Archive | April, 2007

Save Darfur demonstration

20 Apr

For those who are interested, there is a UK national demo in support of the International Global Day for Darfur in London.
When: 12:00 noon to 1:30 pm, Sunday 29 April
Where: Whitehall, opposite Downing Street, London

The Aegis Trust, Amnesty International UK, National Union of Students, the Darfur Union, Aegis Trust Student Society, Union of Jewish Students.

Thousands of people from across the UK will be coming to central London to demonstrate about the continuing crisis in Darfur and calling on British Government to get an effective peace keeping force into the region.

With the crisis now well into its fourth year and at least 200,000 people killed, the British Government is a key player to get protection for the over two million people living in make shift refugee camps and the hundreds-of-thousands of other civilians who also need international help.

Make your voice heard – Time Is Up for the international community – the people of Darfur need our support today.

For more information please contact:

Hratche Koundarjian, Tel: 07905 911 039,

Courting the court

17 Apr

The neighbour from hell, a 82 year-old woman, has been sentenced to six months jail term for making her neighbour life miserable, BBC reported (see:

It’s utterly shocking. Even though it is correct by law that the woman has to be sentenced, but judging from the age, it is rather ridiculous. It is a 82 year-old we are talking about, who has to walk using a walking stick.  It must be an absolute misery for her and to be carried into her grave with her. Despite the fairness in the judgement, I can’t help feeling sorry for the old lady. I think the matter can actually be settled better out of the court system, through mediation and talks whereby both parties can reach some agreeable terms to live side by side.

I am not sure if this ending is what Casa family wished to see to happen to their neighbour; there is no report about it. I suspect that they actually wanted to put a stop to the harassment they were getting and not to punish the old lady.

In my country, people negotiate a lot to solve problems – too much that sometimes the matter that should have gone to court is settled privately. But here is the other extreme where most of the things seemed to be settled in court. 

whose water?

9 Apr

It is appalling hearing the movement to prevent the selling of the unprofitable French water companies to foreign buyers. Afterall, French itself is one of the active advocates privatisation worldwide and has been setting up subsidiaries overseas. Two of the world biggest private water companies are French, Suez and Veolia.

They used the reason of nationalism that water is important industry and should not fall into foreign hands. So much of the preach of globalisation.

In the developing countries, the governments are strongly encouraged to open their water sector. Usually the water companies are run inefficiently, a monopoly, on subsidy and lack the incentive to improve. Pro-privatisation group argue that privatisation will be able to pump in new capital into improving the industry and improve the efficiency (one of the methods is by laying the workers). However, as the developing countries’ business people are usually not rich and capable enough to take up such a big project, the multinational corporations would come in to invest. So far so good.

However, the term of the contracts can be dodgy and advantageous to the corporations. In Indonesia’s jakarta water case, the companies can increase the price automatically every 6 months to ‘cover the cost’. As the corporations claimed that they lost money, government must subsidize the citizen if they want to keep the price low. Back to square one. 

The companies have not put in as much investment as they promised and have given the profit back to the shareholders, most of whom I guess are foreigners, as such exporting the country’s money overseas. The locals who benefit at the end are only the workers, who can be laid off any time with little compensation. But, there is no way the government to terminate the 25-year contract because there is a term that the contract terminated, they have to pay half of the predicted earnings for the remaining years.

Why such as dodgy clauses, we may question. Well, ask the corruption behaviour of the the government officials and the money the corporations may have offered to them. World Bank and IMF have also put a lot of pressure on the countries to open their markets.

One by one, the possible benefits of privatisation goes down the drain, yet I heard this kind of claim written in many newspapers “corporations changed their mind to invest in developing countries because the political mood is not helpful”. It is portrayed as if the countries’ people refused to have the change to have better life.

Few weeks ago, I heard in BBC radio an interview with Suez corporation’s CEO said something like this: “There is no shortage of water, only the shortage of will to extract them.” He is refering to the governments’ willingness to let them into the countries. With such a high price they must pay, by the people in term of money and their way of living and by the government in term of political unrest caused by dissatisfaction with the water provision, I wonder if they should. Even the French does not want foreign ownership.

However, a Chinese friend’s remark keeps coming back to me, “Why the prosperous countries are the ones that embrace capitalism?” Is our current standard meaning of prosperous is right anyway?

which is better

6 Apr

Well, I must say I am quite surprised by the casuality of drug use here.

In Asia, or certainly in Singapore and Indonesia, it is a big deal to use drug. It is not common among the youth. Only certain people who are very adventurous will try it.

I spent a great deal of my youth in Singapore. The government is really strict there. So, I consider the risk is too high in comparison to the fun. Possessing more than certain amount, one can land oneself a capital punishment. The lesser case will have few canes. The psychological suffering by cane is so huge that it was reported that some begged, uselessly, to serve longer jail term rather than being caned. Also, I would be on the blacklist and would lose my chance for education and work. The government talks about second chance, but if we look around, the society does not give the second chance. So, it was easy to resist drug.

In the West, however, it seems so casual. Light and moderate drug users are not ‘gone’. I still do not see the benefits. Like my attitude toward tobacco, I think it was such as pity – the money burned or injected can be put into better use. But I must admit, the drug-unfriendly environment helped a lot to resist drug. So, I quite admire those who try, but know how to limit themselves.

However, I still wonder about all the debates about legalising or tightening law on drugs. It is true, people will get good quality products, the government earns the taxes, and the youngsters feel less challenged thus lose the interest in trying. It is true that many people used and do not get wasted. However, on the other hand, it is leaving the responsibility to resist to the youngsters themselves and it is really not easy for them to do. Is it fair to ask so much from the youngsters? 

The West often talk about freedom of choice to answer many questions. But sometimes I think too many choices are not good either. My Eastern mind still believe there are goodness in my world of less choices. Where is the middle?

Lie with statistics

6 Apr

I just finished reading a book How to lie with statistics written by Darrell Huff, first printed in 1954. It is an enjoyable book with jokes, satires and cartoons. It talks about the blunders, misinterpretation, misrepresentation and lie using statistics, which is still very much applicable today.

I have been looking at statistical value -mean, median etc – from science perspective. In science and engineering, the aim is to be as correct and close to reality as possible. Afterall, things can crush and burn due to wrong numbers. But in social science, statistics can be work of arts.

So it is fascinating to find out how easily can the numbers give different unpresentative views legally and how easily we accept them without question and, worse, pass them around. Some of these common ‘errors’ are already mentioned in Gary’s class. But I will summarize them anyway.
1. Sample with built-in bias
The sample is not representative of general situation. For example , only certain groups in the entire population are taken into account. Or, the question itself is misleading.
2. The well-chosen average
People can choose between mean, median and mode to suit what they want to portray.
3. The little figures that are not there
The sample size is so small that it is just not representative. For example, only one-thirds of female college lecturers is married. But the sample involves only 3 lecturers and one of them is married. Well??
4. Much ado with practically nothing
Exaggerating small differences through unwise classifications or clever drawing of charts. Sometimes the difference is so small that it is actually within (often unmentioned) margin of error.
5. Exaggeration using one-dimentional picture
For example: to say that now people earn twice what people’s, we can use picture twice the size of the initial picture.
   nowmoneybag.jpg ==> 10 years later moneybag.jpg
But this is misleading because the 2nd picture is not only twice the height of the first, but also twice the width. So in overall, it is four times bigger than the first picture and it will make readers think that the increment is greater than it actually is.
6. The semiattached figure
It is by proving something through something else that is not so relevant actually. 
The example given: a report said that the number of death chargable to railroads is 4712, which may scare people from taking train. But actually nearly half of those were victims of people who were in cars collided to the trains at crossing. Others were riding on the rods. Only 132 out of 4712 were passengers on the trains.
7. Post hoc rides again
Two clocks are perfectly in tune with each other. Only clock B have the bell. So when clock A shows 12 o’clock, clock B rung. People then assume that clock B rung because of clock A.
8. Statisculate
Basically ‘lie legally with statistics”. Use the wrong base value, use weird reasoning, use unrealistic estimations.

How to be careful with statistics then?
1. Who says so? Does he have obvious bias?
2. How can he know?
3. What’s missing?
4. Did somebody change the subject?
5. (most important of all) Does it makes sense?

I would say ‘if you have time to spare, read the book.’ I had some good laugh.