Incidental New Yorker X

November 8, 2015


🍌 Halloween is a major event here; as well as big business ensnaring children and adults alike. I met a guy, all dressed up, and really couldn’t figure out what he was trying to impersonate. It turned out to be a banana, but the costume was so uncomfortable that he wasn’t wearing the upper part. It was good that he explained. Otherwise I’d still be wondering. Imagine having to explain that you are a banana!

🐄 I bought half a gallon of milk the other day, and not only did the container state in bold letters that the milk had no hormones added. It came with a small sign with a photo and the names of the family of farmers whose cows contributed the milk, and the most comforting message that “our cows get pedicures three times a year.” No photos of the cows or their pedicured hooves, though.

🎖I wore my new Mongolian Friendship Medal to a grand Mongolian reception the other day on the occasion of Mongolia’s candidature to the UN Human Rights Council. Two days later Mongolia was voted in. I cannot think of a more worthy member country of that meaningful UN organisation! Congratulations, Mongolia!

The beautiful watercolour that Tsolmon the Painter made for me at the Mongolian reception © Mette Holm

UN Blue

UN Headquarters in New York lit up blue for two nights, concluding on 24 October, celebrated as UN Day since 1948. Starting in New Zealand, and moving in a wave around the globe, some 300 sites around the world lit themselves blue to join the global commemoration, including iconic landmarks such as The Little Mermaid in Denmark, Australia’s Sydney Opera House to the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt and from the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro to the Empire State Building in New York. Other sites included Russia’s Hermitage Museum, the ancient city of Petra in Jordan, the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, Edinburgh Castle and Central Hall Westminster in the United Kingdom, Table Mountain in South Africa, Japan’s SkyTree Tower and the Alhambra in Spain, among many others.

“UN Blue” from left: Yoo Soon-taek, her husband Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, my husband, president of the General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft, and me © UN Photo


⭐️ This past week some 6000 prisoners in US federal prisons have been released before time. And this is only the beginning … the reason is overcrowded prisons and that it is too expensive to keep such a large prison population. But the really good news is that both politicians and experts like criminologists and social workers agree that the war on drugs has led to far too many and too heavy prison sentences. President Obama visited a prison earlier this year – a first for a US president – and has declared reform of the criminal justice system a priority for the rest of his term.


⭐️ Speaking of POTUS, I am on his mailing list, and today this urgent plea from him landed in my mailbox. I hereby pass it on:

Mette, we have not gone more than eight days without a mass shooting in this country this year. That means that each week, more families are grieving, more communities are being pieced back together. As a nation, we’re holding everyone affected by these heartbreaking events in our prayers.

But our thoughts and prayers simply are not enough. We have had more than 300 mass shootings in the United States so far in 2015 — because of which, nearly 400 Americans have been killed, and more than 1,000 have been injured. These numbers are horrific. But it’s important that we talk about them. We can’t sweep this problem under the rug, or allow ourselves to become numb to it, or accept that there’s nothing we can do because “stuff happens.”

Let me be clear about this, Mette: Unless we do something — change our politics and change our laws — these painful tragedies will continue. And we will have allowed them to continue.

I don’t want this to be our reality, and I know the majority of Americans feel the same. Despite what some might claim, this is not about the Second Amendment but about the will of the American people who overwhelmingly want to see commonsense reform measures.

But I cannot change this by myself. I need members of Congress, state legislatures, and governors who will work with me — who will stand up and say that this reality is unacceptable. That we don’t have to see innocent lives cut short, time after time, and stand idly by. And I need people like you to stand up and say that enough is enough.

Together, you and I have made so much progress during my time as President. We have helped more than 17 million Americans get the health coverage they need. We have seen hearts and minds change on civil rights issues like marriage equality. We have taken action to help secure a healthy planet for future generations. But this is one thing we haven’t been able to do. We have not reformed our gun laws to help reduce the unnecessary deaths we see in this country every single day. Mette, we still can — by making sure we urge future leaders to act where we have been stalled.

It’s up to us to speak up for the countless voices lost to gun violence. If you believe we can do this, together, then add your name today:

Thank you.

Barack Obama


🎏 Baby Happy Hour in China after 35 years of restrictive family policy! For 35 years most Chinese city dwellers have been restricted to having only one child per couple. Now restrictions have been eased (but not lifted), and they are allowed two. I have friends who have speculated in such development and are already expecting a second child – somewhat like newly weds having their first baby sooner than nine months after the wedding. Other speculation followed the policy change which is part of the Communist Party’s Central Committee’s 13th Five-year Plan: dairy company shares went up in Europe in the expectation that dairy consumption will increase considerably with an extra 2.1 million Chinese babies born annually for the next five years, 2016-2020. However, many Chinese city-parents are quite content with only one child, and the new policy may not lead to the much needed balancing of young and old – neither is it expected to erase the dramatic gender imbalance caused by family planning policy since 1979, which has lead to 25-35 million more boys being born than girls, a disastrous deficit in women of child bearing age. One professor actually suggested that several Chinese men share one wife. Needles to point out, his suggestion wasn’t well received. Today 15 per cent of the Chinese are older than 60 years. In 35 years this age group is expected to make up almost 40 per cent of the population, probably 500 million people or more.

⭐️In China nine crimes are no longer punishable by death. As of November 1st spreading false rumours on the internet, smuggling weapons, counterfeiting currency, raising funds by means of fraud, forcing people to engage in prostitution; obstructing a police officer, and fabricating rumours to mislead others during wartime can lead to prison for life, but not death. Five years ago app. 65 crimes could lead to execution in China, then it was 55, and now it is 45. Definitely not a great leap forward, but steps in the right direction. In the industrialised world, only USA and Japan still have capital punishment. However, there are great leaps in the opposite direction in China. While with one hand easing the death penalty, China’s journalists and bloggers, already under threat of persecution, face new risks with the amendments to China’s criminal law. According to The Committee to Protect Journalists a new clause threatens a prison sentence of up to seven years for fabricating false information related to “hazards, epidemics, disasters, and situations involving police” or intentionally disseminating such false information that causes “serious social disorder.” This makes it even more difficult for independent journalists and bloggers in China to report on matters of safety and security. Any journalists whose reporting, however true, differs from the official truth can be accused of fabricating news. It is never easy to be reform minded in China, particularly if you air your views to a wider public. As a matter of routine Liu Xia, the wife of professor, prominent democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureat Liu Xiaobo who is serving 11 years in solitary confinement, disappeared mysteriously from her own house arrest recently when Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel visited Beijing. Merkel met with human rights advocates at the German embassy in Beijing, but not Liu Xia. Liu Xia’s brother was worried, but not more than usual with big shots in town. “They do this every year when some [leader] visits, or when there’s a big meeting,” he said. “She’ll come back when Merkel is gone.”