiring if I wanted to decrease my Internet bill. The fact that my cable company has continually increased it’s prices year over year should be regulated. If the pandemic has taught the world anything, the Internet is a critical part of a nation’s infrastructure. The call went something like this:

CC: Am I speaking to <my name>
Me: Yes
CC: OK. Great. I am from <cable company>, do you have a few minutes to chat and answer some questions.
Me: Yes
CC: Thank you. So, do you want to decrease your Internet bill?
Me: Yes
CC: OK. Now, if you could answer a few questions for me, I can help you decrease your bill.
Me: OK
CC: Do you watch any TV?
Me: Nope.
CC: Do you subscribe to any streaming services?
Me: Nope. (I lied)
CC: How do you watch TV shows and news?
Me: I don’t.
CC: *flustered* So you don’t subscribe to Netflix or Hulu?
Me: Nope. I cancelled them.
CC: *silence and then speaking very quickly* Well if you have any questions or support please call <phone number>. *And she hangs up on me.*

She hung up fast. I didn’t even say good bye!!