Archives for : May2013

Your favourite subject – banks

Before I launch into today’s blog I would first like to clarify something.  The blog’s title reminded me that I pretty much write these days using American spelling.  I made an exception for the title – however normally I would indeed spell it ‘favorite’.  It would not surprise me to discover that many (most?) of my NZ friends and family are shocked that I would dare to write using American spelling since I was brought up with English spelling.  The answer is simple – I find it easier now to spell using American spelling rules.  When I worked in China I had to use American spelling since I worked for an American company.  Also the default on my computer is always American English and so I get the squiggly red line if I use the spelling of my education.  Believe it or not I’ve used it so much now that if I go back it just looks ‘wrong’.  I’m aware that there will be some purists out there scratching their hands down their faces and whimpering ‘the horror… the horror’.  Making arguments like but it is ‘English‘ spelling!  Still others will be aghast that by using American spelling I’m somehow betraying my country of birth.  I’m under no such illusion and such emotional tripe won’t sway me.  I am a New Zealander and how I spell doesn’t change that.  In fact I’m a little proud that I’m still able to make such changes as I get older and not let it worry me.  So American spelling is on purpose, however other spelling mistakes and grammatical errors are just because I’m lazy :)

So back to the subject.  First let me ask you a question.  I have a job going and wonder if you’d be interested?  Before I go on I’d like to clarify from the outset that the pay is about $116,000 per week (that’s about US$95K ).  Yes that is not a typo, the pay is over $100,000 per week.  With such an enormous amount of money you are probably wondering if it is actually a real job and I quite understand your concern.  How could someone add value to a company to the tune of $116k per week?  It is a real job by the way, this isn’t some Nigerian scheme or inheritance scam.  You also don’t require any unique (that I can tell) qualifications.  From the title you’ve probably guessed which industry this salary belongs to – banking.  HSBC reported in March this year that not one, but 16 people received this level of salary for the past year!  Globally, the article tells us, 204 HSBC employees were paid $35,000 per week (US$28K).  NZ Stats inform me that the latest information available shows median weekly wage / salary for those working in NZ is $806, which comes to about $42K per year.  So the median person in New Zealand would have to save all their income for only about 45 years in order to match what is one year’s income for each of those 204 HSBC ‘lower level’ bank employees.

Yes I do think it is obscene.  Anyway I digress.  What actually led me to that HSBC article was some research into their money laundering activities.  What, you don’t know that the HSBC was laundering cash?  Oh.  Well you see last year (2012) it seems the HSBC got caught laundering money for several drug cartels and doing  ‘business’ with Iran and Syria against International law.  It does sound bad, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and get a few more facts.  How much illegal activity did they do?  I can’t find a clear total answer – and perhaps they are unable to check all the records.  However one reuter’s article states that 2 drug cartels, Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel and Colombia’s Norte del Valle cartel, laundered over one billion (US$881 million) through the HSBC.  As a result the US authorities recently fined the HSBC 2.38 billion (that’s US$1.92 billion).  The HSBC stumped up the money for this fine without any complaint (that I can find) which could suggest to some that perhaps they didn’t think the amount was unreasonable at all.  They also paid a fine to the British authorities – however I can’t find that amount to hand.  The scary thing is that this is just one bank in one country, i.e. the Mexico branch of the HSBC.  The reuter’s article goes on to say that there were many many banks around the world involved in money laundering or  sanction violations:

“U.S. and European banks have now agreed to settlements with U.S. regulators totaling some $5 billion” (6.2 billion NZD)

Don’t think that things have now ended for the HSBC.  An article recently out by the BBC states that the HSBC is now under investigation for money laundering activities in Argentina!

Why was I researching the HSBC money laundering activities?  Well this past week there has been a huge amount of media attention about Liberty Reserve, an Internet bank involved in currency exchange and payment systems.  Stuff covered it in an article here.  The US claims that the whole business of Liberty Reserve is money laundering and on this claim seized all of their US bank accounts, seized their domain names, and arrested senior staff including the bank founder – some of whom were in other countries at the time (i.e. the US coordinated with those countries law enforcement to get the executives arrested).  People, I don’t make this stuff up!  Of course I am sitting here wondering what the hell happened with HSBC when they were accused of EXACTLY the same thing???  It wouldn’t be that the HSBC makes large donations to the major US parties and Liberty Reserve didn’t….. no no it couldn’t be that.  I did wonder what happened to the whole ‘innocent until proven guilty’ thing that happens in the US though, and all the money of account holders which is now frozen.  Let’s look at some of the details.

The lynchpin of the argument for seizure appears to be that a US investigator was able to open an account with Liberty Reserve using a false name and address.  Don’t take my word for it though, read the Stuff article.  At the press conference the US prosecutors put on an exhibition that a public relations company would wet themselves over.  They claimed:

“(They) had their biggest win yet by shutting down Liberty Reserve…” Notice it isn’t ‘biggest break’ or ‘biggest bust’.  Everyone loves to ‘win’.

They said that they had shut down a “…$6 billion money-laundering operation masquerading as an online currency exchange and payment system.”  What?  They’ve checked every account already (over 1 million according to the article) and found that the total value was $6 billion AND that it ALL was involved in money-laundering?  I thought that they had only just seized it at the time of the press conference?  How did they get the records before they seized it?  Did the owner give them access?  How did they know that it was all laundering if, as the article states, everyone was using fake names and addresses?

Oh, this is the one I really laugh at, Richard Weber chief of US Internal Revenue declared “If Al Capone were alive today, this is how he would be hiding his money.”  Actually Al Capone is alive today in the form of Mexican drug lords, and last I heard they recommended banking with the HSBC, specifically being recorded as saying the place to launder money is HSBC Mexico!

Liberty Reserve is “designed specifically for, cyber criminals dealing in everything from credit card fraud, identity theft and computer hacking to child pornography and drug trafficking, prosecutors have alleged.”  Again, over 1 million users according to the article, with everyone using fake names and addresses – according to the US investigators – and yet they know that it is all to do with credit card fraud, identity theft, child pornography etc. etc?  Hang on, you guys wouldn’t just be throwing “child pornography” in there in order to be able to scream “he’s defending child pornography” to anyone who questions your facts would you?

The writer of the article then drags out a Mr. Nigel Phair of the “Centre for Internet Safety at the University of Canberra” who claims that “A lot of these digital currencies are purporting to be legitimate but aren’t.”  Hang on, Liberty Exchange doesn’t create any currency.  It isn’t creating it’s own “Liberty Dollars” as far as I know.  Instead it transfers existing currencies around the world – including the US dollar, British Pound and all manner of traditional currency.  So why did you bring this comment up Mr. Phair?  We will get to that soon.  However Mr. Phair goes on to say  “The only reason people would use them (digital currencies) is to hide their identities, and the only reason you’re going to do that is because you’ve got something to hide.”  Really?  The only reason you would hide your identity is because you’ve got something to hide?  Aside from the absolute stupidity of that statement (of course if you are trying to hide your identity it means you want to hide it!), I believe that Mr. Phair was insinuating that if one wishes to hide their identity then that means they have something bad which they are trying to hide.   Again, really?  How about the millions of International corporations who have companies formed in “legal” tax havens as their major shareholders or heads as they don’t want their identities revealed?  How about the citizen in Iran, Syria, Afganistan, North Korea or any number of countries (Saudi Arabia) which have punitive laws against its citizens which we in the West don’t agree with and who wish to hide their identity?  Perhaps a 30 year old unmarried Saudi woman corresponding with a man overseas, she hasn’t told her father, and the Saudi authorities are monitoring the Internet.  According to Mr. Phair she is hiding her identity because she is bad!  The only person who EVER makes the claim that if one is trying to hide something then they have done something bad is a person in the pay of a government who wants to spy on every detail of its citizens for power.

The stuff article then goes on to explain “how it works”.  In this section they quickly bring up the digital currency Bitcoin.  This is the bit that got me worked up enough to write this lengthy blog.  I’m guessing that most of my readers… ok ALL of my readers (that is both of you) don’t know what Bitcoin is.  Bitcoin is a wonderful new digital currency that is NOT in the control of any Government or Bank!  What Bitcoin is is not in the scope of this blog today however you can read a really quick summary of how Bitcoin works here.  Suffice to say Bitcoin is a legal currency which one can buy through any of the many legal exchanges, and use it to pay for thousands of goods and services – all totally legal.  Right off the bat I’m wondering what the hell Bitcoin has to do with Liberty Reserve.  Actually it has nothing specific to do with Liberty Reserve!  The link is ONLY that previously Mr. Phair said that “not all digital currencies are legitimate”, and now in the same article is specifically saying that Bitcoin is a digital currency!  Oh – sneaky aren’t they!  Mr. Phair, not all Australians are honest… and you are an Australian!

Now that the article has done a little psychological number on us, it goes on to say that Bitcoins operate in the same way as Liberty Reserve!  What?  How?  Apparently one can buy Bitcoins with your “hard cold cash” such as Aussie dollars, and then you can use those Bitcoins to carry out “unregulated” transactions.  In case you weren’t clear, Mr. Phair spells it out for us ” drug trafficking and other illegal activities in Australia have been traced to Bitcoin”.  Oh Bitcoin, you dirty little currency….

But wait. I’m scratching my head here.  Hasn’t drug trafficking and other illegal activities in Australia been traced to….. Australian dollars?  Doesn’t every drug dealer in every country do business in their country’s currency?  We don’t claim that those currencies are therefore “bad” and need to be stopped.  So why the hate on Bitcoin?  We also don’t claim that “Australian Dollars operate in the same way as Liberty Reserve” when of course one could use these dollars to carry out “unregulated” transactions.  I would dare to say that the vast majority of unregulated transactions in Australia are carried out with Australian dollars, not Bitcoin!

Regarding anonymity with Bitcoin, when I buy something at the local Aussie shop (or any shop in any country) and get my change – do I have to show my identification in order to get that change?  No.  So I am getting local currency without anyone knowing who I am.  It is an anonymous transaction unless I tell someone who I am.  Just like Bitcoin then!  Back to those drug dealers, if someone uses Aussie dollars to buy drugs I’m sure that the drug dealers aren’t demanding to see that person’s identification before they make the sale!

If Mr. Phair was here I’m sure he would be spluttering “but but but” right about now.

What is the real reason that authorities have dragged Bitcoin into this story?  Liberty Reserve was doing transactions in US dollars to the value of millions and millions, far more than Bitcoin, but nowhere have they said that the problem is the “US dollar”.  I think that the reason they are trying to cast Bitcoin in a bad light is because Bitcoin is not in the control of any bank or any government.  And that makes them scared.  They can’t attack it directly and they can’t stop it, so they are trying to imply that if you use it then you are using it for illegal purposes.  To anyone with that argument I would direct them again to this website listing all the goods and services one can purchase with Bitcoin.  I also just remembered that Bitcoin transactions happen at a ridiculously low price.  In Thailand I can choose to pay for something in the US with Bitcoins and pay no transaction fees if I’m happy to wait about an hour, or if I want faster confirmation I can pay 5 cents.  If I use Paypal the vendor has to pay a fixed transaction fee (of multiple dollars) AS WELL as about 3% of the value of the transaction.  If I send money via bank transfer it will cost AT LEAST $30 as well as exchange fees.  Which will I choose to make my purchase?  That is a no-brainer.  Yes those banks have good reason to fear Bitcoin.

I can hear those bankers’ knees shaking from here.

 

banks

Disclaimer:  I have never used Liberty Reserve and don’t know anyone who has.  I do have Bitcoins.

A rather good article on Islam & Terrorism

I read a wonderful article in the Wall Street Journal today discussing the contradiction that is terrorism carried out in the name of Islam (according to those carrying it out) and then denounced as having nothing to do with Islam by local Islamic leaders.  Who is correct?  The terrorists typically will quote scripture whereas the Islamic leaders won’t.  In any case the article says it much better than I can.  You can read it here.

I also read another amazing article about how Israeli Scientists have developed an advanced biological computer.  After reading the article I’m not sure if they actually have done this or if someone is just making a funny story about the brain.  In any case you can read about it here.

A rather short blog today.  I must admit that the main purpose of writing this is to see if new blogs will seamlessly add to the new design and layout of the website.  I’m sure you’ve noticed how brilliant the website looks now and how my photo galleries over at smugmug are now directly accessible from this website (hit the galleries tab).  I also need to check if media displays ok, so here is a pic:

 

Kynan’s G5 Exhibition

Kynan and Rafael are in the last 3 weeks of school.  Kynan, being in Grade 5 and graduating to Grade 6, will move from PYP to MYP which means he physically will be in a different part of the school which is off-limits to PYP students.  This is a big deal for the students.  To finish off their year the Grade 5 students have to choose a theme and create a project which demonstrates this theme.  Kynan chose the theme “conflict” and decided to demonstrate this theme through the use of animation.

Let’s be honest, creating an animation from scratch is something which any of us would find challenging.  I helped Kynan create a list of different animation software and from the list he decided to try the open source Blender since it has great reviews and is free (being open source).  Indeed Blender is a great piece of software and has as much if not more functionality than many of the top line paid software for animation!  We were both really impressed – thanks Blender!  Unfortunately although the functionality of Blender is fabulous Kynan found it very difficult to start as a beginner as he couldn’t find suitable beginner style lessons to learn how to use the software.  I’m sure that they exist somewhere however we couldn’t find them in the time we searched.  So Kynan continued down his list and found that Anime Studio Debut 9 also looked promising.   Anime Studio was also extremely customer friendly in allowing a 30 day free trial of the software!  So Kynan downloaded and installed the software and quickly found himself creating his animation!  It seems we found a winner with Anime Studio Debut 9.

So at this point my only contribution was to provide the credit card in order to download the software.  To clarify, although it is a 30 day trial one still has to provide a valid credit card but it isn’t charged unless one doesn’t cancel the trial and 30 days passes.  I guess they do this to make sure that the downloaders are genuinely interested in purchasing the software.  After I had provided my credit card details Kynan then carried the torch and did everything you see in the final product.

Kynan spent a long time in learning how to use the software and also creating his animation.  Added to this he also made the animation plan i.e. characters, scenes, background etc., and wrote the dialogue. What a great little producer!  I saw him taking lessons through Anime Studio and doing searches on character creation, mouth creation, how to add dialogue to characters, how to get the mouth to move in line with dialogue, etc.  He also got his classmate Jehan to help out in providing the voices.  Kynan also downloaded a voice changer so that he could create a different sounding character voice through changing voice pitch.  Did I mention it was a lot of work for him?  He had to rush at the end to get the animation finished and he did tell me that there were still some areas which he wanted to improve, however I counseled that the most important thing was to put out a finished product with some flaws rather than in incomplete product which was perfect.

So we went to see the exhibition yesterday evening.  G5 had a short presentation in the auditorium first and then we went to view the different projects.  To be honest I was really surprised at the projects.  The kids could (and did) form groups to create their projects in order to put across the message of their theme.  For example 3 girls formed a dance group and put together a short dance to provide a message for their theme.  A group of 5 guys followed suit, also performing a dance to get across their message.  Another child worked alone and played a song on the piano to get across his message, and yet another rapped out some lyrics.  I’m afraid though that for all these musical / dance groups I had no idea what their message was!  It looked like they had a great time dancing / singing though.  What caused my surprise was that to me Kynan’s work was on a different level than the other kids.  Kynan had spent hours and hours and hours to learn the software and create the animation.  Technically it appeared much more advanced that other projects I saw – however of course I am biased ;)

Here is the presentation in the auditorium – Kynan is wearing a red shirt:

Here is Kynan with Jehan:

Here is a video of Kynan and Jehan, showing and explaining their animation at the exhibition:

Here is the animation!

 

Stimulate yourself….

I love science.  I admit it – I’m a sci-fi lover too.  I read a lot of space opera and trawl forums to find decent authors of the genre.   I love to day-dream about the future, about space travel, and about whether we are living in a virtual reality.

So an article in Stuff really gained my interest.  The article explained that researchers stimulated the brains of students at Oxford University with “transcranial random noise stimulation” and found that they achieved long term improved performance compared to students who didn’t receive the stimulation.  This opens up many questions for the future.  Do we make this technology available to students?  Is it ‘cheating’?  Why not make it available if it is a more efficient method of learning?  Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg, I’m sure that as we continue to understand the brain then we will come up with more and more methods of direct stimulation to achieve the results we want.  This type of progress really excites me!

I’ve written before on my psoriasis blog about scientists’ progress in researching anti-aging, including how Japanese scientists have already found a cell protein which if switched off actually stops that cell from aging!   I’ve also blogged about my interest in research on mapping the brain and how this would affect experiences.

We are living in exciting times.

Live-Forever

Friday Mixup

Some interesting articles on Stuff and the NZ Herald today.  First one is:

We Kiwis are a friendly bunch” and notes a recent study that showed NZ is one of the most racially tolerant places in the World.  However as you read into the article you realize a trend that Western countries are all pretty much racially tolerant, and on the other end they show that the areas registering the most racially intolerant are Hong Kong and Bangladesh.  They didn’t mention any other Asian countries but I would put my neck out to say that the results would probably be the same, i.e. Asian countries are racially intolerant.  That is just my experience from living in Hong Kong, China & Thailand for 18 years.  The results for Hong Kong & Bangladesh were 71% which equates to roughly 3 out of 4 people being racially intolerant.  This can be a problem for Westerners coming to Asia for the first time – especially if they have never been overseas before – as they come here with the expectation that people will be racially tolerant just like at home.  Why would they think otherwise?  The West doesn’t publicize that the majority of the East is racist – probably because over here it is one of those “elephants in the room” that everyone sees but no one talks about.  One certainly can’t tell Asians that they need to change their ways – as they will very quickly tell you that if you don’t like it then go back home.  The only successful way to get things changed is the same as anywhere in the world.  Very slowly.  You live your life according to the values you hold dear and if those around you respect you then some of your values may rub off on to them.  So if you are coming over to Asia don’t show your shock if you openly see some racism.  And if you are Black or Indian then be prepared for some injustice.  I certainly don’t agree with it – however I’m not going to poke my head in the sand and pretend it doesn’t exist.

The other interesting article was “Disabled man tells of airline woes“.  The background to this article was one that appeared yesterday “Elite flyer refuses to give up seat“.    What happened is that an airline passenger – who had seat 1A booked – was asked to move to a 3rd row seat because the airline had made a mistake and not planned some special equipment to transport a disabled passenger to their seat.  So let’s be clear on this – the problem was caused BY THE AIRLINE.  Yet because the passenger in 1A declined to give up the seat that they had booked, the press allowed the disabled passenger to libel the 1A passenger in the article by claiming she was discriminated against.  Unbelievable.  Hey disabled lady, I’m pretty sure that discrimination had nothing to do with it.  If you had been an able bodied passenger then I’m sure that lady in 1A would still have refused to give you her seat!  This is so typical though of NZ culture.  The problem is that the 1A passenger could book that seat because they had achieve “elite” status, and in NZ tall poppy syndrome reared its ugly head again and just had to chop that “elite” lady passenger down.  Never mind that the facts are the airline made the mistake.  This isn’t even touched on in the article.  No the entire article blatantly blames the passenger in 1A.  The headline even screams “Elite”!  Such bullshit.  Where was the airline management protecting the 1A passenger and clearly stating that the problem was caused by them?

So it seems like another disabled passenger has seen the article yesterday and decided that he too would jump on the bandwagon and complain about the treatment he has received.  So what was the problem?  He claimed that he wasn’t treated with “empathy” when he arrived after the check-in had closed for the flight and had to be transferred to the next flight.  But it doesn’t stop there.  He claims “”What we objected to was a complete lack of empathy, understanding or apology from the staff member.”  The whole tone of the article here is that the airline was in the wrong.  The passenger stated he was only “3 minutes late” and that this was due to a problem with his wheelchair.  Again the newspaper accepts this whole thing verbatim and doesn’t fact check.  I can’t believe this crap.  How did the passenger know he was only 3 minutes late.  Really.  Did he really check?  Sounds to me like he was probably later than that but knew that 3 minutes would sound like he should have been cut some leeway.  Sorry buddy but we can’t change the rules just because you are in a wheelchair as that is DISCRIMINATION. Ha ha.

He is late for his flight – arrives after the check in is closed and then claims that the airline should apologize to him!!!  I’m sure it wasn’t a case of him arriving late, getting angry, pulling the “you are discriminating against the disabled” line or implying it, causing a scene, giving the check in person pressure to break the rules to the point that the check in staff has to use strong words to try and shut this guy up, and then he complains about how they are being rude to him!  Oh no, that couldn’t be the story could it…

Only in NZ.

angrywheelchairman

If dying, what would your last words be?

Imagine that you only had a day left to live and on this last day you had the opportunity to record something.  What would you say?  Would it matter?  This would be your last opportunity to say something which could influence someone’s life.  Or maybe no-one would ever listen to it.  So what would you do?

I spend most of my work time in front of a computer screen – much like the majority(maybe?) of city living folk in this world.  I’m fortunate that due to the type of work that I do I’m able to put on my earbuds and listen to whatever I like as I pound away on the keyboard.  I like to listen to some music but only for an hour or so after which I need something more interesting.  I’m fortunate that I have stumbled upon some excellent podcasts by some incredibly interesting people.  I find it also interesting when I’m talking to some of my friends about the people whose podcasts I listen to.  For example one of the people I listen to is Joe Rogan (the Joe Rogan Experience) who has an incredibly diverse mix of people on his podcast who he interviews.  These are not just some soundbites either.  Joe’s podcasts are typically 3 hours long.  You can really get to know someone much better after listening to their views for 3 hours!  Joe has interviewed politicians, artists, scientists, physicists, comedians, university professors etc etc etc.  It is incredible the number of diverse people who agree to be on his podcast.  And since it is his own podcast he can (and does) say whatever he likes, not having to worry about swearing or touching on subjects which radio stations would deem “taboo”.  In other words it is down right fascinating!  However I have one friend who says that Joe Rogan is a wanker.  This friend has never heard one of Joe’s podcasts and is basing his whole opinion on some TV shows that Joe has done.  As if TV is somehow an accurate portrayal of reality?  On the other hand I have listened to over 300 of Joe’s podcasts.  300 x 3 hours.  I’m fairly aware of what the guy’s values and beliefs are!

Anyway one of the podcasts I listen to is by a brilliant comedian called Duncan Trussell.  In Duncan’s own words he has a “raspy lesbian voice” and I’ve found him to be incredibly humble, witty and entertaining.  Duncan interviewed his mother a few months ago and I didn’t realize it but at that time she had been diagnosed with cancer.  Recently Duncan had another podcast with his mother just a day or so before she passed away.  At the time of the podcast she was on oxygen and was pretty much confined to bed.  Duncan asked her all about death, her feelings, his feelings etc etc.  It is a really great podcast!  What is/was your relationship like with your own mother – could you imagine interviewing her on the same subject?  I think many people would find interviewing their own mother difficult.  Anyway you can get the interview here.  You can either listen to it from that page or download it to listen to later (there is a download link under the media player – right click on that and click “save as”).  By the way all these podcasts are free!

Another podcast I listen to regularly is The Skeptic Tank by Ari Shaffir.  Ari is another comedian – a US Jew who no longer believes in Judaism – and he also has interviewed a huge number of interesting people.  He really tries hard to get controversial people to discuss touchy subjects.  Some of his podcasts I liked the best is when he talked with a heroin addict, a prostitute, a gay man about coming out, someone with OCD, a Jewish couple who lived through the holocaust, a fellow comedian about masturbation, a call center guy who worked for a bank and pushed loans during the housing scandal, a couple of guys from anonymous, a porn video editor, a black guy about being black, a lady who got scammed in love, a young guy who is unemployed and has a young baby, etc. etc.  These are sooo interesting!  Ari recently had a guy on his podcast to talk about American politics.  This is not something I know much about – although from my younger brother I’ve gleaned that it is not the democratic utopia it makes out to be.  Wow this guy that Ari talks to really opened my eyes.  He summarized it really well by saying that politicians in the USA no longer work “for the people” as they are supposed to, but instead work for private money (the big corporations).  Please listen to it!

In case you need some more great stuff to listen to you can’t go wrong with Bill Burr’s Monday Morning Podcast, and Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History.

What rhymes with punt?

I think that would be Mr. Toru Hashimoto’s nickname.

Mr. Toru Hashimoto is the Mayor of Osaka and I read in Stuff that at a press conference yesterday Mr. Hashimoto told reporters:

“…. there was not clear evidence the Japanese military coerced women to become what are euphemistically called ‘comfort women’”

In translation this means Mr. Hashimoto denies that Japanese soldiers forced Korean & Chinese women to serve as prostitutes for their armies before and during World War II.  This despite thousands and thousands of eye witness accounts and testimony from the ladies.  Can you imagine what the outcry would be if a the Mayor of a major city in Germany made the statement that there was not clear evidence that the Nazis forced anyone into the gas chambers?  In Asia this is the gravity of Mr. Hashimoto’s statement.

Naturally China, Korea and also the USA are up in arms about this.  Interestingly Mr. Hashimoto doesn’t deny that “comfort women” were used.  What, is he implying that they agreed to this???!

Since both the USA and China are up in arms about this, and since they are arguably the two strongest countries in the world, I suggest that they put together a joint army – ensuring that it has a healthy representative of single gay men, and then take over Osaka letting Tokyo know that it will only be for a short period – say 2 or 3 years.  During that time I’m sure that those single gay men will need a “comfort man” for companionship – especially during those frigid winters.  I’m sure that as the representative of Osaka Mr. Hashimoto will be the first to ‘volunteer’ for this assignment.  He looks like just the type to bend over backwards to help out in any way he can.

Picture of The Punt

 

 

Whinging….. Kiwis?

This year is my 18th living outside of New Zealand.  Naturally those 18 years has seen some major life changes including getting married and having kids.  I was never too worried about visiting New Zealand and at one point went so long without visiting that I officially wasn’t allowed to vote (as I found out when I turned up to the New Zealand Embassy to vote!).  However in 2007 I began annual trips back in order to have the kids develop an identity with my motherland.  I also still read Stuff and the NZ Herald most days, and have a subscription to an electronic version of the New Plymouth Daily News.

One thing that still gets me to shake my head in disbelief is the number of people in New Zealand who complain through the media about some unfair deal that they have been dealt.  About how they don’t have fair compensation from the government for leaky homes, earthquake hit homes, healthcare, unemployment opportunities, ACC, tax breaks etc etc – the list goes on.  Occasionally I hear the ridiculous exclamation from these moaners that ‘New Zealand is turning into a 3rd world country’!  Has any of them ever lived for a decent time in a third world country?  One couldn’t come up with a more ludicrous statement unless they were insane.  Perhaps they are.

All my years in Thailand and China have shown me that NZers have it good.  But sometimes from the moaning that comes forth I wonder if they (I paused there to figure out whether to say ‘they’ or ‘we’) have it too good.

When I was in NZ and studying at Massey (oh, there is another area of moaners – my right to student allowances!), I took a fabulous course on NZ history where I had the chance to discover that social welfare was never always available for the population, and was actually introduced less than 100 years ago.  So how did people in NZ survive before social welfare?  Well I’m guessing that they did it the same as the majority of my friends and colleagues who are citizens of Thailand and China do (who have little / no social welfare).

No job? You stay at home for years and years until you can get something.  And once you have a job you usually still stay at home in order to save money.  Is the job tough?  Too bad – you learn to deal with it.  Have issues with your parents?  You sort that shit out as the only other option is living on the street.  It is no surprise that kids in Asia thus have huge respect for their parents – as it is the parents who form the backbone of social security for the kids.

Think of the situation where a woman is in a relationship.  Do you think that she will take a lax attitude to contraception?  There is no social welfare, no single parent benefit.  I’m not saying that this is right – however I have never seen a single mother with a large number of kids.  If the mother does find herself alone with kids and no jobs where does she fall back to?  It is again back to the parents and the family home.  A reason again why the family is so important in Asian culture.

I’m sure it was the same in NZ pre social welfare.

I often read in NZ about unemployed people saying there is no work, and then read about employers who can’t find staff.  Many times the positions available are low paid and the people on benefits say that they will only marginally be better off taking that work, and in some cases be worse off.  What happens if there is no social welfare?  Well in Asia they don’t have any problem at all at finding people to take these low paying jobs.  Low paying is better than no paying.

I read a great example of this today here.  Why are these people crawling?  Because their manager told them to.   “Unbelievable” I can hear people in NZ say.  “Why didn’t they all refuse to do such a stupid thing?”.  In fact if you read many of the comments (by local Chinese) you will see that they complain about the manager telling his staff to do such a thing.  However you don’t read the commenters asking why the staff didn’t just refuse.  This is because they know that one doesn’t put their job in jeopardy.  It is easy to get fired and there are many people willing to step in and take the job.  It seems to me that having absolute respect for a paycheck is a foreign concept for many NZers.

I think that the level of social welfare support is too high.  What is the answer for reducing it?  Ha ha.  I’m afraid I’m just taking the easy way out for that.  I don’t know the answer however I know that there certainly is a problem!

After reading all of this you might be surprised to hear that I think the problem is actually the economic system.  Basically we have a huge population which is continuing to grow, not enough jobs, and rapidly advancing scientific and technological discoveries that will continue to reduce jobs!  What would stop most people complaining?  Full employment and high wages.  Is that going to happen?  I think absolutely not with the way population and technology is growing.

So what is the solution?  Well we have more than enough resources to feed everyone and house everyone.  The solution would be to arrange a better system of distribution of resources.  To stop funding “dead money” ventures such as weapons and armies, and put that towards scientific advancement.  We bring back responsibility by getting into small enough social groups so that people are actually an active part of a community rather than being an isolated unit in a mega city.  With the community keeping an eye on each other people naturally tend to make better decisions – as they respond to the responsibility of group citizenship.

While we are at it we need to destroy this stupid concept of “borders” and “countries”.  All that does is propagate “them and us” and create this crazy need for armies, customs, and other government spending.  To get to this point though we need to get people to drop the destructive beliefs in religion.  Be realistic – in this day and age with access to science on the Internet, anyone who is really serious can easily find out that all religions are man made concepts and that the god(s) they created are not real.  There may be something out there but science has shown it certainly isn’t anything that the religions have created.

Unfortunately I don’t know how we’ll get to the point of taking the destructive force out of religion.  Getting the “fundamentalists” out.  I think that the logical step would be to get religious people to step back and although clinging to religion would see it more as a cultural choice to live life and internally understand that god is a man made construct.  Economic reform, religious reform, government reform.  Phew we have a long way to go.

I don’t have the answers however I know that we can’t continue with this same system.  It is madness.

Movie time

Went to the movies for the first time in….. I can’t remember the last time I went to the movies!  On Saturday the kids wanted to go and see a movie and strong armed me into going along with them.  Usually I refuse to go as the experience is usually ruined by pre-movie ads and screeners (which in Thailand includes R18 horror movies for which we have to cover the kids’ eyes) and then during the movie you have the frequent ringing and talking into mobile phones.

However as I mentioned I capitulated and agreed to go.  The new Star Trek movie was showing as well as Iron Man 3.  I was pushing for the new Star Trek so it went to a vote and I lost :(

The good thing about movie theaters in Thailand is that they sell beer at the concession stand, so I loaded up with a couple of cans of anesthetic (along with the popcorn rush for the kids) and piled on in.

I was pleasantly surprised that that not only was the movie pretty watchable, but also that I didn’t hear or see anyone talking on their mobile phone!

Here we are in the car on the way to the movie theater

Getting Old

My recent spate of injuries has certainly frustrated me.  First I got a pain in my arm and this prevented me from doing kettlebells.  After two weeks of rest my arm hadn’t got better so I went to the Doc who diagnosed a case of tennis elbow.  He gave me a kind of restrictive splint to put on my arm to stop the muscle from working and told me that it usually takes at least 3 months to heal!  It has been about 3 months and it has got a little better, but still not fully healed.

Then about the same time I felt a pulling pain in my groin.  I knew that this type of pain could only mean a hernia – of which the only cure is surgery.  Fork.  So I went to see the surgeon who had me do an ultrasound and they found a very small bump.  The surgeon said I could do the surgery however since the lump was so small he said I could also wait to see if it healed itself.  I asked him if he had ever had a case where a person’s hernia healed itself and he said no.  Hmmm.  Doesn’t do much for my confidence.  Anyway after some deliberation I decided I’d just carry on as normal, won’t have the surgery, and if the pain gets worse or the lump gets bigger then I’ll go back (and likely have the surgery).

About this time I went to see my rheumatologist for my regular dose of arthritis medication and talked to her about my recent injuries and then I mentioned “I guess I’m getting old”.  Then she said “I’m glad you said that as I was thinking it but didn’t want to mention it”.  Ha!

Then on my recent trip to London I fall down some stairs and end up (I don’t know how) with a hole in my arm.  There is no hole in my jacket so I don’t know how that happened.  In case you haven’t seen them yet my pics of the London trip are up here.  I have had to go to the hospital daily to get the dressing changed.  I’m thinking of putting up a pic of the injury in a sub gallery at smugmug.  I’m trying to work out how to not display the pic in the thumbnail for the gallery so that those people who balk at such things won’t see it.

Oh, my rheumatologist checks my LDL cholesterol every time I see her, and of course this has gone through the roof over the last year and she has freaked out and wants me on statins.  I deliberated for a long time on it as there is a lot of negative stuff on the web about statins.  In the end I decided to try them and started on Friday.  It is going fine so far and I have no side effects at all, so maybe it is just worry for nothing.  If you want more info. on it you can see it at my blog on arthritis at http://choosefit.com/statins.

Getting old I guess…old-wrinkled