Is the world gone crazy, or are we saving condoms the easy way

A few stories earlier, I made a comment about the increasing rate of HIV infection among young men. At that time, I was wondering why after all these years of enlightened education, it was still so difficult to make a habit of using condoms.

Apparently I was wrong in terms of the age groups. A BBC story (see here) shows that men over 50 are less careful about using condoms because they think STDs are mainly problems associated with young people. I am a bit surprised about these findings. Is wearing a condom such a nuisance?

Other rambling thoughts – the economy according to my Dutch friend

stockmarket.jpgMy friend HappyAMSguy (see my links) wrote a critical story about the current economic situation in the United States. I know that this country has been spending the inheritance of future generations. However, I don’t think it is unique to this country. But for a few smaller countries, most industrialized countries live on borrowed times. As another friend of mine stated, being the biggest debtor in the block scares all creditors to compliance. If my Dutch friend’s predictions are correct, then I dread what will happen to the whole world economy. He basically wants the U.S. consumer to stop consuming and saving, or at least balancing his or her budget.

I believe his forecast is based on theories that view the de-linking of the U.S. economy from other global economies. That is, if the U.S. catches a cold, the rest of the world won’t necessarily suffer from pneumonia as it used to be. If so, U.S. consumers better clean their acts. So far, I have doubts that those theories are correct. The way worldwide capital markets have behaved recently shows that the U.S. economy is still one of the cornerstones of the capitalist markets. Unless we go back to the gold standards, as Republican candidate Ron Paul advocates, the market economies will continue marching on debt. The issue is how much debt (and its associated cost) are the U.S. economy allowed to incur.

Well, only history will tell if the decisions of the various central banks are correct.

 NOTE: Just noticed that this country is getting so cheap that TESCO, a British supermarket chain, is starting stores in areas of San Francisco that I would not dare touching (see here).

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Why I voted for Senator Hillary Clinton and other rambling thoughts

I have not been making my mind about whom to vote in the Democratic Party primary election until right before the South Carolina election. For awhile, I was leaning towards Senator Barack Obama. He seems to bring excitement and a whiff of fresh air to an otherwise, kind of boring contest.

However, the primary election in New Hampshire enlightened to me about some view of sexism that continue to pervade in our society. That is, some voters would elect a male candidate (whatever race) over any kind of female candidate. Would they elect a female candidate over a gay candidate? Well, you see my point; there is still a pecking order of what is perceived as “likeability.” Being brought up in a male dominated society, both male and female voters still see the office of the president be fit only for a male. Never mind that the mother of this country, i.e. Great Britain, elected a female prime minister awhile ago. Never mind that the current chancellor of Germany is a female. After reviewing all the pros and cons, I believe Senator Clinton will make a fine president. So, I chose her and mailed my ballot.

Am I being that superficial regarding the election of the LEADER of the FREE WORLD? (Smile if you read those words in the biblical way, chuckle if you think “free” means free stuff) Well, Senator Obama said he wants change. But change to what? It is quite a catching word, but a word that has no meaning if there is no aim at a destination. I don’t mind Mr. Obama’s perceived lack of experience. Everyone has to start somewhere, and why not aim at being the president of the United States. I do mind, however, not knowing what he is thinking. So far, he has not explained well enough to me what he is aiming. He reminds me of John Anderson (check here) from the 1980 presidential campaign. John Anderson was a liberal Republican. An oxymoron? Well, they did exist before the Reagan years. John Anderson attracted a lot of attention in college campuses. He even got the endorsement of liberals such as Gore Vidal. But in the end, he failed. He proposed a 50 cents tax on gasoline. As everyone knows, any kind of perceived increased taxes is a no-no during presidential elections.

Other Rambling Thoughts

I am already thinking of how to spend the tax rebate that is certainly coming my way. The news media coverage is fairly accurate as to the reasons for the rebate. The U.S. government wants us to send more money overseas. Gee, most of our products come from other countries, right?

That made me thinking on how I can better utilize the rebate. Saving it, like I did last time, would not help the economy but merely a foreign bank (hi ING). Instead, I am trying to find a way to spend it locally. So, while surfing through the web pages, I found this site. It is a marketplace for small merchants who are selling mainly their own creations. Some of the items are good looking and unique. I know that in the end, the money may end up in foreign shores anyway, but at least, I have made a conscious decision on trying to spend it locally and supporting small businesses.

Little things that drive you crazy

nokia_n95_zoom.jpgOne of my friends says that I don’t have good luck when it comes with electronic products. I agree with him. Remember the Nokia N95 that I purchased a few months ago? Well, there is a rattle noise coming from the headset. Ok, so it is under warranty. I sent it to Nokia USA for repairs, some place in that proud southern state of Alabama. So what happens? After two weeks wait, it comes back….exactly the same. All the repair service did was to upgrade the software! I could have done it myself. The repair service center ignored my detailed note. When I called the customer service department, the representative stated that it may be a normal behavior. However, my friend also has a N95 and his does not have a rattle noise. So, back to Alabama it goes. I think I should start buying FedEx stock. At least I should profit from my own mailings.

I think I will put Nokia on my list of blacklisted companies. Another one is HP. That is actually a little horror story with Mumbai connections. Last year I purchased a HP laptop from its online site. Overall, I like the features of the computer and it is actually quite good for the price paid. However, a couple of run-ins with its service department made determined to boycott any future computer purchases from HP. The first run-in dealt with the docking station that I ordered with the computer. It has a headphone/microphone outlet. However, the microphone somehow did not work. I called HP India and after learning Hindu-English, and going through the whole checklist procedure over a couple of months, both the docking station and the computer’s motherboard were exchanged. Still, the microphone did not work. So what happened next? My friend started playing with the computer and opened the control panel. He then started looking under sound and audio devices. By chance he double clicked on the volume slider icon. Guess what? It opened a panel with a check mark slot for external microphone. Of course, it was unchecked. That’s it. Checked that box and the microphone outlet started to work. Who designed the software?

Another run in with HP Mumbai happened when the infrared receiver for the TV remote control stopped working. No matter how many times I called HP Mumbai, they kept sending me the wrong part. I thought it may be my accent, so I enlisted my friend with the perfect American broadcast English. Nope. Still being sent the wrong part. So, I ended up buying the item from EBay.

I wonder how much do corporations lose in goodwill and future lost sales. They do not seem to care about warranty service anymore. They hide under masses of firewalls: customers being directed to websites, automatic phone services, customer representatives that are not train to listen to the customers but just to follow a script.

I think from now onwards, I will just purchase electronic items from local stores. At least there is someone to meet face to face when something goes wrong.

What happened to my flight? The saga of a Star Alliance award ticket

starall.jpgI decided to use my accumulated United airlines miles to take a trip to Asia sometime this year. Little did I know that I would embark on a phone odyssey that basically wasted at least two hours of the life of a reservations agent. My plan was very simple: use enough miles for a business class ticket to Phuket, Thailand, with a stopover in Hong Kong. The reservation went without a hitch, using All Nippon Airlines and Thai Airways to Phuket and returning back using Thai Airways non-stop flight from Bangkok to Los Angeles. So, I had the reservation on hold overnight and decided to ticket it today. Ok, everything was fine.

The problem started when I called the individual airlines for seat assignments. The Thai Airways reservation lady stated that I did not have a ticket for the Bangkok – Los Angeles flight. “There is nothing I can do Sir, you have to talk to United,” she said. So, I called United to explain the situation. The United reservation agent was at a loss as to why that was occurring. On her computer system, it showed available seats for the flight but Thai Airways kept rejecting the request. So, after an eternity of dealing with supervisors and help desks, she rebooked the flight and advised me to check later with Thai Airways again.

A few hours later, I called Thai Airways. Again, nothing changed. I wasn’t in that flight. Again, “there is nothing I can do Sir, you have to talk to United.” So, back to United I go. This time, the reservation agent at United basically gave up and decided to find me a different flight. After going through all the various scenarios (at one point, being sent to Seoul Korea at 2AM on economy class), we settle on flying on a different date and returning instead with the Singapore girl (or boy). I’ll meet her in Hong Kong. Well, hopefully, since I have two other dates with Thai gals before her. Better check with Thai Airways again tomorrow to see if my Phuket – Hong Kong flights are actually in their system.

I know that this is a minor annoyance compared with some of the horror airline stories that abound over the Web. I have been quite lucky. My memory just brings me two prior events: being stranded in Mexico City because my connecting Mexicana flight did not exist, and being stranded in Copenhagen because of engine problems (at least SAS provided a free hotel room and liquor for the dinner). Maybe you can share your airline adventures?

[UPDATE 09/09: A couple of changes has happened since I booked my award ticket. I decided to change the date for one of the flights. First, let me say that United’s reservation agents have been quite helpful the couple of times that I needed to contact them. Second, on a Star Alliance ticket, in order not to incur additional fees, you must continue on the same flight number when you change your date (that is, you cannot use other flights even if the destination is the same, otherwise you will incur a fee if you chose a different flight number). Third, seat availability change over time (in my case, my change of date meant that business class seats were not available when I made the change, but they became available when I inquired about them a few weeks later). I wish that Star Alliance award business class tickets would allow stand-by if economy is only available for a certain flight segment. But the way it is now, the only way to find out is to keep calling periodically after your business award ticket has been issued.

A good indicator for inflation: the cost of sex for rent

rent.jpgNot that I ever use the services (mandatory disclaimer, wink et al), but I think I found a good, reliable way to measure inflation – the price of sex for rent. If economic theory is correct, the price of goods and services depends on supply and demand. Hence, prices go up when demand is high and supply is low. The reverse happens when traffic goes the other way. Of course, there are other factors such as how elastic is the supply and demand curve. But you get my drift…

Ever since I got broadband in my bedroom, I like to lurk at Rentboy.com (see site here). As you notice, it is an advertisement forum for guys who provide timeshares for their bodies. When I first started cruising the website a couple of years ago, I believe that the going rate for one hour in the San Francisco bay area hovered around $100. Now, you can check that the rates have jumped to a minimum of $200 or so. Some guys are even pushing to $300 or so.

I am not sure whether Rentboy.com is a good indicator during recessional times. But I do believe it is a good indicator during inflationary times. Well, my theory being that when people have more disposable income, they are more willing to spend on luxury services (ok, I am going off the edge here with that assumption). On the other hand, during recessional times, less people hire or advertise in these forums. So, what would be an alternative indicator during recessional times? Maybe Craigslist?

But the whole thing is moot for me. Inflation for me is manifested everytime I show up at the gas station and fill 18 gallons of black gold into that monster called the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

HIV infection rate increasing among young gay guys…History repeating itself

young-gay-man.jpgI just don’t understand why the HIV infection rate is increasing again among young gay guys (see NY times article). For a generation who has grown up in the wired world, hasn’t the danger of the virus sunk in? Or have we, the baby boomer generation, produced a group of kids who just don’t care about anything anymore? Having been a volunteer with my county’s HIV mobile test site, I know how difficult it is to encourage young men to test for the virus. After all these years of enlightened education, our young members of society still seem to have closets to come out from. One would wonder whether the availability of social networking websites (such as MySpace, Hi5) would encourage young people to come out. However, it seems that these websites merely provide another closet to move into.

It is like yesterday when I first heard of the dreaded infection. It was my first year of law school. My roommates told me in hushed voices about the skin cancer that seems to be affecting some gay men. At that time, I felt quite fatalistic because I did not have control over it. No one knew about the cause and it would have been too late to prevent getting it. However, once it was discovered that a virus was causing the illnesses, and that it was easily preventable through the use of condoms, I became an advocate for that safer sex practice. Over the years, that thin layer of rubber has prevented countless humans from being infected.

So, I wonder why till today we have not been able to totally drill into the brains of every one to practice safer sex. Is it really worth the risk of going “bareback” for that extra amount of skin to skin sensation? Maybe the emergence of anti-HIV cocktail drugs has made some of us complacent towards being infected – thinking that it is merely a manageable disease. However, as we know, these cocktails merely serve as a dam against the virus. They are not cures. Further, it seems that these drugs have potential dangerous side effects that are causing long term sufferers to be susceptible to a lot of geriatric diseases, that is, getting old faster and earlier (see this other NY Times article). As any gay boy or men would tell you, getting old is not an option. Please be safe.

[UPDATE: For other thoughts on this subject, click here.]