The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Category: News

The New Yorker’s guide to playing Nostradamus for 2014

Want to sound like you know what’re you’re talking about, when prompted for opinions on the outlook for 2014 when at a dinner party? The New Yorker provides a cheat-sheet on world events that will matter in 2014 based on the developments of the previous year, so that one can make impressive-sounding informed predictions for the year.

1. Can Obama recover? Sure he can. After all the troubles of the past couple of months, his approval rating is already rebounding a bit. According to the Gallup daily tracking poll, he ended 2013 with a forty-four per cent approval rating. That’s not great, but it’s higher than his numbers throughout much of 2010 and 2011. Surprisingly enough, it’s also higher than his ratings in the summer of 2012, just before he waxed Mitt Romney in the general election. How high can Obama go? That depends upon the answers to the next two questions.

2. Will the economy accelerate? Yes. Barring some great cataclysm, this should be the year when G.D.P. growth finally rises above three per cent—a rate of expansion it hasn’t seen since 2005. According to the latest figures, all the major sectors of the economy are picking up, withmanufacturing and construction leading the way. Job creation has increased, and economic-policy decisions are helping. The Fed remains committed to keeping interest rates at record lows, and the recent budget deal between Democrats and Republicans means that fiscal policy will be a bit less restrictive than it was last year, when it reduced growth by about one and half percentage points.

3. Will Obamacare work? Yes, but there will continue to be problems. On New Year’s Eve, the government announced that six million Americans had already signed up for health coverage. About 2.1 million have found private insurance policies through the online exchanges operated by the federal government and the states; another 3.9 million have signed up for the expanded Medicaid program. So much for the idea that the Affordable Care Act was unworkable.

The potential problems are threefold. Enrollment through healthcare.gov, although it has picked up sharply, remains below the Administration’s projections. And it’s not clear who is signing up. If, as some observers suspect, it is mainly older people and folks with preëxisting conditions, then this will create problems for the insurance companies, who will be tempted to raise prices for 2015. That could lead to more complaints about people losing their existing policies and being forced to buy more costly plans.

4. Can the Republicans take the Senate in the midterms? It’s not out of the question. To gain control, the Republicans need to gain six seats, which is a big swing. But the Democrats are defending seats in seven states that Mitt Romney carried in 2012: Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia. Early polls show the G.O.P. candidates leading or close in all of these states. Democrats will be hoping to hold at least a couple of them. Two of their best bets may be Louisiana and North Carolina, where the Democrats, Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan, have plenty of money and strong organizations. In Georgia, Democrats also have hopes that Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former senator Sam Nunn, will take the seat being vacated by G.O.P. senator Saxby Chambliss. Throughout the country, much depends on whether the Republicans can put up mainstream candidates, or whether, as in 2012, they will be burdened with Tea Party extremists.

5. Will Hillary Clinton launch a second bid for the Presidency? Yes. In a recent interview with Barbara Walters, she said that she would decide in 2014. She has a lot of support in the Democratic Party; her poll ratings, although they have slipped back over the past twelve months, are still decent; and, since she is now sixty-six, this is probably her last chance to become the first female President. Not long ago, I spoke to somebody close to Hillary who said that the chances of her running were seventy-thirty. I reckon the real figure is about ninety-ten.

6. Will the Iranians agree on a permanent nuclear deal? Only Ayatollah Khamenei and his fellow mullahs know the answer. So far, they have supported President Rouhani’s outreach to the West, which resulted in an interim agreement that suspended nuclear enrichment in return for limited relief from sanctions. But talks on a broader agreement have already run into difficulties,and reaching a deal would necessarily involve the Iranians making a series of concessions that they have hitherto stoutly rejected. “It remains uncertain if Iran recognizes the extent to which it will have to roll back its infrastructure to reach a deal,” Robert Einhorn, a non-proliferation expert at the Brookings Institution, told the Wall Street Journal.

7. Will the civil war in Syria end? No. Now that both the Obama Administration and many of the Islamist rebels have effectively given up on the Free Syrian Army, the only victor in the war is likely to be Bashar al-Assad and his government forces. But the United States, along with Assad’s traditional enemies Turkey and Saudi Arabia, will be loath to accept this reality. Together, they’ll provide enough weapons and logistical support to keep a hodgepodge of anti-Assad forces in the field, while the international community tries to cobble together some sort of face-saving peace deal. The likely result: more bloodshed and more refugees.

8. Will John Kerry produce a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians?No. With its security policies working, and Palestinian terror attacks greatly reduced, the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu sees no need to make the sort of compromises that a peace treaty would entail. Earlier this week, as Kerry arrived in Tel Aviv to try and revive the peace process, Ze’ev Elkin, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, said, “The Jordan Valley must be under Israeli sovereignty forever.” He added that “the 1967 borders are Auschwitz borders.” A great many Palestinians, meanwhile, see the 1967 borders as the basis for a negotiated solution.

9. Will the Chinese economic miracle continue? Yes. After thirty years of rapid growth, the Chinese economy is now threatening to overtake the U.S. economy as the world’s largest, according to some measures. But there’s still plenty of scope for so-called “catch-up growth.” In terms of G.D.P. per person, the United States is still about five times as rich as China. Even middle-income countries such as Latvia and Chile are twice as rich. But with the formerly Communist nation still spending close to fifty per cent of its G.D.P. on infrastructure projects, education, and other forms of investment, the gap is likely to keep closing for some time. That’s what happened in other fast-growing Asian economies that industrialized earlier, such as Japan and Korea, and there’s no reason to expect China will be different.

10. Will the bitcoin bubble burst? Perhaps. In recent months, the online currency has gone from a cult object to an economic phenomenon that governments and investors are starting to take seriously. Even Ben Bernanke said that such currencies “may hold long-term promise.” But that doesn’t mean that bitcoins are worth their current price in the market. Underlying all the hype and discussion is a bit of a contradiction. If bitcoins are the next-generation means of payment for global online commerce, which is what some of the currency’s techie boosters believe, we are going to need a lot more of them in circulation. But once there are lots more of them going around, their scarcity value will diminish, and so will their price.

11. Will the stock market crash? Over the long term, U.S. corporations are a much safer bet than bitcoins, but this year could be a tricky one for the market. It’s not just that prices have gone up a lot—in 2013, the Dow jumped thirty per cent. The bigger problem is that long-term interest rates are rising, which often portends trouble for stocks. Paradoxically, the biggest danger is from a strong economy. If G.D.P. growth accelerates dramatically, investors will start to worry about the Fed shifting back to normal faster than expected, and this could lead to a sell-off in stocks. Wall Street is hoping for the “Goldilocks” recovery to continue, with growth strong enough to boost corporate profits, but not strong enough to spook the Fed.

12. Will Brazil win the World Cup? No. With an experienced coach in Luiz Felipe Scolari,and gifted young stars like Neymar (Barcelona)Oscar (Chelsea), and Bernard (Shakhtar Donetsk), Brazil has the talent to match anybody. But in such a soccer-made nation, and with a relatively inexperienced team, the pressure of winning at home will prove too much.

The changing face of the New York Time’s webpage

 

 

nyt

The New York Times launched their new webpage today.

From the Atlantic:

This week, The New York Times will be launching a redesign of its website. The updated version of NYTimes.com, the paper promises in a promo, will be “sleeker,” “faster,” “more intuitive,” and “enhanced” than its forebears*. “We’ve streamlined our article pages,” the paper explains, “and created a more responsive interface with faster load times.”

Another thing that’s being streamlined? The site’s homepage. The front door to the country’s paper of record has been remodeled, with a new emphasis on interstitial spaces and sleek blacks and whites. Above, you can see that evolution in action—via a GIF featuring screen-captures of homepages dating from the past to the present: the years 2001, 2004, 2007, 2012, and the soon-to-come version of 2014.

Hat tip Chris Heller

 

Learn to separate the GMO hate from anti-corporatism

Greggor Ilagan, county council who initially sought to ban GMO in Hawaii, rethinks his position after deciding to learn about GMO himself through scientists, rather than self-styled “experts.” Image credit New York Times

There has been so much GMO food (genetically-modified organisms) hate going round the internet for as long as GMO has been around. Scary pictures depict GMO as a sort of “Frankenfood” that will ultimately give us all cancers and destabilise society. In fact, the New York Times just reported on how Hawaii passed a bill for vote to ban all GMOs on Hawaii, with much support from policy-makers and the voting crowd. Unsurprisingly, the ones most worried about the passing of such a ban are the papaya growers of the island, and county council member Greggor Ilagan, who undertook an effort to actually learn about what GMOs are, found many of the misconceptions he had about genetically-modified food debunked.

While it is true that not everything is known about GMO, the fight against GMO is, if one were to look carefully at the vitriol thrown against the technology, is half-parts resisting the actual technology itself, and half-parts decrying the unscrupulous practices of the corporations such as Monsanto that control the industry. It is important to not to lump corporatism with what is perceived to be the ills of GMO foods, because they’re separate things.

But the sad thing is, the “evidence” given against the science of GMO have mostly been disproved, yet these untruths still are touted around as legit reasons to completely throw GMO out the window. For example:

  • Gilles-Éric Séralini and a group of French researchers published a peer-reviewed study that rats fed GMO corn developed giant tumours and died prematurely — This is one of the most often cited study as to why GMO will kill us all. The study has been criticised for many reasons: 1) The rats chosen for the study were of a strain extremely prone to tumours. 2) Sample size problems. Where the OECD recommends at least 50 rats for carcinogenicity studies per testing group, Séralini only used 10, making it results more likely to be error-prone. 3) Statistical cherry-picking: Séralini did not publish crucial information about the study. The journal that published Séralini’s paper has since retracted it.
  • Judy Carman, Australian researcher, claims that pigs fed GM corn and GM soybean meal showed increased incidence of stomach inflammation. This too has been debunked for the following reasons: 1) While they showed pictures of GM-fed pigs with stomach inflammation, the pigs that were fed non-GM food actually developed more inflammations than the ones fed GM-food. 2) The pigs were subject to terrible living conditions, and that 60% of pigs of both groups developed pneumonia anyway, evidence of bad husbandry. 3) Statistic-fudging: The researchers separated the groups into different bands of inflammation and ran separate statistical tests so that their P-values could limbo underneath the P < 0.05 mark to be confident in. That is, they went fishing for the right values to validate their hypothesis, which was chosen after the experiment run–stomach inflammation.
  • GMO food causes autism. A mere error of confusing correlation and causation, something that can happen.
  • GMO crops pollinate with weeds, passing on their foreign-inserted genes, causing superweeds. GMO crops do not pollinate with weeds (except in rare cases, but that’s a different story). “Superweeds” are caused by improper and excessive use of the pesticides, without rotating types of pesticides used, nor were there other forms of weed control practices used other than pesticides. This led to the weeds gaining a resistance to the pesticides. Unfortunately, because of these superweeds caused by excessive use of pesticides, farmers end up having to use more and more pesticide to kill off these resistant strands, sometimes reverting to the use of pesticides that these GM crops were supposed to phase out.
  • The foreign-introduced genes in GM-food will be passed onto humans when we ingest it, possibly leading to health complications down the road. There are no conclusive studies that have proven this. On the other hand, there have been no studies that can conclusively say that there are absolutely no risks to eating GM-food, but as far as studies can show up to this point, they have been proven safe enough to eat.

Now, we move on to the criticism of the corporatism aspects resulting from the GMO industry.

  • GM cotton has led to farmer suicides in India. Vandana Shiva, an environmental and feminist activist from India, repeated an alarming statistic: “270,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide since Monsanto entered the Indian seed market,” she said. Monsanto’s Bt cotton seeds, containing a Bacillus thuringiensis gene, cost five times that of local varieties. This caused scalpers to mix the Bt seeds with conventional ones to sell them at lower prices, and the sham seeds usually result in crop failures, adding on to the farmers’ financial problems. But while the total number of suicides in India grew from just under 100,000 to more than 120,000 in 2007, the number of farmer suicides remained constant at around 20,000 per yer. Yields actually grew by 24% per acre between 2002 and 2008, owing to reduced losses from pest attacks. Farmers’ profits rose by an average of 50% over the same period, owing mainly to yield gains.
  • Monsanto will sue you for growing their GMO if the pollen blows through your field and sprouts. Monsanto has shown no evidence of intentionally bringing a lawsuit against a farmer whose field was accidentally pollinated. Monsanto has filed suits against 145 farmers since 1997, for intentionally planting their patented seeds without having purchased the rights to do so. They’ve only proceeded through trial in eleven of the cases, all of which they won. The idea of “Monsanto suing for accidental cross-pollination” came from the 1999 case of the Canadian canola farmer, Percy Schmeiser, who claimed that his 95% GMO-seeded field was an accident. The judge eventually found Schmeiser to have intentionally planted the seeds, but since he derived no benefit from the planting, did not have to pay any damages.
  • Corporations like Monsanto make seeds that are sterile, and force farmers to constantly have to buy seeds from them each planting. From NPR: “This idea presumably has its roots in a real genetic modification (dubbed the Terminator Gene by anti-biotech activists) that can make a plant produce sterile seeds. Monsanto owns the patent on this technique, but has promised not to use it.””Now, biotech companies — and Monsanto in particular — do seem to wish that this idea were true. They do their best to keep farmers from replanting the offspring from GMOs. But they do this because, in fact, those seeds will multiply.”However, relying on corporations for seeds isn’t new. By the time Monsanto got into the seed business, most farmers in the U.S. and Europe were already relying on seed that they bought from seed companies. This shift started with the rise of commercial seed companies, not the advent of genetic engineering. But Monsanto and GMOs certainly accelerated the trend drastically.
  • The majority of our foods are GM already. Actually, not quite so. Currently, only eight crops (alfafa, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soy, sugar beets, and zucchini) are widely-grown GM, with some others at risk for contamination. Of the GM crops, corn and sugar beets have a lot of derived products made from them, such as aspartame, amino acids, high-fructose corn syrup, and xanthan gum, amongst some.

I’m sure I’ve missed out on some of the criticisms, but these are the usual suspects raised against GMO.

I’m certainly uneasy with the monopoly these major corporations have over our food production methods, when only one or two major companies supply the majority of seeds sold to farmers. I can certainly understand the companies’ desires to patent their seeds, since they’ve spent time and money into researching them, but not all GM work like Monsanto. Looking at Hawaii’s GM “Rainbow” papayas, it was developed primarily by scientists at academic institutions, has no patent protecting it, and it was a model for how the technology could benefit small farmers. This GM almost single-handedly saved Hawaii’s papayas from an outbreak of the ringspot virus in the mid-90s.

But just because we’re uneasy with the corporation, doesn’t mean the science of GMO is bad. What we should work towards is better regulation of standards and rigorous testing of GM food, and creating a framework of ethical standards that straddles a balance between profit for the corporations as well as understanding that such technology is ultimately created for the benefit of mankind and ending food shortages, not a mere means to a pretty penny. The fear-mongering of sensationalised untruths against GMO is only going to hurt not only the farmers, but ultimately the people as well.

An order of Chinese puns, stuffed with conspiracies

It’s an interesting day when the president of China eating lunch sparks off a wave of conspiracy theories.

Chinese President Xi Jinping got in the queue with the lunch crowd and bought six steamed buns filled with pork and spring onions, a bowl of stir-fried liver, and a plate of vegetables, for a cost of 21 yuan.

On Weibo, some were marvelling at how the President himself was getting in the line, paid for the food himself, carried the trays himself, and obtained the food himself. Others wondered if his public obtaining of food had any symbolic meaning.

The New York Times reports:

While photos of the presidential lunch fill pages of Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media site, users are trying to “crack the code” of the three simple food items for signals regarding the president’s anti-corruption campaign.

According to one theory, the name of the steamed bun shop, “Qingfeng,” which means “celebrating the harvest” but sounds like the Chinese words for “clear wind” and evokes an honest government official who never takes bribes, suggests the qualities Mr. Xi wants all government officials to uphold as a standard.

Another says the stir-fried pig liver means that any government officials who demonstrate pig-like greed will be “fried,” which can mean to be fired in Chinese.

The green vegetables Mr. Xi ordered, called “jiecai,” sound like the Chinese phrase “beware of wealth” — a possible warning to all officials to resist the temptation of financial gain.

The translucent filling of fatty pork and spring onion signifies transparency. And it is no coincidence, says one theory, that the meal cost 21 renminbi, the sum of three times seven. This is because the Chinese saying “It doesn’t matter if three times seven is 21” means that whatever is going to happen is going to happen.

“President Xi is saying government officials must stay clean and transparent, otherwise they will all get fired!” concludes this theory.

“If you are a corrupt official, the president will finish you like he did his lunch!” said another Weibo user.

So basically, the essence of Chinese conspiracy theories lie in… puns? Wow.

Which is not that surprising, given that the language is full of homophones.

Neither rain nor snow shall keep the one wheel from ruling them all

15348[1]Some two weeks ago, Utah had a snowstorm, and the picture above was circulating around the internet. Where cars skidded and crash, that lone unicyclist calm rolled on.

So did NYC.

a_560x375[1]A unicyclist was seen rolling through SoHo last night in winter storm Hercules, like a boss.

Unicyclists: Clearly the master race

 

 

Are You Qualified to Be a Journalist in China? Take the Test

Previously, China was last seen refusing to renew the visas and press passes of nearly two dozen foreign journalists from American news organisations, leaving them uncertain as to whether they can continue reporting China’s issues from the ground. This has prompted chastisement from Vice President Mr. Biden himself.

Now, it seems that China has made its decision: for foreign journalists to remain in the country, they must show themselves understanding of what is expected of them and of journalism in the country — that the role of journalism is not to the truth, but a service to the people? The Chinese government has decided that foreign journalists will have to take tests to show they they know these concepts. From the New York Times:

What is the essence of the Chinese Dream? What did Marx and Engels ask of newspaper reporters? How do Chinese and Western views on journalism differ?

Those are some of the questions Chinese journalists can expect to be quizzed on when they renew their press cards in early 2014.

This is the first time that all Chinese reporters have been required to take a test as part of the annual press card renewal process. In theory, journalists need the press card to work legally in China, although some commercial media companies employ reporters without the certification. Those who fail will be permitted to take it again.

The goal of the test is to “educate and lead news gatherers to uphold the Marxist journalistic ideals more consciously, to better serve the people, socialism, the work of the party and the country,” according to the General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television.

Can you also be a journalist in China? Take the test to find out! Answers at the end.

1. What is the essence of “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”?

a. Social harmony.

b. Comfortable standard of living.

c. Comfortable standard of living for all.

d. The Four Modernizations.

2. Comrade Xi Jinping has said that the Chinese Dream is essentially the dream of __?

a. The people.

b. The working class.

c. The Communist Party of China.

d. All Chinese people around the world.

3. Comrade Xi Jinping said that, in order to realize the Chinese Dream, we must take the road of __?

a. Socialism with Chinese characteristics.

b. Modernization.

c. Peaceful development.

d. Opening up and reform.

4. Comrade Xi Jinping said that, in order to realize the Chinese Dream, we must unite the power of China, which is:

a. The power of the leadership of the Communist Party of China.

b. The power of the unity of all ethnicities of the Chinese people.

c. The power of the unity of the working class.

d. The power of the unity of all Chinese people around the globe.

5. The ultimate mission of socialism with Chinese characteristics is:

a. Opening up and reform.

b. Improving economic structure.

c. Raising GDP.

d. Emancipate and develop social productivity.

6. Comrade Xi Jinping points out that, in order to realize the Chinese Dream, we must carry forward the Chinese spirit, which includes: (May choose more than one.)

a. The spirit of the nation with its core in patriotism.

b. The spirit of the our time with its core in reform and innovation.

c. The spirit of rule of law with its core in democratic politics.

d. The spirit of tradition with its core in honesty and honor.

7. How can news and media workers improve their ability of leading public opinion? (May choose more than one.)

a. Insist on principles of the party.

b. Insist on being people-oriented.

c. Keep on innovating and reforming.

d. Strengthen cultivation of talents.

8. “Prime Minister Zhu Rongji looked stern, and pointed out solemnly: ‘Whoever promotes Taiwan independence will not end up well!’ His words rang in our ears and shook our hearts.” What is good about this quote?

a. It vividly sums up the speaker’s view.

b. It gives the facts in a nutshell.

c. It is concise.

d. It provides a smooth segue.

9. What is the most basic principle of news ethics in our country? What is the most basic principle of Western news ethics? (May choose more than one.)

a. The principle of social responsibility.

b. The principle of serving the people.

c. The principle of journalistic professionalism.

d. The principle of freedom of the press.

10. What is the most important difference between our news ethics and that of Western developed countries?

a. Our news ethics belong to the theoretical system of socialism ethics; news ethics of Western developed countries belong to the theoretical system of capitalism ethics.

b. The most basic principle of our news ethics is wholeheartedly serve the people; the most basic principle of news ethics of Western developed countries is freedom of the press.

c. Our news ethics emphasize the people; Western developed countries emphasize the media’s social responsibilities.

d. Our news ethics emphasize the principles of the party; Western developed countries emphasize that individuals should be independent of political parties.

Answers:

1. a; 2. a; 3. a; 4. b; 5. d; 6. a, b; 7. a,b,c,d; 8. a; 9. b,d; 10. b

Read the full article on the Times here.

Touching story, beautiful journalism

nytimesprojPhoto credits New York Times, from the Invisible Child

It is not very often that a piece of journalism moves me, and I can say that the Invisible Child, a project that follows the lives of Dasani, her parents, and seven other siblings, as they struggle with poverty and the trap that is shelter housing. Immediately, Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc comes to mind, where she took over 10 years to follow the story of two women as they struggle with love, drugs, and prison.

However, Invisible Child is no mere tear-jerker, even as its tales are raw and moving in its simplicity, and the attention to detail makes the scenes real to the reader. Invisible Child expertly weaves together some of the very complex ills that plagues New York City into one coherent story, namely:

  1. The bad the homeless situation in NYC is. With 22,000 children homeless in the city, this is the highest it has been since the Great Depression. It also talked about how mayor Bloomberg exacerbated the situation with his policies when he took office.
  2. g2

    Infographics credit to New York Times

    Income inequality, neighbourhood inequality, and the encroaching gentrification that hems the poor in, as they squeeze them out.

  3. The ongoing tensions between public schools and charter schools, as the latter are often better equipped with computers and equipment, attracting richer students, even as they share the same grounds with the public school. This leads to worries of segregation and discrimination of the poorer-off public school students.
  4. The helplessness of the poorer trapped in their poverty, as they are beholden to drug habits, stuck in their social immobility due to a lack of skills, lack of financial responsibility education such as knowing the importance of saving, etc.
  5. The injustice and deplorable conditions shelter residents have to put up with, from those who are supposed to help them. Shelters subject their residents to unsanitary and downright unsafe conditions (story talks of a baby who died because there was no air-conditioning), as well as the constant fear of sexual assault that goes on in these places.
  6. The resilience of the human spirit we see in the protagonist, Dasani. Even as the story paints her a fighter, it also shows her clinging on to her childhood as she is forced to grow up to take care of her seven younger siblings, and at times, her parents.

I would highly recommend anyone to read this piece of amazing journalism, and it has truly made me proud to have embarked on this journey. Even though my path to journalism has yet to take off, it is shining pieces like these that pull me through, in hopes that one day I too may make a difference by telling stories like these.

I would also recommend people read the author’s notes, as they are highly informative and show how the stories is pieced together, especially given the multitude of statistics in the story.