Based on the famous London Underground map, this map contains the major cities of the world that have underground transportation. It also has the same fun distortions that the Tube map has to make everything fit. For example, to get from Tehran to Dubai, one must go through Haifa. And Pyongyang appears to be south of Tokyo, when in fact the opposite is true. The map also cleverly reflects what's actually going on in certain parts of the world. Most of Africa is "Under Construction" and Siberia is a giant wasteland for public transportation.
Too bad this map isn't available for purchase. I'd rather have this for Christmas than the actual book it's promoting, although that looks pretty cool too.
(Hat tip: BKNY 2.0)
Oh, Iran. When will you learn to loosen up and not interpret everything coming out of the West as a threat? This week, the Ministry for Culture and Islamic Guidance began a campaign against rappers, announcing that illegal studios would be closed and artists "confronted." Normally, musicians in Iran who want to record an album or stage a performance have to apply for permission from the government. But as the hip-hop movement in Farsi has continued to grow, driven by links between Iranians and exiled Persians in places like Los Angeles or Paris, many rappers have chosen to bypass official protocol, choosing to distribute their music on the Internet instead.
If only Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and other power brokers in Iran read FP. Then they would see that the globalization of hip-hop isn't evil; it's just the continuation of a long history of youths using music and poetry to express themselves.
Further proof that hip-hop is spreading around the world:
My man Jay-Z has been a wonderful partner to the UN, and a champion of those in need around the world."
That's U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on Jay-Z, giving the rapper an award last week for his "Water for Life" campaign to promote access to safe drinking water as part of the Millennium Development Goals.
For more on the growing popularity of hip-hop in unlikely places around the world, read Jeff Chang's "It's a Hip-Hop World" in the current issue of FP. You can also read an interview with Detroit promoter Dana Burton, who happens to be the godfather of hip-hop in China, and watch two Chinese rappers face off on a Shanghai stage.
First of all no-one hates americans or the american way of life. The afghans fought against the americans as well as against the russians. Unless the USSR and the USA of the early 80's had the same values it means that those people are blowing you up because you're occcupying their country, not because you have a "decadent" way of life.
Now I can only speak about my own country Greece. There have always been a lot of american tourists in Greece and they are as likeable as French, Italians, Germans etc. There is a large american community in Athens and there's the Greek-American community that makes americans particularly likeable in Greece. I can tell you that everyone loves americans, as well as their way of life. However we absolutely hate american foreign policy. The Greeks will take to the streets to demonstrate against american aggression worldwide. The reason for this is because we have experienced it first hand.
After the second world war, the USA rewarded the incumbent government that collaborated with the Germans and armed them in order to strike the Communist party that was the only force that resisted the german occupation. The communist party was exterminated in what is called the first US intervention in Europe. My country was plunged into a ten-year civil war that saw tens of thousand of people being killed.
When democracy was restored in the mid fifties, the US didn't deem the greek government favourable enough and instigated and supported a coup. The military establishment governed the country with an iron fist, with the support of the US. In return the US was allowed to house the 6th fleet in Greece and built dozens of american bases for radars and rockets.
In short the actions of the US government has caused a lot of pain, and most people are old enough to have been directly affected by that aggression. Now if you take a closer look at countries all over the world you'll see that similar actions were taken. Take for instance Latin America. The US has supported all kinds of dictatorships; Chile, Argentina, Guatemala... The list goes on and on. Have a look at how the US has stoped communism spreading all over the world. Vietnam, Korea, Cambodia. Not to mention of course the blatant support for Israel.
You say that it was american citizens that were killed in the twin towers and not government officials. The same goes for the countries that you claim hate you for no reason
Normally, I would not justify with a response this kind of despicable attempt to rationalize the murderous attacks of 9/11 using selective history. But this example is important, not least of all because it comes from Greece, a country where anti-Americanism is handed down from generation to generation like heirloom china.
First, the interpretation provided above glosses over much, including the U.S. role in rehabilitating Greece after World War II, when U.S. foreign aid and the Marshall Plan helped Greece go from being a devastated receiver of foreign aid to a giver of it. This is to say nothing of the role America's open doors played in helping countless Greeks. They are now among the United States' most prosperous immigrant communities.
Second, it's tempting to think that Iraq squandered America's goodwill in places like Greece. The Passport reader above professes that in his country, "everyone loves americans." Too bad the facts show the opposite — and did so long before Iraq. As Greek writer Takis Michas pointed out in The National Interest in 2002, one survey of secondary school students in Greece conducted in the late 1990s ranked Americans below Gypsies as being among the most despised peoples in the world.
Greek extremists have occasionally even taken American blood as retribution for perceived wrongs — from the murder of four Americans, three diplomats and a Harvard-educated CIA officer named Richard Welch, in 1975 to the rocket attack on the U.S. embassy in Athens just 11 months ago. Since 1975, in fact, there have been more than 145 terrorist attacks against Americans or American interests in Greece. And, as the report of the U.S. National Commission on Terrorism noted back in 2000: "Only one case has been solved and there is no indication of any meaningful investigation into the remaining cases."
Finally, I never claimed that America is hated "for no reason." We have our demons, historical and otherwise. And Greece has its own. They include Greek paramilitary units fighting alongside Bosnian Serbs under the command of wanted war criminal Gen. Ratko Mladic. Rail against U.S. interventionism in Latin America during the Cold War if you like. But then ask yourself why the same Greeks who cheered the genocide of Muslims in Srebrenica were so quick to summon anger over the U.S. invasion of Iraq?
This is the kind of hypocrisy we've come to expect from the world's worst illiberal and backwater autocracies. But Greece is a member of NATO, the European Union, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development — and thanks in no small part to the United States. Which is why its particular breed of anti-Americanism is so scary.
Fred Kaplan over at Slate recently asked readers to write in with suggestions on how the United States can improve its image in the world. Everyone ought to read the results, because they are a powerful illustration of just how little we as Americans understand about how the world sees us.
"To Know Us Is To Love Us," Kaplan declares in his headline. It summarizes the dominant theme of the more than 100 suggestions from his readers: If only all those angry foreigners could meet more real Americans through travel and exchange programs, they would like us better. It's a variation on a refrain any traveled American has heard a thousand times: "We like Americans, but hate your government."
It's comforting to think that Americans don't get blamed for everything their government does. But the next time someone in a foreign country tells you this, remind them that it was Americans—ordinary ones—who died on 9/11, not their government or government leaders. As Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami puts it, "it is of Americans and their deeds, and the kind of social and political order they maintain, that sordid tales are told in Karachi and Athens and Cairo and Paris. You can't profess kindness toward Americans while attributing the darkest of motives to their homeland."
Part of the problem with Kaplan's experiment is that many of those writing in are Americans living overseas who see the world through the one-dimensional prism of wherever they happen to be. For instance, Kaplan writes, "Several readers emphasize that many foreigners, even those with high levels of education, have no concept of American life. They don't know that most Americans are religious people." Whoever said that must never have been to Europe, a secular continent where the United States gets viciously mocked for being overly religious. Meanwhile, in the Arab world, America is hated for the decadence and infidelity it represents. We can't win, friends.
And there's the real problem with the suggestion, "to know us is to love us." It ignores reality. One Dutch student wrote to Kaplan: "America must (re-)consider itself an ordinary country—special and of great importance, but not playing in a league of its own." Sorry, but America, by virtue of the power of its economy, military, and culture, does play in a league of its own. Being huge inspires hatred; just ask the Yankees, Wal-Mart, or Microsoft. Pretending that isn't so will hardly fix anything.
For now, America must bear the burden of being both loved and hated at once. Our embassies will at once be blown up and packed with locals seeking visas. I'm all for exchange programs, but they aren't enough to cure this ill. If you heard Karen Hughes or Condi Rice tell you that the solution to the U.S. public diplomacy problem is that foreigners just don't understand how wonderful Americans are, wouldn't you laugh her out of the room? You ought to do the same with Kaplan's experiment.
(Hat Tip: James Joyner)
What do you think of when you hear the word "bridge" (the card game, not the physical structure)? A bunch of white-haired ladies, sitting around a card table, having tea, right? It's not exactly the place where heated debate on foreign policy happens.
Or is it? The NYT is reporting that at the world bridge championships in Shanghai last month, the winning team from the United States caused a stir when one of its members held up a handwritten sign reading "WE DID NOT VOTE FOR BUSH." During the course of the tournament, American team members had been repeatedly asked by other international competitors about U.S. policies on torture and on Iraq. To demonstrate that they, too, were not always in agreement with the Bush administration, they spontaneously scribbled the sign and held it aloft as they received their trophies while singing along with the national anthem and waving Old Glory. Now, the U.S. Bridge Federation, a private association that picks U.S. teams for play abroad, is threatening to punish them for mixing politics with bridge. However, the American team is getting support from some of their competitors:
By trying to address these issues in a nonviolent, nonthreatening and lighthearted manner," the French team wrote in by e-mail to the federation's board and others, "you were doing only what women of the world have always tried to do when opposing the folly of men who have lost their perspective of reality."
Somehow I doubt that this kind of e-mail message, especially coming from France, is going to change anybody's minds at the federation.
It may not taste like it, but your beer is in peril.
As Prerna pointed out earlier this year, the popularity of corn-based ethanol has already caused a tight market for malt, one of beer's three critical ingredients, as farmers increasingly forgo the barley crops used to make it in favor of more profitable corn. Now the fickle commodities trading market and bad weather in Europe have converged to trigger a worldwide shortage in hops. The other key ingredient in beer (along with water), hops is a flower that gives beer flavor and aroma. The shortage comes after a decade-long surplus discouraged farmers from planting the crop, which grows on trestles and can take years to mature. Since 1994, the amount of farm acreage planted in hops worldwide has declined by about half. The shortage was also triggered by hail and flooding in Europe in recent months. Together, the two mean the beer industry now faces a 10 to 15 percent shortage.
For beer drinkers, it means only one thing: bigger tabs at the bar. Well, for some beer drinkers anyway. Mega-brewers such as Anhueser-Busch negotiate their hop contracts years in advance and will be unaffected by the shortage. But smaller, so-called "craft" breweries aren't so lucky. A variety of hops known as Cascade, for instance, the most popular among craft brewers, has more than tripled in price in the last two months, jumping from $4.10 per pound to around $12.35 per pound. Boston Beer, which brews Samuel Adams, says it will raise its prices by 5 percent as a result of increased costs. Other mid-sized and small brewers are almost certain to follow suit.
The irony is that, even as the supply of hops and malt are severely low, demand is at an all-time high, at least in the United States. Craft beers now make up 17 percent of the U.S. market and retailers depend upon them to boost profits. Are the commodities markets drunk?
Greg Ip of the Wall Street Journal reports on new data from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service showing that the richest Americans' share of the national income is at a high not seen since the roaring '20s:
The wealthiest 1% of Americans earned 21.2% of all income in 2005, according to new data from the Internal Revenue Service. That is up sharply from 19% in 2004, and surpasses the previous high of 20.8% set in 2000, at the peak of the previous bull market in stocks.
Even President Bush, worried about trade deals with Colombia, Panama, Peru, and South Korea failing to make it through Congress, has had to admit things are out of whack:
In yesterday's interview, Mr. Bush said that some executive compensation is excessive, and that some corporate boards fail to ensure that shareholders know how company funds are being spent. Those practices, he said, can give rise to feelings the economy isn't working fairly for all Americans.
But it's not CEOs, but Wall Street players who are raking it in the most, according to an interesting paper by Steven Kaplan and Joshua Rauh of the University of Chicago. Consider these numbers:
In 2004, nine times as many Wall Street investors earned in excess of $100 million as public company CEOs. In fact, the top 25 hedge fund managers combined appear to have earned more than all 500 S&P500 CEOs combined (both realized and estimated). [My emphasis.]
That's staggering, and it's sure to give Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who just announced that he doesn't expect to pass a bill raising taxes on private-equity and hedge-fund managers, an ulcer or two. If the Democrats in Congress fail to change that equation, unfortunately, they are likely to seek redress in protectionist measures that would probably do more harm than good.
Kaplan and Rauh doubt there's a link between widening inequality and trade. "It seems unlikely," Kaplan and Rauh write, "that trade theories can account for the massive observed increase in inequality at the highest levels of the income distribution, especially given the breadth of this phenomenon and the fact that it does not affect only the groups for which the products and services are heavily and increasingly exported or bid for by tradable sectors." Instead, Kaplan and Rauh believe, "With the huge improvements in information technology and the substantial increase in value of the securities markets over the last twenty-five years, asset managers, investment bankers, lawyers, and top executives can now apply their talent to much larger pools of money."
That's true, but what about the global angle? I'm not sure what Kaplan and Rauh consider "trade," but I think it's odd that they don't address the globalization of capital markets and, in particular, the role of Asia's explosive economic growth in pouring massive amounts of liquidity into the United States, keeping U.S. interest rates low by buying dollars, and so on. Surely that has a lot to do with why U.S. hedge-fund managers are doing so well, no? I invite econ types reading Passport to weigh in via email at passportblog [at] ceip.org.
It's been clear for months that the U.S. economy, because of the credit crunch caused by the meltdown in the subprime mortgage market, was headed for a slowdown. What was not clear, however, was the extent to which this slowdown would affect the global economy. Last week, there were indications that U.S. problems could spread overseas, but no "official" body had said what everyone seems to be thinking: Growth is going to slow everywhere.
That is, until today. The International Monetary Fund, in its twice annual Global Financial Stability Report, said the subprime meltdown would stall expansion around the world. From the report:
This [the lack of credit] has prompted a retrenchment from some risky assets and de-leveraging, causing a widening of credit spreads in riskier asset classes and more volatile bond and equity markets. The resulting disruption has required extraordinary liquidity injections by a number of central banks to facilitate the orderly functioning of these markets.
How bad will things get? IMF Managing Director Rodrigo de Rato said it's uncertain how much growth will be affected, as it depends on how long banks are hesitant about lending money. He added that the IMF believed most countries would be able to sustain some type of expansion in the next year, even if it's below expectations. The United States, however, is in for a tough 2008. According to de Rato, the subprime mess "has an effect on the real economy which will be felt more in 2008, with greater intensity in the United States, less in other areas." Time to tighten those belts, folks.
To correspond with the release of her new book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, globalization critic Naomi Klein has partnered with "Children of Men" and "Y tu Mama Tambien" director Alfonso Cuarón to produce this short film, which was shown to rave reviews at the Toronto and Venice film festivals. The film and book make the argument that governments and corporations take advantage of catastrophes, both natural and man-made, to push through radical privatization agendas. It is only when populations are "shocked" into submission, she argues, that they will allow rulers to dupe them.
Given the participants, it's a bit disappointing at first to see Michael Moore-style use of period stock footage. But this film, which was actually directed by Cuarón's son Jonas, is really far slicker and subtler than anything Moore has done. There is a film-making process known as the Kuleshov effect that allows directors to alter the viewer's perception of one image by placing just before another. (Alfred Hitchcock explains it much better than I can.) Cuarón pulls off a particularly daring Kuleshov by interspersing facts about various privatization schemes with images of electrocutions and Abu Ghraib-style torture illustrations as well as scenes of devastation and violence. The facts and figures go by too fast to really process but what sticks in one's mind is the association between free market ideas, catastrophes and torture.
Of course, to suggest that the use of torture is in any way inherent in the free-market system is pretty ludicrous given the record of socialist regimes on that front. And as for Milton Friedman's insidious plot to use disasters to pave the way for his radical free-market agenda, leaders as different as Hitler, Castro, and Lyndon Johnson have used periods of national crisis to push through major reforms. In fact the Keynesian policies that Friedman spent his life trying to counteract only became de rigeur after the shock produced by the great depression. Klein writes that "The market crash of 1929 had created an overwhelming consensus that laissez-faire had failed..." I'm still trying to understand the difference between a disaster that produces consensus and one that produces shock.
Klein has produced some trenchant criticism of free-market orthodoxy in the past and she should not be dismissed offhand. The film will doubtless win her many new readers. Hopefully, they'll be able to separate the substance from the shock and awe tactics in her arguments.
Don't get between the British and their pints of beer. That's what the European Union has finally learned after giving in to Britian and allowing it to keep using pints—a non-metric unit of measurement—to dispense and sell beer.
Previously, the island country had been under an EU diktat to abandon pints and pounds, and instead sell goods in the metric system's liters and kilograms by 2010. Euroskeptic Brits have traditionally bristled at the idea of being pushed around by Eurocrats, which over the years has spurred the creation of many hilarious Euromyths.
The issue of abandoning the beloved imperial system of measures, in particular, had been a deeply emotional issue. Grocer Steve Thoburn became Britain's "metric martyr" when he was convicted in 2001 for the ghastly crime of selling bananas by the pound.
In the end, it seems like the EU decided to throw in the towel and just "go along to get along." A spokeswoman for the European Commission said it wanted to "put a full stop on this issue." With the future of the new EU Treaty hanging in the balance, that's probably wise.
In Thailand, children are given playful nicknames that stick with them through adulthood. Traditional nicknames have included Yaay (Big), Moo (Pig), and Dam (Black).
But in a rapidly changing, globalized world, more parents want "modern" nicknames for their kids—names that derive from TV, Hollywood, and other foreign influences. Some kids have been nicknamed Mafia and Seven (as in 7-Eleven). One teacher has students named Tomcruise, Army, God, Kiwi, and Gateaux (yes, that's the French word for "cakes"). A survey of students in one city found that the most popular English nickname was Ball—possibly after famous Thai tennis player Paradorn Srichaphan—with Oil and Bank following behind.
As often happens when globalization spurs cultural change, some people are working to preserve traditional culture. The Thai Ministry of Culture is putting together a booklet of thousands of old-fashioned Thai nicknames. As the aforementioned teacher explains it, however, "Thai names are from 20 years ago."
Thai purists shouldn't be sweating too much, though. This allure of the "modern" may just be a phase. In many parts of the world, people eventually come around: They want to rediscover their long-lost "roots" or find a way to assert their identity. In the United States in the early 1970s, for example, African-Americans began choosing names that were distinct from those of Caucasians. As much as people yearn to be part of a larger group, they also have a counteryearning to be seen as unique individuals.
Whether it's suspicious spinach, suicidal snack foods, or, most recently, fatal fish, this has been the summer of food scares. Not even your pet is safe. Fido's Kibbles are just as deadly as the salad you're about to eat for lunch.
But is our food supply as deadly as news reports suggest, or have food attacks simply replaced shark attacks as cable news' filler of choice on slow news days? I'm not trying to minimize the seriousness of food-borne illness here. As stats (pdf) from the Center for Science in the Public Interest show, it's a real threat, particularly to developing nations. Contaminated food contributes to 1.5 billion cases of diarrhea in kids each year, resulting in more than 3 million unnecessary deaths.
In the United States, food-borne diseases result in 76 million illnesses and 5,000 deaths annually. These numbers sound large—until you put them in perspective. Influenza and pneumonia, for instance, together kill more than 61,000 Americans a year. But unless that flu is of the bird variety, we don't hear much about it. Food threats make for good news copy because they almost always emanate from the developing world.Wealthy nations have become so far removed from their food supplies that it's easy to shock people with stories of sketchy Chinese catfish farmers and uncouth Thai salmon brokers.
But the real dangers inherent in our global food chain are far more quiet, and potentially more deadly, than headline-grabbing cases of E. coli. Consider obesity. Not that long ago, people everywhere ate with the seasons and with tastes that were dictated by regional conditions. But as it has become possible to eat anything, anywhere, at any time, the world has grown fatter. "Who cares?," you might say—it's nice to have fresh strawberries in the dead of winter.
Well, chew on this:
Global increases in the incidence and prevalence of obesity are grounded in the globalization of Western post-industrial food systems," writes Cornell University's Jeffrey Sobal. "Global corporations are establishing industrialized agro-food systems in almost all nations that will provide constant 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week/365 days a year consumer access to virtually unlimited volumes of relatively inexpensive calorifically dense foods to all people in all places at all times.... Global food systems and global vehicles, appliances, and mass media are the underlying causes of increases in global obesity."
Apparently, a flat world is a fat world.
The city of Suzhou has long been known as the Venice of China because of its many canals, but its title is now being taken away by a "real" Venice of China—that is, the Venetian Macao Resort Hotel. The 10.5 million square foot complex, the largest building in China (and the second largest in the world, behind the Boeing plant outside Seattle), cost $2.4 billion to build. The casino-resort is the epitome of Macao's efforts to rebrand itself as a prime destination for millions of Asian tourists who want to spend a weekend gambling or catching a show in the southern Chinese city. Last year, Macao surpassed Las Vegas in gambling revenues, aided by casinos such as the Wynn and the Sands.
Now, with the opening of the Venetian Macao, American billionaire Sheldon Adelson is aiming to boost the cachet of the Cotai Strip to make it something akin to the Las Vegas strip. "Today is the beginning of what has been a dream of mine for some time to reproduce the capital of entertainment in Asia for Asians," he said at today's opening, which was packed with thousands of eager would-be gamblers.
A couple of months ago, Passport noted that Disney was trying to get a piece of Bollywood action with the film "Roadside Romeo," to be released next summer. But now it seems that this was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Hollywood's efforts to crack the Indian movie market.
In the past month alone, there have been numerous stories of different ways Hollywood is trying to tap into Bollywood. Sony Pictures has just released a romance film entitled "Saawariya," which the International Herald Tribune calls "the first in what will become a wave of American studios to produce their own kaleidoscopic, song-and-dance Bollywood films." Richard Branson's Bangalore-based Virgin Comics has also recently teamed up with India's UTV Motion Pictures in a bid to create India's first modern superhero characters, which will be represented through a number of different media, including film. The creators want the characters to be inspired by India, but be relevant for a global audience. Warners Brothers, too, will not be left behind in India: It's making a Hindi-language film called "Made in China," which will be the first Hindi movie to be filmed in China. The film's producer proclaimed that this has brought the "globalization of Indian cinema closer to reality."
What's going on here? Unable to beat Bollywood—accounting for only around 5 to 8 percent of the Indian film market—Hollywood has decided to join it. There's also an increasing amount of money to be made. India's film industry is expected to balloon to $4.4 bllion a year by 2011, up from $2.1 billion last year. Not to mention Indian films have been gaining in popularity around the world, from Dubai to London, thanks in large part to India's large diaspora population. I think it's fair to say that Hollywood is betting on a safe horse here.
Twenty-seven years ago this month, 17,000 striking workers at Poland's Gdansk shipyard won the right to establish Eastern Europe's first free trade union. The founding of Solidarity would prove to be a pivotal moment in the struggle against Communism in the 1980s. However, the free market has not been kind to the workers of Gdansk, who are once again fighting for their survival. The European Union claims that Gdansk is propped up by government aid in violation of EU regulations and is demanding that the struggling port close down two of its three slipways to cut costs. The port had until the end of Tuesday to accept the proposal or hand back the billions it has received in government aid. But at the 11th hour, the Polish government countered with its own proposal, which likely includes a plan to privatize the shipyard and sell it to a Ukrainian and Italian consortium. The EU has not yet responded, but one official told EU Observer that the Poland's actions were not sufficient:
They should close capacity and then build back up. Poland wants to do it the other way round [to avoid job losses]."
Workers from Gdansk are planning a demonstration in Brussels on Aug. 31, the anniversary of the Solidarity Agreements, which won the union the right to organize. The ruling Law and Justice party traces its roots back to Solidarity, so the closure of the shipyard would be a major blow to Poland's president and prime minister, the staunchly nationalist Kaczynski twins, who may face an early election next year.
Former Solidarity leader and Polish President Lech Walesa has also been outspoken in his defense of the shipyard where he made his name:
This shipyard is like a mother to us ... Do you liquidate your own mother?"
Remember our blog post about those 1,500 prisoners in the Philippines who were jamming out to Michael Jackson's "Thriller"? Well, ABC News went behind the scenes and visited the Cebu province prison to find out how it all got made.
They talk to warden Byron Garcia, who conceived of the routines for prison yard exercise and YouTube fame (and whose sister happens to be the local governor). Are the prisoners actually enjoying themselves? According to a journalist interviewed by ABC who has visited the prison, the enforced dancing may actually be a violation of their human rights. He says:
I think Byron sees his prisoners as his dancing monkeys.
Garcia, however, thinks everything is copacetic:
We have a good relationship. Whatever I tell them to do, they do.
Check out the ABC News video here:
Not only do rubber duckies make bath time lots of fun, they tell us a lot about the environment, too.
Fifteen years ago, 29,000 bathtub toys—ducks, frogs, turtles, and beavers made of plastic, actually—fell off a container ship in the central Pacific Ocean.
Oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer has been tracking the toys' movement around the world and has found that about a hundred of them drifted on oceanic currents to Alaska, north to the Bering Sea, across the North Pole, alongside Greenland, and into the North Atlantic. As recently as 2003, one of the ducks washed up on the shore in Maine and one of the frogs landed in Scotland. The container of toys aren't the only ocean flotsam that Ebbesmeyer has tracked. He's also tracked 80,000 Nike shoes that were also lost in the Pacific, 34,000 hockey gloves, five million Legos lost off the coast of England, and survey stakes that have drifted in the ocean from Japan. As Ebbesmeyer writes in today's Wall Street Journal, there is way too much junk, especially plastic junk, in the world's seas:
Most of it does not biodegrade. It just breaks down into ever smaller pieces, to the size of confetti and, finally, dust. Fish, birds and other marine animals eat this pseudo-planton and pass it up the food chain. Our world-wide litter is poisoning the seas, the creatures within them, and ultimately, ourselves."
If you spot one of the ducks on your shore, now bleached to white and imprinted with the words "The First Years," submit a photo and note to Ebbesmeyer's Web site, www.beachcombersalert.org.
There is a world that came into existence only 2 years and 8 months ago. In this world, at least 7 languages are spoken. There are villages and metropolises. There's trade and commerce. There are wars and treaties. And there's been a population explosion. This week, that world hit a milestone—reaching 9 million inhabitants. That's more than the entire population of Somalia, and only slightly smaller than Sweden.
What is this world of which I speak? It's World of Warcraft (WoW), what's known as a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). Launched in November 2004, WoW has become one of the most popular PC games in the world, and will soon release an expansion pack in China, swelling its ranks even further. To take a look at how WoW's population of 9 million stacks up against real life countries, click here.
As the numbers show, this ain't no mere fantasy game, catering to a small niche of die-hard geeks. No, this is an insanely lucrative business, involving masses of people and masses of cash. Let's do some rudimentary math. The pricing varies from country to country, but each subscriber must pay at least $20 just to get started. Thereafter, subscription fees are, at the very minimum, $13 per month. Multiply all that by 9 million, and also the monthly subscription times 12 months, and what do you get? $180 million in initiation revenues, plus an additional $1.4 billion per year from one game alone!
It's proving to be a dismal summer for sports. Doped-up Tour de France cyclists are dropping out left and right, basketball referees are on the take, and an (American) football player is charged with running dogfighting rings.
But there is one bright spot, and that's in the world of real football: David Beckham's arrival in the United States to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy pro soccer team.
I know, I know. All you naysayers can point to his tepid debut last weekend—in which, according to The Independent, "A sell-out crowd ... turned up to watch a barely fit footballer play a friendly for a below-average team in a second-rate league."—and say I'm crazy. You can complain all you want about how he and Posh are BFF with Tom and Katie and how that will bring the sport down.
But read Will Leitch's Op-Ed in today's New York Times, and you just might change your mind. Leitch argues that Beckham will heighten awareness of the beautiful game among ordinary Americans. And even though Becks may be over the hill, his superstar status is enough to raise the level of American play:
European basketball leagues have only grown in popularity — and quality — over the last decade while showcasing curio local products and Americans who couldn’t cut it in the N.B.A. The leagues benefited from a sampling of American talent while still nurturing their own players. What happened? Did you see the N.B.A. finals? The San Antonio Spurs won with a lineup stocked with European (and South American) players. Think of today’s M.L.S. as Spanish basketball circa 1997.
If Leitch is right, then maybe by 2017 we'll see some American stars tearing up the Premier League.
It's easy to see globalization at work in the Philippines, as long as you just add a couple decades and throw in 1,000 orange jumpsuits. Nearly 24 years after the premier of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video, prisoners in the central Philippine province of Cebu groove out during their morning exercises by re-enacting the zombie dance moves that became so famous on MTV.
The jailbirds also perform to Queen's "Radio Ga Ga" and don nuns' habits when dancing to "Hail Holy Queen" from the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg movie "Sister Act." Warden Byron Garcia introduced the choreography to the prisoners last year, but only uploaded the videos recently. They've been tearing up cyberspace ever since.
I want the prison system to learn from this," Garcia told Reuters. "The inmates are after all human beings and the inmates after all, once inside, know that they have committed mistakes, let them enjoy their stay."
Regular readers of Passport know that we are avid followers of the world of competitive eating. Last year, we posted a Seven Questions with George Shea, the head of the International Federation of Competitive Eating. And just a few weeks ago, we blogged about how American upstart Joey Chestnut shattered the world record set by Japan's Takeru "Tsunami" Kobayashi by eating an astonishing 59 1/2 hot dogs in 12 minutes. So we were really looking forward to this year's Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog-Eating Contest, with Chestnut challenging Kobayashi in head-to-head competition, trying to put a halt to the tsunami's unbroken string of five victories in a row.
Alas, our hopes may be dashed, just like Kobayashi's chances for defending his title. It turns out that the scrappy competitor has been diagnosed with jaw arthritis brought on by overtraining for the event. He still hopes to compete despite his pain. But for now, his playing status is unknown. Get well, Kobayashi-san!
We've all heard about students around the world who aspire to learn English so they can get well-paying jobs. But for students in Sudan, the language to learn is Chinese.
Sudan sells around 60 percent of its oil to China, and Chinese companies, products, and restaurants have made inroads into the African country. Sudanese university students who learn Chinese can get jobs as translators and work for Chinese oil and telecommunications companies. Recently, Khartoum University had a Chinese speech competition, and a Chinese professor there said, "… nearly 100% of students who graduate from the department get jobs with Chinese companies." In a troubled country like Sudan, that prospect is a great motivator to learn the language.
More than a billion people speak Mandarin Chinese, and the Chinese government actively promotes the language as a way of extending its influence. The country has sent hundreds of teachers to Africa, and it has established "Confucius Institutes" around the globe to encourage speaking the language.
And the trend to learn Mandarin Chinese isn't limited to Sudan. In Britain, the number of university students studying Chinese more than doubled from 2002 to 2005. Other Western countries have had similar increases.
In the near term, Mandarin isn't going to displace English as the world's global language. But at the end of the day, money talks. A few decades from now, money could be talking in yuan, not dollars.
Perhaps no gun on Earth is more popular than the Avtomat Kalashnikov, or AK. What makes the AK so popular? In a recent study by Oxford University Economist Phillip Killicoat, "Weaponomics: The Global Market for Assault Rifles," two theories emerge. The first is the weapon's simplicity:
The AK-47 was initially designed for ease of operation and repair by glove-wearing Soviet soldiers in arctic conditions. Its breathtaking simplicity means that it can also be operated by child soldiers in the African desert."
But the AK is also less accurate, less safe, and has a smaller range than its competitors. So its popularity could also stem from its early competitive advantage:
In the case of the AK-47 that early advantage may be that as a Soviet invention it was not subject to patent and so could be freely copied. Furthermore, large caches of these weapons were freely distributed to regimes and rebels sympathetic to the Soviet Union - more freely, that is, than weapons were distributed by the US - thereby giving the AK-47 a foothold advantage in the emerging post-World War II market for small arms."
Either way, there's a lot of them floating around, something FP examined way back in 2004. Of the 500 million firearms found in the world today, an estimated 100 million belong to the Kalashnikov family, three-quarters of which are the famed AK-47 (the "47" refers to the year in which the rifle was designed for the Soviet army).
Killicoat also looks at the price of an AK-47 in 208 countries between 1990 and 2005. He finds that, although the average global price of an AK-47 has risen from $448 in 1990 to $534 in 2005, in African countries purchasing an AK-47 is on average $200 cheaper than anywhere else in the world. Here's why:
[T]his staggering Africa-discount is predominantly driven by porous borders. Since borders are more porous than elsewhere, the trade in assault rifles across the African continent approaches a deregulated market in which prices converge and there are only negligible trade barriers that arms supply must overcome to meet demand. At any one time, only a few African countries have very high demand for weapons due to conflict. This demand profile across the continent changes over time as localized tensions rise and recede. Porous borders enable the entire supply of weapons on the African continent to meet whichever country currently has high weapons demand.
In fact, the weapons are so ubiquitous in Africa that "Kalash," an abbreviation of Kalashnikov, has become a popular boy's name in some countries.
(Hat tip: HTWW)
Just a few years ago, protests by 10,000 demonstrators at a G-8 summit would have been front page news. But yesterday's protests in Heiligendamm, Germany earned merely a few paragraphs on page 21 of today's Washington Post. That tells you just about everything you need to know about the strength and influence of the anti-globalization movement today.
Writing in the latest issue of Britain's Spectator, Ross Clark makes the argument that, "one of the little-remarked side effects of 9/11 was the eclipse of the anti-globalisation movement." It certainly seems that, following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, many in the anti-globalization movement decided that globalization would simply go away. The reality, of course, as FP pointed in its September/October 2006 issue, couldn't be further from the truth. Globalization is not only alive and well, it is thriving in all corners of the globe.
So why hasn't the anti-globalization movement come back? It doesn't make sense. Globalization is bigger and badder than ever. The World Bank—anti-globalization's Enemy No. 1—has just been hit by a nasty ethics scandal. Yet the "movement," which just a few years ago was so powerful, is nowhere to be found. Why? Iraq probably has something to do with it. Rich, disillusioned youth and the tenured professors who teach them used to sit around vilifying well-intentioned bureaucrats at the World Bank. Now they spend their days vilifying well-intentioned bureaucrats at Embassy Baghdad.
But, perhaps more importantly, the reality is that the anti-globalization movement doesn't have a U.S. president to kick around anymore. It certainly doesn't have one in the Bush Administration, which has delivered more for the poor in Africa than Clinton or Carter did. That, as Al Gore would say, is an inconvenient truth for the anti-globalization left, particularly in Europe. As Bono told CNN (video) this week, "Europeans say Americans don't care, [that] it's a continent behaving like an island. They are wrong."
The sucking sound you hear in Heiligendamm isn't the riot police firing up their water cannons, which appeared to do nothing more than give the protestors a much needed shower. It is the gaping chest wound the Bush administration has inflicted upon the anti-globalization movement. And, if this week's protests are any indication, that wound appears to be fatal.
Of course, that isn't stopping Hollywood from trying its best to resuscitate the fledgling anti-globalization activists. Watch for the movie "Battle in Seattle" coming out in December, starring Charlize Theron and Woody Harrelson as erstwhile heroes.
The scourge of counterfeit drugs in the global marketplace is nothing new. As Passport noted in February, the World Health Organization estimates that a quarter of all drug packets on the streets of developing countries are fake. Such medicines are responsible for the deaths of 300,000 people each year in China alone (pdf).
But now there's even more bad news. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)—called the "most promising technology for electronic track and trace across the drug supply chain" by the Food and Drug Administration—may not be so promising after all.
CSO, a publication dealing with private security issues, recently published a piece dispelling the five big myths surround RFID technology and its ability to prevent and mitigate drug counterfeiting operations. Given that big pharma companies including GlaxoSmithKline, Purdue Pharma and Pfizer have adopted RFID for a number of their products, this is important news. A quick summary:
- Myth 1: RFID tags are anti-counterfeiting devices. Why not? Their primary function is as an inventory tracking device—not a security one. They are simply a "record of a drug's journey through the supply chain."
- Myth 2: RFID technology is necessary to track the movement of legitimate drugs. Why not? The "two-way communication" part of RFID tracking, which is the most crucial component of protecting distribution, is still unreliable. This means that often-unreliable 2-D barcodes are often as the principal means of identifying the drugs instead.
- Myth 3: RFID technology can be used to mark pills, tablets and elixirs themselves. Why not? Only the packaging gets marked, not the drugs themselves. And many drugs are repackaged on their journey from producer to market, creating easily exploitable loopholes for the savvy counterfeiter. As the Chief Security Officer of Novartis explains, "We have had experience with counterfeit product in genuine packaging, and genuine product in counterfeit packaging.... The packaging isn't what's important."
- Myth 4: RFID technology will let consumers verify that they have purchased legitimate products. Why not? The tension between privacy and security is still too strong. So far, it seems as if the RFID tags are disabled before they reach the hands of consumers.
- Myth 5: The pharmaceutical industry is this close to widespread RFID adoption. Why not? It's costly to switch to a new system—especially one whose benefits are still unclear.
RFID may still offer some hope for effectively monitoring drug supply and distribution, but it's not a panacea for addressing counterfeiting by any means. Tackling fake drugs will require greater international cooperation and information exchange between supply channels, and better efforts to crack down on counterfeiters by policing agencies. Until then, parents will continue to face the risk of unwittingly poisoning their own children.
British entrepreneur Nick Denton is best known as the founder of Gawker.com, a Manhattan media-watching site that's become one of the most popular blogs on the Internet. But his Gawker Media empire has other sites too, including Wonkette for Washington gossip, Gizmodo for news about the latest tech gadgets, and Deadspin for sports fans.
Another Denton venture, Gridskipper, is for travel enthusiasts. The blog is aimed primarily at urban twentysomethings who take (or at least want to take) globalization literally on a personal level, jetting off to find the best tapas in Sydney or the coolest design galleries in Paris.
Until now, the website has just offered travel tips and addresses for hotels, restaurants, bars, and shops. Now Gridskipper has added a mapping feature to six cities on its site: Berlin, Los Angeles, New York, Paris San Francisco, and Sydney. So the next time you decide you really need to buy a skull sweater at Lala Berlin when you're in Germany, Gridskipper will show you exactly where to find it.
I've often dreamed of finding the perfect virtual secretary to manage those mundane tasks of life—paying bills, filing paperwork, keeping track of appointments, making travel arrangements—that are difficult to manage on a hectic schedule. Now it appears that I haven't been dreaming big enough. An article in Saturday's Wall Street Journal highlights the potentially huge phenomenon of "personal offshoring":
Offshore outsourcing has transformed the way U.S. companies do business. Now, some early adopters are figuring out how to tap overseas workers for personal tasks. They're turning to a vast talent pool in India, China, Bangladesh and elsewhere for jobs ranging from landscape architecture to kitchen remodeling and math tutoring. They're also outsourcing some surprisingly small jobs, including getting a dress designed, creating address labels for wedding invitations or finding a good deal on a hotel room, for example.
Along with Guru.com, one of the bigger players is Elance, a California-based company whose site lists a huge variety of freelance jobs. Disturbingly, many of the tasks listed are in my job description: blog writing, copy editing, article writing, web layout ...
Evalueserve, the Indian research firm that wrote the white paper (pdf) that prompted the Journal's story, estimates "the total addressable market in the United States" for personal offshoring to be "easily" over $20 billion. Gulp.
The good news is that my dream of having a personal assistant is now attainable: There's GetFriday, an unfortunately named Indian company that offers a "personal virtual assistant" for as little as $7 an hour, depending on which plan you choose. So as long as I don't get offshored myself, my life may just have gotten a little easier.
Globalization and economic liberalization generate winners and losers all over the world. In India, educated English speakers can get relatively high-paying jobs in call centers, while vegetable sellers and farmers are left behind. About 92 percent of India's workforce is in the "unorganized sector," comprising farmers, artisans, street vendors, the self-employed, construction workers, etc. There's not much of a social safety net for these people, who have yet to make it into the winner's circle of globalization. Now, the Indian government is trying to help: It wants to give them social security cards.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has just pushed a historic social security bill through his cabinet. If Parliament passes it, the bill will provide life insurance, health and disability benefits, and possibly more to some 390 million poor, nonunionized workers. Eligible workers will contribute one rupee per day, to be matched by the government and employers. (The very poor won't have to contribute at all.)
Setting up a social security system will be challenging for India, to put it mildly. It requires strong administrative and infrastructural capacity (pdf) to mobilize resources and coordinate the logistics for implementation. It also requires money, transparency, and low tolerance for corruption. Can India do it? It had better. Fail to pull this off, and the result could be a populist backlash against the very economic liberalization that has fueled the country's boom. Now's the time to make sure the rising tide lifts everyone's boat.
The Financial Times declared in a headline this week that "India is set to gain from outsourcing." Hardly breaking news. But the article goes on to discuss how, by 2010, the developing world will account for more than a quarter of all electronics manufacturing output, up from less than one fifth two years ago. Further, outsourcing is likely to propel India to increase its electronics manufacturing from $5 billion in 2005 to $38.8 billion in 2010—almost an eightfold increase. No doubt this could be a significant leap for India's electronics manufacturing industry, especially since India has traditionally been viewed as a software provider rather than a hardware provider, unlike China. But for all the hype about India's gains—and assuming that India can sustain the skill-base required to develop at this rate—the projections show that India still won't catch up to its east Asian competitor. As the FT notes:
China, which in the past 10 years has become the most important country for electronics manufacturing, will in 2010 account for 46 per cent of outsourcing work in this industry, down from 48 per cent two years ago.
So even if India will be a "big gainer, accounting for a projected 10 per cent of the total in 2010, up from 2 per cent in 2005," electronics manufacturing outsourcing will still be largely dominated by China.
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