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spikegifted.net - Archive Q2 2005

June 2005:
- So, here we are, over two years since the end of the ground war in Iraq, the daily fighting against insurgents continues. I don't know what the American people were thinking when their President sent their troops to invade Iraq two years ago, but whatever it was, my guess it was different from what they're seeing there now (if they are allowed to see it). Mr. Bush is saying that "The American people do not falter under threat - and we will not allow our future to be determined by car bombers and assassins." I must check my recent history... If I remember correctly, the aggressor was the US and the UK in invading Iraq (and no matter how much they insisted, they couldn't find any WMD in Iraq) and Iraq had no plans to invade or strike at the US. Also, the problems now exists in Iraq is created by the overthrowing of the Saddam regime and the presence foreign troops. Iraq may not be Vietnam, but the language used by Mr. Bush is similar to those used by politicians during the Vietnam conflict. It may have sounded good when Saddam was around, as he was used as hate figure to direct misplaced American anger, but now the country has a democratically elected government, there are no-one to bash against, except 'insurgents'. The commitment seems likely to be there for the long term. Whatever promises the President gave before the invasion, they seem like a very long way off now.
- As if we, the long-suffering commuters, are not paying enough for our privilege to travel on public transport, the rail operators are now suggesting that not only overcrowding conditions are set to get worse, there should be a 'congestion charge' to reduce the number of people using rail services during peak hours! Of course, the hardest hit people are those, like myself, who commute to and from the city of London. While I don’t agree with it, this latest round of transportation problems is another manifestation of ‘structural’ problems of London and, in a way, British society. People are made to travel/commute to work because property prices are too expensive in the capital. There is a solution to this - flatten existing old and inefficient (in terms of energy and space utilization) buildings and build some high quality residential high-rises. However, the Brits love the idea of having a garden. Any garden, any size, as long as you can call it a 'garden'. Well, no residential high-rises will have a garden and the Brits can’t handle that for any length of time. So, they move further and further out from the center of the capital. Can we sense a vicious circle being formed here?
- While you decide whether spikegifted.net is a web blog or not (I personally think not), I think you'd agree that I don't take myself nor what I write here that seriously. There may be subjects here that I write passionately about (hopefully despite my poor writing), I don't really care if there is an audience or not - this is merely an outlet for me. However, there are people around the world living under oppressive regimes where the mere expression of independent thoughts will land them in all kinds of trouble, web blogs are channels to dissimilate information within the country and open a window for rest of the world to look inside. One of my favorite websites, Reporters sans frontières (Reporters Without Borders), has selected a list of 60 blogs around the world that the organization considers contribute most to defending freedom of expression. While we in 'the West' take our freedoms for granted and allow our governments slowly erode them in the names of 'national security' and 'war on terror', there are those who live elsewhere who have to fight to their deaths and risk every thing they have simply to express their views which are considered out-of-line by their respective authorities. There are those who put their lives to let the rest of the world know the truth, we live in the 'comforting thought' that our governments consider the truth is too dangerous for us laymen. For those who dare to risk their lives to protect their freedoms and expose the truth, I salute you.
- 'Is the pursuit of profit necessarily diminish a person's or an organization's ethical and moral standards?' This is a question I want to ask those who invest in the People's Republic of China. On the one hand, mainland China is still the most populous country in the world and has been the one of the fastest grown one for the past 15 years. The potential for making substantial amount of money is an incredible lure for those who are willing to take the risk. The other side of the coin is the country's appalling record on human rights, the abundance of subversive policies and rampant corruption. Therefore it is particularly upsetting to see that Microsoft, a company that has persistently preached to the rest of the world that software piracy is unethical, censors bloggers who post their thoughts on its MSN site in China. In a move that clearly infringes the human rights and freedom of expression of those who use its services, MSN will block entries if it contains words such as 'freedom' and 'democracy'. So on the one hand it is telling people should by its software legally and on the other it is assisting an evil subversive regime to suppress its population - all for the sake of 'profit' and 'shareholders' value'. Hypocritical, money-grabbing, monopolistic and unethical.
- Today, for the first time in my professional life, I took control of my own fate. Over the past few months, I've made several comments regarding my work situation and I haven't been happy about it. About four weeks ago, a chance encounter with a former colleague and a friend of mine during my morning commute led me to resign from my job with my current employer. This is the first time I choose to leave a permanent role - previous times I've been made redundant. Being in a position to choose to leave is tremendously different from being made to go. I'm relieved and excited that I have found another opportunity elsewhere that appears to suit my ability and appetite. Although I'm now serving out my notice period, I don't want to engage in the 'departure lounge' mentality - I'm a responsible person and there's business to take care of. My current boss has all my gratitude for the opportunity he gave me when he hired me (as I'm grateful of any form of meaningful employment) and I'm sorry if this appears to let him down. On the other hand, the industry I work in is notorious for being unfaithful, I have to look after my own interest first.
- Back in March, I mentioned that a Chinese gamer was murdered after an argument over a virtual sword in an massively multiplayer online game. Now, the murderer has been given a suspended death sentence for killing his fellow gamer. You might be thinking: "What's the big deal?" Well, this is a big deal because this is highly indicative of the kind of conflict that is increasingly putting a strain in a society that currently exist in China. While China is catching up fast with the rest of the world in terms of wealth, industrial production, technologies and other areas of modern life, the country lacks the necessary legal framework to allow certain aspects of modern life to function smoothly. As the article pointed out, neighboring South Korea has laws to deal with digital properties, but not in Communist China. (Why should such a law exist in a country where twenty years ago personal properties were not recognized.) The People's Republic of China may be catching up with the rest of the world when it comes to manufacturing and other forms of industrial production, but these can be achieved by 'brute force'. However, a sensible set of laws is not something you can achieve using the 'brute force' approach - law makers and legislators actually have to sit down and think through the problems. So, on appearance, China may be catching up with the rest of the world, but in terms of substance, it is still a long way from being a modern nation.
- Power is a strange thing. Actually, it is the perception of having power that is really strange. It tends to make people do things that they normally won't do, like the most stupid and illogical things. London is a city with people who're always in a hurry. They run for their trains, their buses, their Underground trains, taxis, all sorts, yet many people arrive late. Owing to the tendency of people running for trains in the last moment, train companies have equipped their platform staff with whistles. You know, the old fashion type that you'd see PE teachers use. Anyway, armed with such a piece of power apparatus, the platform staff proceed to blow their lungs out when the trains are due to depart. These normally sane individuals are thus transformed into crazy whistle blowers, treating their customers (which is the proper definition of passengers) like a herd of cattle or sheep or some other animals. What a major power trip for these fine folks. Do they actually think that having several people blowing whistles at the top of their lungs will actually make people (who're generally unfit) run any faster for their trains? Do they think their actions will deter those who're determined to catch the trains stopping on the tracks (no pun intended)? Of course not. All they manage is to make the passengers' trip uncomfortable (trying sitting next to them when they're blowing their stupid whistles when they walk pass) and annoy an already irritated public who're paying way too much for a sub-standard service. All it is required is for the driver to shut the doors and leave. Nothing more, nothing less and certainly no need for excessive whistle blowing.
- It has been over six weeks since we moved out of the last apartment, and we're still waiting for the former letting agent to return our rental deposit. What a great disservice they're providing us!
- Around the beginning of the 1400s, China had the world's largest fleet and her ships dominate many seas around the globe. The leading admiral of that golden-age of Chinese sea exploration, Zheng He, spent nearly 30 years traveling the seas. On his return, he did not come back to hero's welcome to his own country. Instead he was sidelined as the new emperor, under the guidance of close-minded advisors and ministers, chose to ignore the riches of the rest of the world. That in effect led to over 500 years of isolation, 100 of which in humiliation. So why do the Communists want to make so much effort revisiting the imperial past? My guess is that after spending over 50 years proclaiming the greatest of modern Communist achievements, they've run out of things to shout about. So, in their desperate attempt to find figures of inspiration, they reach back to antiquity and find heroes (and there're plenty) for a society that is becoming more fragmented
by the day (which also move further and further away from the communist model). Ideology may unite people quickly over a brief period of time, but it is the historical significance of past events and characters that truly invigorates people's imagination.
May 2005:
- It has been a month since my former colleague's replacement arrived at my workplace. While he has picked up a lot of the necessary skills that I'd expect a man of his experience to pick up in this short time, I'm still devoting time to provide assistance to him. So, while I'm spending more time on my own work, I'm still not back to full speed with it. More worryingly though is the fact that since assuming the role of the teacher, with the 'taking a step back' nature of my involvement, the deficiency of the 'system' has become more evident.
- It is not often that I would defend the position of the Communist government in China, but there are times when I feel there is such a need. For years, China has been one of the largest producer of textile and related products and since the global quota system ended in January this year, there has been a further surge in export. Why are the Chinese so successful in this field? The answer is simple - factories in China can produce high quality products at a relatively cheap price. Now, simple understanding of economics will tell you that cheap products is a good thing for the consumers for they're able to obtain products of equivalent quality at a lower price, which in turn will spur competitors to either find ways to produce cheaper and/or improve quality to compete. Yet, the champions of free trades - that's pretty much all of the industrialized countries in the West, but particularly the US - choose to put up import barriers or other retaliatory measures/threats to protect their own inefficient, grossly over priced domestic markets by favoring local producers. This is just blatant protectionist behavior and goes against the spirit of free trade. This kind of double standard should not be allowed - free trade is suppose to treat all exporters fairly which doesn't mean free trade only works if the US (or any other Western industrialized country) is the exporter. Reform your own market to meet the competition is the only way to compete.
- This is a curious thing about British Parliamentary system: How can a party that receives 36% of the popular vote ended up with a majority (355 seats out of 646) in the House of Commons? Clearly, the government is not representative of the will of the electorate. More alarmingly only 60% of the eligible population voted, therefore only just over 21% of the UK electorate wanted another Labour government! Yet, the same bunch of cronies are now back in power. Is this a functioning democracy?
- I just want to ask a question... It's a very simple one and should not be taxing for most people: How do people walk? Well, for most people, it's a case putting one foot in front of another, gently swinging the arms to produce the right counterbalance to keep the body facing forward and using the eyes and ears to see and hear if there are any approaching dangers (if so, take evasive action). Simple, isn't it? It is second nature, like breathing or riding a bike - a coordination of limbs and senses (sight and hearing). So why ask the question? This is a disturbing observation I've made and it is not just a recent one, but one I've noticed for a long time but it is getting progressively worse by the day. People, probably due to their 'busy' lifestyles (how sad!), are spending more and more time doing things when they should be concentrating on what they're walking into. They're doing things to their stupid cell phones (this implies that they're not necessarily engaging in a verbal conversation, but also reading and tapping in text messages, and playing games), listening to their MP3 players/walkman or otherwise fiddling with it, checking their Blackberries or even reading their books or the latest gossip magazines or 'newspaper' columns. While engaged in all these activities, their concentration is focused on something else, they're in effect walking blind. Most blind people have highly developed sense of hearing as they require this sense to partially replace their lose of sight. Yet, these able-body people who choose not to use their senses to guide them around this busy capital city are creating new dangers to themselves and others. Worst of all, they actually think that they've God-given rights to charge around like blind bulls and expect others to simply get out of their ways. It took years before people take notice of the advice of 'no drinking and driving' and many nasty accidents before the shock enters the population's minds. I fear that it would be likewise for people to actually focus their minds back to the job at hand - walking from A to B.
- Time flies, whether you're having fun or not... I'm not trying to suggest that I'm having a miserable time, but without really being mindful of it, it is already one third of the way into the year! The past few months can be characterized by a lot of changes - we have moved to a new place in a new area, the Ruler_of_spike has gotten a promotion and there have been a lot of changes in my work place. While I accept change is a necessary thing to do, I hope we can have the opportunity to take stock of the positions we're in and just get on with life.
April 2005:
- Finally, after nearly six weeks of hacking through a job that I don't have particular desire to do, the replacement has finally arrived. I've just spent a week handing over the job to him. As you can imagine, picking up an entire job is not an easy thing - while I want to pass the job over to him as quickly as possible, I was still doing a good part of it to lighten the load. So, while the replacement has arrived, I was still not fully back into the swing of my real job - credit analysis. Another problem is that although I now hand-over the job to him, I'm suppose to act as back up to him, which means that I still need to keep an eye on the job. So I'm not completely rid of this responsibility, yet.
- This is turning out to be very tough for the Ruler_of_spike... Her average daily commute is now nearly 90 minutes - compared with less than 30 before. I feel so bad... The move to the new apartment was primarily driven by me and now that we have moved, the Ruler_of_spike seems to be suffering more than I was when we were living in the old place. So the place is smaller, has less storage and now we found out that it takes her nearly three hours of commute every day! Have I done the right thing?
- After living in our last apartment for four years, we moved out of it in the middle part of April. It was interesting that the letting agent actually claimed that a contract renewal was sent to us a couple of months back. Of course, we never received it and we were not going to be caught out and left homeless. There were a multitude of factors why we moved out, chief amongst them was the level of noise of the old place - planes, traffic, trains... I was constantly complaining about the noise and the Ruler_of_spike was going mad listening to my complaints. So we moved to a place that has recently been completely refurbished and in very good shape, but it is smaller - about one third smaller and lacked the storage that we previously enjoyed. Space is something that we can adjust to, but the lack of storage is very difficult to deal with. I'm actively getting rid of things and some stuff that I want to keep but don't require access will be sent away and generally 'downsize' to fit the place.
- The Ruler_of_spike is an amazing person! Four months after starting at her new company, she's gotten herself a promotion. Surely that is impressive. She knew the position she joined the company was below her skills and experience, but she got on with the job and demonstrated her ability. Now she got her just reward. Congratulations! I'm so proud of you!
- While I'm having a tough time at work, there some exciting developments outside it. After living in the current property for four years, we're moving. We spent a few weekends searching for a suitable place to move and we finally found somewhere we like. The area we're moving to is even better than the current one. I'm particularly please about the transport link of the new area and my daily commute will not be affected by this move. However, the same cannot be said for the Ruler_of_spike. Her trip to work will involve two bus routes and this will significantly increase her journey time. I'm very grateful for her understanding of my needs as the move has been primarily driven by the fact that living under the Heathrow landing path has been an ordeal for me. Hopefully we can have a happy time in the new place.
- For the past few weeks, I've been having a very tough time at work. Last month, I mentioned that there were some issues affecting one of my colleagues. Well this colleague is no longer with the firm. Just prior to my colleague's departure, I was asked by my boss to temporarily take over his job until a replacement is found and at the same time put my own work on hold as much as possible. For the past few weeks, I've been trying to learn my former colleague's job. It is a very steep learning curve and I'm really struggling. There's simply so much to cover! At the same time, while I'm not taking on any new work, there're some on-going deals that I just can't put down and these deals continue to occupy a good portion of my time. So in effect I'm doing one and half jobs. I need to get to work for 7am but usually get there for 7:15 and I seldom get out before 7pm. I'm so tired and feel completely drained.
- The prime minister of the UK has just asked the Queen's permission to dissolve Parliament and announced the date of the general election. That, in itself, is not that big of a deal - we've been expecting this for a long time as political commentators have been predicting since last year. What is more interesting is that a High Court judge in the UK has delivered a damning ruling on the current arrangement of postal voting, which is wide open to election fraud and vote rigging. The case, which involved several local politicians, showed how the basic democratic rights of the electorates are being abused through threats, intimidation, corruption, strong-arm tactics and fraud. So this country's ruling politicians are busy spreading democracy to the rest of the world and yet failing to protect the rights of its citizens. Do we have a problem with priorities here?
- The leader of Catholicism, the Pope John Paul II, has passed away. For over a quarter of a century, he has been leading and guiding one of the world largest religion. How will history view his time. As one of the most visible figures in the world, he will be judged a broad spectrum of people, some with positive outcome (toppling of Communism in Eastern Europe, reaching to the rest of the world, encouraged reconciliation with other religions), but also negatives (being conservative, banning the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS, fail to deal with homosexual child abuse by the priest). His legacy, and there's been much talk about that, surely is his humanity and leadership. But for me, his death is the most symbolic of all: In this day and age, I believe there are medical technologies that could have been used to keep him alive for a long time but it would mean being attached to several machines and dozens of tubes, yet he chose to let nature take its course. Life is sacred and should be preserved, but there is a point we have to let go, no matter how reluctant we all are. It takes a brave man to accept nature's unstoppable process and not fight against it. Rest in peace, your Excellence.