A Good Day

I woke up this morning to two pieces of good news.

  1. The US Supreme Court upholds the Affordable Care Act, ending months of fevered anticipation.
  2. Unheralded world number 100 Lukas Rosol dumps Rafael Nadal out of Wimbledon in the second round, opening up the draw nicely for my man, the Fed Express.

However, as the Wolf from Pulp Fiction would say (and I’m paraphrasing): let’s not get too comfortable just yet.

The big story is of course that by a 5-4 majority, the US Supreme Court found that Obama’s signature piece of legislation was constitutional (while striking down a side-provision concerning Medicaid). I am relieved. All the way leading up to the hearings, most constitutional scholars were of the opinion that there really wasn’t any doubt as to the law’s (and in particular the individual mandate’s) constitutionality. Then during oral arguments the government took a beating and things were looking dicey. I began to fear for the worst, trying to pre-emptively think of some expression of measured outrage that I would announce on Facebook when the dreaded ruling came.

Now that the decision has been handed down, I feel torn. On the one hand, I am glad Chief Justice Roberts felt the need to defer to Congress and uphold the constitutionality of a law if such a construction can be found. Great. On the other hand, this was clearly a desperate move by the conservative judge who cast his vote based more on vanity (how history will judge the Supreme Court under his stewardship) than true, measured legal reasoning.

I really hate the Affordable Care Act, and yet… how is this going to make me look? Omgz

In any case, while the outcome can be narrowly construed as a (momentous) victory for the Obama Administration, the broader implications of the court’s legal reasoning is perfectly in line with its rightward drift. Chief Justice Roberts and the other members of the conservative wing were adamant that the Commerce Clause does not support the power of Congress to compel people to do something. They’re obviously leery of Big Power for Big Government to do Big Things. They also ignore three-quarter of a century’s worth of Commerce Clause jurisprudence.

Justice Ruth Ginsburg, with whom the other three liberal justices agreed, calls Chief Justice Roberts out. What he argues for would be a “newly minted constitutional doctrine”, and it’s true. He basically pulled his argument out of his ass because he really really didn’t like what the government (led by a Democrat) enacted. Never mind that the healthcare market (and choosing whether or not to buy health insurance) is of a completely different nature to a normal market. This is why conservatives’ invocation of broccoli is so contemptible. OK I’m going to stop ranting now.

The real winner of the court’s decision.

I’m beginning to understand as I get older, that in life you have to just savour the little victories. And this victory is sweet. The inevitable conservative challenge to some other Commerce Clause-enacted federal law can wait for another day. I’ve got other things keeping me up at night. The Swiss Maestro is still only in the third round!

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Having Fun in the Danish Sun

I’m reproducing here an article written for AERIS Magazine, of whom I am an editor and contributor. I studied abroad for a semester at the University of Copenhagen last year and it was the most amazing experience. It’s not easy to condense everything down into a short, digestible blog entry but I’ve tried my best!

 

Cutting edge style, design, food and culture, located in the most liveable place in the world. Sounds too good to be true? Read on to find out the joys the capital of Denmark has to offer.

The view from above.

Copenhagen is a special place — just orientating yourself to the city is an eye-opening experience. Driverless metros shuttle back and forth with clockwork regularity, whisking you past green pastures, sleek architecture and winding tunnels into the city centre. Out on the streets, Danes stride along the footpaths and glide serenely by on their bikes — tall, friendly and effortlessly chic. While you might not emulate their grace, getting around like a local is simply the best way to explore the city. So, get on your bike and let’s go!

 

The Heart of the City

Begin the day at Rådhuspladsen (City Hall Square) and choose your own adventure.

Chilln’ at the King’s Garden.

To the north is the tranquil district of Rosenborg. There you can relax in the popular King’s Garden and visit Rosenborg Castle with its collection of crown jewels. If you desire some liveliness, head northeast along Strøget, a cluster of small streets and historical squares that now forms Europe’s longest pedestrianised shopping zone. Enjoy street spectacles, window-shop at the many fine stores, or just sit back on a bench and absorb the energy and beauty of the inhabitants.

The gorgeous King’s New Square.

At the end of Strøget lies Kongens Nytorv (‘King’s New Square’) and the iconic Nyhavn (‘New Harbour’), a gorgeous waterfront area highlighted by kaleidoscopic townhouses and heritage ships. You will be spoilt for choice with Nyhavn’s alfresco cafés, bars and restaurants, the perfect place to spend a balmy summer evening as twilight lingers long into the night.

Where else but Nyhavn.

For keen sightseers, head east from Rådhuspladsen to Slotsholmen, a small harbour island where  you can admire the baroque Christiansborg Palace, seat of the Danish Parliament and the renaissance Stock Exchange with its mesmerising Dragon Spire. Once you reach the water’s edge the dynamic changes completely, a testimony to the inventiveness and artistry of Danish design. Among the highlights is the Black Diamond, an extension of the Royal Danish Library named for its unique shape and black granite finish. Across the water to the north is the extravagant Copenhagen Opera House, emerging out of the ground like a foreboding spaceship.

Opera House or spaceship? You decide.

In short, Copenhagen is a masterful blend of traditional decorum and state-of-the-art modernity.

 

Hail the Sunshine

The sun and the sea.

After the long dark winter Danes really make the most of their time in the sun. Nyhavn and King’s Garden are perennial favourites. To the west lies the lovely Frederiksberg Garden, laid out in the English style. Down the road from the park is the Carlsberg brewery, where visitors can learn all about the famous brewing company and enjoy two complimentary pints, perfect for the hot weather!

Amager Beach Park.

Summer is also a great time to get on the water. Copenhagen harbour is pristine and you can dive into the pools at Fisketorvet just south of the city. If you want to feel the sand between your toes, head north to Bellevue Beach or south to Amager Beach Park, an outdoor recreation paradise. For cruising the canals, tours are offered; or you can ditch the guides and go exploring in your own boat or kayak.

 

Danish Delights

Directly opposite Rådhuspladsen is Tivoli Gardens, one of the world’s oldest amusement parks. It is strange indeed to have one in the centre of town — as people go about their daily routines, the air is punctuated with screams of terror (and joy!). This enchanting park has a concert hall, a Chinese garden and even a pirate ship. Be sure to pay Tivoli a visit and let your inner child roam free.

The magical Tivoli Gardens.

Copenhagen is also noteworthy for Christiania, a walled neighbourhood in the city’s east. There’s nothing else quite like it in the world. It is a commune where the inhabitants lead ‘alternative’ lives, where a liberal mindset encourages the expression of music and art, as well as acceptance of an open cannabis trade. Keep an open mind and look beyond the shabby shacks and colourful characters. Grab an organic Christiania burger, head to the jazz club and jam the night away.

 

Nordic Cuisine

No trip to Copenhagen is complete without sampling its stellar food. Chef René Redzepi catapulted Nordic cuisine to the world stage with his renowned Noma restaurant, and it truly is an experience to remember (if you’re lucky enough to get a table!). Aside from this gastronomical sensation, there are simple and tasty fares on offer as well.

This… is… Nomaaaa!

Smørrebrød is quintessentially Danish, a versatile open-face sandwich on buttered rye bread taken at lunch. The toppings can include fish, cheeses, pickles, eggs, to name only a few. You can’t go wrong with local favourite Restaurant Schønnemann, situated in the town centre.

Danish pastries are a must-have, and you can find an amazing assortment beyond its famous jam-centred namesake. In Denmark they are known as ‘wienerbrød’ (Viennese bread). Get them in spirals, twists and circles, topped with nuts, jellies and chocolate, all infused with buttery goodness. Your best bet is La Glace located downtown, Denmark’s oldest and finest.

Café Paludan, student favourite.

While the food is wonderful, it is no friend to your wallet. For a more frugal option, cheat a little by starting the day with a mid-morning brunch. Café Paludan offers a cornucopia of scrumptious fare at only 99 Danish kroners. Situated next to the University of Copenhagen, it is a great place to savour the sunshine and indulge in some people-watching.

Be a little different and check out the best that Scandinavia has to offer. Copenhagen will captivate, delight and inspire you.

From Another Time

Russia has held a deep fascination for me ever since I studied it in high school. There is something so beautifully tragic about the country. It’s impossible not to be moved by the story of Tsar Nicholas II, the devoted father yet woefully incompetent leader who presided over the fall of the imperial line. To be caught up in the grand ideals of Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks who completely overturned society through their bloody and singleminded ideological crusade. To be appalled by the quiet, ruthless ambition of Stalin and the immense scale of human suffering during his reign and in World War II. This is a country that has seen and endured so much.

I was extremely delighted to stumble across a gorgeous collection of colour photos of Russia in the early 1900’s (thank you, Facebook!). This was in the calm before the storm of World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution. The photographer, Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, could only take black and white photos, but was able to create colour by combining the images taken with red, green and blue filters. Ah, the magic of light and colour. The results are stunning. Please go check it out and be transported to another place, another time.

English Summer Rain

So as summer gets underway in Europe and the festival season kicks into gear, I thought I’d reflect on my own experience at the Reading Music Festival last year. Specifically, I want to share about the incredibly temperamental English weather that continually bewildered me over the 3 days of the festival. It would go from mild and cloudy, to cold and drizzly, to downpour, to brilliant sunshine, to blustery and overcast, to… you get the idea. Sometimes it happened in the space of a couple of hours.

I present to you the English weather, in pictures:

Arrived on a balmy Thursday evening with my friend Sean, in high spirits.

But the next morning, the rain arrives…

A mixed start to the festival. At least the grass was still green.

Second day, this looks much more promising!

Or not.

Day three, and the weather is trying to do everything at once.

In the mosh awaiting Muse. Thankfully everything is clear!

Best live act ever. Origins of Symmetry, I will miss you…

An Incredible Individual

I’ve bagged out corporate interests quite a bit in past posts but here’s a feel-good story if there ever was one. New Zealand-born and Australian-based Audette Exel — cool name — is an adventurer, philanthropist and corporate bigwig all in one. She has lived an incredibly eventful life. The financial services firm ISIS Group that she founded was one of the first examples of “business for purpose” (as opposed to profit), where every dollar earned went into the non-profit arm, the ISIS Foundation.

Read her amazing story. It is a big slap in the face to people who are in positions of power and privilege but remain utterly self-absorbed, as well as to people (like me) who are quick to judge the apparent selfishness of the corporate world but fail to see the awesome social good that it can do.