The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: 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.

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The changing face of the New York Time’s webpage

 

 

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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

 

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.
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    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.

So many questions asked, no answer provided

Singapore bus death triggers riot

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Photo credit AFP, taken from BBC News

Most people who have a connection to Singapore would probably have known that on the 9th December, 2013, a riot broke out. Initial reporting from Singapore media Channel News Asia reported on the incidence plus with an advisory to stay away from the scene, stating the number of participants (about 400) and whether there were casualties or not.

That is all very well, but I think as with any credible news medium, not only is reporting what happened sufficient, but some sort of investigative journalism as to why the riot happened is required, isn’t it? Even as things have died down, there is scarcely any definitive work as to the cause of the unrest. Soon, alternative news sources began filling in the gaps where state media had failed to furnish what the people wanted to know.

People on Reddit provided a time breakdown of the chain of events, as did some blogs, although their sources referenced each other. Of course, vitriol against the prevailing ruling party started pouring in on these threads, drowning out possible discussion as to why the riot started.

The Real Singapore, another alternative news source, started editorialising, which in itself isn’t too bad, but TRS having a streak of being anti-PAP, their contribution was a rehash of a populist anti-immigrant stance that disenfranchised Singaporeans had with the PAP’s lax immigration policies. I quote:

On the surface, this could easily be put down to the foreign workers being more rowdy and less law-abiding than Singaporeans but in reality everyone has a boiling point and people are not naturally very violent or blood-thirsty.

The big difference might be that we are taught from young to be fearful of the government and listen to authority.
When foreign workers come to Singapore, they do not have the same “training” and can become more rowdy more easily.
This is particularly a problem when the government brings these FTs (FT: “Foreign Talent”/i.e. immigrant workers) here in large numbers and they bring with them their values and cultures and do not learn from Singaporeans how they should act here.
Last night, this was clearly a problem with a large, rowdy riot breaking out.
Many netizens commented that the photos and videos looked like they were not taken in Singapore and further raised concerns that if this is happening, it is not a far stretch to say that other problems such as higher crime rates and more occurrences of rape might be happening soon too.

Effectively turning the discussion into a “These foreigners are not as well-trained/subservient (double jab at 0our over-policing AND at lacking discipline standards of those overseas?) us, and hence are prone to violence and lustful acts.” The author further adds:

These people must have been stressed out and otherwise frustrated with their lives to so eagerly break out in a huge riot.
This could be due to work-related factors such as long work hours, low pay, no welfare and other forms of exploitation from their bosses. Singapore has many reported cases of foreign worker exploitation so this is really not an unrealistic possibility.
Singapore has no effective workers’ unions and so workers’ complaints and concerns are very rarely heard.
When people are oppressed in such a way with no way to vent their frustration or get recourse, they will eventually boil over. All their frustration and stress is like fuel awaiting a spark to ignite the flame. Perhaps this is what happened yesterday evening.

That still does not shed any more light as to how whatever transpired that night, merely speculation that unfair work conditions and pent-up frustration formed the powder; how, then, was the accident the spark that ignited the riot?

Rather than we all just sit here twiddling thumbs, throwing blind guess, why isn’t anyone interviewing the rioters? Surely the rioters would know best why they were rioting? Without any actual word from those involved, all these theories require a leap of logic from “overworked, unpaid, labourers” to “bus accident killing a fellow national leads to a riot.”

Someone should be asking these questions, to the rioters and by-standers:

  • Did you witness the accident?
  • If yes, what did you witness? How did the accident happen?
  • Did the deceased seem intoxicated? Was the bus driver driving recklessly?
  • Who was the first person who discovered the accident?
  • How did the crowd of Indian nationals gather at scene? Did someone call upon them?
  • Did anyone else other than the Indian nationals gather at the scene?
  • If he called upon the others to gather, why did he do that?
  • Who called for the ambulance/police?
  • What happened while people were waiting for the ambulance/police? Was there a crowd by the time they arrived?
  • How did the police handle the situation? What words were exchanged? Did they physically move people around?
  • Who started the fire? Why did he start it? At what juncture did the smashing and torching start?
  • What were being yelled during the riot?

I’m sure there are a lot more questions that can be asked, all of which would answer a lot more questions than the “coverage” we’ve received so far.

The whirligig of unemployment

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Image credit to NY Times

Jenner Barrington-Ward says that she has been told, “point-blank to my face, ‘We don’t hire the unemployed.’ ”

If there’s a statement that makes no sense, it’s the quote from above. What’s the point of creating jobs, if not to give to those who are unemployed and looking? Where are these jobs going? The news report that unemployment is slowly ticking down, but the majority of those unemployed aren’t seeing any marked improvements in their joblessness situation.

As reported in the New York Times, those who have been retrenched or jobless for an extended period of time find themselves stuck in a rut:

For Ms. Barrington-Ward, joblessness itself has become a trap, an impediment to finding a job. Economists see it the same way, concerned that joblessness lasting more than six months is a major factor preventing people from getting rehired, with potentially grave consequences for tens of millions of Americans.

What’s the psyche behind not giving people who have been jobless for a while the jobs they are seeking, if they are qualified? The Times speculate that these people tend to be in poorer health, or they might have some sort of strained relations, possibly being a liability on the company. This is a system of employment that holds little pity for those they have kicked out, because it does little to take them back in once they’re out.

As pointed out in the article, leaving these people out in the cold has consequences on the economy, such as “lost production, increased social spending, decreased tax revenue and slower growth.”

But companies who are not hiring are not seeing it that way, are they? They are more concerned with their own financial stability, and the additional hiring of anyone is an additional payroll they have to pay out, and many companies are so concerned with their frugality, that the national-scale impact of their austerity is left to the worries of someone else. But if everyone else is doing that (“I can’t afford to hire anyone; I’ll let someone else the hiring to bolster the economy”), therein lies the eventual self-immolation — no one hires, less people have spending power to buy products, companies see a drop in revenue, they cut down on hiring and perhaps even lay off more people to maintain “fiscal health,” cycle repeats.

“Quitting journalism”

In recent viral video news, Marina Shifrin, who worked as a content editor at Next Media Animation, Taiwanese news animation company responsible for animated news hits such as US-Sino Currency Rap Battle or the one on US airport security body scans, quit her job with a bang, by releasing the above-embedded video.

Shifrin also wrote a post on her blog about her departure, and how journalism is “dead” to her.

I dropped everything for work. I spent hours in the office perfecting my headlines, my voice overs, my stories. But as the workload increased, I found I could no longer keep up. I tried. I came in earlier, I stayed later, I worked on weekends. Scared I wasn’t pulling my weight, I went to my boss and told him how I felt.

“Make deadlines, not art,” was his response.

After I admitted that I could not hit the deadlines needed to put out our long-form, satirical news pieces, I was moved to our serious stories. Guess what I figured out? Journalism is the worst! I mean if you’re not reporting about which Kardashian is pregnant, then you’re reporting about a baby that was shot in the head.

I understand Shifrin’s frustration with writing what she calls “fluff” pieces — after all I once tried writing for Buzzfeed, and it was the most excruciating animated-gif-laden piece I’ve ever produced, and was not proud of it when it was finished. However, what I don’t get is if she can’t keep up with journalism deadlines, where news is produced every day, what was she expecting journalism to be when she decided to embark on that journey in college? Was she not expecting a breakneck pace of work?

J-school tends to give the impression that people have the luxury of time to slowly craft and follow a story, but at least through internships and having to produce content daily, journalism students should know that a lot is expected of them in the span of a day. Shifrin’s beef with her boss’s rather reasonable expectations of her to make deadlines is rather unfounded.

Also, did she not know what she was getting into when she entered Next Media Animation? Perhaps she did, and thought she could outlast the content NMA produces. But she calls having found NMA “different.”

It was for an animation company where I was free to make jokes and put my personality into my writing. I loved it! I found the perfect combination between comedy and journalism. I was having my cake, eating it AND going in for seconds.

She apparently knew what she was getting into, and the whole “NMA produces only fluff” stand seems rather dubious at best.

Her quitting has attracted coverage from quite a few major sites: Wall Street Journal sees her dramatic exit as the product of Millennials’ cynicism, Huffington Post sees it as internet win, and Gawker merely touts it as a young person unable to news aggregation and quitting.

From a Singapore popular opinions site, The Real Singapore has also picked up on the story and wrote their own scathing take on Shifrin’s resignation. They called it a quitting in the “most narcissistic, viral way possible.” They also wrote:

This is the big villain of Shifrin’s piece, the boss who wanted her to hit “deadlines” instead of crafting the “art” of her journalism. Well guess what? Journalism isn’t art.

This is why there is no respectable journalism in Singapore; even sites such as The Real Singapore, which purports to deliver news and journalism as an alternative to the mainstream Singapore media, don’t even respect journalism themselves.

I’ve gone through school to study journalism and how to be a journalist, I want to be a journalist. But it is very easy for many to dismiss journalism as being art, or even fail to see how it can possibly be art. I don’t see how the connecting of the lives of others around the world in as succinct a piece as possible isn’t a form of art.

When Shifrin says she “quits journalism,” it really makes one wonder if she’s meant for journalism in the first place. Pursuing journalism has always been akin to some sort of willing self-debasement — one expects to lose time, friends, and relationships to journalism. But being a journalist is about despite knowing these and still staying on, because one really loves the news. That’s really why anyone would willing put themselves through such torture.

Surviving journalism is all about being in the right news sector.

Finger on the pulse of the shutdown

Photo credits to Doug Mills/The New York Times

For those who are confused why the shutdown happened, here is a New York Times graphic showing the spending bill that was bounced back and forth between the Senate and the House, and the lack of resolution on the future budget led to the shutdown.

For those who are curious as to which agencies specifically are affected and how many people will be furloughed, here’s a CNN searchable interactive list of all agencies affected, with numbers of furloughed listed as well.

P.S. When I first saw that NY Times picture (posted above), I thought I saw a picture of a guard precariously balancing on guard rails.