Category Archives: We-reflect-news

The Jolly Season

Let’s start with the major news of the last 5 or 7 days: The disappearance of flight MA 370 (Wikipedia). Last week, the Malaysian authorities have shown a lack of competence in the handling of news regarding the lost plane. From looking at the wrong location, holding back crucial radar information, suggesting the wrong race for the people who travelled with stolen passports and now, it finally looks like that they are ready to blame the flight crew of Flight 370.

Closer to home: There are elections in Quebec and unsurprisingly, this election round is full of Quebec sovereignty talks. There’s an excellent analysis (link) at the CBC:

One of the aspects about sovereignty that makes it so difficult to sell, even to strong Quebec nationalists, is the list of unknowns. Uncertainty, after all, makes both individuals and market forces (i.e. jobs) very nervous.

And last but not least: the Crimea affair. I highly doubt that either the US or (particularly) Europe will stop Russia from claiming the Crimea. One can only hope that the Russians aren’t seriously thinking of taking over that Ukrainian region: the precedents that they have been creating sound similar like the preludes that started so many wars. Tomorrow’s (illegitimate) referendum in the Crimea to join Russia will tell what is going to happen.

In Russia

Earlier this month, a meteor exploded (I guess, literally) above the Russian town of Chelyabinsk causing plenty of injuries and damage. Thanks to car cams installed in (many) Russian cars, amazing footage was captured of the meteor’s entrance and explosion in the upper-regions of our atmosphere (video).

Coincidentally, around the same day, an asteroid was supposed to ‘near-miss’ our planet and various space agencies were quick to report that this meteor had nothing to do with that asteroid. However, initial calculations put the size of the meteor in the 17 meter range with an approximate weight of 10K metric tonnes. Just a couple of days ago, astronomers in Columbia traced the meteor to the Apollo asteroids (full Wikipedia analysis).

Obviously, this event has been compared with the Tungunska explosion (wikipedia again) and it has raised awareness of the dangers of extra-orbital objects and apparently, the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (link) has suggested the possibly set up an “action team for near-Earth objects”. Tracking these objects is extremely hard tho: detecting a 17 meter object in space hurling at us with a speed of 18 km/s is nearly impossible.

The queen and the country

Acouple of days ago, the Dutch queen Beatrix announced that she is going to abdicate the throne in favour of her son Willem-Alexander (WSJ).The queen has been on the throne for 33 or some years: In the Netherlands, abdication (to make room for a new generation of royalty) is a fairly common thing. In contrast: the last time a member of the British royalty abdicated was because of a scandal, I believe.

Note that I’m not typically a monarchist: while I generally think that monarchies are left-overs from the medieval times, I’m not typically an anti-royalist either. I do recall that there were protests when Beatrix took over the throne from her mother Juliana, way back in 1980. I was a slight teenager and I’m pretty certain that I enjoyed the day off, possibly watch TV for the official (live) events. Looking back; I think Beatrix did fairly well as head of state. Rumour has it that she frequently discussed matters and personally engaged (challenged) the Dutch prime-ministers, that is, politically speaking. I hear that the monarchy did lose their power to appoint a ‘formateur’ (a person who after the general elections is appointed to help form a new government).

So, yeah: that’s it then for Dutch queens for now. For the next 30 or so years, the Dutch will have a king. Typically, female Dutch heirs do better. Well, generally. I think. Whichever.

Le Tour ne c’est pas

When we were younger, my dad bought a set of racing bicycles, which were used by my older siblings and then eventually handed over to me and my twin-brother. Generally, every Spring/Summer, we biked either to the “Holterberg” (which is the only mountain in the eastern part of the Netherlands) or to the Veluwe. I’m not sure why my dad ended up getting racing bikes, but there was a general interest in the Tour de France: we sort of grew up watching the Tour as it was always broadcast live on television. I slowly lost interest in “the Tour”: this was around the mid nineties, when the American cyclist Armstrong kept winning the Tour and suspicions about doping abuse became more prevalent in the news.

So yeah: I have followed the Armstrong myth for the last decade. That is, even in Europe there were subtle hints that his team and him were just cheating the tour. I was not surprised when Armstrong finally admitted that he used doping (Oprah interview @ the Guardian). I’m sceptic about Armstrong’s motivations to finally open up after two decades: mainly, he has been vehemently denying dope usage since he started winning the Tour. His speech after his last Tour win (2005) perfectly shows what Armstrong is really about. Attacking his critics whenever he could in front of the media (article at the Daily Beast):

“For the people that don’t believe in cycling, the cynics and the skeptics, I’m sorry for you, I’m sorry you can’t dream big. And I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles.”

Technically, he was correct I guess: EPO does do miracles.

Horrors and other news stories

Back when I was a youngling studying civil engineering in the Netherlands, the question of a direct railway connection between the cities Zwolle and Lelystad (“Hanzelijn”) was a popular discussion subject. If you’re not familiar with the topography of the Netherlands: for years, to get to the ‘Flevopolder’ by train, one needed to travel to Amsterdam first. Just recently, I noticed that the queen had finally (officially) opened the long needed shortcut to the ‘Flevopolder’.

Just yesterday, a lone gunman killed 20 or so kids in Newtown, Connecticut, which led to a many emotional scenes of parents, relatives, authorities and the US president: During the official White House statement/briefing, Obama had a hard time holding back tears. CBC had a long discussion with their reporters if this would finally break open the US gun registry laws: alas, most of the reporters were pessimistic about future US gun laws and restrictions. However, I’m not sure how the NRA is going to defend this gun massacre: what’s next? Have kids carry guns?

You are Kim Wilde, a legendary 80s popstar. You’re slightly drunk and joined by your brother on the train back to, well, wherever you headed to. How not to make an embarrassment out of yourself? Do not sing and serenade your fellow passengers. Wilde herself about her one-time performance:

Truly, I am overwhelmed and confused at such a huge reaction to my night out on the tiles. Making me giggle a LOT

Now we only need quotes from people who were actually on the train during this ordeal.

Ostensibly, a president

So, it looks like Obama indeed won the presidency, much to the world’s delight or fright, depending on your political views.

As posted earlier, I only slightly followed the elections. At ‘Election Night’, I turned off the TV the moment I saw that Obama was ahead in battleground state Ohio. It generally looks like that at the end, Nate Silver’s prediction (“Obama wins without any doubt”) was right on the money. If you believe the press, the election result came as a surprise for a many Republicans and even the Romneys. I think the problem was that Republicans were not looking at the numbers and the facts, which is highlighted in that now famous Rove/Fox News video where Fox News called the presidency for Obama and Rove (apparently) was in self-denial.

Did the best candidate win? It all depends on your definition of ‘best’. I’m certain that in the coming years, Obama will become a target for everything between right and left. In the mean time, it’s going to be an interesting 4 years: To win the next presidency, the Republicans have to move to the center. If they can’t appeal beyond their current election base, they’ll be toast for years to come. On the other side of the spectrum: At the end of the Obama’s presidency, the Democrats will have to figure out if Obama has become ‘persona non-grata’ or if they’d need his help.

Sandy

Earlier, I was under the impression that this year’s hurricane season would end up fairly, unremarkable. Luckily, I’m far from being a meteorologist: Just last week, Oct 29th, hurricane Sandy made landfall in NJ, USA, causing major outages and damage in New Jersey, New York and other areas on the Eastern US coast. Portions of Canada (mostly Ontario and Quebec) were on heavy rain and wind alerts: Over in SJ, the only thing we saw was high winds and plenty of rain.

As it stands right now, there are still millions of Americans without power, which is what 3 days or so before the US presidential elections? That’s right: the ultimate elections in the world is about to come to its climax. Will it be Romney or will Obama cling to his job?

If you believe the media, this seems to be a tight race: if you believe Nate Silver (of FiveThirtyEight fame), Obama has nothing to fear. As it stands Silver predicts that Obama will have 305 electoral votes and Romney 232.

I have no high opinion of “the politician” Romney: New York mayor Bloomberg (an independent) said it perfectly last week when he endorsed Obama:

In the past he (ed. Mitt Romney) has also taken sensible positions on immigration, illegal guns, abortion rights and health care. But he has reversed course on all of them, and is even running against the health-care model he signed into law in Massachusetts.

This is also what Mitt Romney’s opponents pointed out in the Republican primaries and generally the impression is that Romney will say anything for votes. Worst yet, I think I’ve pointed out at one stage that when Romney does speeches, it always appears he rants about anything unsubstantial.

If Romney will be elected, it’s going to be fun times for the writers of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show.

Debris

One of the more fascinating subjects that seem to occupy the news is the tsunami debris field that has slowly descended on western parts of Canada. Earlier this year, a Japanese HD motorcycle that washed up in Canada made the headlines after news reporters managed to find the owner of it, who had apparently barely managed to survive the disaster.

According to latest estimations, the field contains 1.5 million tons of debris, which has BC authorities pondering what to do with the problem:

“Stuff has been coming across the Pacific forever but to see the start of 3 million tonnes of debris washed off the land and head across the ocean towards us was something I never thought I would see. There’s a wait-and-see approach and most people want to take some action. But it’s a very huge job and we haven’t seen anything yet coming from the government on plans on how to be ready for it and what we’re going to do when the debris hits.”

The US’s NOAA has an extensive site dedicated to the problem (here), which includes an interesting infographic about the field itself and where most of the debris might land (using current and wind models). While the NOAA infographic doesn’t mention any possible findings of human remains, a US oceanographer expects that people might find sneakers with bones in them:

“We’re expecting 100 sneakers with bones in them,” Curt Ebbesmeyer told a tsunami symposium Monday, “DNA may identify people missing since the March 2011 tsunami. That may be the only remains that a Japanese family is ever going to have of their people that were lost. We’re dealing with things that are of extreme sensitivity. Emotional content is just enormous. So be respectful”

Ebbesmeyer, who is the co-creator of the “Ocean Surface Current Simulator computer model”, expects the amount of debris to peak in October of this year.

20/11 hindsight

The main event that marked 2011 was most likely the Japanese tsunami back in March, which triggered that nuclear disaster at the Fukushima power plant. I mentioned the disasters in a posting on March 20th (here), where I mainly focused on how the media presented the disaster to the public and how “hot” news events like that, slightly fall below the news radar because reporting the death of thousands of people sells.

On the Canadian side: the most important events circled around the Canadian general elections (May 2nd), where the CP managed to get the majority of seats in the House. Surprisingly, the NDP decimated the Liberals and ended up becoming the Official Opposition party. Not long after, the NDP’s leader Jack Layton retired from politics and died of cancer back in August. Layton’s funeral was most likely the number one story in Canada. I’ve not mentioned this year (I think) but I was eligible to vote. This was not as much as an emotional event as when I accepted the citizenship back in 2010. However, it was definitely a memorable ‘first’.

As usual, for a more detailed Canadian outlook of 2011, the CBC has put together a list of the most visited stories on their site, ordered by month.

Update: I’m totally aware of the Arab Spring, the death of Khadafi and even, the death of Kim Jong-il: too be honest, while interesting I have my doubts that things will be changing for the better any time soon in the affected countries. If so, I’ll surely bring it up.

911 and Fall

Exactly a week ago, it was the 10th anniversary of 9-11: it looks like the (re)construction at the former Ground Zero has made substantial progress. To be honest, I’ve never followed the progress on the 9/11 memorial (official site) but personally, I like the idea of the water falls. The last week, we had our share of remembrances and that: I wasn’t planning to elaborate on my personal thoughts. Here, have a link to the Archive’s excellent TV News archive (link).

We had our first frost warnings of the years, which means that most likely Fall will be short. One of our maple trees got really hit during the last storm (Irene). Strange enough: I believe we went thru the worst part of hurricane season. That is, the last hurricane I’ve heard of was Maria (CBC news) which only hit Newfoundland earlier this week.

And last but not least, a pet peeve. Now that I’m using a tablet (Android based) I noticed that a lot of companies have mobile variants of their websites: By default it’s these mobile variants that are shown. I find this irritating, particularly knowing that most of the mobile browsers have no problems showing a full website.

Triple A

You have probably read about the downgrading of the US credit rating by S&P late (last) Friday night (news). The SF Gate duly notes that:

Standard & Poor’s historic downgrade of the U.S. credit rating caused the capital to erupt Saturday in the exact partisan clashes that S&P had said led to its decision in the first place.

China, yesterday, lashed out at the US’s ‘addiction to debt’ (via The Telegraph):

The US government has to come to terms with the painful fact that the good old days when it could just borrow its way out of messes of its own making are finally gone

Surprisingly, as the world’s largest producer of goods, China’s own credit rating is ‘A+’ (per 2008), which is lower than the US’s (a quick view PDF).

While some of the media predict that the markets are going down crashing this Monday, Internet experts and commentators are mixed about the actual meaning of this downgrade. At Metafilter (discussion) the general consensus is that this is a plain and simple politics game by the S&P with the goal of shirking responsibility for the mortgage crisis 3 years or so ago. Interesting point of view: however, there’s no doubt that Republicans are trying to tie this rating to the Obama presidency (via Reddit), which brings this posting a bit full circle as the Republicans deserve as much blame on the US’s debt issues. The Bush tax cuts for the rich (2 trillion). Two wars financed on what exactly (1 trillion). The mortgage crash and the super bailouts that happened before Obama’s presidency started.

In politics, the golden rule is to stick the negative news to the incumbents: in that light, 2012 is going to be an interesting election year for the US.

Updates: Reddit discussion about the mainstream media (supposedly) ignoring that S&P is blaming the Republicans for the downgrade.

Boardwalk

Over a week ago, Norway was rocked by twin terror attacks that killed 77 people, most of them youngster attending a Labour Youth Summer camp on an island called Utoya. The BBC has an excellent recap of the events that happened (timeline, photos of victims, in Norsk) that day. A day after the events, the world found out that the suspect was a Christian Norwegian who got his inspiration from the typical right-wing commentators that occupy this very Internet. Obviously, regardless of you religious conviction, an act of terror is still called terrorism.

Yesterday, Obama announced that a debt-deal was made between the two parties (Democrats and Republican): the deal will now be sent back to both Congresses (link to BBC). The deal was a result of (an apparent) 2 weeks hard negotiating between the two parties and president: generally, it looks like the Democrats lost again (Krugman NYT). Obama seems to be the center of the blame, but not jumping into this crisis last year. However, I believe all this cajoling started when the Democrats lost the House of Representatives last year. Obama ultimately deserves blame for not actively engaging himself in the midterm elections of 2010. I don’t think Obama’s presidency is the worst presidency in the world (as others have claimed): however, this appears to be a White House that is running after the facts.

Remember that there’s a civil war ongoing in Libya and that NATO is helping the rebels by bombing, uh, targets? That was how long ago? Seven or so months ago? Well, it looks like the war’s not going well for the rebels (UK’s Independent reports) as it looks like they have been conceding more ground than expected and that Khadafi is not going to be away for a long long time. This smells like an ugly quagmire.

Aug 6th, 2011: WSJ’s 2010 article sounds preposterous, claiming that the Democrat’s loss of Congress may have been an intentional move of Obama (link)

Flora and fauna

If I eliminated statistical weather data, I would say that this year’s weather is going to beat all records. First we had too much snow. When March came, we slowly went to wet weather. Which is about the same weather we have right now, and it’s the end of June. Not that it’s cold: it just appears that it has been raining now every weekend. Obviously, this is good for the grass and the weeds. As for the birds and other animals: besides the groundhog around the property, I highly doubt they love this weather.

I read that Canadian geese are not welcome in some parts of Canada. The NB town of Nackawic (Google maps) has applied for permits to cull some of these birds. According to CBC, there’s even a Facebook page dedicated to these geese. Apparently.

One of the first things that came to my mind when I came to SJ was that it was an ‘artsy city’. On top of that, I thought there were too many derelict buildings around. Take for example the former Kings Square Cinema theatre: It must have been empty for ages now. Last year, it looked like someone was doing some construction to the front and facade, but, today, the building looks like it needs to be demolished. Hopefully that will be soon.