Archive for month: June, 2018

Accelerating into the Future, No Man is an Island and Our Favorite Story

A few years ago a friend of ours posted a video on Facebook of their then young daughter playing the drums. At one point, the delightfully cute girl does a complicated riff and then flashes a smile at her Dad holding the camera, pleased at pulling off the complicated percussion maneuver. We were reminded of this watching the viral video earlier this week of young miss Yoyoka Soma playing the drums to Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times.” Yoyoka, who was competing in the 2018 Hit Like a Girl contest, a percussion competition designed to encourage little, old and every other type of drummer girls. Yoyoka, as you see below, is a remarkable drummer, especially for an 8-year-old, but really she bangs the drums well for anyone of any age. John Bonham, the late Led Zeppelin drummer, is her idol. Yoyoka is already able to drum like Bonham, seems to be much better emotionally, and is on her way to becoming a worldwide sensation despite the fact she did not win the contest (??!!!!–hard to imagine someone better than her). The future is in good hands, or at least the future of drumming. Meanwhile, Yoyoka’s crazy good riffs inspire us to examine how the U.S. has created a time machine to the future for China, worry over Saudi Arabia’s hate canal, and present you with our favorite story of the year. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, deciding international cases of international information and data with Solomonic-like judgment.

『Hit Like A Girl Contest 2018』Good Times Bad Times – LED ZEPPELIN / Cover by Yoyoka , 8 year old drummer

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In honor of America’s Independence Day Celebration, INTN will be off next week marinating a variety of international data to throw on the grill and shooting off fireworks of international information that will land on your laps on July 12th. Be prepared for the international BBQ of your life. 

Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

Accelerating Into the Future

Many have forecast that as the 20th was the American Century, the 21st is likely to be the Chinese Century. Although we are nearly a fifth of the way through the 21st (yikes, how did that happen?), most felt China would not solidify its leadership until perhaps the 2040s or 2050s. But the current U.S. president’s actions to upturn the global order are accelerating us into the future Marty McFly-like (with hair eerily similar to Doc Brown’s). We have new evidence of the China Power Acceleration (CPA). According to the South China Morning Post, “China and the European Union will set up a working group to revamp the World Trade Organisation to counter US unilateralism.”  Whether this working group can be successful, given the EU has the same concerns about China’s protectionism and closed markets as the U.S. does, is an open question. But the fact that the EU and China are trying is remarkable and would have been unthinkable before the U.S.’s recent trade skirmishes with both regions. Meanwhile, a retired major general in the Chinese army during a panel discussion on the South China Sea called for a rewriting of the international based order to accommodate China’s growth. The article says the Major General claimed “the shortcomings of the rules-based order was they either had limited capacity to accommodate China’s growth or China’s rapid rise meant it had outgrown the rules.” She went on to say, “We and other players have to think of a way to fix this rules-based order to update it.” And finally, in a major foreign policy speech, President Xi said China will “advance power diplomacy” on its own terms.  Like continental drift or losing a sock in the laundry, China’s ascent was inevitable. But U.S. political and policy chaos is an earthquake or dropped laundry basket accelerating it.

No Man is an Island, but a Country?

You may remember that Saudi Arabia has been in a simmering conflict with its neighbor Qatar the past year over a number of issues. That has been covered in the news numerous times. But you may not know that Saudi Arabia is so upset it has plans, in fact is taking bids from private companies, to build a canal on its 38-mile border with Qater and turn the isthmus into an island. According to Business Insider, “reports indicate five international companies have been invited to bid for the project, called the “Salwa Channel,” with a deadline set for Monday. Sources told Makkah, a Saudi Arabian newspaper, that Saudi authorities will announce the winner of the contract deal within 90 days, and hope to complete the canal by the end of the year.” That’s definitely upping, or rather uprooting, the stakes of the Saudi cold war with Qatar. Perhaps more alarming, the Makkah newspaper further reports that “part of the canal would also be converted into a military base and a nuclear waste burial site.” Saudi Arabia is literally trying to turn Qatar into an island with a moat of nuclear waste. Stay tuned.

Our favorite Story Yet: Angry Tea Table Flipping Contest

In an age of anger and outrage, at a time when it is easy to feel helpless and alone, leave it to Japan—the most unique culture in the world—to provide the perfect anecdote. Last week, you see, was the 12th Annual Angry Tea Table Flipping Contest. And yes we are ashamed it took us a dozen years to discover this contest in which “participants must shout a phrase of anger, frustration, passion, or hope, while upending a small table and sending it flying.” How does it work specifically, you ask?  According to Sora News 24, “An elderly woman in cooking garb is seated next to the contestant and when she touches their shoulder and gently asks them to ‘stop,’ that’s their cue to flip out both figuratively and literally.” That is, they flip the small tea table which holds various items, including a plastic fish. Winners are determined both on style points and the distance the plastic fish travels in the air. And what are the participants to shout before flipping the table? “Participants can shout about whatever their hearts desire. Rages this year included a man addressing all women with a ‘What’s wrong with me?!’ On the other hand, affirmations such as ‘I want a job offer’ or ‘I deserve a raise’ could also be heard.” We feel that if this contest was made mandatory worldwide, 73 percent of the problems plaguing this orbiting globe would be solved.

心の叫びで「サンマ」飛ばす 岩手でちゃぶ台返し大会

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All the Beer in India, The Separation, TV vs. Internet

We realize we live in an age where people, including presidents, assert up is down, down is up and cages are chain-linked fences, but nonetheless we rage, rage against the dying of the light of truth, as Dylan Thomas’ ne’er-do-well cousin might write. While stuck in Seattle’s increasingly bad traffic (this is a fact), we listened to someone on the radio discussing Seattle’s expanding homeless problem (also a fact though what to do about homelessness is more complicated) note that the homelessness problem is leading to an increase in crime (not a fact). The news media continues to cover crime like it’s a crisis. But as Kevin Drum points out, it’snot. Crime rates in Seattle, and just about everywhere, are down. Murder, rapes, robberies, assaults, burglaries, thefts, auto thefts and arson are all down from past years. Way down from ten years ago and way, way down (excuse the technical statistics term) from twenty and thirty years ago. Seattle, the United States, much of the world, is far more safe than in the past. And yet we act and talk as if it’s the opposite. Certainly the U.S. president does so for political reasons, it’s advantageous to him if we are scared. What’s the rest of our excuse? As we walk in the park late at night, fearless and confident, we examine all the beer in India, worry about the great separation in China and consider TV versus the Internet. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, avoiding baseball mascots so we can safely bring you news of the world.

*Note we have late breaking news that we could not fit into this week’s edition, but look for our favorite story of the year next week. 

Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

All the Beer in India

We are not as worried about climate change as some people. Not because we don’t think it is happening or because we are unconcerned about its effects but because we observe increasing evidence we are going to solve this large problem. Case in point, Anheuser-Busch is starting to brew its beer in India using solar power. According to Quartz, “Anheuser-Busch’s Mysuru plant that brews Budweiser beer will soon be powered up to 80% by solar energy, making it the company’s third facility globally to run on renewable power.” In fact, the world’s largest brewer said late last year that by 2025 it plans to produce all of its beer using solar power. Now if they could only brew beer that’s worth drinking. The point is, of course, that no matter how the U.S. government or other government’s change policy, in the mid-term technology is making renewable energy more affordable than polluting energies. Industry will gravitate to these sources. Now the mid-term may be too long to prevent some of the effects of climate change gas emissions. Ice is already melting rapidly in Antarctica, for example, which will lead to seas rising sooner than anticipated. People are right to be alarmed at the specter of climate change. And we’re worried too but heartened that Canadian scientists have developed a technology that allows them to capture carbon at a cost of $94 per ton (time to impose tariffs on Canadian scientists). At that price they use the captured carbon to produce fuel at $1 per liter, according to the research published in the scientific journal Joule. Climate change is real, its effect possibly devastating, but there are solutions on the way. We don’t advocate complacency but we keep at least one eye on other worries for which there are not yet solutions coming down the pike.

The Separation

China is an amazing place and it deserves praise and notice for its economic development that has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty the last thirty years. But China also has  faults and challenges and one that is not receiving enough attention is its treatment of Muslims. A scary and sobering post in The Interpreter, a publication of the Australian Lowry Institute, details the apparent building of concentration camps for Muslim minorities throughout the far west of China. The article claims “recent research by a handful of academics and journalists has meticulously documented the construction of a vast network of “collective re-education centres” across Xinjiang.” The article cites a variety of other research documenting the camps and the abuse of Muslims. We now have a handful of accounts about life inside Xinjiang’s secretive gulag, where detainees are subjected to around-the-clock political indoctrination and forced to denounce their culture and religion. Omir Bekali was detained without a legal warrant and held for eight months in a squalid, overcrowded camp in Karamay. After his release, he told AP News that he was placed in solitary confinement, physically tortured, and deprived food.” This is not something we have tracked very closely–there is limited attention spans for outrages and more than enough outrageous behavior to go around, but this one deserves more of our attention.

Internet vs. TV: The Media Medium Cage Match

We end on a slightly lighter note. Or do we? It depends on your view of TV and the Internet, I suppose. According to the media agency, Zenith, which tracks these things, next year for the first time the world will spend more time on the Internet than watching TV. Personally, we’ve been doing that for years, though sometimes we do both at the same time, especially when watching sporting events. So the world is catching up with us. “People will spend an average of 170.6 minutes a day, or nearly three hours, using the internet for things like shopping, browsing social media, chatting with friends, and streaming music and video in 2019, a recent report by media agency Zenith estimated. That’s a tad more than the 170.3 minutes they’re expected to spend watching TV.” The Internet already rules over what once was derided as the Idiot Box (and yet the reverse Flynn Effect–IQ scores going down–didn’t occur in the age of television but only now in the Internet age)  in Asia and the Middle East but still lags far behind in Latin America and Western Europe. Europeans and Latinos clearly need to watch more cat videos. 

North Korean Three, More on Wealth, Buy Me a Beer

One of the amusements of watching the recently ended NBA basketball playoffs was the theatrical denials by players when they are called for a foul. They roared in disbelief, stomped around the court, screamed at the officials as if they had been betrayed by their very kin. But when replays are showed, nine times out of ten, not only did the player indeed commit the foul, they hit the opponent so hard it would not have been surprising to see them charged with a crime, much less a foul. It appears this NBA grandstanding with referees migrated from soccer, or football as it’s known outside of America. The World Cup begins next week and we will similarly see players emote like a community theater actor hamming it up on stage in Duluth. Unfortunately, politics has also adopted such tactics. No matter how hard we may have struck some entity across the arm, our politicians will deny it. In fact, they are likely to say not only did they not foul, they actually were massaging the arm to make it feel better (or maybe they were accused of an unwanted massage of the arm, in which case they deny the arm ever existed in the first place). For the moment, we ignore the politicians and athlete actors and instead describe our North Korean Three, further investigate where wealth is traveling to and point out the most expensive places for a beer.  It’s this week’s International Need to Know, refereeing a world of information and data and preparing for your instant replay reviews.

Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

Our North Korean Three

We try to tackle important issues, events and data that are not covered in the news so we’ll leave it to others to pontificate on the significance, if any, of the Trump-Kim meeting. But there are a few things that continue to go unnoticed or are under appreciated in this whole wacky game theory geopolitical derby on the Korean Peninsula.  1) There is still not enough attention paid to the real economic reforms Kim Jong-Un is instituting in North Korea. Since taking power, Kim has allowed far more private enterprise than any of his predecessors. It’s mostly an underground economy but Kim has not tried to dig it out; in fact, he appears to be fertilizing and tilling it. 2) Yes, China borders North Korea, but so too does Russia, albeit a much shorter border than China’s, but still one with strategic resonance. There has been lots of focus on what China wants with regards to North Korea, but given the current U.S. President’s Madam Bovary-like relationship with Russia, there should also be a focus on what Russia wants to happen in Korea. 3) In the absence of humans, strange things happen. The DMZ is a mostly No Human Zone (NHZ?)  which has led to a flourishing of flora and fauna. According to the Smithsonian, “5097 animal and plant species have been identified in the area, including 106 that are labeled as endangered or protected.” In fact, there have been unconfirmed reports of sightings of the endangered Siberian Tiger (crossing over that Russian border?) and the Amur leopard. Nature, like economies and politics, is chaotic (mathematically speaking). A strip of uninhabited land led to unexpected results. What will nascent, delicate economic reforms and Russian interests lead to?

More on the Wealth of Nations

Follow the money they say, which is one reason we are so obsessed with AfrAsia Bank’s annual Global Wealth Migration Review. Last week we examined the haves and have nots. This week we look at where the money’s moving.  Which countries are seeing the largest outflows of wealth? China, India, Turkey and the UK top the list of countries from which the wealthy are fleeing. Perhaps Brexit is having an impact on where rich Brits want to live? There’s certainly been lots of reasons to exit Turkey the last year. China and India, which lead the list of countries from which wealth is fleeing, are a little more complicated. The report argues that outflow from these countries is not a big deal because “they are still producing far more new wealthy people than they are losing.”  Perhaps, but we raise our poor eyebrows a bit when seeing such outflows.  The U.S., Canada and Australia are the top destinations for wealthy Chinese and Indians. These are all 2017 numbers. It will be interesting to see how developments this year affect 2018 outflows and destinations, if at all.

Buy Me a Beer

When we came across a list of the most expensive cities in the world to buy a beer, we were a bit chagrined to note that we had knocked down an ale, lager or stout in most of these places. Our pocketbook is a bit lighter because of it. Dubai leads the list, partly because you can only drink in Western style hotels and other designated areas. We’re a bit surprised to see Boston as the third-most expensive U.S. city for beer. But if you’re looking for inexpensive good beer, travel to Manila (just don’t get involved with the drug trade there), Prague, Johannesburg or Mexico City. The sights are good and the beer is cheap.


A Wealth of Information, World is a Drug and Cockroach Sushi

It’s the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. I’m neither an aficionado of Robert Kennedy (or any other Kennedy for that matter) nor a hater. But I did read this week a remembrance of Kennedy by Conor Friedersdorf, and like most articles about Kennedy this week, it was full of what ifs, as in what if someone had not shot and killed Kennedy in a hotel in Los Angeles the night of the California Primary. But that was not what struck me in reading the article. No, what was remarkable was how the many excerpts of Kennedy’s speeches sprinkled throughout Friederdorf’s long piece, show how much political discourse has degraded over the last fifty years. We are far dumber speakers than we were half a century ago. And I don’t merely refer to our current dumb discourser in chief. In a speech to a black audience the night Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated (tough year that 1968), Kennedy quotes an ancient Greek poet: “My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: ‘In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.’” Can you imagine any politician quoting an ancient Greek poet today? Or using the elegant, literate language found in the other speech excerpts quoted in the article?  Never mind what side of the aisle you are on or what you believe about any particular issue. We have dumbed down our public discourse and we wonder whether that has led to many of our other problems. We talk dumb and so we act dumb. Or, is it the other way around? As we study up on poetry, ancient and modern, we present a wealth of information on wealth, contemplate who takes the most drugs, and write up the most distressing topic we have ever presented in this space.  It’s this week’s International Need to Know, dreaming of Aeschylus as we serve up the international equivalent of limericks.

Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

A Wealth of Information

The world continues to become more wealthy though perhaps it is not as evenly distributed as some would like. The annual AfrAsia Bank Global Wealth Migration Report shows that in the last year wealth grew 12 percent worldwide to US$215 trillion. India saw the fastest growth in wealth at 25 percent followed by Malta, China and Mauritius, of all places. According to the report, “Growth rates in Malta, Mauritius, New Zealand, Israel, Australia, USA, Luxembourg and Switzerland were all assisted by the ongoing migration of wealthy people to these countries.” Who did the worst? Pakistan, Nigeria, Venezuela and Turkey lead that dubious list. The reasons for the poor performances differ with Venezuela due to the continuing meltdown of the economy and in Turkey due to a lack of investment over concerns about their political and media crackdown. Over the last decade, the top country for accumulating wealth is Vietnam. We visited there a number of times the last ten years and are not surprised by this young, dynamic country’s performance. The report is chock full of interesting and in some cases surprising information. So much so, that we’ll delve further into the report next week.

The World is a Drug

As we rode our bike for the first time since our multiple knee surgeries, we had to navigate around the shoals of drug dealers and users populating the Interurban Trail. They eyed us and others on the trail suspiciously as if we were trespassing on their land.  It was a bit disconcerting since in our current physical state neither flight or fight is a particularly good option. Of course, drug abuse is not just a problem in Seattle, or even in the United States. In fact, the population with the highest rate of abuse is in Russia. Ukraine and Belarus also have relatively high percentages of their populations abusing drugs and alcohol. So too does the rough and tumble Greenland (Clearly Trainspotting 3 should take place there). In Russia, alcohol is the predominant drug problem which we witnessed first-hand ten years ago while spending time in the Russian Far East seeing young men drinking from bottles of vodka at ten in the morning. Of course, as with many challenges in our world, it is men who rear their glazed-eye heads. As Our World in Data notes, “Substance use disorders are more common among men than women. This is true across all countries, as shown in the (second) chart below which plots the share of males with a substance use disorder versus the share of females.” What ails the men of the world, and is there a drug for it?

Chinese Cockroach Sushi*

There’s no doubt the world is in a foul mood these days with people plenty worried about the future. For some their visage is darkened by fears of climate change. Others worry about the possible arrival of our robotic overlords. Still others remain deeply concerned by the world’s apparent turn from liberal democracy to authoritarianism. But for us, nothing is more dystopian than cockroach sushi–which we’ve recently learned is a real thing in China. We vowed to start fasting when we read in the South China Morning Post of the rapid increase of cockroach farms and factories in China. “The number of cockroach farmers in Shandong alone has tripled to about 400 in the past three years, according to Liu Yusheng, president of Shandong Insect Industry Association and an entomology professor at Shandong Agricultural University.” Good God, there were already 133.3 cockroach farmers in China in 2015?!!! The article then goes on to describe a new facility where literally billions of cockroaches are born and bred, and it’s not a 1970s walk-up apartment on the lower eastside of Manhattan. In addition to eating the cockroaches, China is also using the insects to eat up the enormous amounts of food waste in the country. “Cockroaches devour virtually everything, and can consume food weighing up to 5 per cent of their own weight each day…There is no better way of processing kitchen waste than feeding it to cockroaches,” says cockroach researcher Li Yanrong. As we type, a new facility is being built that can breed 2 billion cockroaches each year, “powered by artificial intelligence and big data.” What could go wrong? This my friends, is dystopia.

*This is the most horrifying headline we’ve ever written