Friday, August 28, 2015

Voting is a Waste of Time

I had been planning for some time to get my biometrics processed so I could vote in the next elections. I knew I had to hie off to the local COMELEC office, and that was a bit of a problem because (1) I had never been there before and (2) my work schedule kept getting in the way.

So imagine my delight when I read last weekend that COMELEC would be coming to the SM Lanang, very close to where we lived, so people could register. It was one day only, however, August 26, from ten in the morning to five in the afternoon. I would have to take some time off from work, but since it was so close and, on paper, so convenient, I figured it was worth it.

It turns out, it wasn't. After all our errands for the day, my wife and I finally made it to the mall at a quarter to three. The notices said 10AM to 5PM so that should have been enough time. It turns out, it wasn't.

By the time we got there, there were a 150 or so people sitting on rows of chairs, waiting for...something. We had not the first clue what to do. It would have been helpful if there was someone to guide us, but no. We did see a short line of people, leading up to a woman on a desk with a sign behind her: STEP 1-FORMS.

We thought that must have been it. We fell in line and a minute later, an SM guard came to ask us if we had just arrived. I answered in the affirmative.

"Oh, then you'll have to get in line," he said.

"Isn't this the line?" I asked.

He shook his head. He pointed to the last row of seated constituents, with some ten more people lined up behind it.

In hindsight, my wife and I should have given up just then and there. We would have been numbers 161 and 162. Did we really want to go through the hassle? But then I thought: we were already there, so why not. How bad could it be?

We dutifully lined up. After twenty minutes, the queue had shifted forward to the point where we could already sit down. So it was moving, after all. Every so often, we would move to the next seat, like a giant game of Snake on the old Nokia cellphones.

Time passed. I eavesdropped on conversations around me. I shoulder-surfed on a matron going through her Facebook timeline. I napped. Three o'clock gave way to four o'clock. We were still only a quarter of the way through.

A woman from COMELEC made an announcement up front. "If you can't get your biometrics done today, we'll just give you the forms. You can submit to the office and get your biometrics read." Or something to that effect, as far as I was able to interpret it. It was 4:20PM.

By that, I thought they would make sure we all got forms. A bit of a hassle, but okay, nothing we can do about it. Might as well see it through, right?

There's this thing called the sunk cost fallacy. It's the thinking that goes: "I've already come this far, I've put in so much time and effort and money, it would *just* be such a waste to give up now." Well, that was just the trap we fell into.

By 4:50PM, there was a commotion up front. The woman at the desk announced they were closing. We were still two rows behind. And just like that, she and her colleagues got up, swept the blank forms into their envelopes, and prepared to leave.

It amazes me how they showed no remorse or regret, not even a formal apology how they could not accommodate us all. Five o'clock was five o'clock. Government drone, true to form.

Someone (not me, because I was pretty chill) made an issue of it. Aren't you at least going to give us forms? No, you should have come earlier; if you come past three, we can't process you. Then why the hell did you let us line up?! Shrug.

One would have thought, if they wanted us to do our civic duty, they would make things easier for us. Instead, they only had one server, only one person giving out forms. Of course the going will be at a snail's pace. Common sense could quickly identify the bottlenecks and provide some solutions. Or at the very least, some consideration for people's time. But oh, no, we're just doing our jobs.

Voting is a waste of time. I'm not saying it as a platitude. I lost two hours of what could have been given to productive work, and still, all for nothing. And for what? So I could cast a ballot for candidates I don't give two flying figs about.

Figgers.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Money in the Game

An old instructor of mine mentioned once how having money in the game can drastically change your outlook at events. His experience had to do with horse racing. A friend invited him to the track one time. All around him, people were screaming and shouting, and he wondered what the fuss was all about. Then his friend told him to place a bet on a horse, any horse. "I tell you, by the next race, I was yelling myself hoarse," he said.

I'm still not one for the races or the cockpit, but over the past couple of years, I can relate to the experience. I put some of my extra money in an indexed equity fund, and I fell like my insides have been alternately heaving and swelling with every uptick or downtick of the stock market. Talk about involvement!

Its genesis had to do with a friend who played the stocks. Somehow, he had parlayed an investment of P60,000 (or something) to P200,000 (or something). It got me to thinking why I couldn't do the same. "But you have to have an iron stomach," he warned.

I never did get around to enrolling my trading account. Apprehension, ennui, work: you can name whatever reason, you'll probably land one close. But the alternative opportunity came after I invited a banker to talk about investment instruments to my technopreneurship class.

The talk came about around the time I had a small windfall from a project. All my life, I'd placed myself in the conservative risk appetite category. Perhaps it was time to go aggressive? I held my breath and I took the plunge.

And what do you know? Within a month, I'd already gotten some paper gains, more than I would have received from a time deposit. I was stoked! Then a month later, the stock market went down and I suddenly found myself with paper losses, down from my initial investment. My first instinct was to pull out my money. Then I recalled the words of my friend. "Iron stomach," I reminded myself, "iron stomach." So I kept it in.

By the tail end of 2014, I was back in the black, and how! The stock market was on the rise, and so was my investment. By the early part of 2015, I put in a little bit more. The stock market was white hot. My combined placements were netting me a nice sum. The index was past 8,000 and optimistic forecasts had it going to 8,500!

Then, bam. Down again. Stupid PNoy. Shouldn't have rung that opening bell. That well just jinxed it.

Times like these, I wish I'd learned the basics of finance and investment early on. Unfortunately, they don't teach it in school, not unless you're a business major. There's that curse of overspecialization again. Which is a darned shame, because handling money (and risk) beyond the basic household budget is something everyone should know. I wish we'd get these lessons from reputable sources. Instead, we have to learn these from friends, charlatans, and feel-good prophets who mix business with religion. It's hard to tell which is which.

Then again, experience is still the best teacher. Right now, I'm still in the black, but not by much. I lost more than half the paper gains I made at the height of the index, but that's how it goes. "Iron stomach, iron stomach," I chant to myself. However this turns out, it really has put me in touch with the rest of the world. A few years ago, I would have wondered what all the fuss with Greece was all about; now I feel the jitters every time I read about China's shenanigans. Nothing quite like having money in the game to change your outlook on events.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Bye bye, Birdie

The owner of the land next door is tearing down the trees and vines to make way for a condo development. I'm going to miss that swamp. For a long time it's been a small wildlife preserve. I caught a glimpse of this bird this morning, about to lose its home.