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spikegifted.net - Archive Q3 2005

September 2005:
You know Christmas is coming when you hear stories like this! The Danish air force has admitted causing the death of Rudolph the reindeer and has paid compensation to Father Christmas. Olovi Nikkanoff, one of Denmark's professional Santa Clauses, says his reindeer died of shock as fighter planes flew low overhead. The poor animal was scared to death by the sonic boom.. 
According to the BBC News website, attacks on police in China are on the rise (Chinese). What's going on? Despite the economy making great strides in the past couple of decades, the people of China are still living under, essentially, a totalitarian regime - power is still very much concentrated in the hands of the Communist Party. To survive and rise up the hierarchy of the CCP, those Party members have to be good at exploiting opportunities to safeguard their positions. They have been practicing that for a long time. However, as China's economy is now opening up and the economic power is slowly moving away from the state to business, the Party faithfuls can see that the power (as well as their privileged positions and lifestyles) will disappear sooner or later. So to safeguard their positions, they need to build up their economic positions. Just like in the old USSR, local CCP members are in excellent positions to seek help from police/thugs/gangs/soldiers/etc to forcibly take procession of properties or steam-roll through economic or business projects that will enrich them. So, the state that was founded on the principle of removing the privileged few is now allowing the privileged few to take advantage of the masses and lax central control. No wonder the masses are getting angry.
Nearly thirty years of Unionist distrust and hatred reared their ugly heads the day after the arms-decommissioning body announced that the IRA has put all its weapons beyond use. The leader of the DUP continues to voice his doubts about the Republicans' good faith. Everyone deserves a second chance, yet some sections of the Unionist movement continue to advocate doubts and distrust. They are bent on seeking humiliation of their 'enemy' while turning a blind eye to the criminal activities of Loyalist gangs. These Unionist leaders are in turn sowing doubts in the minds of their supporters and further alienating the two sides. IMHO, the 'man of God' is the biggest obstacle to peace in Northern Ireland - he and his party are continually making demands that, to third parties, can be considered unreasonable. At the same time the leadership defends and champions the Unionists' unreasonable behaviors as protecting the Protestants' interests. Given the IRA has given up its arms struggle, the only way for the DUP and others like them to continue their political existence is by propagating and prolonging hatred and fear of the Republicans. Should they even admit their acceptance of the IRA's disarmament, their political stance will become untenable. Hatred and fear of the 'enemy' are their political survival kit. 
For the last couple of decades, China has been, and continues to be, the world fastest growing economy. Year-on-year, without fail, China's economy has grown - to the extent that the government had to intervene a number of times to cool the whole thing down. If your product has an international market and you're looking to expand your operations in this still expanding (and still very exciting) market, you want to get in the action. So, where do you stop? Does the word 'stop' exists in your vocabulary? Is there a line on the sand that you won't cross? Do you throw away your moral standards and hide behind the rather lame excuse of having to 'comply with local law'. That's the excuse given by one of the largest internet brand names when they helped the Chinese authorities put away a journalist who 'whistleblew' on the suppressive behavior of the state against the journalist's employer. The problem is that if only one company takes a moral position against an oppressive regime, another company just steps in. To take a moral position, it has to be taken collectively. All it takes is one operator moving out of line, chasing after the mighty '$' and toss moral in the wind. Is the suppression of 1.3 billion justified by 'delivering shareholders' value'? I hope you can sleep at night.
The Ruler_of_spike and I have just celebrated our first wedding anniversary. What a year it has been! We've moved apartments and we have both changed jobs. It is difficult to imagine how fast time passes, yet it is deeply satisfying to know that this time is shared with someone who I have deep affection for. We share each others' joy and happiness and when one of us faces difficulties we know we are not alone. Happy First Anniversary, Ruler_of_spike!
This is a rather interesting development: according to a recent survey, it was found that nearly two thirds of the world citizens believe their countries are not governed by the will of the people. Why is this? What rational explanation is there? The easy option to say that this just reconfirms most people's suspicion: those in power cannot be trusted and they don't listen to the will of the people. That, in part, may be true. However, I personally don't think that explains everything. I believe that this result demonstrates a certain degree of democratic freedom - people instinctively question the actions, decisions and motives of their political leaders. This means people are not dummies and they don't swallow their governments' statements and opinions, hook, line and sinker. Politicians are supposed to be representatives of their people, they are supposed to gain their trusts in order to properly represent their views and act on their behalf. Without a mechanism to control this power, politicians will become detach from their constituents. It is because of a certain level of 'healthy skepticism' that keeps politicians in check. As long as politicians exist, their every action should be observed, examined and questioned to the minutest details - to uphold the integrity of our democracies. 
Being a rugby fan, I have to admit that I'm not a devoted cricket fan. While I'd
usually follow test series, I don't really pay any attention to the game's development or activities on the county level. Even test matches, I only follow them through news media (via both traditional means as well as electronic ones). However I, along with many others who know a little about cricket, have been absolutely captivated by this summer's Ashes series (for those who don't know, the Ashes are always between Australia and England). The cricket has been fantastic - intense, competitive, high quality and entertaining. England has to be congratulated for winning the series. The Aussies can hold their heads up high too, as it wasn't that they were inferior in anyway but were beaten by a strong and competent opponent. If only all cricket matches were as good as this series...
The widespread devastation brought on by Hurricane Katrina across the Southern US states has turned a natural disaster into a human catastrophe. It was mightily humbling to see a portion of the sole super-power on this planet, with the best scientific and technological resources money can buy, being brought down to something which resembled the poorest parts of the Third World. The delays in evacuating and sending of aid to those affected has demonstrated that despite all the talk from the US government about how prepared the US may be against another terrorist attack, it is completely unprepared for nature. Unlike terrorist attacks, everyone knew there was an annual hurricane season. It's a good job that the US President hasn't yet declared 'war on nature', as he's already doing a pretty good job by refusing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and his continual support for the US oil industry. However, unlike post-September 11, there was no-one to take charge of the situation post-Katrina. Initial relieve efforts had been patchy and ineffective.
As the scale of the disaster became clearer and the close proximity of it, it was impossible for those in power to brush aside criticism. National Guardsmen who would otherwise be in position to provide immediate relief assistance were away in Iraq, exporting democracy in a land that has gone from a dictatorship to a war zone and gradually descending into anarchy. Law and order in some of the affected areas broke down as a result of desperation - the full force of the US law enforcement eventually turned on the hurricane survivors how dared to help themselves because their government has let them down. Then as criticisms mounted and as the gigantic machinery of the relief operation began to function, tens of thousands of the poor underclass that were trapped in New Orleans after the hurricane struck were air-lifted to neighboring states - that have absolutely no officially organized relief contingencies except charity. These people have turned from being poor to become victims, then to become refugees and finally became someone's unwanted house-guests. While air-lifting those who have their dignity crudely stripped away might be very eye-catching, Hurricane Katrina's 'crime scene' spread over 90,000 sq miles, were relief efforts only for the benefit of satisfying the suddenly savage media? Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster, but in her wake she exposed the creaky superstructure that supports the swaggering image of the 'world's policeman'. God Bless America.
The world enters the new month with two very different disasters: the destruction of lives and properties in the Gulf States in the US in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the deaths of Shi'a Muslim pilgrims in Baghdad following a stampede.
August 2005:
The former British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, knew a thing or two about statistics: "There are three kinds of lies - lies, damned lies and statistics." So, if you're the type who trusts statistics, you'd be pleased to know that, statistically speaking, air travel is safer than cars. While that is true, so is my claim that "I have more than the average number of legs." On the other hand, if you have ever come across Benoit Mandelbrot's multifractal theory (as applied to financial markets), you'd recognize the higher than usual likelihood that periods of high volatility tend to bunch up together, rather than evenly spread out. Now, as multifractal theory is applicable to many different fields, I think I've found another area where this theory can be successfully applied to: air disasters. Since the middle of July, four major ones (Equatorial Guinea, Greece, Venezuela and Peru) and one 'near miss' (Canada). As a point of interest, if you look back, you'd notice that while there were no definite 'pattern' to air disasters, there were certainly times when 'clusters' of disasters took place in relatively short time spans (discounting terrorist activities). Clearly, statistics and probability can't explain this phenomenon.
If you see someone (who's not a police and isn't wearing a uniform) on the street with a gun, any kind of a gun or even an object that looks like a gun, how do you feel and what would you do? I don't know about you, but I'd be alarmed and be on my guard - in case the person with the gun shows any threatening behavior. Well, there was a teenager in England showing off his replica BB gun on a busy street but he was not arrested nor charged, just being 'told off' by the police... Well, according to UK law, fire arms are illegal, but replicas are ok if you're over 17. Can you tell if a gun is a replica or not from a distance? That is completely insane. Under the best of circumstances, people feel threatened when they see a gun, real or replica. In the current heightened security environment, everyone has a right to feel jumpy. Replicas should be banned, just like fire arms.
Hmmm... This beginning to sound like a broken record. The IAEA reported that the Iranian nuclear program is not a weapons program, but of course, the Bush administration disagrees. The Iranian claim that the traces of enriched uranium were due to contamination by the supplier. That sounds plausible enough. But, oh no! How anyone
dares to contradict the views of the all-knowing US administration? May be it's because back in 2003 a sovereign country was invaded in the name of eliminating weapons of mass destruction and it turned out that there was none? May be, just may be...
So, according to a poll carried out by the China Daily, a majority of Chinese don't have a good impression of Japan. Now, that's not exactly a surprise! At the same time, most Chinese when talking about Japan, think if the Nanking Massacre (Chinese). I can associate with that. To anyone who has any understanding of the war between China and Japan in the 1930s-40s, this will come as no surprise. While many Japanese have come to accept the conduct of the
Japanese Imperial Army was barbaric, there are still many who try to down-play the events that took place over 60 years ago. I understand that for the Japanese the concept of 'guilt' does not exist and hence with 'no guilt', there is no need apologize for past events. Afterall, I don't expect current generations to apologize for deeds of their parents and grandparents. However, Japanese place 'honor' above everything else and I can say with confidence that the behavior of the Imperial Army before and during WWII was anything but honorable. I don't need an apology, but I would like to see the acceptance that those past actions were dishonorable.
This may not come as much of a surprise to most people: People notice lazy colleagues in their work places, but there is a good chance they get away with it. That's right. That's especially true in larger companies. Clearly, not every person who's considered 'lazy' is actually so - often it is due to poor training. That's the fault of the management. However, that's different for the genuinely lazy ones. These selfish and irresponsible people are causing great harm to their colleagues and their organizations. Yet, managers often opt not to do sensible thing - fire them.
The highest-ranking competitive eater, Takeru Kobayashi, remains the top eater in two events in Hong Kong. First, he managed 83 steamed dumplings in eight minutes (Chinese). Then, and this is very impressive, he consumed 100 steamed Chinese barbeque pork buns in 12 minutes (Chinese). Barbeque pork buns are not easy to consume as they're made of steamed rice flour which is very dry, and as a demonstration of his superiority, the guy who came second only managed 47! BTW, you'd assume that competitive eaters must be size of trucks... Well, not so. Kobayashi is only 132lb, while several other top eaters are decidedly on the 'petit' side of the weighing scale. Shocking!
This is first time in since 2002 that the Ruler_of_spike and I have gone away on a summer vacation. Back in 2003, I was unemployed and I stayed in London in an attempt to find a job over the summer. Then last year, while we spent time during July and September in France, it was for the preparation and then the actual wedding, so those were not real 'down time'. So it was nice to actually to be away for two weeks, with nothing to do but allowed to relax. It is not difficult to appreciate how nice it is to be away from London and work after such a long time grinding it out, but it takes a while for the bodies and souls to really slow down from the hectic lives we have here to truly become relaxed. Therefore, it is a real shame that the vacation only last for a couple of weeks. Anyway, at least the 'battery' is now 'recharged' and I look forward to really get on with my new job!
July 2005:
- I'm by no means pleased to hear this, but an influential think-tank in the UK has published a report saying that participation in the invasion of Iraq has increased the risk of the UK being attacked by terrorists. Well, this is not exactly news, isn't it? Prior to the invasion of Iraq back in 2003, the British intelligence services informed the government of just such a risk, but our glorious leader chose to ignore the warning (as discovered during the Hutton Inquiry) Well, at the time when this piece of news came out, Tony Blair said it was his judgment to overrule intelligence advise, isn't it about time that he face the consequences of making two very bad calls?
- One week after the atrocities committed against London, the whole city, the country and indeed Europe, paid their respects to those who lost their lives to the misplaced hatred of a few. If the suicide bombers (who, incidentally are from outside London) hoped to plant the seeds of distrust and to spread disharmony among us, our city clearly showed how united we are in condemnation of these mindless and pointless actions. We will prevail!
- Five days passes so quickly... I felt like it was yesterday that I finished up with my former employers, yet today, I started at my new work place. Walking in to greet my new colleagues, I felt like walking back into a family - I already know a few of them from previous jobs and one or two of them are actually personal friends. That was one of the major reasons why I took up this new challenge. My new colleagues are all warm and friendly and they make me feel welcome. Now, I need to get down to do some work... 
- I have just finished my last day at work with my current employer. Owing to the terrorist attack on the previous, the atmosphere was in a rather more somber mood that I would otherwise thought. Looking back over the time I spent with the bank, I'm happy to say that I gained a lot of out of it. At the same time, the last six months was quite stressful and not all of it owing to the job that I signed up for. I'm happy to close this chapter of my career and now look forward to the next with great anticipation. 
- July 7th started just like any other working day for myself and many hundreds of thousands of people working the city of London. While it started normally, normality was shattered by mid-morning - it was reported that a bomb has gone off nearly Russell Square. My department is on the trading floor and there're TV screens everywhere, so I was able to keep up to date with events on BBC News 24 and Sky News. Then it became apparent that a series of bomb attacks had taken place across London and there had been a number of fatalities and many more seriously injured. Ever since the terrorist attacks in New York and Madrid, an al Qaeda attack against London was merely a 'when' rather than 'if'. Nevertheless, my feelings at the time was reflected by our mayor's condemnation of the attackers: This attack (like others) was not about religion, race, class, or any other excuse the terrorists care to choose; it's about mindless mass murder. Those who ordered and carried out this series of bombings had nothing other than hate in their minds. They live for a pathetic reason - to cause material damage and to kill and maim the innocent. I can't say I hate them, for they are not worthy of my anger or any other feeling. The only emotion I have for them is pity - because if they think they can actually further their cause by attacking 'soft targets', well, they've got it completely wrong! London has been through numerous trials and tribulations in its long history and I don't see how a few mindless terrorist targeting those who are not in a position to protect themselves can make us Londoners running scared. I personally don't believe in revenge attacks, not against these morons anyway - they simply do not worth the effort. I trust our police and intelligence services will some day eliminate them root and branch, and we shall rely on our judicial system to hand down the punishment. Until then, I shall continue my daily routine and my life.
- Congratulations to the London 2012 Olympic Bid Team!! It is an incredible achieve to won the right to host the 2012 Games. I've been following the progress of London's Bid Team since late 2003 and it has navigated a long and strenuous path. While it was a significant achievement to be selected as a Candidate City, there was still a lot of work still to be done. My sincere congratulations to Lord Coe, who was became London's Bid chairman and through his energy, vision, skills and personality brought in the support of politicians, businesses, athletes and the general public, and
fired their imagination. Looking back the past 18 months, it looks like London has achieve quite a lot, but now that we've been selected as Host City for the 2012 Games, the real work begins! Go London - Let's Bring It On!!
- The British and Irish Lions Rugby Tour to New Zealand has now turned into a farce. On November 20, 2004, The Welsh team lost to the All Blacks by a single point (25-26). On analysis, Wales came very close despite having a poor tight five. Since that day, Wales have won the 6 Nation Grand Slam, while playing attractive, attacking rugby, again, despite having a tight five that was less competitive than some of the other nations. Then came the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand... Surely, the tour manager, Clive Woodward ('Sir', no less) can pick a team that plays the same attacking rugby to counter the All Blacks' aggression, but at the same time, with a more cohesive and stable tight five as a secure platform? Alas, the answer was no. Woodward's England team won the World Cup relied on brute strength to snuff out the opposition - in another word: boring rugby. Flowing, attacking rugby is as alien to him as fish to dry land. He doesn't understand it and he doesn't appreciate it, paying lip service to it not withstanding. Instead of deploying a team with an attacking philosophy, he chose to rely on a bunch of has-beens (either out of form or over the hill) from World Cup 2003 and putting in Celtic players into slots where England players were not available.
The result was the humiliation in the First Test. Having lost the first game, the Lions were on the back foot and playing catch up. The problem was, with a tour party of 45, players didn't have the chance to develop themselves into a single cohesive unit. On paper, there was great hope that the Lions could level the series, but the reality was that the All Blacks were just too strong and the Lions were not performing as a team. And the tour and test series was lost. Woodward's reputation as a rugby coach was built upon years of success with the England team and was crowned by the World Cup success, but his reputation was destroyed in less than two weeks, or more precisely a little over 160 minutes of rugby.
- I've privately mention this to people I've spoken to, but this is the first time I air this in public: Communist China is eroding the human rights and personal freedoms of the people of Hong Kong, against the spirit of the agreement between the United Kingdom and Communist China ('one country, two systems'), and against the spirit of the Basic Law (the effective 'constitution' of Hong Kong). As the Chinese Communist government led the celebration marking the 8th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong, I can only feel my anger towards this corrupt, incompetent, self-centered and lying regime. Case in point was the 'election' of the new Chief Executive of Hong Kong: When the last Chief Executive (董建華) resigned, it presented a golden opportunity to broaden the democratic process of Hong Kong, instead his successor (曾蔭權) was unanimously 'elected' by a committee of 800. On the face of it, why should it matter? In case you don't know, to become an eligible candidate, he or she requires nomination support by 100 of the 800 committee members - something that no-one other than 曾蔭權 managed. So, what's the big deal, the committee members probably didn't like the sound of other candidates. That may be true, but looking at the list of members, finding sufficient support may prove more difficult than it seems. Member of the election committee are either selected by the Communist government or from bodies representing various industries and interest groups in Hong Kong. Each and everyone of the member have good reasons not to stray too far from the Communists' wishes/policies - they each have vested interest to keep themselves on the good side of the Communists. So there was only one candidate in this 'election'. So even on a subject as important as the Chief Executive of territory, the people of Hong Kong were not given the right or the opportunity to choose a candidate. Yet they chose not to make a fuss about it. Or was there just no point? Human rights are precious things and they should not be taken for granted and should be defended jealously. The fact that there was little or no noise made regarding the lack of opportunity to vote for a different candidate showed that the vast majority of people in Hong Kong has been 'tamed' by the gradual erosion of rights and freedom. Although the principle of 'one country, two systems' still nominally exists, its practice appears to be nothing more than a by-gone dream. There is nothing to celebrate.