I have come to the conclusion that the internet is for three things: porn, cat videos, and whining. The first two are not the subject of this piece though. It’s not hard to see how whining has turned to the cybersport of choice: since dawn of the World Wide Web, whiners have been able to expand their audience beyond mere family and friends (assuming they have any of the latter left), in the process assuming a self-importance that transcends normal human egotistical limits. Now, there are various types of whiners, from the semi-literate morons which turn any YouTube video into the inevitable anti-US/pro-US political troll-fest to the more educated ones, some of which actually write for major publications. These generally take the form of condescending, holier-than-thou liberals/leftists, making mountains out of molehills out of any perceived offense or indignity (disclaimer, I’m a liberal/lefty myself). Recently, they’ve been on a roll.
The Ice Bucket whiners
Do not disturb (sensibilities)
Until the past month or so, a lot of people had never heard of ALS. It is an awful disease, not just for the way it turns a healthy body into a muscle-less pulp of skin and bone in a matter of just a few years, but for the fact that it is incurable, untreatable, and unpreventable. It is a randomized death sentence for all but a minuscule and statistically insignificant few (astrophysicist Stephen Hawking being the most famous case). That has not stopped a legion of internet whiners from finding reasons to gripe about the Ice Bucket Challenge. That it’s slacktivism. That it wastes water. That ALS is rare and there are other diseases that kill many more people. That we must prioritize our charity to the most needed.
Ok, first argument to be debunked: that it wastes water. Well yes, it does. You’re pouring a bucket of water that could probably be more useful to a starving, thirsty African family. Problem is, you’re not in Africa, and pouring or not pouring that water is therefore irrelevant to that African family’s well-being. Are you actually going to export it to another continent so that they don’t starve? Of course not. Wasting a bucket of water will not make people on other continents less thirsty because there’s no way of sending them that water. In other words, water is a resource that has very limited transportation potential because you need so much of it that it’s logistically impossible (or prohibitively expensive). It’s a regional resource, not a global one. Continue reading
Planes don’t just disappear
The has probably not been a more harrowing mystery behind a fallen airliner than that of Malaysia Air Flight 370. In a previous post, I wrote my initial theory: that the plane had suffered some catastrophic structural failure and went down, rather than the farfetched terrorist theories that had been raised by the media. However, the evidence since then seems to point almost undeniably towards some form of foul play, possibly a hijacking or some other sinister motives that the pilots may have taken with them to their grave.
In recent days a very well thought out theory by Chris Goodfellow, a real life pilot, has made the rounds, alleging that the plane suffered a fire emergency which resulted in the crew switching off many of the electrical systems and proceeding to the nearest large runway they could find: Palau Langkawii, an island off the north-west coast of Malaysia with an international airport. This island just so happens to have been exactly on the flight path that the plane took once it veered off to a different direction at which point, according to Goodfellow, the pilots and the passengers died of asphyxiation while the plane cruised on autopilot until it ran out of fuel. I like the argument, and it is certainly a superior scenario to those brought forth by the conspiracy theorists and the alarmist media. Unfortunately it suffers from various flaws, the first and most obvious being that the plane did not simply travel west: at some point after crossing the peninsula, it veered north west and then gave its last satellite ping somewhere along two possible arcs, neither of which cross the area where it would have crashed if Goodfellow’s theory were to be correct. Continue reading
A tragedy made worse by ignorance
As an aviation enthusiast, I find the media coverage of the Malaysia Air Flight 370 disaster to be absolutely appalling. Indeed air crashes of the magnitude of this tragedy inevitably lend themselves to innumerable theories, and the curiosity of what could go wrong. This is undoubtedly a morbid curiosity, feeding off of our innate fear of being in an element that we do not command. For all its technological sophistication – and few man-made machines equal that of a modern commercial airliner – the fact that a giant airplane can crash into the sea under seemingly the most benign circumstances is enough to give even a non-aerophobe a chill. What doesn’t help is that the media hasn’t done its homework and have fed us quite a significant amount of misinformation over the last few hours. Worse yet, they have seemingly settled on the terrorism story as their conspiracy theory of choice despite the fact the evidence is strongly against this.
Mistake number one: read a map, stupid!
The first and most appalling of the media’s misinformation is the claim that “contact was lost 2 hours into the flight”. The source for this mistake is that Subang ATC (Malaysian air traffic control) reported at 2:40am local time to the airline that the plane had gone missing. Yet a gap of over one hour occurred since the plane’s last contact, at around 1:20am. This was the last sighting captured by radar and it is not clear what happened next: whether the plane effectively crashed right at the edge of coverage, or whether it crashed shortly after, in the radar gap between Malaysian and Vietnamese ATCs. According to an unconfirmed Chinese report, Malaysian ATC reported the plane making a steep drop in altitude and changing its heading. However, not much was made of this since it was at the edge of radar coverage when radar readings can get iffy. If true, however, it suggests that something happened at this point, and that the plane both plunged and changed course shortly before crashing into the sea. Continue reading
A fairer alternative to the new gilded age
Of all the economic problems of the Western world in our day and age, the rise of inequality is undoubtedly the most pressing one to solve. Even if one chooses to ignore the dimensions of social justice and fairness that inevitably accompany the debate (and which are not the focus of this piece), there are plenty of concrete, measurable reasons why more egalitarian societies are better off. Egalitarian societies tend to be happier, healthier (both physically and mentally), better educated, and more cohesive. They often work less and produce more. The fact that many of them consistently beat out some of the more unequal societies in areas such as competitiveness and productivity trump the argument that inequality is inevitably needed for economic progress. Boris Johnson, the clown-haired Conservative major of London, summarized this perverse view best when he claimed a few months back that inequality was essential to fostering “the spirit of envy” and that greed was “a valuable spur to economic activity”. Clearly he wasn’t speaking to a German or a South Korean crowd.
Unfortunately, despite the near consensus on addressing the issue of inequality by anyone other than full blooded Reagan/Thatcherites, Chicago School economists or libertarians, there is nothing even remotely approximating a set of universally shared public policy recommendations to achieve this. Occasionally, hardcore leftist proposals come to the fore on the op-ed pages of major newspapers but these are often hard to take seriously. And even the more sensible of the lot are brought down by the inevitable broadside from an indignant Right, which immediately lambasts them for not having market logic, or for villainizing the rich, or for any other excuse that comes to mind. Just a wee bit of extra regulation here and there at the margins, coupled with a dash of redistribution (but not too much!) and markets will take care of things in the long run (Lawrence Summers, one of the intellectual architects of deregulation, dixit).
Oh, if only things were so simple. Continue reading
If Canada Water really looked like this, I’d have stayed
A society can be judged by many things but few are as insightful and immediate as the physical spaces where we live. Be it the houses and apartments that house us, the public areas where we engage as a community, or the transportation networks that take us to where we need to go, the image of the city is a window to a society’s soul. Not all would agree, though. For Margaret Thatcher and the conservative revolution which she spawned, there was no such thing as society in the first place. But in Britain, the ritualistic destruction of society through bad urban design began well before the “Iron Lady” spoke that infamous line. This destruction, of course, was not limited to Britain: it was through the noxious spread of Le Corbusier modernism which blighted urban landscapes across the world with monolithic and brutalist obscenities whose only saving grace was that it they were one small step ahead of the slums which they replaced. But I’m not here to rant about the failure of social housing (I recently read the wonderful “Estates: An Intimate History” by Lynsey Hansey, and I doubt one can find a better left-wing critique out there), I’m here to rant about the failure of the private housing which replaced it in the 80s. And there’s no better place to start, than the little corner of London where I lived for three of my four years in Britain: Canada Water. Continue reading
Welcome to my new, English-language blog. It’s been a while in the making but I finally had the time and the dedication to launch it (mostly because I spent months thinking of a name for it). Expect witty, provocative and no-nonsense posts on the state of the world and other stuff that I find interesting in life (which hopefully you will too). And if that’s not good enough, go back to your boring yoga/indie band/gadget blogs…