making money part i: art history

hi, welcome to jesse's column, where a 3rd year economics undergraduate teaches you alternative ways to make money. isn't that great? they say picking stocks is an art. well, i say, art is art.

now i've been toying around with the idea for a while that instead of taking more classes in finance (oh god, i have to pick up martingale theory to price something using a method that is outdated? get out of here!) the best course i could take is probably art history, maybe at st martin's college of the arts, as an outside option.

look, i know nothing about art (all the more reason to take the course). but in the back of my mind theory predicts that the art history market is a good one to dip into for long-term and boom time investments, and being able to bullshit and waffle about your latest kandinsky is kinda like telling people why this stock is going to go up. of course, stocks are the present discounted value of future profits, so it's based on something real right (although truth be told, you're the residual claimant anyway). if you go wrong buying a piece of art, you get to hang it in your living room and enjoy the present discounted value of enjoying art which your art history course has taught you (though really, art is really pretty and i don't need a course to tell me that don't i?) but if i bought rothko's light red on black, for example, i better like red and black and count on enough people saying, omfg rothko, i'll pay xxx gazillion for it.

on a more serious note, art appears to be a riskier investment (and it also a less liquid market. are the two linked?) so your average save for retirement fund probably won't buy into it. but i'm inspired by the example of david swensen,, manager of Yale's endowment fund. A hedge fund guy once came down to my school and he was the only tangible thing I could latch on to the whole presentation. YOU PAY A PREMIUM FOR LIQUIDITY. (although it seemed his portfolio still has an equity bias). he was buying chunks of timber forest in siberia, you know, that kind of thing. (of course mere mortals can't do that). index funds were probably a good idea but i don't know if people have caught on to that.

but art, now art's interesting. i promise to do a proper analysis with numbers but i think the art history market has jumped massively during the past few years (and well, over the long term as well). of course, there's a survivorship bias (e.g. artists which were excessively hyped up and are now worth nothing are not on the market anymore), but that exists for companies too. it is definitely less liquid because the market is smaller on both the supply and demand side, and many paintings go on auction, which allows you to extract a sizeable "seller's surplus" from the buyer. it is possible, if you're a good collector, to buy cheap and sell high... the collection of paintings by egon schiele, gustav klimt etc at the leopoldau museum was collected by a young austrian doctor from 1950 onwards, and fabio capello also used his excess cash to buy paintings by kandinsky to line his walls... nobody is talking about van goghs here.

some problems: a. cost... to buy durable classics it may be necessary for some considerable financial outlay. and then you could do something like poke it with a scissors.
b. liquidity problems, as above
c. higher volatility, due to small market, low liquidity, and art's status as a luxury good making it highly income, wealth and expectations-elastic. so it should go wildly up during a boom and down during a bust
d. it's also a more irrational market... but precisely... this works in your favour... opportunity for arbitrage... but could you really take your painting down and sell it when the price is right? so i guess you would be less emotional if you knew less about art, or weren't so biased towards certain artists... it's interesting how trade in consumption assets is that much harder to value rationally, and i guess why people stick with financial assets... although you can still show some biases towards the stocks you initially picked. it's the same thing with first-time homebuyers, my dad tells me, there's the fear and the premium to stay at the best place that you like much more than any other. and why property in a sense is also not entirely a rational market.

all for d. higher returns. i guarantee you. and you can hang the kandinsky on your wall and call it an investment. reading prospectuses replaced with visits to the gallery and museum (which i know is torture for some).

on a side note, you could probably do the same with comic books and baseball cards. stocks and shares? they're sooooo 1990.


into thy hands i commend my spirit


the man who could see fire

unfortunately, the very first memory i have of vincent van gogh is that soppy song by don mclean. hearing that song, you think of silver, black, and colours generally not found in van gogh paintings. that is what happens when overeager music teachers (and art teachers) start impressing upon you at a young age that "vincent van gogh" = "starry starry night" and "belgian coal miners"

it was a bright and sunny day today, which suddenly reminded me of van gogh while i was walking by the thames with my sister. thankfully, i will always be reminded of van gogh now as the man who could see fire. i don't think my memory is particularly right on this one, but i remember being at the van gogh museum in amsterdam and there being some explanations why yellow was used so much, and i started to think that he started to think of everything in fire and yellow, and it was driving him insane. and michelle also commented how depressing it must be to be so helpless and see all this colour and how it sucked so much to be so dependent (and such a burden to his brother) that he went ahead and offed himself.

it works, because when i did go to vienna and i saw some of his paintings i started seeing the fire everywhere, in the swirls... and how miserable it must have been to see fire.
i felt reasonably good today, because there's some semblance of flow to my research proposal, and i like how it goes from a small, tractable empirical research question to larger questions which i don't have the chutzpah or skills to tackle yet, but i will once you give me the money and space on your course.

but what i can't shake off (or why this entire endeavour depresses me) is that i can't help thinking it's work for nothing... sure, you're supposed to enjoy reading papers and thinking and i would love to say the entire experience is edifying in itself but it's not! it gives you mild moments of joy when you're making progress, but still after it's done and it looks nice to myself i can't help thinking, will it look nice to the selector? will this be good enough to get me into graduate school? because that's what matters in the end, and that's what i'm doing it for, right? you almost think that the incentives in a research career are to come up with things your supervisor likes. err professor poincaré, it's true, you're right, there must be an ether somewhere and there just must be something wrong with our instrumentation. my proposal is to make a better instrument to detect the ether... can i join your lab? i CANNOT deal with such insecurity, or i feel i can't. it's killing me... it was easier just to want less... but i'm halfway there, aren't i?

it must be so comforting to work for money. every day brings some validation that what you do is useful for someone somewhere. hell, even if it isn't, money sure is useful to me. still, part of me recalls a quote, a pastiche of william easterly's book and amartya sen's review of it. we have a system which delivers medicines to rich people most of the time. we don't have a system (yet) which delivers medicines for under a dollar to people living under the poverty line. but we want a system too where j.k. rowling delivers fantasy teen wizards to young people who want to read them everywhere (and sen is quick to point out, that she wrote the books while on welfare and an arts grant, so it's not just the market!)

it's just the sheer terror, of putting something out there which people may or may not like... i don't know how people do it. and having your income and esteem depend on it. it blocks me, personally, i'll take it way too seriously, and that's why the extent of my contributions will probably only be to journals or student publications. maybe that's why many people start out as journalists first, to be paid for writing something in demand.

and so you're supposed to say, this entire experience has been good and wholesome. but while i was doing it, i was missing out the opportunity to apply to xxx other pwnage finance courses to try to further my career, or i had to miss out on schoolwork, and if it doesn't work and i all end up with an edifying experience there's nothing in there to pimp my cv. that's how it works innit? i'd have a story to tell though, but they'd occupy only a few trips to the bar before getting old anyway.

resourcefulness and resilience is meant to get you back up there... i'm pretty lucky, i have stuff to fall back on. i look around my life and i look at the papers and i see credit constraints, norms, a zillion things keeping most people moving where they want to be... if you were more realistic, you'd have to think... but someone's got to be the peon anyway?

but i guess when i do fail and become a wage slave (noooo, never! capital rules in capitalism. selling labour is serfdom!), i will be able to look up at men of ideas and say with a glint in my eye that i can respect them because i know how hard it was (although if their ideas are bullshit and they talk a tad too much you start to think if it's effortless for them and they were just born doing it). sometimes i think that's what dissertations are for, and i still can't believe that our school doesn't mandate one. but i think they realize that they can't think of enough research topics nor have the time for 200 eager economics students (who can't be arsed cause they've got a job with their predicted 1sts or 2:1's anyway). the research is going to be empirical trivia (except for a few brilliant people, maybe), or an extension of a professor's work, but i still see some value in that, after all, it's meant to be exposure... if everyone were able to be original, there wouldn't be any value in that isn't there?

although part of me thinks that originality isn't a characteristic of a person per se... ideas are original, but there's nothing deterministic predicting if a person will produce path-breaking research. a lot of guts to throw up ideas and the intelligence and application needed to correct them or produce more daft ones at an alarming rate until one of them is right (and in the meantime, having the right mix of self-deprecation and self-confidence to deal with evil colleagues). being around the right people and having great conversations. being in the right lab. noticing that some really useful mold is growing in your petri dish and it's not just an irritation. i guess they all play a part.

einstein's the poster-boy, because he never did go to MIT/Harvard/Princeton, but he thought up relativity in a Berne patent office. that was then and now is now though. i would like to see how i could get something published in Econometrica without the necessary credentials. (to be fair, i don't have the necessary skill thus far anyway.)


"that's why i don't trust political parties. i'd run a spiritual democracy based on love, but i don't know who'd do the admin. i love quizzes"

- russell brand
while doing up the application to columbia, i was reading up faculty publications and interests yeah... yeah everyone knows about jeff sachs, and my opinion on that is closer to (see easterly below)

right, so i've read papers by sala-i-martin before, and now it turns out he is president of barcelona football club... i hope this does not impinge on my ability to take him seriously as an economist, now that i've seen him with a cigar with frank rijkaard holding the european cup... what the...

i hope it still is a proper school.

See here


Easterly's view on aid policy: No Big Plan

A reason(for me), to study development economics at NYU.

the sorry state of modern economics

Axel Leijonhufvud (he's considered one of the "elders" in economics mentioned in the article) has an insightful article on the mess modern economics is in. It's tough reading at first, because of the parody, but it's basically about how micro theory and macro theory don't gel, and how economics has become obsessed with model making. well, quantum theory and relativity have yet to gel, as far as i know.

Useful warning, and one can only hope not to get up by approaching things in this dismal state of affairs. A few economists I know have managed not to do this, Acemoglu being really readable and willing to go over to "the other side" once in while.


mechanism design

economists/game theorists are so sexist!


But to be fair, no one is really suggesting everyone should get married that way, any more so than male ends of computer cables are superior because they have pointy ends. they are simply representative names for agents, even though, notice that 'male' is assigned to the initiator and the algorithm that ultimately disfavours women (they get the lowest ranked feasible guy on their list). it's stable, but the woman certainly doesn't get her best man!

a variation is currently used as the mechanism design to assign medical students internships.


there's always a time at night this term when i feel especially lonely. it's when i take out something to do which doesn't require my full concentration, which allows my mind to wander. yet, i have to sit there and get it done. it could be making notes on a journal article for class, or completing my literature review and trying to look for data. i am convinced that good research needs talking to do. bad ideas need to be thrown out... and it's always this time of night that the people disappear. BLOG LORH.

i stay in london, so i know it's not the same kind of city as paris or vienna, and it's never going to be quintessentially european. some love the place, others think it's another big city. it doesn't fit together beautifully like venice does, but it's just so dynamic and nice to walk around in at night. black cabs, red buses, and the place with the most memories for me is the south bank walk, particularly the trees which are decked in blue and white bulbs. i've always loved the thames, and i'm glad i moved back to the south side within walking distance of the river.

the lse orchestra is not the best in the world, but there's something about sitting in amongst them in a small church that makes it really nice, you can observe what the conductor, cellist is doing etc...

lsetangents.blogspot.com , progressing pretty nicely.


i watched martin scorcese's goodfellas once again. i couldn't get it once, when i thought it was a highly amusing take on gangsters. but scorcese once said he waited a lifetime for the book the film was based on, and now i think i know what he meant. he needs the life again.

The hardest thing was to leave the life.

I love the life.

We were treated like movie stars
with muscle. We had it all.

Our wives, mothers, kids,
everybody rode along.

I had bags filled with jewelry
stashed in the kitchen.

I had a bowl of coke next to the bed.

Anything I wanted was a phone call away.
Free cars. Keys to a dozen
hideouts all over the city.
I'd bet grand over a weekend...
...then blow the winnings in a week
or go to sharks to pay the bookies.

Didn't matter.

It didn't mean anything. When I
was broke I would go rob some more.
We ran everything.
We paid off cops. We paid off lawyers.
We paid off judges.
Everybody had their hands out.
That's the hardest part.
Today everything is different.
There's no action. I have to
wait around like everyone else.
Can't even get decent food.
After I got here I ordered
spaghetti with marinara sauce...
...and I got egg noodles with ketchup.
I'm an average nobody.
I get to live the rest of
my life like a schnook.



"very good, but language poor" - comment on my math exercise

i find people who are resistant to change highly interesting, and i have a soft spot for them... since i was young i seem to have had this idea that people are determined, that they eventually become the type of people they were meant to be by god, genes, or some traumatic event in childhood. only later in life do i realize that you do have some control over the person you want to be... by working hard, making plans etc... but what happens when you don't WANT to change?

this is the dilemma that's thrown back at me whenever i encounter my real analysis teacher. i cannot decide if she has contempt or a slight fondness of me, because she's especially pedantic and always comes up to me to point out my mistakes. (ordinary people would probably think i suck, but no, to me this means that i am special. i helped her arrange chairs in class once, that must be it.). someone said somewhere that when people tell you you're screwing up, you're doing fine. it's when people don't notice anymore that you're in trouble. i don't quote his name because i remember seeing someone aged 25 quote someone in all seriousness (it wasn't a joke or something), and thinking, shit, at 25 you shouldn't be quoting anyone anymore. (unless they're funny) it just shows your lack of authority and ability to improvise intelligent comments. her class is an exercise in pedantry, of using the precise terminology at the right time "that's a norm, not a distance". i've come to appreciate the pedantry, because after all this is a course in rigorous proof, and what i write does sound ridiculous at times... and so, i slowly come to appreciate the grammarians approach to mathematics. it belabours me sometime, the obvious, but i guess this was what 19th century mathematics was all about, proving the obvious so that you won't screw up in unusual cases.

anyway, the irritability that surrounds her when people use the wrong term (many who have not learnt mathematics in english as a first language) does prevent people from speaking up in class. she is practically ancient. how many teaching evaluations must have come and gone and not touched her, moved her to change... or perhaps it is too old for that... and although i wish i had a better teacher teaching me topology, the protective instinct in me thinks that she has survived so many bad teaching evaluations, and she looks so frail, and innocently schoolmarmy that i cannot think what she would do if not teach mathematics. she doesn't look like she enjoys it, but she doesn't look like she'd enjoy anything else. she arouses my extreme sympathy.

attending my ma200 class is also another case where i am exposed to the full sarcasm and ego of mathematics tutors. i shan't elaborate... i also attended ma200 lectures for the first time in ages today, and i realized we were already at laplace transforms. i've watched the mit lectures, but interestingly he was going through another seemingly pedantic problem in point-mass probability. but interestingly, that's actually the prelude to the dirac delta function. we won't actually cover it in our courses and nobody will know that we covered the dirac delta function because we aren't physicists, but there you go. when you give something a name, it's would probably be more noticed. guys, we actually learnt the dirac delta function today. as it was, it seemed like it bounced off the empty seats of the lecture seats today, and i blame the vastness and dark lighting for swallowing up whatever academic enthusiasm is left in this school.

i realized that in some respects, i am a realist. i have a pretty low ex-post cost of regret, and this means that unlike my personal tutor, and his advice for me, there is no way i am going to make a random spray of applications to the top schools. it's targeting for me.


more photos

thames on windsor and eton riverside... lunch with bonnie


some photos of vienna and bratislava

i have absolutely nothing against gospel. gospel is truth. see nina simone.
"i have a friend in jesus!" + "set me up with the spirit in the sky!" + "i ain't never sinned" + guitar
this video seems to have a touch of irony about it, whatever, play it at my funeral too!
it sounds so psychedelic! i hope heaven is like that.

set me up with the spirit in the sky
i wanna go there when i die
when i die and they lay me to rest
i wanna go to the place that the best



window or aisle?

i've taken aisle on most of my long-haul flights thus far, because after flying long-haul quite a bit, you start to learn that everyone wants the aisle seats because they can easily walk in and out, go to the toilet, be the first out of the plane, etc. when you're a child you don't give a shit about these things. you just want to see the wing tips, or the clouds when you fly over them. of course, on recent flights, i've had the opportunity to get an entire ROW, so I could still sidle up to the window to look below me. I'm starting to recognize the route now. The best times to look out, I feel, are when you're over the Hindu Kush and the deserts of Afghanistan. From the sky, there are no terrorists... and you wonder how there could be... just ripples and ripples of brown ridges.

When you're flying over Poland, too, there seems to be an abundance of land and a patchwork of fields. Also memorable on flights to the western seaboard where I once had the fortune to glance down at what must be Siberia or Alaska. I remember Richard Feynman, who always wanted to go to Tuva. And I wondered about piles and piles of snow. Places I'd never go to, but I've seen from the air.

So I jumped onboard the ryanair flight, and it was a short-haul from bratislava. maybe because it's short haul, i instinctively sidled to the window seat. looking at runway lights always brings me some nostalgia, i'm reminded of pilots and their dashboard controls, and that leads me to a chain to antoine de st-exupery. there's something comforting in respecting occupations which are complicated enough to inspire awe, but tangible enough to preclude alienation. (an awe of someone in financial services, would be a highly second-degree awe for me. a child wouldn't be interested. that's my definition. perhaps if you brought him to the pit, he might be attracted to all the hubbub and noise. The children were also the ones who turned to look at Joshua Bell disguised as a busker). There's also this video by Randy Pausch which talks about childhood dreams, yadda yadda yadda... I resolve to take the window seat more often then.

But I know I'm not really a kid anymore. I know that everytime I dress up hoping to be bumped up to business. Business window seat. Now we're talking.

This application thing is driving me nuts. I've no idea why I put myself through this meat grinder. I think it'll sort itself out... I need to go home soon. Maybe we grew up in La Mancha. Bad days come and go, but you could make them especially cool by listening to the violin and walking over Waterloo bridge after a 6pm Real Analysis class.

just a note on irony... i freeze framed my computer screen and there it was, conversation about acne cream... i am an expert of turning the quotidien into something more, but that's beyond my powers... i think if you've not thought these things through, the temptation for nostalgia and romance can always get the better of you... it's only natural to want to talk about the stars again, with someone else.



Pourquoi me reveiller, o souffle du printemps?
Sur mon front je sens tes caresses.
Et pourtant bien proche est le temps
Des orages et des tristesses.
Demain, dans le vallon, viendra le voyageur,
Se souvenant de ma gloire premiere,
Et ses yeax vainement chercheront ma splendeur:
Ils ne trouveront plus que deuil et que misere!
Helas! Pourquoi me reveiller, o souffle du printemps?

Do we listen?

Joshua Bell plays for free

And then this song by Joni Mitchell

I slept last night in a good hotel
I went shopping today for jewels
The wind rushed around in the dirty town
And the children let out from the schools
I was standing on a noisy corner
Waiting for the walking green
Across the street he stood
And he played real good
On his clarinet, for free

Now me I play for fortunes
And those velvet curtain calls
Ive got a black limousine
And two gentlemen
Escorting me to the halls
And I play if you have the money
Or if youre a friend to me
But the one man band
By the quick lunch stand
He was playing real good, for free

Nobody stopped to hear him
Though he played so sweet and high
They knew he had never
Been on their t.v.
So they passed his music by
I meant to go over and ask for a song
Maybe put on a harmony...
I heard his refrain
As the signal changed
He was playing real good, for free


what i'm reading during my break

i finally have a chance to take a short break... and this is what i am reading over the next few days:

"The Midnight Disease"


Alex got this for me, it's about a neuroscientist drawing on literature to try to understand writer's block, and a condition called "hypergraphia", something bordering on an obsessive need to write.

"Einstein, His Life and Universe"


Could have done with a better title. It's terrific and new, and based on now completely opened archives.



would depend on the size of your ruler. the smaller your ruler the greater the length. if you were to think about it, most things have infinite length, if you measured it with the smallest possible ruler. with the smallest possible ruler, nothing is a straight line.


If the rocket man was travelling at the speed of light,


How I arrived at this site:

Doing Real Analysis: Thought about Triangle Inequality: Read that article: In Minkowski space Triangle Inequality is reversed: Twin Paradox


i rarely watch the sun rise nowadays. of course the hours are getting shorter, and my house is fully wired up, that, and the tendency to work late mean that i rarely get up in time to see the sun rise.

uncannily, there are these hours i have between 6pm and 2am that are rather strange. usually you work through those hours, get tired enough and hope to sleep and begin a new day... somehow, something sustains me nowadays from 6 - 2... it's as if my day only starts at 2, when singapore wakes up to a new day... true, i don't last long after that... but it's almost as if there is another sunrise waiting in the depths of the night. the hours remind me of the distance but i still feel as if i'm worrying, close by.

and perhaps parents all feel this way when their kids are abroad... they don't talk much about it, for it's become so routine, but somewhere down there, they have a clock stored away for their children. something that just wants to see them again in the morning, to be sure they're there. maybe that is the source of my worry, and the source of my anticipation.



after the indian summer, it seems like winter is here... technically it's not winter... it's the first winds sweeping in from the arctic... it's this period of chill which is going to force the leaves off the trees.

of course, when the sun sets at 4 every day, what's the difference... you know it could get worst, and frankly, this year, i'm spared the worst of it. surprisingly though, it is affecting me rather more this year, perhaps because of this pile of things to do next to me which keeps me at home.

i hope it will snow in vienna... at least it will be cold but pretty.

and more things to give thanks for, i will be avoiding a good part of the winter this year and sunbathing in southeast asia.


  • Don't clutter up your life with other activities;
    just write.
  • Don't carry out a thorough and comprehensive search of the literature;
    just write.
  • Don't attempt to make sure that every page you write shows the full extent of your professional skills;
    just write.
  • Don't write a well-organized, well-integrated, unified dissertation;
    just write.
  • Don't think profound thoughts that shake the intellectual foundations of the discipline;
    just write.
  • If you don't have a paper started by the spring of your third year,
    be alarmed.
  • If you don't have a paper largely drafted by the fall of your fourth year,
  • Have three new ideas a week while you are getting started.
  • Don't try to game the profession,
    work on what interests you.
  • Good papers in economics have three characteristics:
    • A viewpoint.
    • A lever.
    • A result.
Her grandfather was a hellfire preacher, but Ms Parton has an empathy for sinners. As a girl, she thought the town hooker in her make-up and stilletos was the prettiest thing she had ever seen. "She was trash," Ms Parton tells interviewers, "And I thought: That's what I want to be when I grow up"


characters from desolation row
and their relationship to my real analysis teacher... up next


today's darwin award goes to...

True story, princeton grad sends email to his friends at merril lynch, causing it to be circulated
around Wall Street and subsequently getting fired by his bosses after they read it.


Message-ID: <812f5c217425d311a83100508b07093003830e@carlyle01>
From: Peter Chung
Date: Tue, 15 May 2001 20:26:21 -0400
MIME-Version: 1.0
X-Mailer: Internet Mail Service (5.5.2653.19)
Content-Type: text/plain

So I've been in Korea for about a week and a half now and what can I say, LIFE IS GOOD....

I've got a spanking brand new 2000 sq. foot 3 bedroom apt. with a 200 sq. foot terrace running the entire length of my apartment with a view overlooking Korea's main river and nightline. Why do I need 3 bedrooms? Good question, the main bedroom is for my queen size bed, where CHUNG is going to fuck every hot chick in Korea over the next 2 years (5 down, 1,000,000,000 left to go)
the second bedroom is for my harem of chickies, and the third bedroom is for all of you fuckers when you come out to visit my ass in Korea.

I go out to Korea's finest clubs, bars and lounges pretty much every other night on the weekdays and everyday on the weekends to (I think in about 2 months, after I learn a little bit of the buyside business I'll probably go out every night on the weekdays). I know I was a stud in NYC but I pretty much get about, on average, 5-8 phone numbers a night and at least 3 hot chicks that say that they want to go home with me every night I go out.

I love the buyside, I have bankers calling me everyday with opportunties and they pretty much cater to my every whim - you know (golfing events, lavish dinners, a night out clubbing). The guys I work with are also all chilll - I live in the same apt building as my VP and he drives me around in his Porsche (1 of 3 in all of Korea) to work and when we go out. What can I say,.... live is good,...
CHUNG is KING of his domain here in Seoul

So, all of you fuckers better keep in touch and start making plans to come out and visit my ass ASAP, I'll show you guys an unbelievable time.
My contact info is below.... Oh, by the way, someone's gotta start fedexing me boxes of domes, I
brought out about 40 but I think I'll run out of them by Saturday.....


Peter Chung
The Carlyle Group
Suite 1009, CCMM Bldg.
12, Yoido-dong, Youngdeungpo-ku
Seoul 150-010, Korea
Tel: (822) 2004-8412
Fax: (822) 2004-8440
email: pchung@thecarlylegroup.co.kr


review (version 1) for november issue

It is tough to make predictions, particularly about the future*

*Yogi Berra

The Black Swan by Nicholas Nassim Taleb

What happens out there in the real world? Many times I’ve peered through the iron bars of the small windows at the LSE while sitting through my class in real analysis. In the real world, some of my contemporaries could have discovered “the next Facebook” , or become the best thing to happen to an investment bank since sliced bread. Personally, I would love to sell a million copies of my as-yet unwritten future book, but I may well be serving banana caramel lattés in Starbucks ruminating about how it all went pear-shaped for me since my heady undergraduate days. It all seems a little bit unfair, and you start wondering what you could have done better or differently.

Isn’t it comforting then, that someone comes along and tells you that you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself, and that chance has a big part to play in dealing the winners and losers. It’s certainly tempting.

To Nicholas Taleb, much of the world we live in today resembles “Extremistan”. It’s a world in which events of large import and magnitude occur with small, but non-negligible probabilties. It’s a world in which payoffs are highly non-linear and “lumpy”, where a chance alignment of factors makes an author extremely rich but 999 (or more) others very poor. It is a world in which wars happen and we are confronted by our own mortality. These large events are the “Black Swans” which lend their name to the title of the book.

The author’s fixation is with uncertainty, more specifically, those black swans not unlike what former US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld once controversially dubbed “unknown unknowns”. This curiosity about rare events and how we react to uncertain events is informed by experiences in Taleb’s own life. Having observed his native Lebanon degenerate into civil war, and having contracted, and recovered, from throat cancer, he is constantly amazed how often people underestimate risk. This was especially marked in his career as a quantitative options trader, where he saw many other traders take comfort in their Gaussian models. People feed of success and the continual feeling of victory as they make profits daily in the stock market, but this is akin to picking up dimes in front of steamrollers. Taleb’s hedge fund, Empirica, adopts a different strategy of being ultraconservative (80% in T-bills) and hyperaggressive (the rest in out-of the-money options). It’s difficult to walk around most of the days of the year slowly bleeding money and making losses, yet on the days where something unexpected occurs, be it the Russian debt default, 9/11 or the recent sub-prime crisis, he makes a killing. It takes some intellectual discipline to go against our instincts and mental biases. Paradoxically, it is courageous to be prudent.

In exploring “Black Swans”, he takes us through a wide range of knowledge, drawing from his polymathic knowledge of fields such as philosophy, economics and biology. While the concepts presented are abstract and theoretical, his informal style and street sense make this read an engaging one peppered with interesting anecdotes and stories. Taleb’s book, to be fair, is not a vast collection of his original ideas. The main mantra of the book, is “don’t be too confident in what you know.” This is certainly nothing new, after all, Socrates said it all those years ago : “One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing.” The title of the reference, is in itself an allusion to the belief that all swans were white, until the discovery of black swans in Australia demonstrated the weakness of induction as a basis of knowledge. It’s strength lies in creating an engaging synthesis of the literature to back up his theory. It introduces you to advances in mathematical finance suggested by the father of fractal geometry, Benoit Mandelbrot, and the theory of science advanced by Karl Popper. It is also a good introduction to those Nobel Prize winning psychologists, Kahnemann and Tversky, who have conducted numerous experiments investigating our heuristics and biases involved in judgement under uncertainty.

“The Black Swan” builds on his previous effort, “Fooled by Randomness”. That book contained several anecdotes of his life as a trader observing how people dealt and made decisions regarding uncertainty. Significantly, it also contained a section on how to deal with the uncertainties in life, with stoicism and good grace. This book builds on the last effort by presenting a more coherent theory with good doses of erudition.

Nassim’s style will polarize readers. He tries to write accessibly, out of memory, and has a conversational prose which is engaging yet at times loose. Less patient readers will not suffer his many digressions. He must have enjoyed writing it, however, for a book preaching epistemic humility, it does make some strong and sweeping statements. While I do agree with much of what he says about too much respect being given to those who have won a “Nobel”, some of the asides smack of having a huge axe to grind.

Yet behind the brash exterior of the book one finds heartwarming tales and consolations. That the world is random gives texture to life, and one value Taleb has as a skeptic is introspection. Things are not always going to go our way no matter how much we try, and it is the way we reflect upon, and subsequently deal with the environment around us which will preserve our dignity and give our successes and failures their proper perspective.

You shouldn’t take my word for it. After all, book reviewers are fallible. However, if you do happen to pop by the local bookstore, do take a look at it, for there are serious lessons to be learnt for everyone. For academics and practioners in finance, perhaps we should be less secure in the technical sophistication of our models and develop methods which may be less elegant, but provide a better fit for reality. For the lay person, it will provide a good dose of perspective on how to prepare ourselves for the black swans which will change our life, for better or worse.


The god forsakes Antony

When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive—don’t mourn them uselessly.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
as is right for you who were given this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion, but not
with the whining, the pleas of a coward;
listen—your final delectation—to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.

C.P. Cavafy


i highly recommend the following 3 books:

1. judgement under uncertainty : heuristics and biases (eds. kahnemann et al)

2. fooled by randomness (nassim nicholas taleb)

3. the black swan (nassim nicholas taleb)

i am taking time off to do a review of the field for the magazine and i will post it as soon as i am done. meanwhile, i feel this is a good introduction to cognitive biases and their applicability to economics/finance/life.

now i need to look at myself and wash clean of superstition.


If reading a blog is ever interesting to you, it is when your favorite blogger honestly writes something embarassing for him or her. People tend to hide things that they think are embarassing. But such information tends to be interesting (or even either useful or encouraging) to other people because you don't hear it often.

-masayuki kudamatsu, lse phd student

I have never been a person to follow the 'blogosphere', not in the sense where I have a list of favourite blogs and journals which I follow on a regular basis. I do look at the blogs of my friends, but perhaps when something comes to mind that reminds me of them or i find someone who consistently writes things in an interesting way which is more or less amenable to how i think.

i'm sitting in the lse library now. i could have been out teaching at a secondary school, or back home after packing bags. in any case, here i am in the library, taking a break after looking again and again at my applications. i always experience moments of self-doubt after periods of stress, and here i feel doubt on two levels:

(i.) myself? am i really good enough, especially when you read the stories, or you gather facts about everyone else who is intending to do the same thing you're doing
(ii.) about the choice. if i do do research, is it really something worth doing, or pure self-indulgence?

you could have 2 answers to the questions. one is not to answer the question. self-doubt? it is there to be overcome? self-indulgence? why take yourself so seriously? why believe your actions make a difference in the grand scheme of things anyway, and doesn't self-indulgence guide us all?

it is also possible to be harsh on yourself, and force yourself to answer these questions. after all, we have at the lse economics society managed to invite nicholas taleb, who wrote about black swans and being fooled by randomness, to give a talk. one of his main points is that we attribute too much to directed research and discovery, when the most important things which have changed the world have been achieved through trial and error by doers and failures.

but that's a more difficult question, and it also involves things i don't know the answer to, because i lack experience. anyway, my break at the library involved looking through blogs of how people at lse managed. vinayak was one of the teachers at the LSE (i wasn't under him but i attended his revision classes), teaching econ 102 while an masters student at the LSE... funny, personable, and puts in a fair amount of passion into his teaching. he did his undergraduate degree in india, which as he admits isn't rigorous enough. he was younger than me at the point when he was teaching and taking his masters, due to the fact that i've given 2 years of my life to the nation (and however more they may want and i am prepared to give). it shouldn't be a zero sum game, i did take something, but you can't do calculations for these sorts of things. i digress. maybe i should just buy into ayn rand, read "atlas shrugged" cover to cover and dispense with the social guilt.

but yeah he has passion to burn, effort, dedication, and he's thought of being everything from a stand-up comedian (although probably with jokes a bit too geeky) to a fixed income trader what is economics? no, economics is not about choice. economics is the course you take to signal you are quick enough mathematically and grasp some of the concepts needed to be a fixed income trader. just ask the students graduating this year. philosophically it justifies being in finance, after all, efficient markets mean everyone putting in effort trying to beat the market, thus wonderfully using human computing power to endogenously determine the dollar-euro or dollar pound or what the valuation of a company should be, so that nobody in the UNITED STATES bureau of economic planning (which doesn't exist, by the way) has to do a vast matrix setting exogenously all the above information. so for everyone who thinks financiers or people who work in finance don't produce anything, they produce information! don't dish them, they are deservedly well-paid computers with a large ego and computers which also happen to have a keen sense for human psychology. the computers who win are paid more, so incentives are beautifully aligned (except for the herd mentality bit, which, if we could have computers that didn't have incentives to follow the crowd would be perfect, but then such computers would know nothing about the world at all). no, don't get me wrong, i am not trying to divisive, just getting an image out of my head.

but anyway, he's decided a phd is not for him (he did apply, but too lonely professionally, and sick of student penury), and he's off to do an ODI fellowship in Guyana (ODI is where economists go to do fellowships in developing countries, to work on their institutions). well, he's off doing something now, though chicago economists will contend that guyana doesn't need institutions and government (don't worry, just taking the piss out of them). but chicago economists have a point, government in developing countries tends to be corrupt so having more institutions is not necessarily better, it's the quality.

every year deserving people like him get turned down from schools anyway. no stress. and then matsuyuki kudamatsu (phd, lse) encapsulates what it feels like to be a wastrel spending your parent's money and doing nothing productive for the human economy. he also blogs about loneliness especially when tomoko leaves london (oh, how tragic!)
so don't say it's not risky/stressful, i think it is every much as risky.

you may question what it's like to come into class everyday, being enthusiastic, but in the end, teaching a useless subject to a bunch of students who are only using it as a stepping stone for bigger and better things, and you are learning the intellectual masturbations of professors who studied measure theory and topology and needed to use it somewhere (very beautiful though, i must say). well, if i had time, i would write how not all of it is just masturbation and that macro nowdays is not is/lm and dumb graphs but dynamic optimization and learning econs at undergrad is doing like doing chemistry in secondary school. you have to throw it away. a textbook takes 30 years to write, and every subheading was the fruit of a few years' labour. whatever, if you think it is useless.

because i used to think we all could lead singapore, abolish slavery, if you were just to break out of your shell and know the right people... i agree... you could work at making yourself a good person. basics include having a work ethic, some humility, some personability, some sense of responsibility and you would be a good basic person. if you learnt leadership you would give back to society and shape it as you saw fit. i think many people imbued with values aspire to them, though not all achieve it. i wish i were more with people like me (with the same interests and passions, and maybe it would have increased them), but then again, i am also guilty of not really mixing around with the widest variety of people. but i am trying to, and even in this field you do have to talk and get to know people. if i had a bit more arrogance (you'd call it confidence) i would be a banker, but i don't, and it was never an overwhelming dream i had since i was young. just look at the books i read when i was young.

of course, you can't always be young, and maybe that is my failing. but i've tried working in an office earning money for other people and myself and money is nice, but i'll be honest, i'm not poor or hungry or look forward to buying that next car. i look forward to telling stories.

i think there's a tendency for all of us rational, secular people to see waste in society, and we'd like everyone to be productive and create better living standards. i would wonder why people become priests. i still respect priests, even though i don't like religion, because i know people are left behind. rich people want to feel better about themselves, poor people want to know things will get better. the priest isn't going to make these things better, but instrumentally, at that sermon or that congregation, people are with other people they are hopefully comfortable with, and that speech may make someone's Sunday, and get him through to Monday-Friday. of course you can hardly claim that economics is 'soulful' like that, but i've always seen that part of it which is the science of society, and stepping back to see how we all act. i've seen it as storytelling, you call it research, but just walk into one of vinayak's classes and see if your day isn't made. and that is what i call giving a damn.

and that is why i am in the library.



why do they save all the awesome papers for MRes courses. I'm doing development economics and it seems like a tedious chore of doing empirics on different data sets (and it is!), but I'm doing research for my research outline right now and it seems like the frontier stuff is really pretty neat and interesting.


What Kids in Britain Are Being Taught

There's this insane series called KNTV, which is something like a kids show exploring the lives of 10 great philosophers. The characters are like beavis and butthead, and they have a rock band. pretty cool stuff.

So Einstein, Newton, Darwin... all good stuff... until they come to Nietzsche.

And then they have montages of people blowing themselves up, teaching kids what Nietzsche said about religion, and having a character act like an emo punk rocker representing Nietzsche. They ended the show with a really cheesy rock song with lyrics like "Superman, Superman, Nietzsche's big idea was the Superman". They also took the mickey out of Nietzsche by mentioning that ultimately "he was no superman, just a sorry bloke with no mates who couldn't get any" They also talked about Wagner, and telling kids about not following herd (slave) morality. All very subversive. Apparently, there is a Marx song too.



"Most returned to society rehabilitated to their former state. The thief returned as a thief. The clerk returned to his desk. The blackbirder for European companies went on kidnapping Javanese. As he walked home from the hospital that day, the old doctor had reached the following conclusion -- even with decades of service as a doctor, he had made no meaningful contribution to the advancement of his people. It was true that medicine was a humanitarian profession. But what a waste it would all be if all it amounted to was patching things up so that things could go on without ever changing. A doctor must not only cure the disease of the body, he must also awaken the spirit of the people, anesthetized by their own ignorance.

So he didn't go straight home. He turned right and set off for the bank. He withdrew all his thirty years of savings. And he used that money to travel throughout Java. Everywhere he urged the Native leaders to set up organizations that could advance the people.

"That's how the young doctors in our movement also talk," said Mei. 'I think it's no accident that it's always the doctors who are the first to think this way."

In the modern world, everything is specialization. People will become alienated from each other. People will have cause to meet only because of business or they will meet only by accident. You will never be able to tell if the person you're treating is a good person or not. "


food here isn't sweet because the people like it that way. it is because the islands used to produce sugar, and it was in abundance.

people everywhere on earth we used to adapt to what was available. now that we have everything, what do we adapt to?

javanese philosophy

"Mother, I will become a true dalang (puppetmaster)"

"My child is already a man of letters. Now he wants to be a dalang too. What else do you want to be? You'll no doubt become a doctor. You want to achieve so much! How much suffering you call down upon yourself, suffering that will knot you up inside even more, taking away your happiness."

'That is Europe's disease. Shouldn't you learn to think of others too? Haven't I told you, learn to be thankful? You have become like that child. I haven't forgotten your stories. The clever try to become cleverer, the rich, richer. No one has any gratitude in their hearts. Everyone is hurrying around trying to be better. Isn't what you yourself have told me? They all suffer. Their desires and ideals become monsters that rule over them. Do you remember?"

"There is a punishment, my child, for all those who cannot place themselves in the order of things. If it were a star it would be a shooting star. If it were a forest, it would be a forbidden forest. If a stone, a kidney stone."

I gave thanks that I had a mother who was so strong and firm in her beliefs and her thoughts. She was a Javanese woman and she had her own wisdom. And I would never be able to marry a woman like her. But it is not a punishment, Mother, it isn't. Mother, truly it isn't.




today i was preparing an information slide on political parties in indonesia. my first impulse of course was to grab all the logos of the political parties, do a short write-up about them and place them inside a nice template.

then i thought about it. isn't it the case that people like to be shown cute graphical ways to analyse data? For example, i have seen representations where ideologies of political parties are placed on a spectrum from left to right, or even quadrants, based on their economic/ideological inclinations.

i agree it's a quick way to convey ideas, and probably one that people would appreciate. it's the kind of quick classification people give in lectures that helps them capture the gist.

i look at the 24 major parties, of which i have picked 6 representative ones which are in the top 10 in the legislative elections. wanting to representing them from left to right, by impression, ok maybe golkar right, pdi-p left, but these are so vague and indonesian politics nowadays is so un-ideological anyway (not a bad thing, for some parties, this means pragmatic, centrist policies). i could rate them along 3 axes: economic conservatism, moral/religious conservatism, political/foreign policy conservatism? but labels like conservative are meaningless in a country like indonesia, because conservative to what? people defending pancasila are conservative to the 1945 constitution, golkar may want to preserve the "new order" priority on economic development. and is i put PKS and PPP or even PKB on the islamic scale of things, people will start likening them to Hamas when they don't really advocate an Islamic state and are more parties running on anti-corruption, anti-pornography etc

since my own voice will not be heard and only my opinion left on paper, it is best to be reasonably nuanced and complete. in a lecture, i can back up my visual aids, but here, i fear misunderstanding.
as the politicians around me dream (or say they do) of ASEAN integration, here I am, in the early 20's, learning about the history of the region of the first time. how do we integrate, when we know so little about each other? or maybe it's just my history.

we all know the success stories in south east asia, these are well-rehearsed. i also learnt in secondary school of the glorious past civilizations in the indus valley, and the dynasties of china, and the fables by which singapore came to be named.

but i was more likely the descendant of landless peasants from the south of china, perhaps rushing to pontianak during the west kalimantan gold rush. claims have been made even, that LKY had his origins there. some even say semarang. who knows?

i think the british never really sank their tendrils into us, as they did with india, or the dutch with the east indies or the spanish with the phillipines. the stories were inspiring enough, but now i know even better ones. it was the phillipines that lit the way, with their mascot josé rizal! so this guy was apparently a polymath, poet and a freemason. why were all hyper-intelligent polymaths freemasons? perhaps it was the mensa of the times.

then it was indonesia. vietnam, but that got complicated, malaysia, singapore. i have a feeling we were the cushiest to begin with, no deep swell of anger. i think there's a well worn lesson that everyone thought that post-war, the phillipines would lead the region, being the first to achieve national conciousness and with a significant english background and ties to the US. the centre director here has been to both places, and they are highly similar. too much feuding with each other. having a sense of who they are, they dispute and argue.

so what most see as two countries of maids and nurses, but they have a glorious history we don't really understand. why do we draw our labour from them, and not other neighbouring countries who are equally impoverished? is it something in their culture? they definitely have much, much better literature.

but i am the descendant of a gold prospector, and they of friars, peasants and the feudal aristocracy. of course our fates differ.


beach at tambang ayam, anyer

my street! jln haji royani

karang bolong, anyer



the road to my place was blocked off this sunday for the independence day games. studying economics in a "scientific" way should probably alert one to speculation and deriving theories simply based on observation, but here goes!

the difference in structure of the celebrations is immediately obvious to me. national day for me, in singapore, is that big event which occurs in the national stadium and padang every year, and the massive, massive fireworks display which seems to get longer and grander every year.

here they had the sporadic fireworks within individual neighbourhoods. there used to be a grand marchpast somewhere near the presidential palace, but it's mostly decentralized here. the road outside my place was painted with a few lanes for a short 50m sprint for the kids. they also have keropok eating competition where they hang it on a string and you're supposed to eat it with your own hands. other innovations include tying a brinjal around your hips and then using it to hit a ball. i didn't get to see much palm tree climbing, but it was replaced by a greased bamboo stick over a pool and the kids trying to get the prizes in the middle. what was amusing was reading in the papers that for a certain village, the adults didn't organize the games, so the kids pooled their own money to organize cause they missed the games.

but of course it is decentralized. this country is sprawling. i cannot say if independence matters any more to them than the average singaporean. i mean among the elites, the writers here, obviously they would write about how hard independence was to win, but how many of them are the kids playing in the streets? similarly in singapore, you can't doubt the genuine enthusiasm of the people who attend national day events. it's becoming a bit more decentralized now, in my year (in army) they started to have associated events like fireworks competition and racing, this year maybe there was singfest (no idea if that had to do with national day). Even neighbouring countries are jumping in on the act.


how hard is it to grow close to someone? in an average romantic relationship, why does trust grow so much faster? and how much faster it gets to grow as well. of course, i'm not saying the trust cannot and isn't broken, but it's amazing how it sometimes leapfrogs ordinary friendships there for years. sure they exist in parallel, but why are we always so screwed by biology?


philosphy of life

maybe what it means to be wise is to have a settled life, or to be old enough that your path has already been set.

and once you're on that path, you will defend it with and know what you stand for, because you cannot pick another. everything else is just youth and inexperience. us young people, we explain things one way when we're hurt by one person, and another when we have this job, and yet another way when we're drunk or having fun. i spit on our philosophy. my philosophy.

there is something crazily romantic, about a couple. a summary. best thing i've heard all week.

"she has five years to live"
"i'll spend time with you in singapore"
"no lah, it's ok. we should take the chance to see the world"

and then proceed on posting tours all around the world.
and then the doctor says:

"you're doing better than expected. but you have to stay on the medication. oh and no kids"
"it's ok, we'll adopt. but maybe it won't be the same. no kids never mind lah. more mobile also."

and while people are dreading their extension, they look forward to the next one because it allows them to live their crazy life alone.

happy ending! love is alive, satan is conquered.

(happy endings are merely stories for which the sequels haven't been written). but who cares! it's now!

by the way. about a certain mr toer below, wasn't it kinda like buddha. i really really like the philosophy, but maybe i don't understand what it was. but yeah, kinda the model for leaving your family and privileged background to a higher calling. it's kinda running from responsibility though. but the spiritual types, who say love your parents (and they do indeed treat them with respect), they eventually have to leave, because they cannot fight the higher calling. they are merely the parents "of this earth", after all.

i am reaching the point where i believe it is possible to be spiritual and be an atheist. atheists aren't all that cold blooded and rational. though maybe if you believe in random spiritual forces you're better off being called an agnostic.
how emotional, yes. nobody would guess that looking at me, i don't give anything away, i'm this picture of a quiet guy who doesn't disturb the peace. so why all the mental melodrama? could it be... repression?

somewhere down the road in life, i've never learnt the skill of putting images into boxes where they're supposed to be. they teach us in statistics that anecdotes lie. what i should really be doing is: "seen it all before. deal with it". just another x. should deal with it like all the other x'es. faster, and statistically, it's likelier that he's an x rather than a y. that's how one is wise, right?

why do things still bug me? why do i feel like i'm constantly buffeted by ambience? i buy a friggin pocari sweat from a vendor, and the kid gets in between me and the fridge and wants to get a drink for herself. vendor (older brother) gets me a drink and lovingly removes her from the cold blast of the fridge, through a clever mix of coddling (like oh look sweets over there) and brotherly authority. i manage to get my drink, and the kid is swooped away and carried by her brother, who lovingly rocks her from side to side while getting my change. wow. why did i never do that? in all my years of brotherdom i never did that. it felt so nice and good and warm and then i always think "why didn't i do that". now, theory first or my next digression?

it's as if i've learnt to love only recently, and maybe only because of that biological thing called love. i wished at that moment i had a big family, or a family so immense with so many sisters that they couldn't survive from the love only 2 people could get, or even less because their mom was massaging someone somewhere and their dad driving a taxi till late. so brothers could step in. somehow. to excuse my inaction, i dreamt up a circumstance, a theory of why we are so apart from our siblings. but it is me who is apart.

but you know, pity is a luxury, for men who are incapable of action. sometimes romance and sentiment too. this is when the other half of the pickpocket pair comes up and grabs your wallet. is it true that behind every smile, danger lurks? in another clime, emotion or sentiment could get me killed, or leave me without food, or my daily bread.

just as well perhaps, that character is a product of circumstance. they also say sometimes no, that everything's in our destiny. i don't deny that. i could turn myself into a hardass bitch. it's working sometimes, after all, what is 23 years of life without knowing what a carefully placed hurtful sentence can do, some passive aggression, and now a bit of forced shouting at those who deserve it. although after 23 years, some of it comes from exasperation, perhaps.

but the emotions don't find themselves easily to the top. under the influence perhaps, but then i become a babbling ball of love, generosity and all that is right about this world. pathetic.

it's because i come home today from the beach to a home, and then i am alone. what a change! but no, it's just the time of the night. because at this time last night i was listening to the waves and thinking the same kinds of things. in the day when everyone's swimming it's alright.

why did you graduate from the best school in surabaya, when everyone thought you were going to be a bupati, why, that was the very reason they sent you there, as the best and brightest in the family, the only native in a school full of dutchmen, why did you become a writer? why did you mix around for a while with the wrong company? why did you spend all those years in prison? "i don't want to be bupati. i only want to be free. giving orders to nobody, nobody giving orders to me." are you for real? are those words real, and do you really walk this earth of mankind? and how many inmates drew strength from you, and how many others were just waiting for you to pick up the soap?

but that must be it. maybe you write because you have an explanation to give. why you didn't do all these things, why you chose to do all these weird other things that people don't understand. the weirder you are, the more they demand an explanation.

forgive me, i don't mean to write like a sixteen year old. but when you peel it all off, i don't think i've grown much since then.

somebody's thoughts about me today. my (indonesian) colleague said, "jesse doesn't talk much, but when he does, he has a really sharp tongue."



reliability: it's quality, childhood expectations, expectations of people, and tradeoffs with other priorities. from columnist writing about the indonesian psyche.

"happiness is chemical". wonder about the qualitative nature of other happinesses. would it really be bad to hook up to the experience machine if one were chemically depressed? how is it that some pleasures are addictive and others are not? what is a reward system? role of serotonin and dopamine. is pleasure from fulfillment/success second order?

note-taking, and choosing the language in which to write. pramoedya ananda toer

patience: how i personally feel that the bourne ultimatum was a really good film and one which breaks the usual rule of sequels. in this case, the last one is the best one. power of build-up

live band at ex annex of plaza indonesia, dinner with clarence's dad

jakarta nightlife, description

thoughts on lousy food and lush forests, and my love/hate near death relatonship with waterfalls.


you could be perfectly happy sitting over there, munching.

you could be perfectly happy, sitting over there, munching. you don't need a lot to be happy, and i've tried it both ways both sides now. the problem is staying happy.

watch me now. i've a sore throat and a big fat bump on my head. we've visited quite a few clubs and hope to be able to start reviewing soon.

over the weekend i was so peaceful, it was so happy, i could spend the whole time listening to the back catalogue of music on my computer and sleep and wake up and be tired and be happy to sleep again. i thought i had a lot to share, i was pretty happy because i thought i made a few people happy, etc. i wish i had written more then and not now, when i'm pretty much more down to earth. but when you're happy why waste it right? besides, it all sounds so dramatic.

i'm brought down to earth now, i guess, caught now by expectations and sensitivities and a schedule, which will again be broken on thursday. the routine gives me time to rest, and buy groceries, maybe clean up my room, and sleep.

more things. but i will keep them to myself, where they best reside.

cafe batavia

went to a really beautiful restaurant in taman fatahilah, in kota, one of the few squares which are properly preserved in jakarta of old batavia. having driven around the area before and finding lots of run down old buildings, i was pretty surprised to find that there was actually a square with proper lighting (which the kids used to play soccer at night) and proper paved tiles. we tried to catch what we could with our handphones

it gets lots of marks for flavour. there are old photos all over the place with the menus pasted behind them. so to see one you just pluck a photo off the wall and read it. food is not really traditionally dutch but has expanded to fill many western cuisines. the decor was pretty authentic, from the speed of the rotating wooden fans to the high ceilings and the possibility of smoking next to the windows. there is a jazz bar downstairs which is not bad, but cramped by the fact that the english of the singer was heavily accented. they had very good coffee as well.


i am a mystic

today i feel spiritual. the sufi whirling dervishes, the girls rocking back and forth reciting the koran reading madrasahs, the kabbalists.

turn turn turn, forward and backward. what religion is this? there is religion that fights and struggles, proselytizes and converts.

there is the religion of the mass and the music and of the within. heaven is the white space you rise to.

my mind is so clear, so empty. and it is times like this that i know what i really think. and can say it, though sometimes it's too fast to keep up.

100% fucking pure

"i miss the future." - me.

it was so beautiful to step out at the club with daylight breaking after we had sent our friends back. the streets on thamrin and sudirman were free of people and vehicles, except for a few raucous motorcycles. smoke wafted from clarence's kretek cigarette out to the streets, and it seemed like everybody, this city, had a second chance. a second chance to escape somewhere more peaceful. to begin again without the chaos.

and the other one, she was really just lost in her own world.

and this song is just as fantastic as it was when i was younger

I'm packed and I'm holding
I'm smiling, she's living, she's golden
And she lives for me, says she lives for me
Ovation her own motivation
She comes round and she goes down on me
And I make her smile like a drug for you
Do ever what you want to do coming over you
Keep on smiling what we go through
One stop to the rhythm that divides you
And I speak to you like the chorus to the verse
Chop another line like a coda with a curse
And I come on like a freak show takes the stage
We give them the games we play,

She said I want something else
To get me through this
Semi-charmed kind of life
I want something else
I'm not listening when you say

The sky it was gold, it was rose
I was taking sips of it through my nose
And I wish I could get back there
Some place back there
Smiling in the pictures you would take
Doing crystal meth will lift you up until you break
It won't stop I won't come down, I keep stock
With a tick-tock rhythm and a bump for the drop
And then I bumped up I took the hit that I was given
Then I bumped again And I bumped again
I said..
How do I get back there to
The place where I fell asleep inside you?
How do I get myself back to
The place where you said

I want something else
To get me through this
Semi-charmed kind of life
I want something else
I'm not listening when you say

I believe in the sand beneath my toes
The beach gives a feeling an earthy feeling
I believe in the faith that grows
And the four right chords can make me cry
When I'm with you I feel like I could die
And that would be all right
All right

When the plane came in
She said she was crashing
The velvet it rips in the city
We tripped on the urge to feel alive
But now I'm struggling to survive
The days you were wearing that velvet dress
You're the priestess, I must confess
Those little red panties
They pass the test
Slide up around the belly
Face down on the mattress
Now you hold me
And we're broken
Still its all that I want to do

Feel myself
With a head made of the ground
I'm scared but I'm not coming down, no no
And I won't run for my life
She's got her jaws just locked now in smile
But nothing is all right
All right

I want something else
To get me through this...
I'm not listening when you say


more food science

today i ate ikan pepes which is basically a fish with plenty of small bones steamed in banana leaves until it is soft and becomes tender. other things they like to do are deep fry soft-shell crab as well as pigeons, as well as "gurame", a fish which is fried until you can eat all of the bones.

what appears to be a culinary tweak seems to be a very clever adaptation to a lack of calcium in the diet. especially as asians tend to be rather more lactose intolerant and frown upon milk and cheese, they get most of their calcium from the bones in seafood.

found this joke on the internet

hardware = barang keras
software = barang lembut
joystick = batang gembira
plug and play = colok dan main
port = lubang
server = pelayan
client = pelanggan

"the server provides a plug and play service for the clients using either hardware or software joystick. just plug the joystick into the server port and enjoy it."

"pelayan itu menyediakan layanan colok dan main untuk pelanggannya dengan menggunakan batang gembira jenis keras atau lembut. cukup colokkan batang gembira itu ke dalam lubang pelayan dan nikmati."


frying stuff

i realize that frying things is probably an adaptation and response to conditions where the water cannot be trusted. steaming and soups are all fun when you have clean water, but when you don't know what the hell is inside, you would be better off dumping it in hot oil and killing the little fuckers. pigeons, intestines, whatever.

it does wonders for my sore throat, the cuisine, this. i hope this supposed "cure all" works.

parallel lives

Everyone I spoke to had a fantastic weekend, and throughout the 9 hour drive back from Semarang, I was thinking what different weekends everyone must have. Mine was a weekend away. Took a short domestic flight to Semarang to visit my grandmother and my cousin who's just finished his internship in the nearby village of Kudus. Central Java (JATENG, Jawa Tengah, they have the annoying habit of combining words).

Wasn't my first visit, and the area had developed a bit. My grandmother's bakery had already been converted to an electronics store, as it is on one of the main roads, so it was probably a good location for it. It was bustling, but considerably less so than in Jakarta.

Again, the food was something different. Javanese food is pretty different from what I usually eat in Jakarta, though it's familiar because my family cooks it from time to time. Soto with kecap manis, nasi opor, nasi goreng babat, nasi ayam semarang. in general, sweet. they even mix the tea with insane amounts of sugar. not a good place to be if you're diabetic. of course, there are the bakeries.

drove to kudus via demak to search for this famed "beautiful house", and on the way there we stopped by the polytron factory to see where my cousin was doing his internships. generally, i had the sense that culturally, this was more of indonesia's heartland. i saw many more islamic schools (well, as well as chinese temples in semarang). this was where zheng he made landfall in java and helped to spread islam. of course, there are also 9 holy cities where pilgrims who were the descendants of prophet muhammad helped to spread islam throughout indonesia. demak was the site of the first islamic empire which defeated the hindu majapahit one (yes, the empire with gajah mada who tried to invade singapore, if you remember from the myths of singapore book by noel chia).

drove up the mountains and it ws a beautiful house. a rather famous artist owned it and decided to build his residence and his art school there. unfortunately he was in jakarta at the time, so we talked to his wife. this house is situated on a mountain overlooking a valley and with a view of the adjacent ridges. you can hear the sound of water flowing. it was built on a whim, apparently, and on a plan. spread throughout the compound are sculptures done by the man himself. in order to get from the house to the gazebo and viewing/trekking area, you have to hop past some stones. it was easy for us but not for the people who brought tea over.

his children are artists as well, one is a fashion designer and the other helms an alternative rock band. he gave me his album, and he likes face paint a lot. music has pretty international influences, although also some javanese ones as well.

on the way back i encountered an interesting way to deal with corruption. basically this policeman, seeing that we had jakarta license plates and a pretty decent car, decided to stop us on the way back into semarang. he pulled us over, and we asked what for. he asked to see the vehicel registration papers and driving license, which we promptly showed him but refused to hand over to him. then my cousin adrian started screaming at him for stopping us for no good reason, and threatening to call his important friends in jakarta. so now i suppose our crime was going straight when we were supposed to turn left. but that's ridiculous because the car in front of us had gone straight. here we were in the middle of the street, my cousin going mental. when we tried to drive away he stood in front of the car. how desperate. he said "if you help me, i am help you. how dare you scream at me like that. i'm an employee of the state, and you are obstructing justice". so my cousin just started screaming more, like "what justice, we haven't done anything wrong" we wanted to drive to the side to stop blocking, and after a while we continued the debate on the side of the road. by now, he had roped in his friend to try to solve the problem. we just kept screaming and arguing and i think they were sufficiently hassled, threatened or embarassed by the commotion they decided to look for an easier target.

then my cousin started laughing. what the fuck. i was pretty scared i would be handcuffed and put in jail. he said he hasn't had that much fun in a long time. well, i guess it's an alternative to handing over a small some of money, though it wastes some of your time, and if you treat it as fun and doing what is right, it isn't so much after all. i didn't realize what a weak bargaining position supposed figures of authority are in when they're doing the wrong thing, as long as you don't give them anything to play around with.

fridge magnets! the countries my grandmother has been to. wow!

photos and memories. it's nice to have this great big matriarchal home which holds memories stretching back into the past century. you get this feeling of constancy about places, that they change less than people do, and you remember the rooms well, and what people used to do in them. also, enforced relaxation as there was no tv, internet, so i spent time killing mosquitoes with my electric mosquito-killing racket. i had 8 bites but i sizzled about 14. there were none left in the vicinity. how many do you think there are left in semarang? probably 99,999,986. i had made a small difference. i also enjoyed getting the dog to open the gate and playing with them. it makes me want to have these things.

the drive back was long and the dry season was really dry. we haven't had rain in 3 weeks probably. there was a bush fire on the way back. the view at times was spectacular, with padi fields stretching all the way until where the plains give way to mountains, and the orange sun reflecting off them.


the stream

i remember those days in school where i would walk to school being depressed or down for no good reason. i always thought that it was because i lacked something. but i've learnt to accept them as times where i think, and i sort of miss them.