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Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘globalization

[LINK] “Pacific Islanders Take on Australian Coal”

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The Inter Press Service’s Suganthi Singarayar writes about Pacific islanders’ growing hostility to Australian coal exports, predicated on the belief that the carbon dioxide produced by the burning of this coal will make their islands uninhabitable thanks to sealevel rise. This has the potential to be a serious irritant in Australia’s relationship with these island states.

The recent blockade of ships entering the world’s largest coal port in Newcastle, Australia, has brought much-needed attention to the negative impacts of the fossil fuel industry on global climate patterns. But it will take more than a single action to bring the change required to prevent catastrophic levels of climate change.

This past Friday, 30 ‘climate warriors’ from 12 Pacific Island nations paddled traditional canoes into the sea, joined by scores of supporters in kayaks and on surfboards, to prevent the passage of eight of some 12 ships scheduled to move through the Newcastle port that day.

[. . .]
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Coastline erosion, sea level rise, floods, storms, relocation of coastal communities, contamination of freshwater sources and destruction of crops and agricultural lands are only the tip of the iceberg of the hardships facing some 10 million Pacific Islanders, over 50 percent of whom reside within 1.5 km of the coastline.

For these populations, the fossil fuel industry poses one of the gravest threats to their very existence.

Coal production alone is responsible for 44 percent of global CO2 emissions worldwide, according to the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions. However, none of the small island nations are responsible for this dirty industry. That responsibility lies with Australia, the fifth-largest coal producing country in the world after China, the United States, India and Indonesia.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 22, 2014 at 7:50 pm

[LINK] “Russia is conducting a massive McDonald’s purge”

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Zack Beauchamp of Vox reports on the Russian crackdown on McDonald’s restaurants. Being iconic elements of Western capitalism has hurt the chain.

The Russian government appears to be waging a stealth campaign against the world’s most famous fast food franchise, closing branches en masse, in what appears to be retaliation against the United States over its support of Ukraine’s government in the ongoing conflict there.

[. . .]

The most famous such shuttered McDonald’s is in Pushkin Square in Moscow. It was the first McDonald’s to open in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. According to the New York Times, it was the world’s busiest McDonald’s for many years. It was also one of the first to be shut down in the current spate of McDonald’s closings.

Ostensibly, these McDonald’s are being closed for health reasons. But analysts are skeptical.

“Russia has a tendency to ban foreign products, particularly food, for political reasons,” National Journal’s Marina Koren writes. The closures are designed, she says, “to send a message to the US and the Russians they may be trying to reach: The West is not welcome here.” Starting with the Pushkin Square Mickey D’s made that point, especially to Russians who remember the location’s symbolic importance as a mark of the Cold War’s end and of America’s victory.

In purely economic terms, the war on McDonald’s is, like so much of Russia’s recent lashing out at the West, mostly self-defeating. There are give-or-take 437 McDonald’s in Russia and they purchase about 85 percent of their supplies from Russian companies. So the anti-McDonald’s campaign is, in a way, a microcosm of Putin’s entire approach to the Ukraine crisis: damn the economic costs, full speed ahead on aggressive nationalist symbolic gestures.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 22, 2014 at 7:43 pm

[LINK] “What It’s like to Fly the $23,000 Singapore Airlines Suites Class”

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Blogger Derek Lo recounts his experience of an incredibly luxurious airplane flight from Singapore to New York City, with abundant photos.

In 2008, Singapore Airlines introduced their Suites Class, the most luxurious class of flying that is commercially available.

The Suites were exclusive to their flagship Airbus A380, and they go beyond flat beds by offering enclosed private cabins with sliding doors that cocoon you in your own little lap of luxury. The interior was designed by French luxury yacht designer Jean-Jacques Coste and comes along with a plush soft leather armchair hand-stitched by the Italian master craftsmen Poltrona Frau. Perhaps most well-known of all, Singapore Airlines became the first and only commercial airline with a double bed in the sky.

However, the experience came with a hefty price tag. With round-trip tickets costing up to S$23,000 (or US$18,400), it was completely unattainable for most people.

Frequent flyer miles buy much.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 16, 2014 at 10:57 pm

[LINK] “Iron Price War Deepens Crisis in Ebola-Stricken Sierra Leone”

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This multiply-authored Bloomberg article touches upon the economic ramifications of the West African Ebola epidemic.

Sulaiman Kamara, a handcart pusher in Freetown before the outbreak began in May, used to earn 50,000 leones ($11) a day, before a shriveling economy took away his job. The 42-year-old father of three now hawks cigarettes and candy on streets with shuttered shops and restaurants, empty hotels and idling taxis. Some days, he’s lucky to make a quarter of his former earnings.

Things are about to get worse again. Iron ore, the biggest export earner, is in a major tailspin, leaving Sierra Leone’s two miners on the verge of collapse and jeopardizing 16 percent of gross domestic product in a country where output per person was just $809 last year.

Used in steelmaking, iron ore has slumped 39 percent this year as the world’s largest miners spend billions of dollars expanding giant pits in Australia and Brazil. Digging up ore that’s less rich in iron and operating with restrictions imposed to stop the disease’s spread, local producers can’t compete.

“The impact of Ebola in terms of iron-ore revenue is huge,” said Lansana Fofanah, a senior economist in Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Finance and Economic Development. “Iron ore is responsible for the country’s double-digit growth since 2011 until the Ebola outbreak.”

Iron ore contributes more in mining royalties than any other mineral to government revenue, which has plunged since the outbreak began, and as the budget deficit worsens, the International Monetary Fund has agreed to step in.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 14, 2014 at 9:16 pm

[LINK] “Lisbon Tourist Invasion Seen Threatening Ancient City’s Identity”

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I’m exceptionally unsympathetic to the arguments made by tourist-skeptical people in Henrique Almeida’s Bloomberg article, not least because I’ve heard them on Prince Edward Island. Places which have freely staked their economic futures on their successful globalization really have no justification to criticize outsider’s curiosities. What are the alternative sources of income, anyway?

The MSC Opera cruise ship was among the first to arrive in Lisbon on Sept. 12. Other vessels, some the size of buildings, soon pulled into the River Tagus, lazily making their way to the heart of the Portuguese capital.

In all, a record seven vessels carrying 15,000 people arrived in the city that day, the Port of Lisbon estimates. As the ships docked alongside the river, tuk-tuk-style taxis lined up in a scene reminiscent of a town in Thailand — rather than one of Europe’s oldest cities.

“It’s going to be a day to remember,” said Jose Amaral, a 33-year-old tuk-tuk driver who charges about 50 euros ($63) for a one-hour ride. “Forget the tram 28, this is the new way to see Lisbon,” he said, referring to the famous yellow tram that takes tourists to some of Lisbon’s historic hill-top sites.

The more than 1 million euros the tourists spent in less than 24 hours on that day helped Portugal’s economy, and the government heralded the flood of tourists as a sign that Lisbon is the place to be. For some residents, however, such flows risk ousting local inhabitants and traditional stores from the city’s ancient quarters as hostels and shops selling cheap trinkets and imitation handicrafts encroach — threatening the very identity of a city that traces its history back to more than 2,000 years.

[. . .]

“While the new hotels have helped revamp some of the city’s decrepit buildings, an increasing number of residents in the Baixa are moving out because of the noise from the restaurants and the garbage,” said Antonio Rosado, head of the Association of Residents of the Baixa Pombalina area. “Some residents are unhappy because of the problems caused by the excess of businesses catering to tourists.”

Many of these tourists look to spend as little as possible, said Maria Goncalves, a shop clerk in Lisbon.

“What happens when everything around you turns into shops selling cheap souvenirs?” asked the 62-year-old who has worked at the Londres Salao fine fabrics shop in downtown Lisbon for more than four decades. “Tourists who come to Lisbon will no longer be able to see the best that we have to offer.”

Written by Randy McDonald

October 9, 2014 at 10:32 pm

[LINK] “Seeds of Doubt”

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Michael Specter’s article in The New Yorker deserves to be widely shared, indeed. Anti-GMO activist Vandana Shiva seems, to put it charitably, more concerned with the impact of her rhetoric than the accuracy of her facts. Even her biography has issues: she is not world-famous as a physicist.

Hundreds of millions of people, in twenty-eight countries, eat transgenic products every day, and if any of Shiva’s assertions were true the implications would be catastrophic. But no relationship between glyphosate and the diseases that Shiva mentioned has been discovered. Her claims were based on a single research paper, released last year, in a journal called Entropy, which charges scientists to publish their findings. The paper contains no new research. Shiva had committed a common, but dangerous, fallacy: confusing a correlation with causation. (It turns out, for example, that the growth in sales of organic produce in the past decade matches the rise of autism, almost exactly. For that matter, so does the rise in sales of high-definition televisions, as well as the number of Americans who commute to work every day by bicycle.)

Shiva refers to her scientific credentials in almost every appearance, yet she often dispenses with the conventions of scientific inquiry. She is usually described in interviews and on television as a nuclear physicist, a quantum physicist, or a world-renowned physicist. Most of her book jackets include the following biographical note: “Before becoming an activist, Vandana Shiva was one of India’s leading physicists.” When I asked if she had ever worked as a physicist, she suggested that I search for the answer on Google. I found nothing, and she doesn’t list any such position in her biography.

Shiva argues that because many varieties of corn, soybeans, and canola have been engineered to resist glyphosate, there has been an increase in the use of herbicides. That is certainly true, and in high enough amounts glyphosate, like other herbicides, is toxic. Moreover, whenever farmers rely too heavily on one chemical, whether it occurs naturally or is made in a factory, weeds develop resistance. In some regions, that has already happened with glyphosate—and the results can be disastrous. But farmers face the problem whether or not they plant genetically modified crops. Scores of weed species have become resistant to the herbicide atrazine, for example, even though no crops have been modified to tolerate it. In fact, glyphosate has become the most popular herbicide in the world, largely because it’s not nearly so toxic as those which it generally replaces. The E.P.A. has labelled water unsafe to drink if it contains three parts per billion of atrazine; the comparable limit for glyphosate is seven hundred parts per billion. By this measure, glyphosate is two hundred and thirty times less toxic than atrazine.

For years, people have been afraid that eating genetically modified foods would make them sick, and Shiva’s speeches are filled with terrifying anecdotes that play to that fear. But since 1996, when the crops were first planted, humans have consumed trillions of servings of foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients, and have draped themselves in thousands of tons of clothing made from genetically engineered cotton, yet there has not been a single documented case of any person becoming ill as a result. That is one reason that the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the World Health Organization, the U.K.’s Royal Society, the French Academy of Sciences, the European Commission, and dozens of other scientific organizations have all concluded that foods derived from genetically modified crops are as safe to eat as any other food.

Spectre goes on to demonstrate much more.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 6, 2014 at 11:01 pm

[BLOG] Some Sunday links

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  • blogTO recommends things to do in Bloorale and the Junction Triangle.
  • The Cranky Sociologists look at the portrayal of gender in The Wire.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze examines the phenomenon of the tidal disruption of extremely eccentric asteroids in orbit of white dwarfs.
  • A Fistful of Euros recommends Orlando Figes’ Just Send Me Word, a history of a couple whose romance survived the gulag.
  • Geocurrents contests the idea of an “arc of instability”.
  • Joe. My. God. reports on a Berlin Grindr-based art project that got shut down early for streaming private messages and images.
  • Language Log shares video of Jiamg Zemin demonstrating his multilingualism in criticizing a Hong Kong journalist.
  • Languages of the World’s Asya Perelstvaig is critical of the idea that some words are “ultra-conserved”, preserving records of ancient languages.
  • Marginal Revolution notes a study suggesting that the French economy is less productive than its age structure indicates.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog suggests that the Russian campaign in Ukraine has worked, at least in making European integration more difficult.
  • Spacing Toronto notes one complication for construction companies: Toronto’s bedrock swells.
  • Torontoist covers the Torontonian relief given to survivors of the great 1922 Teminskaming fire in 1922.
  • Towleroad shares video on the occasion of Denmark’s first recognized same-sex union.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy shares information on how Ebola is transmitted.
  • Window on Eurasia notes Crimean Tatar disappearances, notes continuing divisions in Ukraine on attitudes towards Russia, and observes that many Chinese immigrants to Kazakhstan are not ethnically Chinese.
  • The Financial Times‘s The World notes that many in Norway are still divided about their country’s rejection of the 2022 Winter Olympics.
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