Common denominator: the world is kind of… terrible. Sometimes.

As you can tell from the title, I’m feeling optimistic today. So optimistic in fact, that I may devote all my time in the future to cartoons rather than reading the news. Happy events are rarely noteworthy and in addition to being a scary place, the world is also depressing most of the time. Oh, dramatic sigh!

The most depressing ‘news’ comes from the Economist about the rotten heart of finance. We’ve known this for a long time, but it’s taken forever and a day for the world’s largest media sources to finally share a specific story. Though most of us avoid daily discussion of the London inter-bank offered rate (LIBOR), it easily affects our lives and bankers have been easily manipulating this (supposedly ‘market’) rate. “Breakfast 8am” “Meeting 9am” “Provide false information 10:30am” There are no incentives for bankers to not lie, cheat or steal and about 20 million pounds per day of incentives to do just the opposite. Some actively blame regulators for not setting strict enough laws. Because there is no specific law stating people shouldn’t bring crocodiles to public baths doesn’t make it something okay to do, does it? It’s also far more depressing thinking about how many regulators used to or will work for the very entities they’re suppose to regulate. Terrible? Yes.

People are just kind of silly and dumb sometimes. Such a person, for example, may run the international financial system into the ground and make taxpayers pick up the bill. Such a person may also scale a fence to get to into a tiger enclosure. Like this guy. His body was found the next morning. Terrible? Yes. The poor tigers had no idea an intruder would enter their home.

In keeping with animals, let’s talk about piranhas. More specifically, piranha arbitrage. These little meat-eaters were found in the waters of Liuzhou, China and city officials decided on the brilliant idea of offering a reward to ordinary citizens who could capture one of these beasties. The reward is 1,000 kuai while certain internet shops sell them for 20 kuai (with a discount if you buy more). Terrible? Yes.

Next up: cows. Happy cows, sad cows. Overheated cows, sad and stressed cows. Who also produce less milk. Okay, so this is less a commentary on cows than on global warming. We continue to heat up this summer and more evidence just keep appearing. For example, the melted tarmac in South Carolina. Melted. Tarmac. Some streets of Beijing have also been flooding and heavy rains have continued in the south of the country. Global warming doesn’t translate to heated temperatures everywhere. It also means more extremes of the weather conditions we already have. More tornadoes, more hurricanes, more droughts, more floods. Terrible? Yes.

Even when I try to look for happy news by searching ‘panda’ instead of ‘bombing’ or ‘syria’, I still get depressing results. The little baby recently born in Japan died after less than a week of life. Terrible? Yes.

From this article on terrible US Olympic uniforms, I found my way to a Smirnoff commercial – Tea Party. It’s kind of hilariously sad and there are SO many things wrong with the way they tried to advertise. The polo boys sail yachts and have multiple courses while the girls grind and others are jealous because their families run the country. Terrible? Yes.

The list can probably go on indefinitely. Joy… I suspect this terrible mood of mine has something to do with friends leaving the country and an exploded washing machine. But what can a person do except gripe on a blog, stalk keep updated with friends and spend an hour mopping? Think chocolate thoughts, think ice cream thoughts!

The Future, my goodness.

Lemon. It needs lemon.

Life can be difficult when there are too many choices even when I’m very grateful to have them. I know a number of opportunities will be available should I summon enough motivation to find them. The problem is I can see myself being perfectly happy in very different environments, so how exactly does one choose? I’m not characterized by indecisiveness, not really, but have been known to stare down a menu for days. Maybe I need to take some advice from Joe Jackson after all.[1]

Though it’s tempting to continue a stream of consciousness ramble on my personal omgfuturewhattodoAAAAH[2], the world has much bigger dilemmas on the same subject – the future. A very worrying series of news surfaced today beginning with rubbish.[3] Nearly half of Municipal Solid Waste today is generated by cities in OECD countries, according to a new World Bank report. Did you know urban Canada throws away more than 2 kilograms of stuff per person per day? Image search ‘garbage dump’ before you throw anything recyclable or reusable away!

Next up, the end of the world as we know it is coming. A new article was published in Nature titled “Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere”. It is the interdisciplinary work of more than 20 professors of biology, zoology, geosciences and biophysics. The title itself doesn’t ring alarm bells but reading on:

“Localized ecological systems are known to shift abruptly and irreversibly from one state to another when they are forced across critical thresholds. Here we review evidence that the global ecosystem as a whole can react in the same way and is approaching a planetary-scale critical transition as a result of human influence.”

In other words, the planet is facing sweeping environmental changes with the possibility of mass extinctions which can lead to major changes in basic agricultural production. We might all end up eating cubes, tubes and powders. At the mention of the failure of Rio’s Earth Summit 20 years ago, I finally took the time to google ‘climate change does not exist’. Denial is only one small factor affecting the incompetent, dysfunctional and nonexistent actions of governments in response to climate change, but it provides a convenient excuse for the status quo. (Did I sound too critical? I bet you can tell from the links that I’m Canadian though.) Most of the good work on climate denial happens in the US. I found the Friends of Science site particularly disturbing. In addition to blaming the sun and claiming CO2 has no effect on climate change, they call themselves Friends of Science. Seriously? It’s like calling an arms dealing organization Peace for the World. Clearly, anyone who disagrees with friends or world peace murders care bears in their sleep!

I stray, I stray. Thankfully not everyone purposefully misinterprets data for an agenda. In addition to a growing coalition of environmental organizations, I see Quora and Wiki Answers as examples of individual action. Just to be clear, I’m thinking of the first entry in Wiki Answers:
Q: Why does global warming not exist?
A: What do you mean? Global warming exists. It’s reality.

By the way, a piece of Japan washed up in Oregon today. A Japanese dock torn loose by the tsunami last year floated more than 8,000 km to end up there, all 165 tons of it. 2011 was a disastrous year which saw the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, floods, droughts, tornados, heavy rains and wildfires. More detailed information can be found here. Someone needs to tell Friends of Science that weather includes more than just storms.

All caveats aside, in times like these I admire certain qualities of the Chinese government. They recognize the problem exists and have spent millions and billions in tax incentive programs, subsidies and funding for China’s green sector. Currently, renewable resources is an especially important and fast-growing sector. Perhaps it’s because China’s environmental problems are so severe that the government is forced to evaluate dire consequences and take actions before it’s too late. Much of the country’s water is undrinkable and a portion even unfit for industrial use. Extreme air pollution in cities across China is almost a given even if they don’t want others talking about it. Is there a problem? Yes. Then let’s do something about it. How can other governments spend so much time putting up new post offices when evidence of climate change is still being debated?

Thinking about the environment makes me sad though, it really does. Last week when I saw blue skies in Beijing for the first time in months, my only thought was “must take photo before blue disappears”, before all evidence that blue skies in Beijing are rare but possible poofs for another decade.

Recently, the small apartment area or xiaoqu (小区) where I live has been the target of a government renovation project. Workers have built scaffolding all around the building and a tent in the middle of the xiaoqu where they lodge between full days of labour. I visited the kitchen at 8:30 this morning only to see some guy perched on a metal pipe outside my second floor window. They had been here a few weeks back to replace windows of all the old buildings here, all paid for by the government. Now they’re working on insulation of some sort. The goal, said one worker after I asked, was to ensure maximum heat retention. Did they forget summer is coming? I’m just hoping it functions the same way for cool air.

Although, I’m still not sure what to do in terms of a career and the next 3-5 years of life remain unplanned. But in my spare time I will continue efforts to stop murderers of Care-a-lot’s love and good cheer.

[1] Lyrics have all the insights to life. “You can’t get you want till you know what you want” by Joe Jackson.
[2] A scientific term. Wow, footnotes can be dangerous.
[3] Oh Economist, let’s talk about how dangerous China will be for the environment while not mentioning per capita statistics. I enjoy your analysis most of the time, I do, but sometimes comments are far more interesting than the article.

Choosing news and the flaws of finance capitalism

I don’t understand how news editors choose cover stories. There are uncountable stories going on at one time and so many are important! The amount of information available now is too much to think about, but I have discovered a fondness of linking people to what I think is interesting. I’ve been tempted to elaborate on the potential end of the EU as we know it or the anniversary of Tiananmen Square, June 4, 1989 or why we might need self defense lesson in Sanlitun, Beijing or worrying trends in Amercia or murder straight from a horror flick. The world is madness, madness I tells ya!

It's okay, I know exactly where we're going.

Instead of the above topics, I choose to share a story with you from the South China Morning Post. One reason is the article isn’t available online. Another is that the topic is one I can rant/discuss/gripe/read about for years: finance capitalism. I refrain from venting today and instead, offer a quote from William Pesek’s “Billionaires’ city exposes flaws of finance capitalism”:

“To the true believers, this is market-freedom central. Yet what have Hongkongers got out of their emancipated economy? The highest income-inequality gap in Asia. A widening divide between rich and poor is tolerable if it is tempered with hope that it is bridgeable. But Hong Kong’s government is failing on this front. Politically connected tycoons have enriched themselves from monopolies in power generation, real estate, transportation and telecommunications. The 99 per cent are falling further behind.

Hong Kong’s plan to ride out the global financial storm was twofold: First, encourage visits from 28 million mainland tourists a year to splurge at luxury shops; second, to spur immigration by hyper-wealthy bankers seduced by beggar-thy-neighbour tax policies. It isn’t clear that the opportunities created by this strategy are empowering locals to share in Hong Kong’s growth in the long run.”

Now let’s compare $6,000 per night luxury stays of Donald Tsang, Hong Kong’s current leader, with the 100 square feet (or 9.3 square meters) rooms in which at least 100 households live. Growing inequality across the world is well-documented along with its negative economic, political, and social consequences. Did I also mention analysts suspect Hong Kong’s tycoons of propping up property stocks?

How anyone thinks anything close to democracy is possible with the amount required to fund a campaign is beyond me. (Discussions welcome.) Besides paying to have a candidate’s face plastered all over posters, flyers, buttons and the internet, all that money is also spent informing people. Or not. Even dictators need to have a source of funding. Have you looked at IMF Financial Activities lately? If we could look into the hidden info corners of the world’s leading banks or private equity funds, I bet we’d find even more interesting stuff! But if I had the magical powers to do that, I’d probably be arrested for corporate espionage.