A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for July 2012

[LINK] How the blogosphere is dispersed by social networking services

Lawyers, Guns and Money’s SEK linked last week to the post “Reader Response, in Theory”. Written by one Kathleen Fitzpatrick, it explores something I’ve noted in the past, namely, the way in which comments on a single blog post can be scattered across multiple different platforms as posts are read in and exported to multiple platforms (Facebook, Twitter, et cetera) which do not allow for the public sharing of comments and commentary between platforms. Discussions are disrupted.

The technical problem has everything to do with Facebook’s hoovering action: it’s very easy to share material into Zuckerberglandia, but very, very hard to share it out. This is on the one hand a good thing, given concerns about privacy and the personal nature of a lot of what gets shared on Facebook; things people post there often spread further than they expect, given the friends-of-friends phenomenon, and if those things were easily able to leave the FB platform, they would have the potential to do even more damage to their unwitting posters.

On the other hand, the closedness of Facebook has produced some significant problems for folks who are trying to produce open discussions of ongoing work. Bloggers who have been at it for a while have noted a recent decline in commenting, and while that decline may have begun with the popularity of RSS feeds (which abstract the content of blog posts from their web presences, encouraging reading without interaction), it has accelerated with the privatization of discussion on platforms like Facebook. When a friend shares a link there, it’s only natural to discuss the link with that friend, in that environment, rather than discussing the text with the author, on the author’s site.

This is, of course, not exclusively a Facebook issue; links posted on Twitter often produce tweeted responses, and other platforms like Google+ (yes, there actually are some people active there) have similar effects. While this proliferation of platforms has enabled many internet users to find the right spots for the discussions they want to have, and the right groups with which to have them, it’s had a diminishing effect on the kinds of discussion that, at my most idealistic moments, I continue to believe that blogging can produce. The problem is that in order for blogs to be the fruitful platforms for serialized scholarship that I imagine, their authors need to engage — and need to be able to engage — with the responses that their posts produce.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that all responses must be contained within any given blog post’s comments; if you look at the comments on my last post, you’ll see that most have come in from Twitter, and a few others are pingbacks from other blogs. Twitter’s relative openness (an openness that is extremely fragile, and that Twitter has recently begun to close off in various ways) and the extremely porous design of blogs allow their conversations to be aggregated in ways that both support small communities of practice and engage related groups in a dispersed and yet connected network (hey!) of conversations. So there’s a link on my seriality post to Collin Brooke’s fabulous post on “surreality”, generated by a link on his post to mine; similarly, the link in my last clause will produce a link on his post to this one. We can sustain a conversation with one another in this way, while nonetheless keeping our own contributions on our own preferred platforms.

Facebook, again, disrupts that ability, both technically and socially. There’s no mechanism through which my blog post can aggregate FB links or comments, and there are no real norms for when and how it’s acceptable to reproduce FB discussions in other spaces. Frank Kelleter, the colleague who linked to my post on unpopularity, encouraged me to share the discussion that it produced here, but without getting similar permission from his interlocutor, I’d be uncomfortable responding to comments other than his own. That interlocutor would probably grant permission if I asked, but the need to ask highlights some of the issues that new platforms create for the flow of scholarly discourse. We do not need to ask permission to respond to one another’s publications, but assume that it’s okay to do so as long as appropriate credit and citation are given; linking to one another’s blog posts has followed this pattern. It has generally been considered good form to ask the author before citing unpublished work, however, including personal communications, and referring to comments on privatized platforms like Facebook appears to fall more into that model.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 31, 2012 at 11:59 pm

[LINK] “Hot, Caffeinated, and Expanding: The Global Geography of Coffee, Tea, and Yerba Mate”

Geocurrents’ Martin Lewis has a fantastic post outlining the global trade coffee (tea an yerba mate, too).

It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of the global trade in coffee and tea. Among commodities, the $80+ billion international coffee market is sometimes said to trail only that of oil. Coffee is an essential source of revenue for many countries, with Burundi making more than half of its export earnings from the crop, even though it does not count among the world’s top twenty producers. By weight and value, the international coffee trade surpasses that of tea, but tea is still the more widely consumed beverage. According to the Wikipedia, “Tea is the most popular manufactured drink in the world in terms of consumption. Its consumption equals all other manufactured drinks in the world – including coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, and alcohol – put together.”

Economic historians emphasize the crucial roles played by coffee and tea. The early modern European and American tea trade with China was large enough to be of political as well as economic significance, as reflected to this day in “tea party” slogans. Seventeenth century coffee houses in London and Amsterdam were not merely drink dispensers, but also incubators of the stock market and the insurance industry; the original Lloyd’s of London was a coffee house. As historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch relates in his engaging Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants, and Intoxicants, the “sober drink” of coffee was widely linked to Protestant rectitude and frugal business habits. Although both coffee and tea are still frowned upon by many and prohibited by a few groups, both drinks seem to have generally healthful effects. Recent studies led Seeking Alpha to half-jestingly refer to “coffee stocks as a healthcare investment.” In historical terms, the main benefits of such beverages probably stemmed from the fact that they demanded the boiling of water, reducing microbial contamination.

[. . .]

The disparity between coffee growing and coffee drinking countries appears less pronounced on a map of per capita consumption. Here the main patterns pertain to world regions: coffee use is high through most of the Americas and especially in Europe (with a few notable exceptions), low in sub-Saharan Africa and throughout mainland South, East, and Southeast Asia, and highly variable in the greater Middle East. Within the coffee-drinking zone, Nordic countries stand out, with Finland’s 12+ kilograms per person per year almost meriting a category of its own. It is true that many coffee-exporting countries are not particularly keen on the drink, although Brazil, which alone produces a third of all internationally traded coffee, imbibes fairly heavily; Brazilians drink more coffee, on average, than residents of the United States. Several others important producers, such as Colombia, Venezuela, and Ethiopia, exhibit moderate levels of consumption, whereas low levels of coffee drinking characterize such major exporters as Vietnam, Indonesia, and Peru.

The geography of coffee has changed greatly since the early modern era. Several places that were once redolent of coffee now drink little. Yemen was world’s first major coffee exporter, with one of its ports, Mocha, giving its name to a particular coffee preparation. Today qat-obsessed Yemen has little use for the drink. Indonesia is still a major exporter, but consumption remains low even on the island of Java, which has lent its name to the beverage more generally. ‘Turkish coffee” is famous, as once were the coffee houses of Istanbul, but Turkey today consumes little of the black beverage, much preferring tea. Ethiopia, coffee’s homeland, does both export and imbibe substantial quantities, but trouble lurks; according to a recent report, “Ethiopia’s coffee export continues to plummet due to chaotic government controls and enforcement of bad policies.”

Coffee consumption is generally quite low in Asia, with South Korea and especially Japan forming exceptions. But coffee producers are excited by prospects for growth in the Asian market, particularly that of China. Although the average Chinese person drinks only 5 cups a year, the figure in Shanghai is now over 20, and consumption is growing quickly as Starbucks and other chains proliferate. The biggest growth in the coffee market, however, has occurred in the Gulf States; according to a recent report, “The UAE has been the fastest growing market by volume for coffee in the world with coffee volume sales expected to register an 80 per cent growth from 2009-2014, or a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 12 per cent year on year over the same period.”

On the production side of the coffee ledger, the biggest change over the past two decades has been the rise of Vietnam, now the second largest producer by a healthy margin. The rise of Vietnamese coffee has often been described as economically destabilizing, generating distress in several poor, coffee-dependent countries. As can be seen on the Wikipedia map below, Vietnam competes in the robusta coffee market, which is otherwise heavily concentrated in Africa.

Lewis also comes up with interesting patterns in the distribution of tea drinking and growing (broadly paralleling coffee) and in yerba mate, apparently starting to take off beyond southern South America in the United States as well as the Middle East (ties of migration with Syria and Lebanon are key, here).

Go, read and see the maps!

Written by Randy McDonald

July 31, 2012 at 10:57 pm

Posted in Assorted

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[LINK] “Bone marrow transplant eliminates HIV traces from two patients’ DNA: Call it a cure?”

Via Towleroad, I found this CBS article by Ryan Jaslow reporting on a noteworthy step in the development of a cure for HIV.

Two men who’ve had HIV for years may now be free of the disease following bone marrow transplants, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston announced Thursday.

[. . .]

Both patients were being treated for cases of cancer. One of the patients underwent a bone marrow transplant two years ago at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center in Boston, the other had the procedure done four years ago at the same hospital. NBCNews.com reports that one of the patients is in his 50s and has been infected since the early 1980s towards the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and the other man, in his 20s, was infected at birth.

Both stayed on their antiretroviral medication regimens, the standard treatment of HIV, following the transplants.

The researchers discovered that overtime as the patients’ cells were replaced by cells from the donor, evidence of HIV in the patients’ blood tests disappeared. The researchers also said both patients have no signs of HIV in their DNA or RNA and levels of their disease-fighting antibodies have also decreased. The researchers think the medications helped allow these cells to be replaced.

“This gives us some important information,” one of the researchers Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, an infectious disease specialist at the hospital and Harvard Medical school said in a press release. “It suggests that under the cover of antiretroviral therapy, the cells that repopulated the patient’s immune system appear to be protected from becoming re-infected with HIV.”

[. . .]

The researchers’ announcement comes days after Timothy Ray Brown, the man known as the “Berlin Patient,” held a press conference in Washington, D.C., to say he’s still cured of AIDS five years after undergoing a bone marrow blood transplant.

However, the researchers noted differences in their two patients’ treatment compared to that of Brown.

In Brown’s case, his donor was specifically chosen because he possessed a genetic mutation that’s found in one person of Caucasian people that makes them resistant to developing HIV. But the donors for the two Boston patient were selected at random. Additionally, Brown had stopped taking his antiretroviral medications following his transplant, while the Boston patients have stayed on the drugs.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 31, 2012 at 8:09 pm

Posted in Science

Tagged with , , ,

[LINK] “Vietnam Considers Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage”

A post at Joe. My. God. alerted me to the somewhat surprising news that Vietnam is considering legally recognizing same-sex marriages. This recognition would make Vietnam the first Asian country and the first Communist country to do so.

I think I’m entitled to a fair amount of surprise at this news. Granted Vietnam’s gay rights record seems among the best in the region–characterized by a sort of repressive tolerance, with an absence of laws against gay sex but considerable social stigma–no one seems to have expected this. The activist who’s quoted as predicting that Vietnam will legally recognize same-sex marriage does seem to be making a plausible argument, inasmuch as the authoritarian structure of Vietnam’s government seems to make said government’s adoption of a proposed policy more likely than in other equally conservative but more pluralistic societies. Or am I wrong?

?

Dinh Thi Hong Loan grasps her girlfriend’s hand, and the two gaze into each other’s love-struck eyes. Smiling, they talk about their upcoming wedding — how they’ll exchange rings and toast the beginning of their lives together.

The lesbians’ marriage ceremony in the Vietnamese capital won’t be officially recognized, but that could soon change. Vietnam’s Communist government is now considering whether to allow same-sex couples to marry or legally register and receive rights — positioning the country to be the first in Asia to do so.

[. . .]

Even longtime gay-rights activists are stunned by the Justice Ministry’s proposal to include same-sex couples in its overhaul of the country’s marriage law. No one knows what form it will take or whether it will survive long enough to be debated before the National Assembly next year, but supporters say the fact that it’s even being considered is a victory in a region where simply being gay can result in jail sentences or whippings with a rattan cane.

“I think everyone is surprised,” said Vien Tanjung, an Indonesian gay-rights activist. “Even if it’s not successful it’s already making history. For me, personally, I think it’s going to go through.”

Vietnam seems an unlikely champion of gay-rights issues. It is routinely lambasted by the international community over its dismal human rights record, often locking up political dissidents who call for democracy or religious freedom. Up until just a few years ago, homosexuality was labeled as a “social evil” alongside drug addiction and prostitution.

[. . .]

Vietnam’s state-run media, unable to write about politically sensitive topics or openly criticize the one-party government, have embraced the chance to explore gay issues. They have run lengthy newspaper stories and television broadcasts, including one live special that won a top award.

Video of Vietnam’s first publicized gay wedding went viral online in 2010, and a few other ceremonies followed, capturing widespread public attention. The Justice Ministry now says a legal framework is necessary because the courts do not know how to handle disputes between same-sex couples living together. The new law could provide rights such as owning property, inheriting and adopting children.

“I think, as far as human rights are concerned, it’s time for us to look at the reality,” Justice Minister Ha Hung Cuong said Tuesday in an online chat broadcast on national TV and radio. “The number of homosexuals has mounted to hundreds of thousands. It’s not a small figure. They live together without registering marriage. They may own property. We, of course, have to handle these issues legally.”

Written by Randy McDonald

July 31, 2012 at 4:47 pm

[LINK] “Bone marrow transplant eliminates HIV traces from two patients’ DNA: Call it a cure?”

Via Towleroad, I found this CBS article by Ryan Jaslow reporting on a noteworthy step in the development of a cure for HIV.

Two men who’ve had HIV for years may now be free of the disease following bone marrow transplants, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston announced Thursday.

[. . .]

Both patients were being treated for cases of cancer. One of the patients underwent a bone marrow transplant two years ago at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center in Boston, the other had the procedure done four years ago at the same hospital. NBCNews.com reports that one of the patients is in his 50s and has been infected since the early 1980s towards the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and the other man, in his 20s, was infected at birth.

Both stayed on their antiretroviral medication regimens, the standard treatment of HIV, following the transplants.

The researchers discovered that overtime as the patients’ cells were replaced by cells from the donor, evidence of HIV in the patients’ blood tests disappeared. The researchers also said both patients have no signs of HIV in their DNA or RNA and levels of their disease-fighting antibodies have also decreased. The researchers think the medications helped allow these cells to be replaced.

“This gives us some important information,” one of the researchers Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, an infectious disease specialist at the hospital and Harvard Medical school said in a press release. “It suggests that under the cover of antiretroviral therapy, the cells that repopulated the patient’s immune system appear to be protected from becoming re-infected with HIV.”

[. . .]

The researchers’ announcement comes days after Timothy Ray Brown, the man known as the “Berlin Patient,” held a press conference in Washington, D.C., to say he’s still cured of AIDS five years after undergoing a bone marrow blood transplant.

However, the researchers noted differences in their two patients’ treatment compared to that of Brown.

In Brown’s case, his donor was specifically chosen because he possessed a genetic mutation that’s found in one person of Caucasian people that makes them resistant to developing HIV. But the donors for the two Boston patient were selected at random. Additionally, Brown had stopped taking his antiretroviral medications following his transplant, while the Boston patients have stayed on the drugs.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 31, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Posted in Assorted

Tagged with , , ,

[LINK] “Amid crisis, Europeans flock to learn Chinese”

The EU Observer‘s Peter Ebels reports on the latest incarnation of a standard trope: when one economy experiences significant troubles while an up-and-coming economic power with a language not yet widely spoken emerges, people in the first economy will learn the language of the second. Compare the vogue for Japanese in the 1990s. Also note that while the number of people fluent in Chinese may be growing, it is doing so from a low level.

Ever since Europe’s economy began spiralling downwards a growing number of people from Dublin to Athens is taking to learning the language of opportunity: Chinese.

Aggregate data are not available, but figures from local language centres across the continent suggest that the number of people in Europe enlisted in taking the official Chinese Proficiency Test – or HSK – over the last two years has grown by close to a factor five.

“I think the economic reason plays a very important role,” says Lili Lei of the Confucius Institute in Munich, where the number of students rose by more than 100 percent in 2011 and is expected to grow even further this year. “Many people learn Chinese because they must or want to work in China. Many even think [it] can bring them a better future.”

Lu Zhu of the Confucius Institute in Dublin, where attendance this year rose from an average of less than 50 students per year to almost 100 so far, says that “apparently, the job opportunity is the main reason [for the increase].”

In Athens, where Europe’s woes are most acute, the number of test-takers went from 100 in 2010, to 400 in 2011, to 300 so far this year. Asked whether the increase could have anything to do with Greece’s dire state of affairs, Xiuqin Yang, co-director of the city’s Confucius Institute, responded with a simple “yes.”

[. . . W]hile the actual knowledge of Chinese – or Mandarin, the official language of China – in Europe remains relatively low (in 2007, according to the EU’s latest figures, it was around 0.2 percent), the current crisis, China’s gradual rise towards superpowerdom, and its promotional efforts are proving an effective cocktail of incentives.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 31, 2012 at 3:01 pm

[LINK] “Vietnam Considers Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage”

A post at Joe. My. God. alerted me to the somewhat surprising news that Vietnam is considering legally recognizing same-sex marriages. This recognition would make Vietnam the first Asian country and the first Communist country to do so.

I think I’m entitled to a fair amount of surprise at this news. Granted Vietnam’s gay rights record seems among the best in the region–characterized by a sort of repressive tolerance, with an absence of laws against gay sex but considerable social stigma–no one seems to have expected this. The activist who’s quoted as predicting that Vietnam will legally recognize same-sex marriage does seem to be making a plausible argument, inasmuch as the authoritarian structure of Vietnam’s government seems to make said government’s adoption of a proposed policy more likely than in other equally conservative but more pluralistic societies. Or am I wrong?

angel80?

Dinh Thi Hong Loan grasps her girlfriend’s hand, and the two gaze into each other’s love-struck eyes. Smiling, they talk about their upcoming wedding — how they’ll exchange rings and toast the beginning of their lives together.

The lesbians’ marriage ceremony in the Vietnamese capital won’t be officially recognized, but that could soon change. Vietnam’s Communist government is now considering whether to allow same-sex couples to marry or legally register and receive rights — positioning the country to be the first in Asia to do so.

[. . .]

Even longtime gay-rights activists are stunned by the Justice Ministry’s proposal to include same-sex couples in its overhaul of the country’s marriage law. No one knows what form it will take or whether it will survive long enough to be debated before the National Assembly next year, but supporters say the fact that it’s even being considered is a victory in a region where simply being gay can result in jail sentences or whippings with a rattan cane.

“I think everyone is surprised,” said Vien Tanjung, an Indonesian gay-rights activist. “Even if it’s not successful it’s already making history. For me, personally, I think it’s going to go through.”

Vietnam seems an unlikely champion of gay-rights issues. It is routinely lambasted by the international community over its dismal human rights record, often locking up political dissidents who call for democracy or religious freedom. Up until just a few years ago, homosexuality was labeled as a “social evil” alongside drug addiction and prostitution.

[. . .]

Vietnam’s state-run media, unable to write about politically sensitive topics or openly criticize the one-party government, have embraced the chance to explore gay issues. They have run lengthy newspaper stories and television broadcasts, including one live special that won a top award.

Video of Vietnam’s first publicized gay wedding went viral online in 2010, and a few other ceremonies followed, capturing widespread public attention. The Justice Ministry now says a legal framework is necessary because the courts do not know how to handle disputes between same-sex couples living together. The new law could provide rights such as owning property, inheriting and adopting children.

“I think, as far as human rights are concerned, it’s time for us to look at the reality,” Justice Minister Ha Hung Cuong said Tuesday in an online chat broadcast on national TV and radio. “The number of homosexuals has mounted to hundreds of thousands. It’s not a small figure. They live together without registering marriage. They may own property. We, of course, have to handle these issues legally.”

Written by Randy McDonald

July 31, 2012 at 12:47 pm