Tag Archives: mutterings

Out of focus

8 pm, the alarm in my head, “make that call.” The football, sport, TV, news, and weather, how are you feeling today? Idol chatter consumes us both. Speak to me, but there are no answers now. Just the silence of echoes searching for a home.

The distance between now and then is measured in memories like the steps of Whitby Abbey 199 up, 199 down. The miss you words are the easiest to find and father’s day is but a pole in these shifting sands. All my life I wanted you to stay, that is selfish, I know.

Standing on the garden decks, looking over the city lights, the very place we spoke about life, the joys of incidental happenings. The fragments of our personal jigsaw puzzle, which build our picture called life. The relationships, a love lost, a love found, passions, lessons learned and the regrets that can consume if not addressed while taking a breath. So I try to reflect before letting harsh words make a sound, I seek to understand, to leave doors open and not burn bridges as I did when growing from being your child. Things are still out of focus Dad, I guess they will be for a while, but sadness is set aside when I speak to your daughter, watch your grandchildren, their offspring building their own jigsaw puzzle where your smile can be found.

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On days like these

5 am, and God only knows why I’m laid here flicking through social media updates, snapshots of opinions, life, and wisdom projected through an assortment of embarrassing photographs of politicians, historical figures, celebrities, cats, dogs or cartoon characters. You think you know somebody until that awkward post pops up, a regurgitation from a reactionary nutter who has managed to hijack sweet moderation by sensationalising, simplifying complex tragedies and to invade the common sense I associated with the person in question. It’s nothing more than fast food convenience politics, shipped in and shipped out messages tailored to primal emotions. Before digestion of one message concerning welfare scroungers…..bing….another appears about jolly foreigners, the terrorist next door; stop our culture from being diluted. How did that person, I thought I knew, end up re-posting this nonsense?

In truth, I guess there is no simple answer, disempowerment, laziness to think, willingness to participate, misguided. I’m not sure; maybe these rent-a-slogans are desperate measures to scramble together a meaning, a notion of pride, loyalty or even identity in a world where borders are falling in a virtual world to access cheap food and goods, but increasingly pursued in a physical sense. Seeking protection like a boxer caught against the ropes, awaiting the knockout punch. The best, I feel, you can do on Election Day is remember your roots, the struggles of your parents to give you a better life. That one day you will be that older person reliant on care and support and if your family fail to step up, who will? It’s also about your integrity, values, and intelligence. A whole host of pound shop economists will tell you there is no alternative because, well you’ve guessed it, ultimately the prospect of change may disturb their status, wealth or power. Protection of the status quo is their priority, albeit they will tolerate a few crumbs to offset and polish over the harder edges. No matter how we may seek it, there is never any easy way to deal with complex problems. Compassion may not seem in fashion, but without it, we turn inwards, into a spiral of darkness, blaming those less fortunate.

Whatever the outcome of the Election in the UK I take heart that more young people seem to be increasingly engaged, given I trust their judgment far more than my generation and it genuinely feels that a generational change is starting to take place. In the meantime, my only hope is that my generation does not cause irrevocable damage to our eco-system and social welfare infrastructure. My history, values, and integrity lead to the Labour Party, but I cannot help but reflect that on days like these we are all seeking strong and stable leadership, which is for the many, not the few and to change Britains future for the good.

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It’s the end of the year as we know it (and I feel fine)

In 2016 a new study from the world’s leading health journal reported that the number of women dying from pregnancy and childbirth has almost halved since 1990. British Columbia protected 85% of one of the world’s largest temperate rainforests, home to the wonderfully named ‘Spirit Bear.’ World hunger reached its lowest point in 25 years. Child mortality is down everywhere, and it keeps going down. Peru and Bolivia signed a $500 million deal to preserve Lake Titicaca. New chemotherapy breakthroughs have increased the 5-year survival for pancreatic cancer from 16% to 27% (and is getting better). In March, the US government abandoned its plan for oil and gas drilling in Atlantic waters, reversing its decision from a year ago.  Scientists figured out how to link robotic limbs with the part of the brain that deals with intent to move, so people don’t have to think about how they will move the limb, it can just happen. After nearly 13 years of difficult negotiations, Malaysia established a 1 million hectare marine park that pioneers a mixed-use approach to marine conservation. Thanks to the ice bucket challenge the gene responsible for ALS has been found, meaning we are closer to an effective treatment. More than 20 countries pledged more than $5.3 billion for ocean conservation and created 40 new marine sanctuaries covering an area of 3.4 million square km. A solar powered plane circumnavigated the world. New research showed that acid pollution in the atmosphere is now almost back to the level that it was before it started with industrialisation in the 1930s. The numbers of tigers are growing pandas are now officially off the endangered list. In 2012, the US and Mexico embarked on an unprecedented binational project to revive the Colorado River. By 2016, the results had astonished everyone. Pakistan has made strides toward outlawing honor killings. The World Health Organisation released a report showing that, since the year 2000, global malaria deaths have declined by 60%. Fresh evidence showed that public smoking bans have improved health in 21 nations. 70,000 Muslim clerics declared a fatwa against ISIS. Uruguay won a major case against Philip Morris in a World Bank ruling, setting a precedent for other small countries that want to deter tobacco use. Pokemon Go players went insane with placing lure modules near hospitals for sick kids. Malawi achieved a 67% reduction in the number of children acquiring HIV, the biggest success story across all sub-Saharan nations and since 2006, they’ve saved 260,000 lives. Volunteers in India planted 50 million trees in 24 hours. Child mortality rates came down by 12% in Russia. Coffee consumption has been proved to help curtail cancer and suicide rates. Life expectancy in Africa has increased by 9.4 years since 2000, thanks to improvements in child survival, progress in malaria control, and expanded access to ARVs. Mobile phones made significant inroads in the fight against rabies, a disease that kills more people annually than all terrorists combined. 500 elephants were relocated to a better, safer and bigger home. Thailand became the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. Liberia was officially cleared of Ebola, meaning there are now no known cases of the deadly tropical virus left in West Africa. We made massive strides in Alzheimers’ prevention. The WHO announced that measles has been eradicated in all of the Americas, from Canada to Chile. It’s the first time the disease has been eliminated from an entire world region.The ozone layer is still repairing itself, and all the work we did to get rid of those aerosol chemicals was actually worth it. For the first time ever, the amount of money it would take to end poverty dropped below the amount of money spent on foreign aid. A new therapy developed in Israel could cure radiation sickness. In February, Ontario announced a $100 million initiative to curb violence against indigenous women.The Anglican church resolved to solemnize same-sex unions. The Rabbinical Assembly issued a resolution affirming the rights of transgender and non-conforming individuals. Myanmar swore in its first elected civilian leader in more than 50 years. In 1990, more than 60% of people in East Asia lived in extreme poverty. As of 2016, that proportion has dropped to 3.5%. Two brothers saw color for the first time thanks to specially-designed glasses. Taiwan is on the verge of becoming the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage. Portugal ran its entire nation solely on renewable energy for four days straight. The Gambia and Tanzania banned child marriage, following sustained lobbying by civil society groups. In June, after years of wrangling, the drive to end female genital mutilation in Africa made a major breakthrough, when the Pan African Parliament endorsed a continent-wide ban. An Afghan teacher has been delivering books via bicycle to villages that lack schools. 200 strangers attended the funeral of a homeless WW2 veteran with no family. Germany took on rape culture, introducing a law to broaden the definition of sex crimes by zoning in on the issue of consent. Two weeks before Brexit, the African Union announced a new single African passport that permits holders to enter any of the 54 AU member states without a visa. Italy became the last large Western country to recognise same-sex unions in 2016, following a long-running battle by campaigners. The 24th year in a row that teenage pregnancy rates declined in the United Kingdom and the United States. New medicine has been shown to increase melanoma survival rate to 40%. Gambia became the latest African country to show that voting does count, and dictators do fall. Over 800 Boko Harem Hostages were rescued by Nigerian Army. The Paris Agreement became the fastest (and largest) United Nations treaty to go from agreement to international law in modern history.Global carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels did not grow at all in 2016. It’s the third year in a row emissions have flatlined. The Chinese egypt-society-media-gallery-steve_bell_do_somethinggovernment placed a ban on new coal mines, created new rules for grid access, and doubled its renewables targets for 2020. Following the end of the conflict in Colombia in 2016, all of the war in the world is now limited to an arc that contains less than a sixth of the world’s population. ISIS quietly started preparing its followers for the eventual collapse of the caliphate it proclaimed with great fanfare two years ago. In April, a new report revealed that for the first time ever, the death penalty has become illegal in more than half of the world’s countries. Crime rates in Holland plummeted, with total recorded crime shrinking by 25% in the last eight years. One-third of the country’s prison cells are now empty. Norway became the first country in the world to commit to zero deforestation. The average number of large oil spills around the world has been drastically reduced, from an average of 24.5 per year in the 1970s to just 1.8 a year in 2015. Plastic bag use plummeted in England thanks to the introduction of a 5p charge in 2015. Wild wolves started coming back to Europe, and for the first time since the American Revolution, wild salmon began spawning in the Connecticut River. Green sea turtles in Florida and Mexico were taken off the endangered list. The US finalized new regulations to shut down commercial elephant ivory trade within its borders and stop wildlife crime overseas. Mongolia created one of the world’s largest protected areas for snow leopards. Germany took in an additional 300,000 refugees in 2016, despite growing concerns about integration and a backlash from populists.

If you made it to the bottom of this list, then thank you. It was culled from a variety of good news stories, blogs, and articles. We may have lost some good people in 2016, and some election results may have gone against those with a kinder heart, but if you genuinely want to protect what has been achieved then sitting behind a computer screen is not an option. The biggest step to change is the one you take to get involved.

Sniffing and Spoofing

At the core of the digital world sits a new generation of electronic gatekeepers: a mixture of highly sophisticated computer algorithms tended and programmed by a small cadre of elite technocrats who determine what we see in the online world.  In 2010 the stock exchange suffered a ‘flash crash’ when shares fell by 6 percent in 5 minutes. The crash was caused by trading algorithms. Trading algorithms are now so sophisticated they can feed on each other’s intentions and try to trick each other into making buys or sells favorable to the companies that unleashed the algorithms in the first place. Some trading algorithms, for example, can detect the electronic signature of what is called a V-WRAP (Volume-Weighted Average Price.) This important because V-WRAP’s are a trading benchmark used especially in pension plans, so they are relevant to the overwhelming majority of people. The detecting of the electronic signature is nicknamed ‘algo-sniffing’ and can earn its owner substantial sums: if the V-WAP is programmed to buy particular shares, the algo-sniffing program will buy those shares faster than the V-WAP, then sell them to it at a profit. Whatever the ethics, algo-sniffing is legal. Some trading algorithms are specifically designed to fool other trading algorithms. This process is called ‘spoofing.’ A spoofer might buy a block of shares and then issue a large number of purchase orders for the same shares at prices just fractions below the current market price. Human traders would then see far more orders to buy the shares in question than orders to sell them and likely to conclude that their price was going to rise. They might then buy the shares themselves, causing the price to rise. When it did so, the spoofer would cancel its buy orders and sell the shares it held at a profit. It’s very hard to determine just how much of this kind of thing goes on, but it certainly happens. In October 2008, for example, the London Stock Exchange imposed a £35,000 penalty on a firm (its name has not been disclosed) for spoofing.

Goodnight Express

A free newspaper is thrust into my midriff.  Most people simply walk past the young man distributing them. He is hardly captivating, wearing headphones, comatose in a faraway land, going through the routine.  Above the announcements Waterloo Station is a cold place at the best of times. I take the paper and without looking I make my way to the bottom of the steps. I glance at it. Noticing copies are bundled on the adjacent wall, burgeoning out of refuge bins, littering the immediate pathways.

The New Musical Express (NME) was once an important and valued commodity. In fact, alongside John Peel’s radio programme, Sounds and Melody Maker, the NME was a crucial source of information on band tours, interviews, the latest record releases. I make my way to Jubilee Gardens, under the shadow of the London Eye, sit and flick through its pages. It takes about 2 minutes to glance through the photographs with bubble quotes and advertisements. The images are shiny, precise and sterile. I am old and everything is well and truly in its place.

Wobbly Paving Stones

Journey on the grinding tube station escalator. Through the gates, people skipping to avoid  contact, excited conversations, raised voices, smiles, arguments and hugs all exchanged in the theatre that is the ticket hall. Up the steps, two at a time,  the heat from the warm sun pierces through the mass of bodies. I reach the summit and surface in Brixton. The street preachers are still wasting their time, the kaleidoscope of scents, some pleasant, some not so.  Traffic fumes, spices, flower seller, the trader selling incense sticks whose smoke dances from the sticks and drifts into the bustling street. Then vanishes. The white hipster with his carefully trimmed beard and the elderly Caribbean lady seem to have little common ground.  They pass as if divided by continents.

A gentle tap on my back and I turn. An ex-work acquaintance announces her presence. “What are you doing in Brixton stranger?” she asks abruptly. “Enjoying myself and how are you? I reply. There is a pause. “Strange how the familiar seems different when you have an opportunity to look at it from another perspective,” I add. “Things change John, but nothing changes” she presents her dichotomy with a sense of frustration. She looks tired, slightly pale. “It never ends, dealing with angry people, managing decline, not having the resources, long working hours, the habitual restructure, the cycle turns and turns and turns. “ I have little energy reserves, to be brutally honest, to give much sympathy. She reads my eyes. An uncomfortable realisation that I am no longer part of that world and the conversation loses its purpose. A few more stumbled words, a look of resignation, she smiles says goodbye and vanishes into the crowd for another meeting. The trouble I find is that when things relentlessly keep on moving people tend to lose sight of the simple things. The building blocks, which create the foundations for life, community. At this point, I sense a small movement beneath my feet. I look down and realise I am standing on a wobbly paving stone. The ground is moving, but there are no cracks as yet.