• People Talk and My Ear Bleeds


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    Thursday, February 17, 2011

    FIFA Presidency

    Anyone who half-follows soccer, and even those who only follow it every four years during the World Cup, probably know two things:

    1. FIFA international soccer is corrupt, and
    2. FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, is a moron.

    Corruption was nowhere more evident then in the recent bidding for the rights to host World Cups 2018 and 2022. Spain/Portugal was accused of colluding with Qatar, some FIFA ex-co members were dismissed for bribery, and Qatar won the 2018 bid due to shady, probably "technically legal" (emphasis on the quotation marks) actions, including promising to subsidize public works in home countries of voting members.

    Sepp Blatter is a moron because he continues to fight against umpire transparency and instant replay like an ostrich who sticks his head in the ground at first sight of progress. His allegation that the game at the top needs to be the same as the game in the poorest part of Africa is about as intelligent as a sea slug commenting on Freakonomics. The NFL doesn't play exactly like high school football because the realities and exigencies are different. There's more money on the line. There's an ability to do more. The players move faster and hit harder. Although the framework of the game is the same, the paradigm is much different. It'd be like me treating all my pediatric patients as if they were standard 70kg adult males. Malpractice.

    So, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw this video on Sports Illustrated from Grant Wahl lobbying for FIFA presidency. Although partially (mostly?) done in jest, it draws attention to the absurdity of FIFA, and media coverage is just what we need to continue to pressure FIFA for reforms.

    Ultimately, I'm too cynical to think anything will change - heck, this sport encourages corruption from the ground up with players faking injuries all the time - but the video is funny and gives me a ray of hope.

    Wednesday, February 09, 2011

    Vietnam's Succession, Part 2

    The comment on my previous post ended with,

    Everybody sighs, the price is higher and higher. I hope that in the future i won't take a bag of money to buy a loaf of bread.

    Quite telling, because we've seen this happen within the last hundred years in Europe and Africa ... and, to a lesser extent, Vietnam.

    The price of Vietnam's mishandled and stymied growth is inflation joined with the VND weaking against the USD concurrently, all within a culture conditioned over the last 35 years to distrust banks and investment in their own economy.

    "How does this hit me?" you ask.

    For example, let's say you and a friend graduate college and start teaching English on this exact date last year (February 9, 2010). At that time, you and your friend are given the option to be paid in USD or VND.

    (Now, you might say I'm stupid, and everyone would get paid in USD, but that partially highlights the lack of confidence the Vietnamese have for their currency which feeds into this problem.)

    Your salary would be $8 USD/hr and your friend's 147,759.884 VND/hr at the exchange rate of 18469.9855 VND per USD on Feb. 9, 2010.

    Now fast forward one year later. The exchange rate today (Feb 9, 2011) is 19500.0366 VND per USD. Inflated 5.6% over a 1 year period. Or, in other words, you would still be making $8 USD/hr, but your friend would now be making $7.58 USD/hr.

    That slight difference ends up costing your friend about $6 million VND per 40 hour work week which is no laughing matter. Your choice 1 year ago nets you $24 million VND MORE than your friend per month.

    I hope you treat your friend to a nice lunch every month ...

    The real crunch comes because,
    1. Businesses understand this phenomenon so they write their contracts in VND in order to take advantage of the VND weakening against the dollar, and
    2. when coupled with the general inflation the country experiences as, on a whole, it gets richer, the common worker has less liquid cash than previous, and
    3. 70% of GDP is in Ho Chi Minh City, so although you might survive the numbers crunch in the city, few people unlucky enough to be born/live outside TPHCM will have the money necessary to move to the city for education or a better job.

    (All data from www.mataf.net)

    Tuesday, February 08, 2011

    Super Bowl XLV Commercials

    Congratulations to the Green Bay Packers for an enjoyable victory over the Pittsburg Steelers. After jumping to a 21-3 lead early in the 2nd quarter, I thought it might be a sleeper, but the Steelers made a game of it. If "Big Ben" Roethlisberger hadn't sucked it up on football's grandest stage, the game might truly have been epic.

    But that fits, because the commercials - for which the Super Bowl has become known for almost more than the game itself - were just as underwhelming. In fact, most commercials worthy of watching once (let alone again) were aired in the first quarter, and definitely in the first half, of the game. The last quarter was an absolute snoozer.

    Below is my top 10 of Super Bowl commercials:

    1. Audi Rich People Jail
    There will always be debates with these top 10 lists, but I went with this commercial for two (three?) reasons: car commercials are usually extremely boring (and this wasn't), car commercials are usually very hackneyed (which this wasn't), and for #3, they had a great line about Kenny G.

    2. Doritos' Resurrecting Crumbs
    This is almost 1a in my book. Doritos has a string of Super Bowl hits over the last couple years, and should win an award for "lifetime achievement" at Super Bowl commercials. Plus, they should give their marketing department a huge bonus. The take on resurrecting grandpa was classic. Just classic.

    3. Doritos Finger Licking
    This is what makes Doritos so amazing - their second commercial is almost better than their first while taking a totally different comedic tact. The guy sucking his coworker's finger was both the most disgusting thing I've seen in a long time (and I deal with buttock abscesses people) and hilariously funny.

    4. Motorola Xoom Tablet circa 1984
    Many people might not have this commercial rated as highly as I do, but let me explain before you bash. Apple has an iconic touchscreen tablet that rules the market. Apple also busted onto the scene years ago with an iconic 1984-themed commercial taking down Microsoft. Motorola now is repeating the favor with a break-the-mold 1984-themed commercial as it tries to break into the iPad world. Genius.

    5. Coca-cola Border Guards
    Drawing the line in the sand around the Coke bottle and then rubbing the old line away with his foot brought back flashes of Col. William Travis drawing the line in the sand at the Alamo. Perhaps if the Texans had Coca-cola at the time and shared it with the Mexicans, everything could have been resolved peacefully (see honorable mention Coca-cola Dragon commercial for possible results of said action).

    6. Pepsi Max Jealous Girlfriend
    I'm on the fence about whether this is truly #6 or somewhere around #26. But the man trying to hide his good tasting but fattening food spoke to me. Perhaps I'm living that as well. And when his wandering eyes cause his girlfriend to throw the Pepsi ... well, that was classic.

    7. Volkswagen Passat Darth Vader
    To be honest, I had this one lower on my list at first also, but the sheer number of people who like Star Wars and cute commercials had me reconsider it. Some of my fondest smiles come when I make my son's eyes light up. Good commercial.

    8. Teleflora Nice Rack
    This was probably the best of the two or three email themed commercials. Personally, I've always been in favor of telling it like it is. Girls feign disgust to such responses, but in my experience, they typically are flattered that you find them attractive so they come around and you get the date. Plus, we all know that girls like jerks.

    9. Coca-cola World of Warcraft Dragons
    Amazing commercial because it brought back thoughts of WoW and Avatar (the fight between the Northern Water Tribe and the Fire Kingdom anybody?). Plus, it was cool to see how they turned it "warm and fuzzy" when it was a war-themed.

    10. Groupon Tibet
    I love Tibet, and this "Tibetan culture is fading" theme got bonus points even though Groupon twisted it to their nefarious coupon-hawking machinations. Score one for being civic-minded.

    Saturday, February 05, 2011

    Vietnam's succession

    Recently the Wall Street Journal published a small story about the change in power taking place in Vietnam.
    HANOI—Vietnam's Communist Party reappointed Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to its elite Politburo at a secretive congress Wednesday ... indicat[ing] Vietnam will likely continue its pro-growth policies. In recent years, that has meant plowing billions of dollars into subsidizing lending programs and other state-driven spending plans to maintain rapid expansion despite bouts of inflation.

    The inflation is truly incredible. While in Vietnam in April 2010, I saw a dollar strengthen against the Đồng to heights unimaginable when I first traveled to the country 6 years earlier. Currently the inflation is double digits, and a dollar that used to get you 15,000 VND now gets you almost 20,000 VND.

    Worse, it's pinching the populace. A plate of rice for lunch at a street vendor was only 5000 VND in 2004. Now, with the government trying to kowtow to foreign investment and "clean up" its image, the combination of inflation and cracking down on street vendors has caused that rice dish to shoot up towards 15000 VND in many parts of Ho Chi Minh City.

    So, for a 33% increase in inflation, a lunch is almost 300% more expensive.

    I clearly remember driving down CMT8 towards chợ Bến Thành when a police truck pulled out from a corner alley and two police men slowly moved to meet it dragging a street vendor's cart. On the other side of the cart, pulling with all her might, was a middle aged woman in threadbare clothes, her black hair tied back, shouting curses and crying. Eventually the cops put that woman's lifeline on the back of their truck and sped away, leaving her in a heap on the side of the road.

    That is an "open" economy, mismanaged due to lack of competition stemming from nepotism and a flawed philosophy by Mr. Nguyễn who
    "encouraged state-owned enterprises to expand into large conglomerates to keep large parts of the economy in Vietnamese hands while the country opened up more to foreign investment. But state-directed lending bred inefficiency and reckless expansion at many state-owned companies ..."
    Let's hope this round of government moves Vietnam one step closer to a more competitive government in addition to its more competitive marketplace.