Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Reporter At The Scene Of The London Terrorist Attack

Londoners gathered at Trafalgar Square for a candlelight vigil on Thursday.CreditSergey Ponomarev for The New York Times
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LONDON — I was leaving work and putting on my motorcycle jacket when news broke of an attack on Parliament. As a print and video journalist, I always carry a “go bag” of notebooks, camera equipment and a phone charger, especially after London’s police chief warned last year that a terrorist attack in the city of my birth was “a case of when, not if.” So I ran straight to the motorcycle.
As I rode across town, I received phone calls and text messages confirming an attack, so I sped toward Westminster and slammed the bike onto the last side street before Parliament Square itself. All still seemed very calm. “Bloke with a knife. Someone’s down,” a maintenance worker vouchsafed as he sat eating his sandwich outside the Red Lion pub. And then he went on with his sandwich.
London, innit?
It is a very strange feeling to report on a city that you have known for decades, both as a news reporter and as a media consumer of its biscuit-tin, iconic images. Big Ben almost isn’t a real thing to me anymore; it’s ever-present on television and movies and social media, much like the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building. It has become more of a symbol, a celluloid emoji used by tourists and filmmakers as a shorthand way of conveying time and place.
My 6-year-old daughter puts her pocket money into a miniaturized version of the clock tower. Then people suddenly die beneath it, and reality crashes headlong into artifice.
Continue reading the main story
Yet there is work to be done. That sounds easy enough, in the middle of a major city. But in the journalistic trinity of “get it first, get it right, get it out,” the get-it-out part is harder than it sounds. For the newspaper and the website, emailing quotes and facts back to the office is relatively easy; it’s all done on cellphone, or a laptop balanced on a window ledge.
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    But transmitting video clips, far bigger packets of information, is next to impossible when thousands of people are all simultaneously trying to use the same cellphone network in the same place to send photographs, to scroll through news websites or to update their Facebook safety status. One bar of reception in a war zone can be more accommodating than four bars beside the River Thames in a world capital.
    Once I had spoken to the witnesses, the only option was to move away from Parliament and find a sweet spot of cellphone reception, far enough away from the area of heavy phone use and yet near enough to have a continuing sense of what was happening. Not least for the possibility of a secondary attack on that inviting maelstrom of emergency workers, survivors, witnesses, bystanders and journalists. And sealing the whole area off, a cordon of police officers, some old enough to remember the Irish Republican Army attacks of decades past, some brought up in the era of jihadist violence.
    At one point, during a live video interview near Parliament, it was too dark for me to read the time on my watch clearly. Then behind me came seven bongs from Big Ben — which is the bell, not the clock, as every Londoner knows. It is a symbol, and yet it is also Westminster’s working timepiece.
    Of course, the symbolic status of the Parliament building and its democratic institutions also make the landmark site a target for those who want to send a loud message by attacking it.
    The first witness I met was Robert Vaudry, a fund manager who missed being caught up in the attack by only moments. He had been heading to Parliament when he was grabbed by armed police officers and pushed away to safety. Mr. Vaudry, quintessentially English, is from William Shakespeare’s hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon. The member of Parliament he was there to meet, Nadhim Zahawi, is an immigrant whose Kurdish parents left Iraq in the 1970s, fearing persecution by Saddam Hussein.
    So far, so very, very London.
    Past us walked Kirsten Hurrell, who sold newspapers opposite the Parliament building. She was moving briskly, carrying for refreshment a glass containing an ample measure of some amber liquid. Behind her, police officers emerged from Parliament Square pushing everyone back and shouting, “Move back, back, all the way back past Downing Street.”
    I was asked by Facebook Live viewers and radio interviewers how London was coping, were people nervous, was there panic? Perhaps fueled by last year’s sensationalist movie “London Has Fallen.”
    But London and Britain are no strangers to conflict. When slicing through traffic on my motorcycle to Parliament Square minutes after the attack, I drove through Trafalgar Square, dominated by the giant column commemorating Lord Nelson from an era when present allies were past enemies. I went past the site of the poll tax riots that I’d accidentally walked into on my brother’s birthday in 1990. I weaved around the red double-decker buses filled with tourists and raced down Whitehall past the statue to Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, a British commander in World War II, past Downing Street (into which the I.R.A. launched mortar shells in 1991) and past the Cenotaph memorial honoring the legions of those who have died in wars gone by.
    Just ahead was the jarring sight of a scarlet ambulance helicopter parked on the grass of Parliament Square itself, right next to the bronze statue of Sir Winston Churchill.
    The deaths caused on Wednesday by Khalid Masood saddened and chastened everyone in the city lucky enough to be able to go about their business that day. Yet violence, and the threat of it, are nothing new. Parliament itself has come under attack before. In 1605, Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the palace of Westminster using barrels of gunpowder. And a courtroom directly opposite the Parliament building used to display a list of judges dating all the way back to George Jeffreys, the Hanging Judge, who in 1685 had more than 100 people executed at the Bloody Assizes following a failed rebellion.
    Two months before Mr. Masood plowed his vehicle into innocent people on Westminster bridge, that same bridge had to be closed while an unexploded World War II bomb was dredged up from the river, a stark reminder of the tens of thousands of Britons killed in London and other cities by German bombing raids during the Blitz from September 1940 to May 1941.
    That is still within living memory. I am too young to remember “the war,” as it is still called, but there was still a bomb shelter at my school in the 1960s, reminding us. Every Londoner is brought up on tales of defiance and resolution showed by the city’s civilian population during that era. And all Londoners now commute daily past the statues, buildings and memorials that stand like pieces on a chessboard, commemorating centuries of war, conflict, empire and colonialism, of violence meted out, violence suffered and violence defied.
    Furthermore, many who are now Londoners have in recent years fled conflicts in the Balkans, Middle East, South Asia and elsewhere, having experienced atrocities far more recent than most of us.
    So no, the city did not panic.

    While Trumpcare Failed Democrats And Republicans Worked Together To Forced Health Insurance Companies To Be More Competetive

    Vote Notes: Two Positive Steps on Healthcare

    Mar 22, 2017 
    Blog Post
    Today has been a long day.
    It began with a meeting at the White House on healthcare - and ended just a few moments ago with another meeting on the same topic. With the exception of two vote series, I have been in and out of meetings, calls, and visits on this subject through the day. Some of these exchanges have been more cordial than others.
    There is much worth relating in this day, and I will come back and do so, but before the events of today and tomorrow crowd out the legislative activity of the last two days, I wanted to send a quick update on two of the bills passed. These bills passed with unanimous Republican support and even a number of Democratic yes votes. Interestingly, these two bills were both included in the replacement bill Senator Rand Paul and I offered last month in our proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act.
    The Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act (H.R. 372) ends a competition killing piece of legislation, known as McCarron-Ferguson. The McCarron bill passed back in 1945 under pressure from insurance industry lobbying and exempted insurance companies from federal antitrust laws. As a result, they have not been bound by federal prohibitions on corporate collusion, price fixing, and monopolies, and obviously each of these practices can drive up prices for consumers. Currently, just three health insurance companies control 80% of the market in 37 states, and most would hardly consider this great soil conditions for the growth of competition. The Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act repeals this 72 year old carve-out, as it applies to health insurance companies in about 1 page of legislative text. I believe applying federal antitrust laws to health insurance companies will benefit hospitals, doctors, and patients as insurers are forced to compete. Accordingly, I voted yes.
    The second bill, the Small Business Health Fairness Act (H.R, 1101), would reduce government barriers that hamstring legitimate small businesses from joining together in groups to negotiate for more affordable health insurance plans for their employees. Most people get their insurance through employer-sponsored plans, and big companies have buying power that individuals or small businesses do not.
    Size matters when it comes to negotiating strength, and this bill would allow small businesses to pool together and create buying power.
    These buying groups, called Association Health Plans, are currently allowed but heavily restricted. The Department of Labor regulations make it difficult for groups to band together for buying power, and in simplest form, this bill would make it easier. This bill would reduce barriers and allow dues-collecting organizations with a common purpose, like local chambers of commerce, to form an Association Health Plan. According, I voted yes.




    Saturday, March 25, 2017

    Do Machines Have A Spirit Like Living Things? A Bizarre Happening Yesterday

    Everyone something bizarre happened as I went to start the Saturn Vue SUV to take it to its new home at the Peninsula Humane Society. In a driving rain, I went out to the car. I found its electronics dead. I saw no evidence that I had left on the lights or lightning had struck the vehicle.I saw no evidence of tampering or vandalism. I had to call AAA. A truck came out and jump started the battery. I was able to drive the car to the Peninsula Humane Society and turn it over to officials there.
    I told Elena the story in the evening. She said that she believed that machines and other inanimate things have a spirit just like living things. The car just did not want to leave its home of 10.5 years.
    Elena made a good point.

    Friday, March 24, 2017

    An Era Of 10.5 Years Comes To An End

    Everyone an era of 10.5 years is coming to an end in 7 hours. Those of you who know me very well including Elena, Anna, Luah,Monty,etc have taken a ride in my 2007 Saturn VUE hybrid SUV. With the arrival of the new electric car, I inherit Elena's Saturn Aura and the VUE became surplus. It is being donated to the Peninsula Humane Society in Burlingame, California. It will begin its second life transporting animals between facilities owned by this non-profit. My compliments to Stewart Chevrolet in Colma for the excellent maintenance work they did over the years. The car has 90,000 miles on it and is "as good as new."

    Wednesday, March 22, 2017

    World Happiness Index