what did i miss part 1

A few of the stuff that’s happened over the past 2 weeks during nano, part 1.

1. paradise papers

chi233fed

The Paradise Papers came out. Just like the earlier Panama Papers, this series of leaks showed yet again how the rich got richer and the rest of us got left behind. BBC summary:

The Paradise Papers are a huge leak of financial documents that throw light on the top end of the world of offshore finance…how politicians, multinationals, celebrities and high-net-worth individuals use complex structures to protect their cash from higher taxes.

The issue is, off-shore accounts aren’t strictly illegal. There’s some sort of competitve sport behind the idea of trying to avoid as much tax as possible. Show me one person who actively wants to pay taxes. But the flipside is, how are governments supposed to operate without taxes? If there are no taxes, there’d be no police, no sewage system, no healthcare. Oh wait, that’s exactly the thinking of the pro-busines conservative right. Privatise it all. Instead of paying the government, we pay corporations to provide security, sewage, healthcare. Sounds idyllic, except once profits come into it, imagine how much these corporations will charge, imagine the lack of oversight, imagine the lack of budget for non-essential functions. I’m no economist, but a completely free market depends on compassion and not just profit. Trickle-down economics is all smoke and mirror, unfortunately.

On the one hand I look at all the people and corporations being named–the Queen, Apple, Bono–and I feel zero sorries for them, because the world has gotten so unequal that any attention to the issue is good. On the other hand, I can’t help but think the real people to blame are the lawyers and accountants and financial advisers who thought of the schemes and the politicians who didn’t close the loopholes.

Unfortunately, there isn’t enough attention paid to this. Most people don’t have exposure to the shady world of off-shore accounts, and funnelling money to the likes of Bermuda and the Channel Islands isn’t illegal. But as quartz said, this touches on the question of:

the difference between the “letter of the law” and the “spirit of the law.”

We’ve reached the point when the world’s richest 1% own 50% of all wealth, and yet one US political party wants to further reduce the tax burden on the richest individuals and corporations. NYT:

The Republican tax plan would shift more of the tax burden onto those who can least afford to shoulder it and relieve those who are already starving the government of tax revenue. The Paradise Papers shine yet another spotlight on how the rich and powerful game the system to avoid paying what they would otherwise owe. The rest of us suffer for it. Why hand them even more favors?


2a. trivial tech stuff #1 — twitter now @280 characters

Twitter doubled its character limit to 280 per post. Can’t say I like or dislike it. All it means is a tweetstorm is now 10 posts instead of 20. Talking about tweetstorm, they are testing a new tweetstorm feature that will allow users to draft a series of tweets before posting them together all at once. Instant tweetstorm!

2b. trivial tech stuff #2 — most downvoted comment in reddit history

In reddit, users upvote or downvote posts and comments to improve the visibility of said posts and comments, to show support (upvote) or to indicate their displeasure (downvote). Technically, downvoting should only be for comments that don’t contribute to the thread. The most obvious example is spam comments, with dodgy links and gobbledegook text underneath a perfectly normal post or comment.

redditdownvotes

What happened over a very short 24 hour period was one comment made by Electronic Arts (EA) in response to a post about the microtransaction system of the game Star Wars Battlefront II got so many downvotes it smashed downvote records. The OP had a point, the game already cost US$60 or whatever it is to buy, then to unlock main characters it cost something like $80 on top, per character. I’m no gamer, but that sounds super greedy.

EA didn’t help matters by responding to the OP with a condescending comment full of rubbish corporate speak. As a result that comment received over 677k downvotes before it was locked. That’s far and beyond the most downvoted comment in recollection. Interesting that EA was responsible for a lot of downvoted comments too. They may or may not have listened to the feedback, shortly afterwards they reduced the cost to unlock the characters.

2c. trivial tech stuff #3 — new corporate font from IBM

Unlike Apple or Microsoft, IBM has traditionally used Helvetica. But since it’s not their own font, they’ve had to licence it from Monotype. Now they don’t have to anymore, with the creation of its own bespoke font, called unimaginatively IBM Plex.

ibmplex

I like it. Clean, modern, sans serif. Quartz called it a:

graceful hybrid of blocky, engineered shapes with natural gestures from handwriting.

What’s more, it’s not like frutiger or other pricey fonts, IBM has made it free to download.


3. john lewis christmas ad

Finally, some cheering up. John Lewis’ 2017 Chrismas ad debuted on the 10th of november. I’m furiously trying not to dwell on the fact that it cost £7 million, and how that could have been used better. Not my favourite John Lewis Christmas ad, but still very charming.

millions dream of the lives we are living

millions

I saw this on an askreddit thread but forgot to save the page so I can’t even remember the question. I do remember being momentarily floored by this simple comment.

We must be more grateful for our lives.

The 2016 World Bank report on Poverty and Shared Prosperity is almost 200 pages long, so I didn’t read it. But looking at the World Bank page on poverty just hammers home how lucky I am, and everyone around me, and everyone who is reading this.

globalpoverty

There has been progress:

  • in 2013, 10.7% of the world’s population lived on less than US$1.90 a day, compared to 12.4% in 2012 and 35% in 1990
  • nearly 1.1 billion people have moved out of extreme poverty since 1990

But the fact is that there are still 767 MILLION people who live in poverty, defined as living below US$1.90 a day. I cannot for the life of me imagine living on that tiny sum a day.

Which is the bigger problem, inequality. The Gini index measures wealth gap. A perfect distribution of wealth within a group means a Gini index of zero. A Gini index of one is where one person in the group has all the wealth and the others have none. So, the lower the better. Here’s another World Bank chart:

gini

The global index (blue line) has decreased since 1988, in part due to globalisation and rapid growth by developing countries–countries are more equal as shown by the light orange between-country index. But look at the dark red in-country index that has gone up a whopping 75%. In real terms, this means the rich in one country has gotten richer, and richer, and richer. It’s a challenge to explain this. Politics, economics, taxation, market movement, greed, these are all factors.

Going back to the reddit comment. I don’t know how to solve inequality aside from being aware of the issue. Just let’s be more grateful, okay?

uk election

ukelection2017

When I woke up, counting was already underway. I’m very grateful that I was able to follow bbc’s election coverage on youtube.

First, the exil poll that had the Tories at 314 and Labour at 267. The magic number is 326 so no outright majority. The next few hours were riveting, delivering surprise after surprise. Nick Clegg lost his seat; SNP lost seats; the Home Secretary scraped home after a recount.

I caught the results of Islington North and Maidenhead where Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May both won comfortably. The difference in body language were stark: Corbyn was all smiles and Mrs May looked grim. Corbyn’s words about Mrs May’s mandate:

Well, the mandate she’s got is lost Conservative seats, lost votes, lost support, and lost confidence

While the Prime Minister seemed resigned to the result:

If, as the indications have shown, and if this is correct that the Conservative Party has won the most seats and probably the most votes then it will be incumbent on us to ensure that we have that period of stability

ukelectionbarnet

Previously seemingly unassailable constituencies like Ipswich and Canterbury turned red. There had been a Conservative MP in Canterbury since 1918! Chipping Barnet stayed blue but with a majority of only 353. Unthinkable when I was growing up. It’s a sign of the times, I feel like one of those 11.5% in Barnet that swing Labour–a previously lifelong Conservative, they offered us nothing whereas Jeremy Corbyn ran an energetic campaign and, unthinkable at the start of the election, looks the part of a future PM.

ukelectionwestminster

My home constituency of Westminster North stayed Labour. I discovered that I can’t just register as an overseas voter, I have to apply for postal voting to get a ballot paper. Next time.

I stayed watching throughout the UK morning. There were 20 constituencies still to declare and at that point the Tories needed 20 seats. Labour held Southampton so mathematically no party was able to secure an outright majority.

Theresa May gambled on what was a huge lead in the polls and suffered a humiliating defeat, even though her party had the most seats and votes. Over the next few days and weeks there will be copious analysis on what went wrong; the demographics of who voted where; and much handwringing about what happens next. Nobody expected a hung Parliament, but that’s what we have. It may not be a bad thing. Mrs May is right on one count, we need stability. But the message is her version of ‘strong and stable’ is not the right one. I am looking forward to a rejuvenated opposition and very curious as to what Jeremy Corbyn will do in the next few years.

london

unionjack

Terrorist attack at London Bridge and Borough Market on Saturday night.

White van crashed into pedestrians then a horrific stabbing spree. Seven dead, 48 injured. All over in 8 minutes. [Edit: 8 dead.]

It’s hard to comprehend. I’m not in London, but I could have been. Saturday night out at Borough Market, something that any Londoner could be doing.

It’s hard to have the right words, reaction, feeling.

We’ve been through this before. Too many times. Regent’s Park, Harrods, Victoria station, 7/7, Woolwich, Westminster.

Guardian journalist Owen Jones, Sunday morning on facebook (and this illustrates my point earlier about not able to link, embed or save worthwhile fb posts):

London has far more love than the terrorists have hatred. London is just as it always was today. It’s a Sunday so it’s quieter than usual. People are in cafes, restaurants, and pubs. Parents have taken their children out. People are laying in parks. Dogs are being walked. Box sets are lazily being watched at home. People who are standing on the left side of the escalator are being tutted at, as are tourists who suddenly stop in the middle of busy walkways and people who are listening to music on their headphones on public transport too loud.

That’s not because London isn’t angry at the terrorists, or not mourning the lives of those murdered by these twisted extremists. It’s because a city which has endured all sorts of horror and attack is not going to surrender to terror and fear, which is what the terrorists want.

Let’s remember those who died, let’s come together, let’s debate how we defeat extremists – and let’s also do what the terrorists don’t want: for us to get on with our lives without fear and hatred.

social media border control

socialmediaborder

It was just announced that US consulates can ask visa applicants from certain countries for social media accounts, email addresses, phone numbers and 15 years of biographical information. This is for visa applicants, like for the B visa, not visa waiver / ESTA applicants.

My ESTA is coming up for renewal so I went online to fill out an application. They do ask for employment information and social media accounts. Employment is mandatory and social media optional. Seems to be something implemented by the current administration since the beginning of the year. Don’t forget, this is an application form that asks if you have engaged in or plan to engage in terrorist activities. Who would put yes?

As the social media section on the ESTA form is optional, I left it blank. The ESTA was approved, so at least that hurdle is successfully negotiated. But of course there’s no stopping them from making us hand over devices and passwords. When I tell my US friends, they rightly get outraged and other people online have mentioned the ACLU. There is a huge difference–the rights of Americans returning to the country and visitors visiting the country. Naturally the former gets more protection and attention from the ACLU; I doubt there is much they can do if visitors feel their rights have been threatened. Visitors have very few rights.

TBH, if I didn’t have to be there at the conference this year, I’ll stay home or go on holiday someplace else. America is such a joke nowadays and I feel guilty about saying it.

snap general election

parliamentunionjack

The Prime Minister has called a snap general election on 8 June. What on earth? Most of us kept hearing her say no, there won’t be a general election soon. Clearly she’s changed her mind or is plotting something.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. Some analysts say she’s done it to clarify the Brexit mandate. She inherited Cameron’s mess and this is her way of stamping her own authority. Basically it’s a threat, vote for me on my merit or suffer the consequences. She’s also likely to be taking advantage of a big lead in the polls. Labour isn’t an effective opposition party and hasn’t been for a while. The Lib Dems are still too tiny and the SNP is stuck north of the border.

It’s Hobson’s Choice for the voters. One of my fb friends said it best:

would I rather have an incompetent prime minister with his heart in the right place, or one who I disagree with 75% of the time, but who has the ability to deal with foreign leaders, internal dissent, day to day chaos

As disillusioned as I am with the Tories, I cannot stomach voting for Corbyn. Like my fb friend said, nice guy but no presence.

I’m glad I renewed by voter registration. Let’s see if this time roung I get a ballot paper.

brexit triggered

brexit

The Prime Minister triggered Brexit on Wednesday 29 March 2017. It’s a bit like knowing exactly when a bomb will go off but not having any choice in the matter. All we can do is watch the ripples spread out in concentric circles as we, as the Guardian described (it’s their banner here) we’re stepping into the unknown. There are tons and tons of opinion articles on this, from doom and gloom to glee. I’ve saved an extremely helpful BBC article all you need to know about Brexit. Many sensible questions, like:

What impact will leaving the EU have on the NHS?

But some equally amusing ones like:

Will we be barred from the Eurovision Song Contest?

Most of the answers to questions are variants of “it depends.” No one knows how the negotiations will give us. The overriding lesson from the past 12 months is: take nothing for granted, the world is unpredictable, people do not behave in ways we assume they would. No one person has the same circumstance as anyone else. Naturally I’m hoping for a soft Brexit, with as little disruption to everyday lives as possible. It’s probably naïve and unrealistic because of special interest groups and people with different agendas to ours.

There are a lot of people immediately affected by Brexit; I’m in the last group which arguably is the least affected:

  • 63 million people living in the UK
  • 58 million British people living in the UK
  • 2.9 million EU citizens living in the UK
  • 1.2 million British people living in the EU
  • 4.3 million British people living overseas (excl EU)

My primary income and financial assets are not in in the UK, so I’m less affected by the fluctuation of GBP or, to a lesser extent, EUR. If anything, sterling is cheaper for us so we should go back to visit or look into buying property. That puts me in an embarrasing predicament, because I can stand to gain from Brexit. What does it say for me as a Remainer, do I take advantage of FX volatility and falling house prices? Do I take the high road and not try to use this opportunity to my personal advantage? It’s stupid to take the naïve moral stand, TBH. When I can get us organised, I’m persuading mm to go for a househunting trip.

Aside: Scotland is in an interesting position. They voted overwhelming to Remain. If there is a second IndyRef, and if they vote for independence, will it then be a feasible location to move to? I don’t know.

There’s a part of me that still can’t believe how we got ourselves in this mess. I don’t know anyone who voted Leave but I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive them. I’ll wait and see. And hope for the best.

london bridge has fallen

London Bridge Roundel
photo credit: flickr user diorama_sky, under CC

I can even fathom, but one of these days the Queen will pass away. Spent a few minutes (more like 20, it’s a long read) reading the Guardian’s article about Operation London Bridge, or the top secret plans for the few days after the Queen’s death. The extension plans cover both the Queen’s death and Charles’ ascension and have been in place since the 1960s. The group of people involved (government departments, the police, the army, Palace staff, the media) meets regularly to update the plans and there are rehearsals for all manner of eventualities.

The middle of the article talks about Britain’s decling power compared with when Queen Victoria died. Then, we had the Empire. Now, there’s Brexit. But the Empire is gone, it’s nothing to be ashamed about; the world changes and evolves. Britain will still mourn the death of our monarch with dignity and it will be done with full-on British precision and ceremony. Extensive procedures will be followed, every detail, from the thickness of the cloth covering the bell of Big Ben that will ring the start to the Queen’s funeral to stockpiling of condolence books in all corners of the country, are in the playbook. The Prime Minister will be informed, Parliament will be recalled. TV and radio programs will stop and networks will merge with the announcement. The BBC, other channels as well as newspapers and magazines will have material already prepared.

The royal standard will appear on the screen. The national anthem will play. You will remember where you were.

And it being a completely modern world, the news will spread very, very quickly. It took hours before George VI’s death was announced; the press who were in Paris with Robin Cook who was travelling with Princess Diana knew within 15mins. Now, it’s as fast as data is carried over the internet.

There will be a profound outpouring of grief. Some observers predict an increase in patriotic feelings.

People who are not expecting to cry will cry.

I don’t cry a lot and I was close to tears just reading this.

US politics #resist

Something heinous and sinister is happening in the US. The new president, KGB Agent Orange, enacted a series of measures in his first week of being president that are intended to bully, divide and self-promote. I watched my fb and twitter feeds this morning as the drama of people detained at various airports unfolded. People who have valid visas; green card holders. In which mature and civilised country is this right? This makes me think very carefully about whether I want to travel to the US. The last thing I want to experience again is the SSSS “random” screening every time I passed through a TSA checkpoint. It wasn’t random. It was racism, no denying it.

parkrangers

That said, it’s great to see how people are coming together with the same reactions and goals. The protests and marches. Friends who believe in doing the right thing becoming passionate activists. Urging people to contact their representatives to make their voices heard.

One of the best things that happened last week came about from another of those heinous and sinister measures. Orange banned staff at several agencies from speaking directly to the public, including via social media. This prompted the setting up of various unofficial alt-twitter accounts: the National Park Service, Forest Service, NASA, FDA, EPA, DOJ, State, DHS, Treasury, WH staff etc etc all have private accounts that aim to keep the public informed and not be gagged. Of course, we have to be careful about these accounts but they seem to all have good and honourable intentions. Definitely not what dystopian novels predicted, that park rangers will be leaders in the resistance.

What’s been very prominent in going through my feeds is that we all seem to be talking to each other in a bubble. I get why people unfollow or unfriend their friends / relatives who do not hold the same view. But not knowing, denigrating and arrogantly ignoring the opposition is perhaps one of the factors that cost the Democrats the election. In order to win, one must understand one’s enemies. I’m still subscribed to a couple of reddit threads that have right wing views, to see what’s on their minds and their interpretation of what’s been happening. It’s amazing how utterly different the perception is from the other side.

One of the vast number of post-mortem articles about the election is this thoughtful piece in the Guardian that paints one side of the picture of how Orange won in rural small towns

despite his vulgarity and his big-city ways

because the people who live in those dying towns are desperate. Not because they are ignorant or small-minded or ill-advised. Because there is no longer any industry in their town, there are no prospects, and they see their way of life eroded by corporatisation. The result is the rise of nostalgia. There’s been a lot of snorting and head-shaking about Orange supporters’ perceived yearning for the good ol’ days. The article suggests that we shouldn’t laugh it off.

There is nothing un-progressive about wanting your town to thrive, about recognizing that it isn’t thriving today.

And surely these are the people Democrats need to win over.

May be my blood pressure hasn’t shot up and I can read the alt-right stuff unemotionally because I’m no more than a distant observer in this. Yes, world economy and world politics will be affected, but America is only one country and it has a tendency of overestimating its importance. I’m closely watching what’s going on in Europe too. And of course our own upcoming CE “election” (a rigged vote cast by 1,200 people in a city of 7 million is not an election). Here, the feeling is positive about the US because relaxation in oversight and Orange’s obvious pro-business stance means more profits and better investment opportunities. Two different bankers told me this. I’ll absorb this piece of information, just like I’m mopping up all the news that is already overwhelming and it’s not even the end of January.

2016: tl;dr

It’s december and time for best of, worst of, retrospective of, summary of and all that of the year. How to start? Sigh. This was on reddit: what’s the tl;dr for 2016 and some great answers. Two most meaningful ones for me, the first for the world in general:

2016 is the year we went from thinking that there might be alternate universes, to realizing that we are the alternate universe

The second one from someone who said exactly what was on my mind:

My dad died, and the world literally stopped making sense

And then someone put all of 2016 in a song. Like what the first comment said, no need for me to say which song it’s based on, by the chorus readers should start humming along:

2016tldr

I’m with her

Been quiet about the US presidental election while watching from the sidelines. Like most outside the US, and many (hopefully many, many) inside the US, I shake my head as Trump gets nominated in his party by behaving ridiculously towards minority and talking utter rubbish all the time.

Resisted until this week, then couldn’t help but tune into the livestream of the DNC. President Obama’s speech was awe-inspiring. Don’t boo, vote.

Khizr Khan talking about the loss of his son in Iraq and telling Trump he has sacrificed nothing was one of the most heartfelt speeches I’d watched for a long time.

And then Hillary Clinton walked out.

I watched most of her speech live, then had to go out. Watched it again in full later. Here are some highlights.

If I can vote for her, I will. I hope and wish that my friends who can, not only go out and vote in November, but spread the message amongst friends and family that there is too much at stake this time. Learn from Brexit. Look at the big picture. Don’t let anger and frustration destroy everything.

brexit: what have we done?

In the end, my vote wouldn’t have mattered. Westminster voted 69% for Remain. But that’s where the good news ended. The rest of the UK, outside of London & the Southeast, Northern Ireland and Scotland (and Gibraltar), mostly voted to Leave.

brexitmap

It’s the biggest event in the UK for several generations. The bbc map and analysis shows a country divided. The analysis also showed that by and large:

  • young people voted Remain; older people voted Leave with the crossover point at around the mid-40s years old, the same age range as our EU membership
  • people with higher degrees voted Remain; non-graduates voted Leave
  • people who self-identified as English voted Leave

I was watching the live results. It was a big shock as constituency after constituency returned Leave. A little respite when the first of the London results came in for Remain, but it was shortlived.

brexitmarket

Even though the European markets were closed, 24/7 trading meant it was possible to see the moment when the world realised Leave was going to win.

brexitfx

The £ dropped to a 30-year low. I’d bought some last week, when it was around 11.01 against local$, and when I checked my bank it was 10.75. Even as I typed in the online order it dropped to 10.62. Texted sis and mm, mm was able to get some at 10.55.

My FA texted. We were going to sell off one of my GBP accounts anyway, and she wanted to put the order in as soon as the markets open. I said it’s the worst time to sell, since there’d be lots of panic selling and the indices will be sure to fall. It’s not like we were desperate for the money. FA was more pessimistic than us, she thinks the markets will fall further. In the end, we set a line, if the drop is less than a certain % then sell, wait and buy back when it’s still cheap. Otherwise sit tight.

If I weren’t flying to the US next weekend for the conference, I would have dragged mm to London so we can go house-hunting. House prices are expected to drop, even though the top end of the property market will probably go up because of the cheap £.

I sound like one of those detested bankers! Taking advantage of a horrible chaos to try to make money.

markets20160624

And chaos it was. I turned on the tv to bloomberg to watch Cameron resign, and the markets go crazy. Interestingly the FTSE-100 only dropped 4% compared with the CAC and DAX. World markets closed for the weekend with red everywhere. One of my uni friends on our whatsapp group joked:

Brexit to be followed by Grexit, Departugal, Italeave, Fruckoff, Czechout, Oustria, Finish, Slovlong, Latervia, Byegium until the EU reaches the state of Germlonely

And still the recriminations continue. I try to understand where the Leave voters were coming from, which boils down to:

if you’ve got money, you vote in; if you haven’t got money, you vote out

It was all voting from the heart, coming from resentment of a government that has failed the entire country whilst lining the coffers of their one-percenter friends. There is no excuse from the government, but let’s vote them out at the next general election and not use the EU referendum as a temper tantrum.

There was a lot fearmongering about immigration too, that the heart listened to. I get it. I saw my own neighbourhood change when I was back in London after more than a decade away and it wasn’t for the better. It’s true, many people who come to the country didn’t bother to assimilate, but Britain is also the country where a hijab-wearing woman whose parents come from Bangladesh can win the most popular baking competition ever and goes on to bake a cake for the Queen’s 90th birthday. That’s British identity, not Nigel Farage’s stupid poster.

The heart that voted for Brexit didn’t listen to the head and forgot about consequences. How leaving the EU will affect pensions, mortgages, job opportunities, the economy and, closer to home, making their Costa del Sol holiday even more expensive now.

And we’ll have to be British about this. Apologise to the world about the mess we created. Make the best of the situation. Europe already wants us out. Best case scenario, our politicians (and please do NOT elect Boris Johnson) salvage some of the EU benefits and we become like Switzerland or Norway. Worst case scenario…ugh, that’s a bottomless pit.

What have we done?

EU referendum didn’t vote

euballotpaper

Results are starting to come in for the EU referendum. Despite me being a good citizen and registering to vote, I did not get my chance to vote. Why? Because I didn’t get my ballot paper. I have no idea why or what happened. I received a confirmation from Westminster council, which I duly filed away. Then waited and waited and waited. Most info and articles were geared towards people in the UK. It’s hard for people outside to find instructions. I wonder if I should have registered for a proxy vote, but I don’t know anyone in Westminster.

So that was the tactic then? Not send the ballot papers or send it so we get it after the event. I wonder how many of the millions of overseas voters got their voting card on time and had their vote count.

What’s this about #yourvotematters? Clearly mine didn’t matter.

A bit mad, to be honest.

p.s. for the record, Remain.

jo cox

sg013temple

What an awful week. Still reeling from Orlando. And now Jo Cox, MP for Batley and Spen.

Like most people, even in the UK, I haven’t heard of Jo Cox before. But reading all the tributes, watching her maiden Parliament speech, she was just one of those politicians who are what we want from a politician: hardworking, bright, working for her constituents and her country rather than blagging and hogging the spotlight with empty promises.

She achieved so much. Head girl, Pembroke College, Head of Policy at Oxfam. A

tireless campaigner

for Syrian refugees.

She even lived on a houseboat! She left behind her husband, Brendan, and two young children.

What is the world coming to? Awful, simply awful. There are eyewitness reports that her attacker shouted “Britain First” and although it’s not confirmed the fact that organisations like Britain First exist in the first place is a terrible reflection of how the world has become.

This quote from her maiden speech sums up how we should carry on her legacy:

we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us

We simply must do better.

orlando

cpride001flag

Not sure if I can articulate my thoughts about the Orlando shooting. Many others are doing it more eloquently. Most western news media outlets have lots of reports and opinions.

As the guardian said so many faultlines.

Discussion about whether it was terrorism or hate crime. Put the blame on radicalisation or lack of gun control. Anger at poliicians using a tragedy to push their own agenda. Censorship on r/news. Reopening arguments about immigration. Mental health issues. Still waiting for the day homophobia is no longer in existence.

Words.

I look at my other feed and there is nothing there. It’s as if my RL friends and family are a world away from what happened half the world away. It’s my perennial conflict, what happens in my community life has no overlap with my real life.

#yourvotematters

ukexpatsvote

I didn’t vote in the last general election because I didn’t keep up my registration on the electoral register when I left the UK. Not that my one vote would have counted, I figured. Except that’s exactly the wrong attitude. I’ve been following what’s going on in the SMH-worthy US primaries. Time and time again people are telling their friends to go vote, because their one vote does count. People who are passionate about their parties and issues are more likely to vote in large numbers, and sometimes that’s led to bad results because people with extremist or discriminatory views have simply cared more than the lethargic majority.

Sis has been nagging me about 2 things: get health insurance and register to vote. We were talking about Brexit and she reminded me to go register asap. The FCO has been calling on the estimated 5.5 million overseas British citizens to exercise their right to vote.

It’s really easy to do online and yes it only took around the time to make a cup of tea. R is registered in Chichester; Sis and I are in Westminster. When I have time, I’ll register for mm too. Seems like the publicity is working with over 2000 registering every day.

The criteria is that the person has to have been registered as a voter or left the UK in the last 15 years. Don’t know why it’s 15 years, sounds arbitrary. Some people who left more than 15 years ago are also fighting to have their voting rights recognised.

Hopefully more than 106,000 overseas British citizens bother to vote at the June referendum. That’s the number in the last general election.

#bruxelles

Another senseless terrorist attack. Ths airport and Maelbeek Metro station in Brussels came under attack on Tuesday.

lemondebruxelles

There’s a small part of me that is angry at TPTB. They knew the Paris bombers lived in Belgium, there was talk that an attack on Brussels was planned / foiled. But honestly, all the police in the world can’t stop someone with a backpack going to the landside of an airport, or a metro station. Mostly, I’m sad and want to reach out to the victims and everyone in Brussels. This drawing from Le Monde is poignant and full of sympathy. We all feel like France at this moment.

In less than 10 days’ time, Mum and I will be in Paris and then mid-April we’ll be in London. Am I worried? I’ll be a fool if I said flippantly, “no.” But am I tempted to cancel? Absolutely not, and reddit agrees it’s still safe to travel to Europe. I’ll be vigilant and prepared to go through plenty of security checks. It’s a way of life in the world now, I doubt the threat of terrorism will decrease during my lifetime.

brus094frites2bar

I have good memories of Brussels and this is what I will think about today. A beautiful, cosmopolitan city with beers, chocolate and frites.

brus006lecomet

Great architecture and a pleasurable city to walk in. That’s the Brussels of my mind.

pic of my chair may breach copyright

aeronchair2015

I’m home for a few days, and I reminded myself to take a picture of my aeron chair. Why? Because apparently, the UK government will soon require people to take out a licence to photograph classic designer objects, even if you own that object. The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 says that copyright of artistic objects cover 25 years after they were first marketed to 70 years after the creator’s death. This is something like 100 years after the object was designed and during that 100 or so years, taking a photo will require a licence from the copyright owner. Note, it’s the copyright owner not the legal owner of the object.

The aeron chair was designed in 1994, so there’s plenty of time left for that copyright licence.

Stupid or what.

#ge2015

ge2015lego
lego parliament via mashable

I tuned into BBC as soon as I woke up and one of the first MPs returned was 20 year old Mhairi Black from the SNP. That would set the tone for the entire general election results. I watched as the SNP annihilated Labour in Scotland; then the Tories proved too strong for both Labour and the LibDems, who ended up getting decimated. Cameron got elected back to No. 10 without needing a coalition partner.

I’m not 100% happy but I’m not all that sad or angry at #ge2015 results. It was a shock to watch the decimated LibDems and Labour’s poor showing, though in hindsight there wasn’t a real alternative to the Conservatives—Miliband and Clegg were gracious in their resigations, where was the backbone before the election?

ge2015scotland gd2015maggiesimpson

Quite astounded at the SNP landslide. A lot due to Nicola Sturgeon’s good performance, though ironic that she wasn’t even standing. I don’t know a whole lot about Scottish politics or the everyday priorities of the Scottish people. It seems to me that they voted in the SNP not because they want independence, but because they want effective representation in Westminster. It’s telling that the voice of non-public school, London-centric Britain now falls to a party that was, many years ago, considered marginal. I hope they reward their constituencies’ faith in them and not hijack issues for their own purposes.

ge2015crossstitch
#ge2015 live cross-stich via tom katsumi on twitter

It’ll be a very different Britain in the next 5 years. I want to be hopeful that Cameron & Co will do the right thing, but I’m more afraid that they will put the interest of their corporate buddies before that of the British people.

ge2015pr
charts via independent

People have been talking about electoral reform. That the UK needs to move to proportional representation because how come the SNP had 1.4mil votes and got 56 seats, while the Greens got 1.1mil votes and only one (yay for Caroline Lucas, btw).

What alarms me is that, if we had PR, Ukip would have won 80+ seats. That’s scary. I grew up in a Tory stronghold (Chipping Barnet has returned a Conservative MP since 1974, when the constituency was created) and I have some empathy towards the Little England view of immigrants (despite the fact that I’m one such immigrant myself). I felt the change in Britain since I left. In the space of 2.5 years it does seem that we have been overwhelmed by newcomers. No one on the tube spoke English, no one selling us tea or coffee were native English speakers, house prices have gone through the roof with foreign investors and their buy-to-leave tactic. I get it. People who move to a new country must do so sympathetically and respectfully and there are people from certain countries that simply do not (it’s not just a UK problem, those people are everywhere in the world.)

The world is still reacting to #ge2015 results. Financial markets were up, and share prices for property related shares shot up with the news. Is that a good sign? Can economic recovery be sustained for the next 5 years? What about small businesses and taxpayers? Children and pensioners? Europe? I don’t have a good feeling, I think the country will become even more extreme as the wealth gap increases. I hope that Cameron means it when he says stuff like “one nation” because we need to be one country.

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we’ll be back #occupyhk #umhk

After 79 days, the last of the #occupyhk #umbrellamovement camps at Causeway Bay was cleared on Monday, following the Mongkok site clearance two weeks ago and the main Admiralty site clearance last week. There was polite, peaceful resistance to the end.

About 20 people were arrested, adding to the 200-odd arrested and 900-plus whose ID card details were registered by police at Admiralty. Those arrested included Uncle Wong, a elderly supporter who had already been arrested last week at Admiralty. Go Uncle Wong!

What next? The CE declared the end of the protests and people went back to going about their daily business, or so the blue ribboners think. Students and protesters are regrouping.

oclphk371wewillbeback

That the Movement lasted over 2 months is beyond everyone’s expectation, but its scale and spontaneity are unlikely to be repeated in the near future. The next wave of activities will likely be smaller, more covert and unexpected like #9wu shopping trips and guerilla banners. Communication will continue to take place over social media. The idea, as the last ditch banner in Admiralty said, is that we’ll be back.

oclp356ribbonumbrella

As for me, I’m tucking my yellow ribbon and yellow umbrella away into my coin holder. This way, they’re with me all the time but not forgotten. When the time comes again, they and I will return.

p.s. after I published the original post, I received a couple of messages on twitter. I think we’re onto something.

 

nano day 06 | 3658 words 25576 total

oclp371duckpokemon

3658 words | 25576 total

Had lunch with mm at the marriott lounge — salad, noodles, curry, a little pasta, dessert. She had a 50% off card she borrowed from a friend so we took our time and sampled as much of the food as we liked. Afterwards we walked around occupyhk main site, it’s the first time she visited. Still lots of tents and more artwork. We came across an origami station and a display table with umbrellas, pikachu and giant duckies. Very cute.

Got home at 7pm, so with futzing around and shower, writing started at 9pm. Two hours and 15 later, I got to 25k. Halfway in 6 days, that’s about right, looking at the past few years.

This is the point when the story gets a little rambling, some of what I wrote will definitely need to be either rewritten, moved or deleted altogether. I’m not bothered, it is what it is. The point is wordcount, nothing else. Heh, I’m not only preaching to the converted, I’m preaching to myself. 

occupyhk: a personal view

oclp144bbcardsign

This week marks one month since police threw 87 cannisters of tear gas at unarmed people who were fighting for something quite fundamental: a say in the way their city is governed. The background and development of how #occupycentral turned into #occupyhk and #umbrellarevolution have been well documented and analysed. Here are some personal thoughts, observations and pictures.

“time is on our side”

oclp193tentanon

One thing is clear, the movement has been very polarising within the community and within families. From anecdotal experience the older generation is against the movement; to them it’s foreign-influenced troublemakers stirring the pot, and the students should go back to school and not disrupt traffic. Overheard:

woman in her 70s: I hate them, I can’t go to the wet market
another woman: how about going to another market?
70s woman: [no answer]

70s woman: my bus had to divert around Nathan Road, it’s so annoying and added an hour to my journey
other woman: take the MTR
70s woman: I don’t like the MTR, I have to walk up and down all the stairs
other woman: there are lifts in all stations
70s woman: [no answer]

oclp302mkart

At the other end of the age spectrum, younger people seem to be more supportive of the movement; they have travelled/studied/lived abroad and are exposed to diverse, global views through social media. Those in their thirties and forties see the changes in society over the past decade and want a better future for their children. In his NYT op-ed, student activist Joshua Wong said:

I would like to remind every member of the ruling class in Hong Kong: Today you are depriving us of our future, but the day will come when we decide your future. No matter what happens to the protest movement, we will reclaim the democracy that belongs to us, because time is on our side.

He’s right. Reminds me of the age divide in issues like marriage equality, religion and gun control in the US. As millennials grow and enter the workplace, their political views, which are more progressive and tolerant, will become more prominent and important. Time is on their side. In 25 years, Joshua Wong will be in his forties and in prime earning and contributing power; the woman in her 70s will hopefully be still be with us and enjoying life but but will have less influence on society as a whole.

“still a very easy place to do business”

oclp262mkkeepcalm

Personal experience is positive. Less traffic means less pollution, I have walked more; the first few days when all my local buses were cancelled, I walked further to catch other forms of public transport. I allow more travel time and actually find the MTR less crowded. I am moved to see the discipline and ingenuity of the protesters, from wi-fi ready study areas and free tuition to donations to gardening and recycling.

Although the anti-occupy rhetoric focuses on the effect of disrupted traffic and the perceived effect on the economy, article after article has found that HK is still a very easy place to do business:

Tourism to the city actually increased. Only one of 15 economists surveyed by Bloomberg has lowered their Hong Kong GDP forecast for the year. And Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was world’s second-best performing index in October.

The PRC is outwardly not getting directly involved, their strategy is more clandestine. From blocking all news behind the Great Firewall or only showing one side of the story, to perpetuating the foreign-agitator conspiracy theory, to limiting the number of travel visas. They are “punishing” HK by not letting hordes of tourists come to grocery shop for baby formula, defecate in public and launder money through property purchases. Mayhap that’s not punishment after all.

Ever since the handover, the attitude of mainlanders towards HK is that HK cannot survive without them since they prop up the economy through tourism, water supply and fresh food imports. In actual fact tourism accounts for only 5% of the GDP [pdf]. HK has enough reservoirs and desalination plants to move towards self-sufficiency, the government has not move forward on total water management [pdf] for obvious reasons. Rice is imported from Thailand, and surely China is not the only country exporting meat, fruit and vegetables!

what next

oclp286mknathanest

A small poll showed that protesters are willing to occupy for a year if necessary and, from the oganised nature of tent cities, some are digging in. Pragmatically though, blocking three main traffic arteries for a year may not be popular in the long run.

Time to add other activities to spread the message..

oclp245lennon

The movement’s supporters come from all walks of life. There is plenty of room for ideas and creativity. It is a humbling experience, visiting the sites and seeing all the artwork: the awe-inspiring Lennon Wall with post-it notes of encouragement, the origami umbrellas, the sculptures and artwork make the sites a living museum of civic disobedience.

oclp196tentxi

Recently, a picture of Chinese president Xi Jinping holding an umbrella won a journalism prize. HKers wasted no time in photoshopping the image and co-opting President Xi into the movement. He is everywhere at the protest sites. The support extended to adorning waxworks of Chinese leaders at Madame Tussauds with yellow ribbons.

A large banner demanding universal suffrage appeared on the Lion Rock, an important local spiritual landmark. A group of runners ran 106km around HK, tracing an umbrella shaped route via GPS. Students at the University of Hong Kong graduation ceremony held a sea of yellow umbrellas. Postgraduate students at the University of Science and Technology bought 689 yellow umbrellas to display on the lawn. These are exactly the small, subtle activities that cumulatively keep the movement alive, in the news, and silence the anti-contigent’s cries of “traffic disruption.”

Hong Kong has been forced to change for the worst in the past 17 years. It took the actions and bravery of 17 year olds to shake the community out of lethargy. Change must happen, and it must be for the better.

More pics on flickr: occupyhk

 

#occupycentral

oclp003central oclp013admiralty

Day 5 of #occupycentral started slowly, with only a few people at the main sites in the morning — 30 reported at TST and a handful at admilralty. I walked down after lunch, turned out that my black t-shirt fit in with the unofficial protester dress code. The bottom of garden road was deserted, ironically also the road outside the BoC building with its national day banner. Walked up the flyover towards admiralty and the scene was different — people milling around the nornally busy road, student protesters sitting at the side of the road and impromptu gatherings giving anyone and everyone their 3-minutes to address the crowd.

oclp022angrysign oclp046draw

oclp072msgwall oclp142cardsign

Lots of signs, almost all of them handmade. People could just grab a piece of cardboard, a post-it note or a blank sheet of paper and write or draw whatever was on their minds. The signs were then displayed at various locations — along the side of the concrete flyover, on the pavement, at the side of a building. Some signs were by and in different languages too, it was moving to see. It was, like the #occupycentral movement itself, ad hoc and free of rules or pretentions.

After the police tear gas attack on Sunday, the movement also attracted the name of #umbrellarevolution. An umbrella sculpture took pride of place at civic square outside the legco building, and a bank of umbrellas lined the side of the road nearby.

oclp111supply oclp122recycling

What impressed the world about this protest was that it was spearheaded by students. The movement was described as having the world’s politest protesters and had its own idiosyncracies. There were supply stations providing water, snacks, towels, cooling patches, first aid. People donated all sorts to the students and someone was pushing a trolley full of fruit. There was a loudspeaker announcement that the supplies were for people who needed them, not tourists. I did grab a pear, it was hot and I was running low on energy. I also saw a group of people donating a large container of starbucks coffee and a couple giving chocolate and biscuits to the students. Volunteers were also out in force collecting rubbish. This was probably the only protest in the world where participants were encouraged to a) take their rubbish home or, failing that, b) sorting their recyclables into different black bin bags. The road had never been so clean.

oclp118homework oclp117roses

Other images include kids doing homework — I saw a girl studying a powerpoint printout entitled market research, drawing signs or making ribbons. When the crowds got too noisy cheering a speechmaker, or a bottleneck appeared, a volunteer would politely ask the crowds to calm down or disperse. Far too often, protests get derailed because passions become overheated and people act impusively. Rocks get thrown at the police, looting occurs or other groups with different agendas hijack the movement, turning it violent and giving governments excuses to escalate and start cracking down. The organisers of this came prepared and the training showed.

oclp101notparty oclp168blockcentral

I was there between 2-4pm, and the crowd had swelled by the time I left. The atmosphere was serious but not tense. Many people were there with their children, family and even pets. It was sort of like a carnival without the noise, loud music and rubbish everywhere. Ultimately though, we were reminded that this was not a party. The occupy zone was protected by barricades that could be charged by the police at any moment. The zone was also bookended by the PLA headquarters at the western end and the police headquarters at the eastern end.

I’ve been following on twitter and fb and things are getting more tense as the night progresses. The protest has been taking place during a “good” week — wednesday and thursday were public holidays so the city is quiet and a lot of people had taken the week off. Business day on Friday, and BAU expected on monday. How the government would tolerate an entire week of disruptions at the busiest areas is anyone’s guess. Buses are diverted or cancelled; some shops and restaurants are closed; all of us who live at mid-levels / peak have a hard time getting to and from home. It’s a waiting game.

As an aside, something has been bothering me for a while. I posted links, pics and videos on instagram, twitter and fb. I’ve been getting feedback on both instagram and twitter but absolutely no reaction on fb. Zero. I’m guessing either a) fb’s great algorithm in the sky has been hiding my posts or b) my fb friends have no interest in something that is happening outside their region or their comfort zone; seems that if I want attention I should pretend to be a buzzfeed quiz, cat or baseball team. Ah well, why am I surprised. Time to consider scaling down fb anyway.

p.s. apologies to those of you who actually read this post, I appreciate you and I know who you are.

p.p.s. flickr set: here

 

a different sort of anger

nofb

I’ve been following the story about the NSA PRISM scandal, not obsessively but with the interest that such a big international, important, story deserves. “What is PRISM?” JFGI, okay?

It’s not for me to judge whether the actions of Edward Snowden, the whistleblower, were legal or not; it’s up to the courts to decide. It’s also not for me to decide whether it was morally just; he believed that what he did was right. And when we look back on this episode of history, my hope is that history and the public will decide correctly. That said, I feel compelled to put down my thoughts as I am pulled in different directions on this issue.

right or wrong

Technically, what he did was wrong. It’s surely, at the very least, against the confidentiality agreements that he must have signed with his employer. And since he had access to information way up in the confidentiality stratosphere, he probably broke the law. However, breaking the rules is part and parcel of being a whistleblower; almost by definition, you have to do one to be the other.

He has said in his guardian interview, that he believed what he blew the whistle on was a matter of public interest. I was talking with mm about this, and she asked me what was my take. For me, I’m glad he did what he did. Yes, he broke the law, but the sort of revelations he made, it’s knowledge that I as a member of public want to know. Not that I was under any illusions that surveillance wasn’t happening, I wanted acknowledgement that it was.

under surveillance

The revelation is that the NSA has been collecting, on a massive scale, metadata on phone calls, internet activity and all sorts of stuff people do on a day to day basis. The surveillance is conducted on everyone, rather than just the people who are under suspicion. There are big players involved: verizon, google, facebook, to name a few. Rightly so, the EU is aghast, because if the NSA has been spying on EU citizens, it’s potentially against EU privacy laws. The EU has a different approach to privacy than the US, the main difference being the question of who owns personal data. The EU gives the right to the data subject whereas the US gives the right to those who have access to the data.

The rapid growth of CCTVs in the UK has brought concerns, although by and large, my feeling is that people have gotten used to it. Being recorded hundreds of times a day and watched by unnamed government employees (or worse, poorly trained TSA types) should worry us, but anecdotally, people around me take the pragmatic way: we’d tolerate having our privacy invaded if it leads to criminal convictions and it prevents crime. Whether or not criminals are actually deterred, and whether or not CCTV footage have helped solve crimes, that’s another debate.

The NSA surveillance is like CCTV, except in a much hugher scale. Their justification is that they’ll collect and store the information to help them with the fight against terrorism, amongst other things. But does it really help? What do they do with the data? Have they been able to stop criminals and terrorists?

not so angry

Perhaps John Scalzi summed it up nicely, why he didn’t have anything angry to say about the whole affair.

I have assumed the US government was getting my data one way or another. At the end of the day, the Internet was born out of ARPANET, and the US government has never been keen of letting the Internet go entirely private. Once more, I’m slightly surprised people seem surprised.

Why anyone is surprised that their online activity is being monitored is surprising. If you use the internet, you need to realise that what you do and put out there will be there forever for all to see. And that the email you send via gmail doesn’t belong to you. Google isn’t a charity, it’s not providing a free email service out of the kindness of its heart.

At work, the employee handbook specifically said that emails sent via the company’s email system belong to the company — they are open about it, and there are company policies that tell employees that yes, what you write in you emails, what you save on shared drives, everything you do on company time…the company owns it, has a right to inspect and as such, you have no privacy. There are no is and buts.

It’s also well accepted that countries like China and certain Middle Eastern countries heavily censor internet usage by its residents. They do it, and they don’t apologise for it. In a way, a country that doesn’t have a surveillance system is far too naïve in today’s political environment. If other countries are doing it, then we need to have solid defences.

a different sort of anger #1

There are 2 things I’m angry about. First, is how quickly the likes of google and yahoo fell over themselves to deny that data mining is taking place. Oh please. Be transparent about it. Acknowledge that, yes, the data is collected by the government. Make public what type of data it is. Tell the public what they do with it, how they store it, how they maintain its integrity, who has access to it and what are the checks and balances in place.

I hate companies who sell my personal information to telemarketers, because that’s abuse of my providing the information to them. I’m usually uncomfortable providing personal information to companies.

But surely there is a difference when it comes to government access? They have my passport number, they have access to my tax and medical information. It’s a matter of trust. I need to trust that the government respects my privacy and won’t abuse the huge amount of information it has on me. Make me glad that it’s the government, acting in my best interest, and not unscrupulous corporations that has my data. Hiding behind the laws and pretending PRISM doesn’t exist, that makes me angry. Please, treat the public with a bit more respect.

a different sort of anger #2

The second thing I’m angry about is more simple. If the government is collecting all this data in the name of crime and terrorism prevention, then why didn’t they stop the Boston bombers? Why didn’t they stop all the other atrocities that have occurred lately? Why are there so many drug dealers and rapists and murderers still at large? When we see some real results?

hong kong, china

Edward Snowden has escaped to, of all places, hong kong. I don’t particularly advertise it openly, but that’s where I’m right now. I’ve lived here on and off throughout my life, which makes me a tiny bit of an expert, especially amongst the few readers I have on this blog. So anyway, it was quite a surprise that he’s decided that HK is relatively safe for him. Unrelated, it’s a good opportunity for the rest of the world to learn about this place. Yes, technically it’s a part of China. No, we have different judiciary, financial and education systems. The judiciary progression of district court, high court, court of appeal and court of final appeal has its basis in the British system, not the mainland system. China isn’t supposed to interfere except on matters of defence and foreign policy.

Many commentators are opining on what China would do. Me, I wish China’d stay out of it, to show the world that HK really has the autonomy that it claims we do. The part in the Basic Law about China having a veto on extradition proceedings is for Chinese nationals only, not a American citizen like Mr Snowden. Whatever the US government does next, and whatever requests they make to the HK government, all need to follow the proper due process, away from interference by parties that have no business interferring.

I was surprised Mr Snowden praised the “strong tradition of free speech” in HK. That is true in a way. Lots of protests, just last week thousands of people attended a June 4th memorial event (China pretends nothing happened on June 4th 1989), and people can say and do whatever without fear of repercussions. Most people just regurgitate what they hear on tv, so I can’t attest to their intelligence level. I guess the point is, they are free to be as stupid as they like without repercussions.

The problem is, the tradition of free speech that Mr Snowden alluded to, has been eroded in the last few years. The CE is obviously pro-Chinese. The pro-China movement has grown stronger, and the unwelcome influx of Chinese immigrants and tourists has increased tension with locals. The judiciary system is still seen as above the fray and able to claim to be just and neutral. But it’s a matter of time before it’s tested.

And then onto China. Evil. Over the weekend mm and I were in Shenzhen, just over the border from HK. We were having lunch at the swanky Hyatt hotel. Attentive staff, good food, amazing views. But when I turned on my iphone to check facebook, I was greeted with the everspinning “loading” wheel. It wasn’t because of slow wifi connection. Belatedly I remembered, facebook and twitter and the like are all banned. One thing you can say about the Chinese government, they don’t hide or deny stuff like this. They are open about blocking facebook, they are open about tracking people’s internet usage. They don’t hide. And that, is what I think the US government needs to come to terms with.

ongoing

Coverage of the story seems to have tapered off, even the Guardian has it underneath the headlines today. I hope that this has been an eye-opener for all. About the workings of secret government sections, about the need to be open up front versus asking for forgiveness when discovered. Will my phone or internet habits change? I doubt it. It is what it is.

following the news

It’s been a bad week. Boston bombing, Texas fertiliser plant fire, Lady Thatcher’s funeral. Been following the manhunt for the bombers on social media, on livefeeds, on newspaper sites. News travels fast, credit to the journalists who managed to report the right news. BBC timeline.

lady thatcher

Watched Lady Thatcher’s funeral service on BBC World News. A State funeral in all but name. Surprised at the American accent of her granddaughter who did the first reading. Glad that the Bishop of London and others who led the prayers stuck to simple and sombre subjects above politics. Found my hymn book and followed the hymns sang during the service—for a Catholic, both my bible and hymn book are CofE, from school days. (I wonder if I should get proper Catholic stuff, but it shouldn’t matter.) The final hymn, I Vow to Thee My Country was powerful and poignant.

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are Peace.

There’s a picture of the family waiting on the steps of St Paul’s at the end, with the Queen at the background. Not very often that the Queen isn’t front and centre, and it felt right.

#operationcupoftea #riotcleanup

KEEP CALM AND DRINK TEA

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that anything bad can be cured by a cup of tea. It is something so uniquely British, and now through the operationcupoftea movement — hashtag on twitter and facebook page, ordinary people are making a cuppa to show that the rioters won’t win.

Nothing brings out the community spirit than a crisis. The other top trending topic has been riotcleanup. Looking at the picture of broom-wielding volunteers who turned out to help clean up affected areas, how can anyone lament the decline of society? It’s not society that has declined, but rather the standard of behaviour of certain sections of the populace.

I’m also glad that there are so many CCTVs around. Yes, there have been complaints but without CCTV there won’t be so many pictures of looters for the Met to post in public for identification. I say post these pics, as large and as widespread as possible. Let them be identified, arrested and made to pay. 700+ arrested, 100+ charged. Already I’m reading that they are using the “I was just going along with everyone else, I wasn’t thinking” defence. What crock.

#londonriots

riotmap

I’ll be honest, when I heard news of the riots on Saturday, I was appalled but didn’t feel personally affected. No one would have expected what happened last night, when it seemed the whole of London was under attack. I was about to go to bed at 11pm when I caught the initial reports of trouble at Croydon, Clapham and Ealing. Areas completely unrelated to Tottenham, and pretty normal residential areas that one won’t associate with this type of violence.

And then it started. I followed on bbc but it was twitter that had the most up to date and scary updates. I watched and listened in horror as flashpoint after flashpoint erupted, buildings were set on fire and people and journalists started telling the night’s story. There was trouble at Notting Hill, and hoodies were reported to be moving north from Camden through Kentish Town towards Hampstead. Too close to home. Logically they shouldn’t come through this area, they seem to be intent on stealing and causing damage to shops that had TVs, mobile phones, sports equipment and money. There was a bad joke going round that a bookstore or jobcentre were the safest hiding places. But barbarians do not follow logic.

It was surreal and horrific. When it seemed to quiet down at 2am, I finally went to bed but not before calling my parents and mm to report that I was okay.

Perhaps the initial disturbance was about the man who was shot, but the subsequent events were simply that of criminals who stole, robbed and had no regard for the law, people or property. Hundreds arrested, and I hope the police get them all. Cameron said rightly,

if you are old enough to commit these crimes, you are old enough to face the punishment

This is the guardian’s map of affected area as of lunchtime today. I’m precariously near to a couple of those spots. 16,000 police officers will be deployed tonight. It will be tense night here in central London.

alternative vote

av2011

I haven’t been following the debate on alternative vote as closely as I should have so no, I didn’t vote. I’m so used to living in countries where I can’t vote that I was surprised to receive my poll card a few weeks ago. I put myself on the electoral register for the purposes of getting a parking permit (in case I wanted to buy a car), certainly not for political reasons.

tory

ukpolitics

With all the furore about tuition fees and now the NHS, I just realised this: when we left in 1995 John Major was Prime Minister. Now I’m back in 2010, David Cameron just got elected. This means I missed all the Labour years. I don’t have any opinion on that, it’s just a fact.

a runner’s life is worth approx $500

This is the title of a thread on the runner’s world forum.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010
The Associated Press

FREDERICK, Md. — A driver who fatally struck a jogger from Zelienople who was running in the road near Emmitsburg has been fined $500 under a plea agreement.

Twenty-nine-year-old Joshua Cool pleaded guilty Monday in Frederick to failing to exercise care to avoid a pedestrian. In return for his guilty plea, prosecutors dropped charges of negligent driving and other offenses.

Mr. Cool was charged in the death last April of 22-year-old Elizabeth DiNunzio. She was a Spanish major at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg.

Defense attorney Kate English says her client was devastated by the accident.

Mr. Cool’s parents were fined $200 each earlier this month for letting their son drive the uninsured pickup truck that hit DiNunzio.

I don’t know the circumstances of this case. On the thread there are opposing thoughts — that the punishment was not severe enough vs it was an accident. There’s some information that suggest to me that the driver did indeed get away with it. Although he wasn’t drunk or anything like that, he was driving a truck that he wasn’t covered in the insurance. In fact, he was specifically excluded in the policy. It also matters to me whether he showed remorse, and what, if anything, he will do to show he has learned his lesson. From some of the comments, it seems that he hasn’t. So, yes, I’m going to condemn this person and wish that he suffers from the thought of having killed an innocent 22-year old all his life.

In memory of Ms DiNunzio, there’s going to be a 5k run /1 mile walk at Zelienople PA on 24 April. If it didn’t take 8 hours to drive there, I’d go there in a minute. I started my running career on the road. Now I run by the lake, but I have to run on the street and across a couple of main roads to get there. Traffic is thick. Cars come out of alleys and make turns with very little regard for pedestrians. I’m ramping up this year, this is important to me.

zero count

I got a census form today. If it weren’t for the fact that it’s apparently mandatory by law, I would have chucked it away. I don’t feel I should be counted. That’s the problem with my entire existence, I don’t ‘belong’ to any country.

evil children

Lots of coverage in the UK about the Edlington brothers who were jailed for the torture of two young boys. The two were 10 and 12 when they committed the horrific, sadistic attacks on 2 boys, aged 9 and 11, who were just out riding their bikes on a saturday morning.

There has been a media blackout on the brothers’ names, Edlington is the town near Doncaster where it happened. Unlike Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, their names will not remain in the halls of infamy forever. Although their notoriety will. I couldn’t believe it when I read that they

beat, strangled and sexually degraded their victims, before putting a plastic sheet over them and setting it on fire. It was only tiredness that caused them to abandon their victims, they presumed, to die.

Fingers have been furiously pointing since the case came to light. Social Services admitted that the attacks could have been preventable and I’m sure there will be people fired for lack of action. The Times talked about the irresponsible society in Britain, I dread to read what the Mail or Mirror have to say about the issue — no doubt something indignant and sensational, I shan’t be tempted to go to their websites.

Rightly so IMO, is that the spotlight has been placed on the parents. “Toxic” family life has been used to the point of overuse. I believe the spotlight should remain on them. No matter how badly the government and local authorities failed, ultimately it’s the PARENTS who are responsible for the actions of children of that age. They did issue a statement saying how sorry and upset they were, but I just can’t help but feel they will try to shift the blame to someone, anyone, else. I’m glad to read that they may be prosecuted and hope that they too are punished. I find that my anger at the parents far, far exceed how I feel about the brothers. I’m sure, like everyone else in the UK, I want to just ask them, “How could you?”

Related to this news is a brilliant, in-depth article in the Independent about Britain’s child prisons, where the brothers will be detained (in separate facilities). A very lengthy article that I read with interest, about how life looks like for children who commit crimes but are too young to even be classified as ‘young offenders’. How because of their age, and over 90% have suffered some sort of abuse, it’s not a matter of all punishment all the time, but that they may be rehabilitated, educated, and given structure in their lives.

These children are taken away from disrupted backgrounds, with no boundaries, and dangerous adults, and are put somewhere where they are safe, fed and housed and told No by people who understand how to set limits. It’s tough love. It’s a great skill, creating an experience that approximates to a proper family life.

Sober reading, but there is some level of hope. Oh, and I can’t believe that an issue of this magnitude of importance has received zero coverage here. I know Haiti takes precedence, but I couldn’t even find the story when I navigate to the Europe section of the big broadsheets — NYT, LAT, Washington Post, Trib. Shame, shame.

google, china and single markets

So google is getting out of China, and most publications in the English speaking world are hailing GOOG’s ethical and principled stance against cyber attacks, censorship and even human rights.

While I think a certain amount of (admittedly western) moralistic approach was behind the decision, I do not for one moment believe it’s the main reason. If any, I’m willing to bet it ranks may be within the top 10 reasons, and that’s it. Who is google to think that they can influence an entire government? If they want to operate in a country, they need to obey the laws of that country.

The main reason has to be business driven. That google is losing market share to baidu is very significant. First, baidu is associated with the mainland government, so there is validation in the eyes of the population. Second, if I get blank screens or crap results every time I search, I’d eventually stop using that search engine — much like how microsoft and yahoo bled search market share to google.

Lots of commentators say that it’s China’s loss, that it’s the start of the road to oblivion. How wrong, arrogant, and presumptious they are. Sarah Lacy at techcrunch said it best:

We tend to have the view that China is some copycat Internet backwater, and that’s just not true. China has formidable engineering talent, plenty of venture capital, the world’s largest Internet audience, and in many cases better methods of monetization

There is perception that China is still some backwards third world country where people use ricksaws to move around and eat rice with their hands. I shake my head at that ignorance. Google (heh, ironic) any image of Shanghai, or Beijing, or any of the Pearl River delta cities and you’ll see luxury cars, brand name products and a general prosperity that surpasses any city in the world.

Compare China with America and what is the most striking commonality? Sheer size. In terms of geography and population. Dominated by large cities situated at coastal regions (something that Russia can’t compare). Which means…single market. Why is it that American products are so different from the rest of the world? It’s because it’s enough for them to develop in their home market and make good profits. This is why the American mobile and internet market lags behind, American cars are poorly designed and American domestic flights are no better than torture. American consumers don’t know better, and there are enough of them who utilise mobile and internet, drive cars and fly on planes to pad the bottom lines of American businesses.

I’m not trying to slag off American business. My point is that in a similar way, China’s single market is in the same position. There is such a vast pool of people wanting to move up to middle class through consumption that Chinese businesses don’t have to worry about the rest of the world if they don’t want to.

And that is one of the scary things keeping CEOs of non-Chinese companies up at night.

moments

Around the office today were copies of a memory book produced in honour of the 69 staff who were lost. That was a significant % of total US staff at that time, when they were based at 92/F on Tower 1. It’s a beautiful book, with tributes from family and colleagues. It’s an event still remembered, and the financial services industry was hit hard.

1549

Of course there is the thought every time I get on a plane, that it could be my last. I can’t imagine how flight crews deal with this fear. I watch and read the news of the heroic landing of flight 1549 in New York, I can’t watch the eerily silentcoast guard footage of the landing and rescue more than once. The pov switching from the plane, where the passengers were out on the wings already, and the ferry rushing towards it, was more intense than any movie. It seemed to take forever.

The BBC’s report, together with a realistic flight simulation is just as moving.

MERshame

I stand here today and say shame to both the current as well as the former Directors who allowed this former CEO to wreak havoc on this great company.

Shame on them for allowing this former CEO to consciously and openly disparage Mother Merrill, throw our founding principles down a flight of stairs and tear out the soul of the firm.

Shame on these Directors for allowing this former CEO to rid the firm of thousands of years of experience. Shame of them for allowing this former CEO to surround himself with many people who did not have the perspective of other market cycles and the experience of time. Shame for allowing this CEO to surround himself with many people who did not share the same values that made us great and appreciate our winning culture. Shame on them for allowing this CEO to cut costs and businesses so severely and bluntly for the sake of short term earnings that he cut out future growth. Shame on them for allowing him to over leverage the firm and fill the balance sheet with toxic waste to create short term earnings.

Win Smith’s speech at the shareholders’ meeting that gave the go ahead for MER to merge with BoA, via here is the city.

Ouch, ouch, ouch. And a side of bitter much. He doesn’t name names but it’s obvious enough. To give him credit, it’s not sentiment that is new…he’s just put in words what many feel. And to take it away from it being a total personal attack, substitute Merrill with any Wall Street firm and it’s still true.

And that is the real shame.

world aids day

world aids day 2008

Every 1 December is World Aids Day and today it’s the more poignant because it’s the 20th anniversary of the campaign. The theme for 2008 is lead, empower, deliver and certainly there is still not enough awareness and education.

It’s sad, that even after so long that we still can’t be rid of the threat of AIDS. According to UNAIDS, an estimated 33million people were living with AIDS as of 2007 (the last full year of data available) although the rate of infection has decreased since 2001 from 3million to 2.7million. Still, unacceptably high numbers. Download the 2008 reports, they make grim reading.

worldaidsmap

not my fight but…

Just as well that I’m in the US. Like millions of people I caught Sarah Palin on SNL. I thought it might be funnier, I guess the “Tina Fey does kickass Sarah Palin” is getting old. Amy Poehler was great though.

I learned that people are already able to do early voting. Hopefully most people have made up their minds on who they’d vote for. I’m not American, but if I could vote — yes, I know who I’d vote for. I’m finding that there is a lot of intense, powerful opinion for or against either Obama or McCain, much more emotional than I’d ever experienced with a general election. I was staying with my friend’s family over the weekend and they are extremely staunch supporter of one of the candidates. Everyone is entitled to their beliefs and feelings, and I respect it very much. Which is why I listened intently and with a lot of interest, it’s not my place to agree or disagree; and I’m not as well informed to be able to have a meaningful discussion.

American political theatre

I’m fascinated by the current round of American presidential nomination drama. I didn’t see Senator Obama speech but I’m sure I can find it on youtube. And now Governor Palin’s nomination as VP candidate, and her announcement that her daughter is pregnant.

I’ve been reading the newspapers all day, and can’t get enough of readers comments. On the New York Times the consensus seems to take the form of a collective disbelief that the Republicans want to force people to behave in the judgmental, morally superior way they think of themselves, and then on the other hand have their poster child du jour behave in the complete opposite way.

I also like the LA Times’s columnist who said

The point is that the Palins were able to make all these decisions according to the dictates of their own consciences, formed by their own religious convictions, within the privacy of their own family and according to its values and traditions. What they decided is nobody’s business but theirs; the fact that they were free to arrive at their own decision is everybody’s business.

The particular brand of social conservatism in which Sarah Palin quite evidently believes deeply would deny other American families and other American women the freedom to make these same intimate decisions according to the dictates of their own consciences, religious convictions and traditions.

When will certain Americans learn that values, beliefs and behaviours are not black and white? And that there is nothing to gain by forcing one’s viewpoint on others. It was certainly naïve arrogance on Gov Palin’s part to subject her young children to the scrutiny of the world. By hijacking the word “choice” for their own purposes, the social conservatives are shooting themselves in the foot all by themselves. They really need to take a look at their own houses before deigning to butt into other people’s private homes.

Heh. I bet this becomes outdated news soon. That’s the beauty of news, right? That it holds our attention for its alloted 15 minutes of fame, then we move onto another subject with equal passion.

gay marriage in california

Congratulations to the couples getting married in California. It’s as simple as this — two people want to commit to a life together, so they should not be prohibited from doing so. I don’t get the arguments that it is an oppression of [someone’s] religious beliefs.

The New York Times asked for stories to same-sex marriage. If stories about two women in their eighties getting married are not touching enough, what is? One of the comments that caught my eye:

My partner, Doug, of 37 years and I were second to marry in Sonoma County, California at 5:15PM last night (Monday, 6-16)

—snip—

This morning, Doug and I are back home with our wonderful Golden Retreiver, Woody, living life as we have during the past 37 years. We will not be threatening the stabilities of heterosexual families, nor challenge the beliefs of religions. Our neighbors and friends–mainly straight–will embrace us with their love as they always have. The sky will not fall. Nothing will change, except no more sleepless nights wondering what would happen to the other when one of us dies. It’s just business as usual.

Come to think of it, we should stop using the term gay marriage. Marriage is marriage is marriage. I think it was Liz Friedman who said something along the lines that she has lunch every day, but she doesn’t have gay lunch.

married couple is expecting child [controversy]

I posted this on the kb recently, and vacillated at posting it here. Why? Not because I want to distance myself from issues, but because I’ve always felt uneasy about being too controversial or too political here on the website. I’ve had a couple of days to think about this, and I haven’t been able to cast it from my mind. Which is a sign, I think.

I read this Advocate article (full page version) by Thomas Beatie, who is carrying the child he is expecting with his wife. Scientifically it is possible because Thomas is transgender, but in his own words, had

decided to have chest reconstruction and testosterone therapy but kept my reproductive rights

when he transitioned FTM. His wife, a natural female, is unable to carry children due to a prior illness.

What I felt touched was the mature, quiet tone of the article, as well as the couple’s commitment. Their rejection by the medical establishment and their own family must have been heartbreaking. Facing a life-threatening situation after a failed first pregnancy, and then to try a second time, is an act of true courage.

What I also realised, is a confirmation that gender is fluid. Even myself, I have to purposefully stop making any judgmental reaction to the article until I’ve finished and absorbed it. It took a few rounds of churning in my head before I got it, and where I got to the point where I was thinking, “this is a good thing.”

Too often, we confuse gender with sexuality. And too often, we want to categorise and label people. It’s understandable, because there is so much going on in the world, so much information to absorb, so many changes in society’s views and culture and we have to sort things out somehow. It can’t be helped. But when someone wants to push out of those confines and be their own, there is no reason why they should suffer other people’s prejudices. It’s a co-incidence perhaps that the New York Times had an article last week on

gender nonconforming

college students. May be it wasn’t a co-incidence. May be it’s time to bring these issues out to the open.

I found the Advocate article through metafilter and I was so blown away by the tide of support offered by the mefi community. Whether or not this will make a difference to the Beaties’ life, and that of their child, will remain to be seen. Oddly enough, once the pregnancy is over and the controversy has died down, they will revert to a “conformist” image of dad, mom and kid. I challenge anyone to say this is wrong…because for sure, it is 100% not.

do not offer an opinion on politics, religion or children

While I have almost zero understanding of how an American voter would view the current elections, I must admit, perhaps controversially, that I was glad that Mrs Clinton won the New Hampshire primary. It is shaping up to be an extremely interesting election, with both sides not having a clear favourite. I haven’t been impressed by the Republicans; perhaps they privately feel that the current administration has tarnished the name of their party beyond repair … at least for the foreseeable future.

I’m hesitant to get caught up in the Obama juggernaut. Yes, Mr Obama is charismatic, idealistic and so very appealing. It’s easy to get riveted at one of his speeches. But he doesn’t scream leader, not yet. Mrs Clinton may not be perfect, but now I think her experience will count.

Keeping my mind open though.

hey Car, still want me to visit?

I don’t need an excuse to visit Chicago, it’s rather well known. And now that NewJob headquarters is there, I’m likely to get on a plane at the drop of a hat.

Problem is, I’m not sure if I’m welcome anymore. As the Chicago metblog reports, via bb, the city of Chicago just issued a public awareness bulletin [pdf] that asks Windy City residents to be on the watch out for terrorists. All good and well, and definitely in the public interest.

The Chicago police gives a list of potentially suspicious activities, including attempts to improperly acquire explosives, weapons, ammonition, dangerous chemicals etc; and presence of individuals who do not appear to belong to workplaces, business establishments or near key facilities. That’s fine. Some of the other suspicious activities seem to smack of paranoia and overkill. For instance, any of the following is considered suspicious and must be reported immediately:

  • note taking
  • binocular use
  • camera, video
  • mapping out routes
  • timing traffic lights

Damn. And I was planning to take my stopwatch and time traffic lights all day. I have to be careful of taking pictures and going on treasure hunts too.

Scotland Yard has also issued a similar warning. At least the poster is much better designed. Click on images for full size.

alertchicago alertlondon