Archive for month: July, 2019

The Size of Things to Come, Japanese in Cars Getting Naps, AI in Africa

Nestled between the Adirondacks and the Catskills, sits the little village of Cooperstown, New York, where a group of disparate tribes gathered last weekend. From Gotham, Chicago, Seattle, Panama, Puerto Rico and other far-flung places, tribes gathered to celebrate excellence–the six new inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame. We were part of the Seattle Mariners tribe there to bask in the glory of the greatest right-handed hitter of his era, Edgar Martinez. Throughout the weekend, chants of “Edddgaaaar” echoed around the bucolic valley. Tribal tendencies are usually harmful but in sports they can be a virtue bringing people meaningfully together over something meaningless. Of course, much of what people care about during our lives is meaningless. Those obsessed with politics–sports for nerds one person called it–would be surprised at how much of their yearnings and struggles are ultimately trivial. And far less harm has come from masses lauding a ballplayer than a political leader. One African-American ballplayer we saw talk described taking the back roads through the green hills as he drove into Cooperstown–he described it as going back in time, but he didn’t mean that as an insult, not hearkening back to 1950s segregated America, but as an idyllic place. And, he’s right–the sloping green hills, the quaint houses with people sitting on their porches, is like a movie set from a film depicting goodness. Back now in Seattle we wistfully remember Cooperstown magic, as we bring sabermetrics to China and India population estimates, marvel at the Ichiro ingenuity of Japanese car renters, and admire the up and coming prospects of African AI. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, always above the Mendoza line for international data and information.

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

The Size of Things To Come

Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez famously measured each and every one of his bats on a food scale to make sure they were each just shy of 31 ounces. China is not so careful about its data, including as it turns out, the size of its population, and India’s population bat, it turns out, will soon be getting smaller. According to Yi Fuxian of the University of Wisconsin Madison, China is 115 million people smaller than it says it is. He claims this error “is a product of China’s rigged population statistics system, influenced by the vested interests of China’s family planning authority.” During the one-child policy era, Yi asserts authorities adjusted the fertility rate of 1.22 to 1.80 in part to justify the one-child policy. Census data was adjusted accordingly, leading to the larger population estimate. Meanwhile in India, the second most populous country–projected to be the most populous by 2025–has seen fertility rates fall from 2.2 to 2.1 with many states around 1.7. India will be less populous in the future than projected. The world’s leaders need to be a bit more Edgar Martinez-like in their approach to measurement—in temperament, kindness and diligence too, come to think of it.

Japanese in Cars Getting Naps

On our vacation to upstate New York, we rented a car—to drive, to get from point A to point B. In other words, we are a traditionalist. But in Japan, as the Asahi Shimbun reports, many Japanese are renting cars to take naps in. It turns out rental car companies in Japan noticed some of their cars were returned with very few miles on them so they did a survey to figure out what was going on. They discovered that customers were using them to take naps, eat in and use as storage lockers. “I rented a car to eat a boxed meal that I bought at a convenience store because I couldn’t find anywhere else to have lunch,” one Tokyo suburb customer admitted. Another respondent used the car to take a nap, “Usually the only place I can take a nap while visiting my clients is a cybercafe in front of the station, but renting a car to sleep in is just a few hundred yen (several dollars), almost the same as staying in the cybercafe.” Venture capitalists take note: I’m starting a naptime Uber company. We’ll drive you around for 30 minutes while you sleep and return you back to work.

Asleep at the Wheel

Google in Africa

A number of African countries are rising manufacturing stars as we have noted but Google is also setting up shop there—specifically an AI research lab in Accra, the capital of Ghana. Google states in a press release, “We’ll bring together top machine learning researchers and engineers in this new center dedicated to AI research and its applications.” Accra, in the old Sesame Street song about which one doesn’t belong, joins Paris, New York, Tokyo and Mountain View, California as a location for an AI research center. Or seemingly didn’t belong. But things are changing in parts of Africa. You can google it.

What it Means to be Chinese, Europe & the Supply Chains, and Who Trusts the Scientists

It’s time we have a little talk about security measures at baseball games and other sporting and concert events. A string of 17 consecutive years of not making the playoffs has not dissuaded us from attending Seattle Mariners baseball games, but silly security theater might. For a number of years, Major League Baseball has mandated that teams search fans’ backpacks and go through a metal detector to gain entrance to stadiums. This year, security is taking extra time to search bags and backpacks. Fans are required to pull blankets and jackets out of their bags, for instance. This means it takes a long time to get into Mariners games even at a time of low attendance. Just think how long it will take when the team starts winning (okay, use your Donald Glover size imagination–come on, they’ll eventually win again, right??!!!). When we go to a baseball game or concert, we don’t want the same feeling we have when flying to Duluth–an annoying, cumbersome airport experience. Worse, the long security lines at events are not making us safer–we have only transferred the vulnerable targets from inside the stadium to outside. A large group of people are now massed together making for a perfect target for would be terrorists. Perhaps my favorite part of the security theater is that my knee replacement sets off the metal detector, but only 50 percent of the time does the guard notice and wand me. The rest of the time I walk in unnoticed. Come on, America, don’t let the terrorists win: End Security Theater now! While we wait for America to come to its senses, we pat you down with what it means to be Chinese, wave a wand over European supply chains and pull you out of line to question your trust in science. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, aiming to be the Megan Rapinoe of international data and information.

Next week we will be in Cooperstown celebrating the induction of Edgar Martinez into the Baseball Hall of Fame. We’ll be back on July 25th.

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

What Does It Mean to be Chinese?

What does it mean to be Chinese? Does Chinese blood bleed Communist Party Red? These strange hematology questions came up in two perhaps related news stories this week in regards to Hong Kong. First, an ongoing University of Hong Kong Survey of what people in Hong Kong consider themselves found that the “percentage of Hong Kong people identifying as Chinese is at a record low since 1997.” The survey was conducted after the recent massive protests against the now perhaps defunct extradition bill. Even as the number of people identifying as Chinese is at a record low, the number identifying as “HongKonger” is at a record high since 1997 (let’s be honest, “Hongkonger” is a fabulous name–I’d love to be called a HongKonger). Meanwhile, in Canada, where Chinese are the largest non-white ethnic group, an ad was taken out by a variety of Chinese groups (including some affiliated with China’s government) against the Hong Kong protestors and raising that bloody hematology trope: “we are all the children of Emperor Yan and Emperor Huang [two of China’s mythic founders], we belong to the same Chinese nation, based on the idea of blood being thicker than water, patriotism and love of our homeland, we are paying close attention to the development of the current Hong Kong situation, we are obliged to unite with the Hong Kong residents and not to be taken advantage of by the separatist forces.” Blood’s advantages over water have been misstated and used to bloody ends far too many times in human history.

Europe and the Supply Chains*

You are reading this on a device that was made in many places. I don’t care if it’s a computer (old people), tablet (Gen X), or phone (older millennials)**, a product of any complexity sources parts from many different places and then is assembled into one final shiny good that you and I buy in the store or increasingly online. And that’s another thing that make tariffs like a weapon used in a house of mirrors. You’re never sure who you’re shooting, John Wick style. That places Europe in an interesting position in the trade wars because, according to the IMF, “Europe is more closely integrated into global value chains than the Americas or Asia.”  As you see in the chart below, nearly 80 percent of European exports are linked to the supply chain. In other words, European companies are making a lot of stuff that is used in other stuff. And that will affect how the trade wars are conducted.

*”The band “Europe and the Supply Chains” are your 2020 Eurovision winner

**Gen Z and young millennials go retro, print it on hemp paper and stretch out under a poplar tree to read INTN

Who Trusts the Scientists?

As we binge watched the third season of Stranger Things last weekend, a 1980s Nostalgia fest where nerdy science kids help save the world, we stumbled upon the Wellcome Trust’s survey (so hospitable they added a second “L” to their name) of which countries trust science the most. Northern Europe, followed closely by Western Europe, are the most trusting regions of science. When it comes to individual countries, perhaps surprisingly Uzbekistan is number one, followed by Belgium, Tajikistan, Niger and Spain. The least trusting countries are Gabon, Burundi, Togo, Montenegro and the Congo. Interestingly, there is a large gender gap in the world with men thinking they know more about science than women even though test scores show they don’t. “The gender gap is largest in Northern Europe (the alleged Eden of gender equality) standing at a 17 percentage point difference, and the lowest level is in the Middle East, with a three percentage point difference.” Globally, 49% of men say they know “some” or “a lot” about science—a full 11 percentage points more than women. Of course, this being about science, don’t trust, but rather verify this survey.