Archive for year: 2019

Good Time to Be Under Five, Polluted Minds & Polluted Skies, and Pokemon Kills Mickey

A couple of jerks traveled around the world with recording equipment from California to Nepal, from Bahrain to Austin, Texas, and a dozen other far-flung places, spewing who knows how much climate change gases into the atmosphere. They took a fifty-year-old song inspired by the Mississippi Delta written by some Canadian half indigenous, half-Jewish dude culturally appropriating others’ musical heritage and forced a bunch of other musicians from different cultures to play it. Then, to make matters worse, for you and I to access it, server farms were built, again using lots of energy, and it was placed on social media platforms such as Facebook and Youtube where the damn Russians and Chinese spied on us listening and bobbing our heads to the beat. Or, rather perhaps, in yet another week of people dooming and glooming us, we should simply thank our friend, Kris Edmonds, for pointing us to a wonderful video displaying what’s right about our current globe which you can view below. And to remind all of us that modern technology enables all sorts of wondrous moments and connections even as with everything in life, there are trade-offs, and that the worst trade-offs can be mitigated, if we’re smart about it. And so while we catch the cannonball to take us down the line, we remind you about progress in the under 5 mortality rate, why authoritarian governments aren’t so good for pollution and what are the highest grossing media franchises of all time. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, taking the international load off Fanny and putting it right on me.

The Weight | Featuring Robbie Robertson | Playing For Change | Song Around The World

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

No Better Time to Be Under Five

As others ditch rose for cyanide colored glasses seeing nothing but doom, we do not have to look far for news from the rosaceae family. Last week, the UN released a new report on child and maternal mortality estimates. In the last 28 years, while many continued to bemoan the state of the world, and many more are calling for revolution, or a return to once discredited ideas due to how bad the world is, the mortality rate of children under 5 dropped by 59 percent. Further, “the reduction in the under-5 mortality rate has accelerated and nearly doubled since 2000. It now declines by 3.8% annually, compared to 2% between 1990 and 2000.” Meanwhile, the maternal mortality rate dropped by 38 percent the last 17 years. Now that’s the good news. The less than good news is the world is not yet on track to meet the goal of reducing maternal mortality to less than 70 per 100,000 births by 2030 and even the goal of reducing the under 5 mortality rate to 12 per 1000 births is not quite on track. Nonetheless, amazing progress has been made and if Sub-Saharan Africa sees the economic gains we expect over the next ten years, these goals might yet be achieved.

Can Polluted Minds Clean Polluted Skies?

Here in Seattle at the much needed climate protests last week, the local organizers invited noted socialist Kshama Sawant to speak, one of the only local politicians asked to do so. We wish the well-intentioned organizers had read the new paper on The Political Pollution Cycle which found that “top prefectural leaders in China ordered laxer regulation of pollution towards the end of their tenure so that the delivery of social stability and economic achievements boded well for their career advancement. Such regulatory forbearance came unintentionally with tremendous human costs.” In other words, incentives matter, and democracy matters. Socialism, not Democratic Socialism of a Nordic nature, but the actual socialism Sawant advocates, should remain on the ash heap of history. It will not help with climate change and will harm people’s lives. As we’ve noted before, solving climate change is a global problem, will take technological advancements and smart incentives, not ideological relics of a bygone age.

Pokémon Kills Mickey

Walking down the broken sidewalk of District 1 in Ho Chi Minh City a few weeks ago, we saw a gaggle of youthful Vietnamese grouped together staring at their phones. We stopped to figure out what was going on. One of them turned to us and said, “Pokemon.” Ah yes, the giant Pokemon game which we’ve never played. But as the list of the highest grossing media franchises published by Title Max of all places shows, we are one of the few who haven’t. Pokemon ranks number one all time with over $92 billion in revenue, two-thirds of which is derived from merchandise, not from video gaming. Hello Kitty comes in second and undoubtedly much to President Xi’s chagrin, Winnie the Pooh is third. Mickey Mouse and Star Wars round out the top five. As you see below, merchandise provides the large majority of revenue for these media franchises. Our distant descendant archaeologists will know us from our landfills.

Managing Tawain, Most Censored Countries, and Age of Peak Child

My colleague and I walked into the pharmacy in Vietnam and I typed “constipation” into the translation app on my phone. It translated it to… “constipation,” which was very unhelpful. Let’s stop here and note the medicine was for one of the students on the Follow the Supply Chain Study Abroad trip we were co-leading. I don’t want you thinking there is anything wrong with our digestive system. But back to the story–since neither my colleague nor I speak Vietnamese, she wrote down on a piece of paper the word, “constipation,” and showed it to the Vietnamese pharmacist. The pharmacist looked at the piece of paper and started giggling which while it might be unprofessional I found very endearing. I pointed to my colleague and said the medicine is for her. Strangely, our colleague did not find this very funny, but the pharmacist kept giggling, gave us some medicine, which we in turn gave to the student and mission accomplished. 16 students from four colleges participated in the study abroad program and they were the sweet sixteen—smart, engaged, asking great questions throughout the program, fun and helping each other and even their leaders out when needed. We have organized many business and public officials overseas in a past career and these students were more mature and asked better questions. The future is in good hands. So as you eat bananas, prunes and sweet potatoes, we serve up the future of factories in Vietnam, the world’s most censored countries and the age of peak child. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, the giggling pharmacy of international data and information.

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

Managing Taiwan

The factory in Vietnam hummed as we chatted with one of its Taiwanese managers. Vietnam has been the beneficiary of China’s higher labor costs and the U.S.-China trade war, both of which leading to numerous factories of many types moving to Vietnam from China in recent years. Indeed the one we stood in moved from Shenzhen in 2015. But Vietnam is not as populous as China and will likely soon cycle to a higher labor cost level meaning manufacturing will move somewhere else. The manager we chatted with said they will be moving on from Vietnam, like they did from China, within ten years. Already they are looking at Indonesia with Africa a possibility too. The challenge with Africa for this particular factory line is it stretches the supply chain because most of the materials for the products made here are sourced from Asia. But Africa’s time is coming, sooner than people realize. We didn’t just talk about factories. When the Taiwanese manager expressed concern for the protesters in Hong Kong, we asked if they were worried about what China will do in Taiwan. They said no they weren’t worried, that Taiwan is friends with the U.S. and the U.S. will protect Taiwan. They have more confidence in America than we do.

World’s Most Censored Countries

While in Vietnam, I came across the Committee to Protect Journalists list of the ten most censored countries in the world and discovered I was sitting in one of them. Yes, Vietnam is number six on the list even if we were not censored from learning this fact while on the Internet in Saigon. The Committee found that “These 10 countries flout the international standard by banning or severely restricting independent media and intimidating journalists into silence with imprisonment, digital and physical surveillance, and other forms of harassment. Self-censorship is pervasive.” North Korea surprisingly is only number two on the list, behind Eritrea, which helps explain the Eritrea immigrant on our Vietnam trip talking so harshly about its government. The list is a who’s who of countries afraid of information getting out to their populations, so really a portrait of leadership cowardice. China, which seemingly now aspires to be a 21st Century leader of the world, should feel a little silly being grouped with Turkmenistan, Belarus and, well, North Korea.

The Age of Peak Child

You’ve probably heard someone say “the world is getting smaller all the time.” They’re talking about how connected the world is but sometime this century, this will also be true about population. According to OurWorldinData,  “Peak population growth was reached in 1968 with an annual growth of 2.1%. Since then the increase of the world population has slowed and today grows by just over 1% per year.” After amazingly large increases the last two centuries, the world’s population growth has slowed to a crawl. Or as OurWorldinData notes,  “The world is approaching what the late Hans Rosling called ‘the age of peak child’.” Population growth is not slowing because of more people dying but rather because fewer are being born. This will have great consequences in the coming decades as more and more of the world is old. There will be less innovation, for example, more people telling you to get off their lawns and many more who think they should run for president. It’s a dystopic future for sure.

Decarbonizing Belt and Road, Where Hong Kongers Flee to and Esports rise

Dear Jeff Bezos:

We know others may have different complaints about you and your company, and perhaps they feel theirs are more important, but once you read this we’re sure you’ll move ours to the top of the priority list. Our concern is the types of ads that display on our Kindle screen (we are too cheap to buy the non-ad Kindle). Here is a list of what we have recently bought and/or read on our Kindle—a device we love and have used daily for years:

Belt and Road, a Chinese World Order by Bruno Macaes

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Xi Jinping: The Backlash, by Richard McGregor

The Proncane Chonicle by Ross Thomas

On the Laps of Gods: The Red Summer of 1919 by Robert Whitaker

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

There are many other books on our Kindle, of course, but none, we assure you, are bodice ripping romance novels full of lurid tales of desire and passion (although we haven’t finished Xi Jinping: The Backlash and maybe there will be steamy scenes in its final chapters). That being the case, why are the ads on our Kindle almost always romance novels featuring strong jawed men and usually less clothed than the ones in the ad I photographed from my Kindle below? Please take a break from creating a very powerful company, national newspaper and pretty darn cool outer space company, and fix the advertisement algorithm for the Kindle. But save a little attention for the Belt and Road’s carbonization of the world, where Hong Kongers may flee to, and how esports is taking over the world. It’s this week‘s International Need to Know, the Nora Roberts, the Fabio, of international information and data.

We are headed back to Vietnam tonight with 16 students who are participating in a Follow the Supply Chain Study Abroad Mission (thanks to our sponsors: Boeing, Lynden Logistics, UW CIBER program and the Federal Way Chamber). We’ll be back on September 19th.

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

Decarbonizing the Belt and Road

We saw a headline recently about whether parents should tell their kids about all their drug use in their youth. A tough decision we’re sure but even more difficult is asking up and coming developing countries not to make the same polluting mistakes developed countries did. The U.S., Europe, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, China and others all developed while emitting huge amounts of climate change gases into the atmosphere. The new kids on the block want what those countries have and it’s a bit awkward to tell them no, or at least that they have to do it in a more expensive, more difficult way. And, of course, it’s not just Europe and the U.S. helping developing countries anymore, China is a big part of the game with its Belt and Road Initiative. A new study, Decarbonizing the Belt and Road, quantifies how emerging countries that develop economically under conventional methods will affect climate change efforts. It’s not good news. The study finds that if they follow the usual carbon intensive development pathway these countries will account for 66 percent of global emissions by 2050 “and result in global carbon emissions double the 2-Degree Scenario, the upper limit of the Paris Agreement temperature target.” Determining policies to prevent this from happening is the most important policy challenge of the climate change debate, and one we see most U.S. politicians ignoring, even and perhaps especially those most concerned about climate change. The report also provides recommendations on how to decarbonize the Belt and Road. Get to work policy makers.

Where Hong Kongers Want to Move to

As the situation in Hong Kong becomes ever more perilous for Hong Kongers, both those fighting for freedoms and your average person, some are contemplating moving away. But where to? According to the Wall Street Journal’s Daily Shot via Noah Smith’s tweet, fifty percent of Hong Kongers want to move to Taiwan. That seems like potentially a hot pot into the fire situation given China’s statements on Taiwan but it’s easy to see how the people of Hong Kong would be interested in moving to a place where both Chinese and democracy live. Perhaps just as interesting, as Smith points out, is how far down the U.S. is on the list. Perhaps it’s time the U.S. hands over its statue of liberty to Taipei?

The Esporting Life

Here in the United States the NFL American football season starts tonight. It’s a big deal but not when compared to esports. Next Big Future points out that the NFL has approximately 100 million viewers around the country and world. The audience for esports, according to newzoo (which has much better data than oldzoo), is 198 million occasional viewers worldwide with 245 million “esports enthusiasts.” Asia, and especially China, makes up the largest percentage of those enthusiasts and viewers.  And those figures will only grow larger with newzoo calculating that 2.5 billion people will play video games in 2019—many of these couch loungers, especially the youthful demographic, will be prime targets for watching esports. So, yes the first NFL game is tonight and it’s a big deal, but a mere opossum to esports’ giant panda.


Amazon Fires, Social Media’s Good and Asia’s Debt

Listening to the news of the G7 meetings as we drove to the gym earlier this week we were reminded of just how complicated communication is and how it can lead to international misunderstandings, botched negotiations and even wars. As we drove, an older man, cigarette dangling from his lip, turned left out of the cross street cutting us off. Fine, fine. We put on our brakes and slowed down. He drove very slowly in front of us and the woman behind us honked her horn angrily. The man gestured furiously at us, thinking we were the horn honker. We shortsightedly made a motion to indicate we did not honk our horn, it was the person behind us. But it is difficult to communicate this with hand gestures and the man in front grew more angry and flipped us off with great fury and righteousness. This caused us to laugh, which made the man even more angry and he rolled his window down yelling and screaming at us, which made us want to laugh even more but we decided somber discretion was the better part of humorous valor. We looked in our rear view mirror and saw the woman behind us seething even more deeply as we all drove ever so slowly. The man in front finally turned left again and we carried on our merry way. While you determine which one of us was Trump, which one Macron and which one Merkel, Putin or Rouhani, we lift our arms in hope at the worrisome and confusing Amazon fires, give a tentative thumbs up to social media and thumb our nose at Asian debt. It’s this week‘s International Need to Know, looking for love and international news and data in all the right places.

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

Ethiopian Ents Strike Back Against the Amazon

The fires in the Amazon are distressing not only for environmental reasons but also because we’ve seen so much contradictory data about the extent of the fires and just how big a risk they are to the Amazon. So rather than weigh in with more data, we will do three things: 1) point you to an expert on the Amazon who admits even experts “don’t know how much of the Amazon forest is burning” but does describe what is verifiable and known and offers reasonable prescriptions of what needs to be done to protect the Amazon; 2) point to a report in Nature that found between 1982 and 2016, global tree canopy cover increased by 2.24 million square kilometers; and 3) remind you that a month ago Ethiopia planted 350 million(!) trees and aims to plant 4 billion over the next year to substantially restore forested land. Currently only 4 percent of Ethiopia is forested compared to 30 percent 100 years ago.  We point all of this out not to make you less concerned about the Amazon but instead to give hope and a path forward. You’re welcome.

Maybe Social Media Is Not So Bad?

When we first joined Facebook lo those many years ago, we very much enjoyed connecting with friends, seeing their cat videos, learning about their vacations and how their children are perfect in every way. We enjoyed getting the lowdown on Seattle Mariners trades on Twitter a few years later. Needless to say, social media has gone downhill and indeed these platforms are often thought of scathingly nowadays. And yet, here’s a new report from Pew Global showing that there are still salutary effects of social media use. “A Pew Research Center survey of adults in 11 nations across four global regions finds that, in many key respects, smartphone users – and especially those who use social media – are more regularly exposed to people who have different backgrounds and more connected with friends they don’t see in person.” One example the article gives is Mexican smartphone users more often interact with people from different political parties than people without smartphones and social media usage. Of course, maybe the way these Mexican smartphone users interact with people in different parties is to message them an angry emoji. Nonetheless, at least smartphone social media users are getting outside their bubbles.

McKinsey has a new report worrying about “Signs of Stress in the Asian Financial System.” The report notes increased corporate debt in the region, as the chart below illustrates with the mega-countries of China and India leading the way. McKinsey’s research finds that corporations in Asia are using a large share of their earnings to repay debt (Isn’t that good and portends a better future even if it makes for a problematic present?). The report also states that “households in Australia and South Korea have accumulated unsustainably high levels of debt.” In which industry sectors is the debt most concentrated? McKinsey’s research shows “that energy, industrial, and utility companies accounted for a significant share of stressed corporations in Australia, Mainland China, Hong Kong SAR, and India.” With a slowing global economy, this debt situation presumably worsens. Just how big a risk this all is we do not know but are sure we’ll find out whether we want to or not.

China’s Messy Apartment, Eyes on Prize, and Top Scrabble Country

We’re a sucker for an immigrant story. We can’t think of a movie about immigrants we don’t love. We’re probably the only person who thought The Namesake was the best movie of 2006. We’re also a Bruce Springsteen fan. So we feel like director Gurinder Chadha made the new movie Blinded By the Light specifically for us. And given its low box office receipts that apparently is the case. There are not enough Springsteen fans and unfortunately not enough immigrant fans to financially sustain such a movie. But never confuse popularity with quality. Blinded By the Light, although corny in spots, wonderfully tells the classic immigrant tale of trying to fit in while being discriminated against, the beauty of discovering music and the importance of dreaming. Perhaps paradoxically for a film that wears its heart on its sleeves, many of the main characters are more complicated than one would expect, neither merely good or bad but deeply human. So as we thank Chadha for making a movie for us, we direct you to China’s messy apartment, produce a list of the most spied upon cities, and act surprised on which country is number one in Scrabble. It is this week’s International Need to Know, refusing to meet with Indonesian leaders until they agree to sell us Bali.

BLINDED BY THE LIGHT – Official International Trailer
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Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

China’s Messy Apartment

Many years ago when we first moved into our own place sans roommates for the first time, we discovered something. It wasn’t just our roommates who forgot to take out the garbage, wipe down the kitchen counters or clean up after themselves. It was us. We were the guilty party!—at least in part. We thought of this listening to people blame China’s slowing economy on the trade war. As we have noted before, China is not returning to high single digit/double digit GDP growth, and this is mainly due to demographic trends. China’s working age population has already peaked and will fall by 100 million people over the next 20 years. That’s a large reason for China’s slowing GDP the last five years. But even in the last year, it is unlikely the trade war is causing the current slow down. U.S. trade has not fallen overall, it’s just shifted some out of China. On the other hand, China’s overall trade has fallen. In looking at China’s economic condition, the one current driver increasing is investment in the real estate sector. As you see in the graph below, investments in infrastructure and equipment are way down. China’s economy is slowing but it’s not due to the trade war. And also remember, absent catastrophe, even a slower growing China is still hugely important. That’s the other mistake people make. Yes, China won’t be growing as fast but they will still be hugely important in the world.

Eyes On Our Prize

You ever get the feeling someone is watching you? Well, nowadays, they probably are thanks to surveillance technology. Comparitech recently set out to determine which are the most surveilled cities in the world. They did this by “collating a number of data resources and reports, including government reports and police websites, to get some idea of the number of CCTV cameras in use in 120 major cities across the globe.” Comparitech focused “primarily on public CCTV—cameras used by government entities such as law enforcement.” So what did they find? Not surprisingly, eight out of the 10 most surveilled cities in the world are in China with Chongqing, Shenzhen and Shanghai ranked first, second and third. You’ll guess one of the only two non-Chinese cities in the top ten: London. But, I bet you had no idea Atlanta is the 10th-most surveilled city in the world. Interestingly for those that somehow think surveillance and giving up our privacy and rights makes us safer, Comparitech found “little correlation between the number of public CCTV cameras and crime or safety.

The World’s Top Scrabble Country

We’ve probably played Scrabble only twice in our lives. So when we picture Scrabble players in our mind we see older women librarians’ friendly faces furrowed in concentration. Like most pre-conceived notions, ours is utterly wrong as we learned this week when reading that Nigeria is the Scrabble capital of the world. “The country is top-ranked in the world.” They are Scrabble mad in Nigeria and not just the librarians as this description of a recent tournament in Lagos testifies, “At one table sat Wellington Jighere, the 2015 World English Language Scrabble Players Association Champion, known for his quiet demeanor, fedoras, and Cheshire cat–like grin. At another, Olawale Fashina, nicknamed the Champion of Ten Continents, who won the African title, the Nigerian title, and the British title in the span of seven years — a rarity in the game — prepared to play. Bukunmi Afolayan, a Scrabble coach for Ogun state and one of the best female players in the league, sat nearby. Then there was Enoch Nwali, a university student studying human kinetics and health education, who at 22 is the youngest Nigerian in the masters category.” Our stereotypes of Scrabble players is matched by most people’s errant stereotypes of Africa in general, where a lot more is happening than people realize.

Chimes of Freedom, Unarmed Road of Flight, and Inside the Doorway

It’s easy to despair nowadays given the state of the world. We nearly succumbed to it ourselves at a baseball game over the weekend and not just because our team lost yet again…and again…and again. It was also because we felt an era ending with the celebrations of Edgar Martinez over and because we were bombarded by a seemingly endless stream of bad news on our phone between innings. Protesters violently attacked for speaking up for their inalienable rights in Hong Kong. The President of the disunited states employing an accent to mock Japanese and Korean allies. Our cruel and unusual prison system allowing yet another inmate to commit suicide. A nuclear weapons accident in Russia. And a rogues gallery of other flotsam catastrophes and jetsam disasters floating all over our earth. So yes, despair is easy, but then as we walked out of the baseball stadium we saw…well, you can see it for yourself below. And we dare you to frown and fret while doing so. So as you smile, we stand up for Hong Kongers, admire the world’s support for refugees and examine Ethiopia’s challenges. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, together since 2016.

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

Chimes of Freedom

Generally we try not to write about what is currently in the headlines but rather on what should be or sometime in the future will come to be. But the protesters of Hong Kong deserve our attention. It has become almost fashionable in recent years to disparage democracy and freedom, almost always by those who have it and are not at risk of losing it. Hong Kongers know better. They fight not just for their own liberty but are indeed on the front lines of the battle against authoritarianism. As we wrote last week, China is many things, like any complicated entity: some good, some indifferent, but make no mistake, some bad. China continues to reeducate torture millions of Uighurs The government sows seeds of censorship and propaganda across China’s fire-walled Internet that bloom like an invasive species. And, in Hong Kong, China now invokes the term “terrorism” while bloodying and blinding protesters who seek what billions have sought through the ages—freedom and liberty. America has never lived up to its ideals. But the idea it wrought painfully onto this planet is one still worth fighting for. Hong Kongers will not live up to their ideals either should, against all odds, they succeed in their protests. But they damn well deserve the right to fail.

Work in the Future, How to Save the Doomed World, and Space Spending

The greatest movie going experience of our life was opening night of Pulp Fiction in 1994 at the old Neptune Theater when the packed Tarantino-loving house cheered the opening credits and two of our friends walked out of the theater in disgust during The Gimp scene. Later a friend’s very liberal Mom (so far to the left she’s on the right) told us it should be illegal for Tarantino to make such movies. She was dead serious. We thought of all this when attending opening night of Tarantino’s latest, Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood—his elegy to 1969 Los Angeles. Like every Tarantino movie, Hollywood has three things: a) a great soundtrack; b) allusions and homages to movies, television and pop culture; and c) people attacking the movie based on their pre-conceived notions rather than the film itself (Tipper Gore lives!). Hollywood has many incredible scenes, including one much talked about of Margot Robbie, who plays Sharon Tate, watching the real Sharon Tate in a movie. But, our favorite scene features Brad Pitt’s character driving through the L.A. night from his boss’s mansion to his humble RV trailer. With each cut, a different song or commercial plays from the radio, showing how long it takes to get from point A to point B in L.A., and how much fun it is to listen to music while doing so, perhaps especially in that era of limited media distractions. For many it was probably a meaningless throwaway scene, but for us, it summed up everything that is great about Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood and leads us to drive our convertible through the world’s transformation to a service economy, give a foot massage to people worried about climate change and munch on the Big Kahuna Burger of space exploration. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, a glowing suitcase of international data and information.

Hong Kong protesters sing Les Miserables’ ‘Do you hear the people sing?’

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Unarmed Road of Flight

As of late, the chimes of freedom have not flashed for Bob Dylan’s refugees on the unarmed road of flight either in the United States or around the world. Which is strange because among broader populations—if not specific politicians—refugees generally elicit much sympathy and support. In a Pew Global survey,71 percent of respondents worldwide support accepting refugees into their country. Refugees are defined by Pew in the survey as people “fleeing violence and war.” Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Japan are most supportive with more than 80 percent of their populations in favor of taking in more refugees. Only a few countries had minority support for taking in refugees: Israel, Russia, Hungary, Poland and South Africa. Japan, who most people still think of as an insular country, is one of the most supportive of taking in refugees. And even 61 percent of Japanese are in favor of more immigration generally. Japan is what people used to think America was, although even America is far more pro-immigration and supportive of refugees than its current leader would have you believe.

Inside the Doorway, Thunder Crashing

Last week we quantified the amazing economic progress of the world’s most underrated country, Ethiopia. However, like the weather of Seattle, we live in a world of grays—there are no utopias, no pure hells on this orbiting globe. In other words, Ethiopia has great challenges too, as evidenced by a coup attempt in June. The attempt took place in the Amhara region, one of nine ethnic divisions of Ethiopia, and yes, it is these divisions that are a challenge.  Ethiopia has long been riven by ethnic strife (the fear of the other may have saved humans in pre-historic times but may destroy us here at the end of history). Bloomberg reports that “Almost three million Ethiopians were driven from their homes by conflict last year.” Reform minded though he may be, such tensions and problems have led the prime minister to cut off the Internet for long periods of time. Ethnic tensions are prominent in a fascinating Bloomberg article about the apparent suicide of the chief engineer of the “Renaissance Dam” which aims to bring a large swathe of power to the still more than 50 percent of Ethiopians without access to electricity. Ethiopia has increased its debt load significantly over the last ten years, but most of that debt has been productive by building up much needed infrastructure. But more infrastructure is needed as is more cohesiveness. If Ethiopia can navigate these challenges, it may become the first African Lion, a worthy successor to the Asian tigers. But it could also be swallowed up by these challenges.

Collapse of European Coal, Love in Time of CRISPR China, Ethiopia Update

President at May rally: How do you stop these people? You can’t.”

Someone in the crowd: “Shoot them.”

The audience of thousands cheered.

President smiles: “Only in the Panhandle can you get away with that statement.”

President in January, 2018: “Why are we having all these people from sh**hole countries come here?

President in June 2017 after being told Haiti had sent 15,000 people to the US: “They all have AIDs.”

President in June 2017 after being told forty thousand had come from Nigeria. “Once they have seen the United States they would never go back to their huts in Africa.”

Candidate in July 2015 regarding Jeb Bush: “He has to like the Mexican illegals because of his wife” (Bush’s wife is of Mexican heritage)

August 3, 2019: 22 people are killed in a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas by a shooter with an anti-immigrant manifesto

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

The Collapse of European Coal

Last week, we noted that scientists are worried we are running out of time to stop the worst consequences of climate change. But this week we present bluer skies, specifically the apparent collapse of coal usage in Europe. According to, a European climate change thinktank with a vaguely dirty sounding name, “Coal generation in the EU collapsed by 19% in the first half of this year, with falls in almost every coal-burning country.” The report notes that half of this coal usage was replaced by solar and wind power and the rest by natural gas. The consequences for climate change emissions are large, “If this continues for the rest of the year it will reduce CO2 emissions by 65 million tonnes compared to last year, and reduce EU’s GHG by 1.5%. Coal generation already had fallen 30% from 2012 to 2018.” The key for combatting climate change, as noted last week, is to make transformations, such as large coal reductions in Europe, possible in China and India. This is where world policy must concentrate, not silly Swedes sailing instead of flying. Silly, silly Swedes.

Love in the Time of Chinese CRISPR

A large country, like a single human being, is complicated and can be described by no single adjective. Jane Doe is not merely bad or good, silly or serious, smart or dumb. She is all of these things at once and at different times. China is big. It is an authoritarian government that is threatening Hong Kong. It has a closed economic system stealing technology. But as we have noted before, it is a place of innovation and flourishing technology. Science Magazine breaks down China’s progress in CRISPR, the genetic swiss army knife, the duct tape of DNA. “Although the United States has had the most CRISPR publications—and continues to have the most cited papers—China is now a close second and is pouring money into CRISPR’s uses.” The article notes that the China CRISPR community is still feeling the repercussions of Chinese scientist He Jiankui’s altering of two human embryos last year, but at the same time is full speed ahead in pushing the technology forward. “…China is aggressively exploring genome editing in medicine, having launched far more clinical trials using CRISPR, mainly for cancer, than any country.” China continues to transform the world in ways helpful and troubling, sometimes all at once.

Underrated Country Update

Ethiopia’s fast growing economy and reform minded politicians garnered the country the coveted INTN Most Underrated status. Recently, an Ethiopian economist at the IMF, Abebe Aemro Selassi, gave a presentation on Ethiopia’s economic progress and continued challenges. Selassi compares Ethiopia’s economic growth with other Sub-Saharan countries as you see in the chart below. Ethiopia towers over its comparators, even other fast-growing Sub-Saharan countries (note there are a number of African countries doing well, flying under the radar). Economic growth and smart government investments have also led to big increases in life expectancy and infant mortality decreases. Ethiopia, however, faces continued challenges as a recent coup attempt last month illustrates. Next week we’ll delve into those challenges.


Watch the Video

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

Work in the Future

During our brief vacation, we ate In Utica, New York at the Tailor and the Cook, one of the best meals you’ll find in these united 50, so if you ever find yourself in Utica (and why wouldn’t you?), go there. Also prominent in Utica are the closed up factories that have sat dormant for decades. The World Bank recently published a graph showing that the highest percentage of jobs in the world are in the service sector, more than double manufacturing and far more than agriculture too. This is much different than in 1999 when there were far more agricultural jobs. The graphs (see below) also show the percentages for Low Income, Lower Middle Income, Upper Middle Income and High Income countries. Note that as countries become richer there is a big drop in agricultural jobs and a steady increase in service jobs. Manufacturing jobs also increase with wealth–until a country reaches High Income status. Then the percentage of manufacturing jobs decrease. That’s when countries complete the transition to service oriented economies. In fact, as we’ve noted in the past, all upper income countries have seen the same slope of decrease in manufacturing jobs whether it’s Germany, the U.S., France, and now even China. Policy makers will ignore all this, of course, in trying to save manufacturing jobs.

The World is Doomed, How to Save It*

The International Need to Know spouse alerted us to a headline that instead of the world only having 12 years to stave off the worst effects of climate change (last month’s alarming headline), we now only have 18 months (this month’s even more alarming headline). Our initial reaction is the world won’t come to its senses in 18 months so as long as we’re doomed let’s drain the bank account and have a good time. Of course, when we clicked on the headline, the story was a bit more complicated. So in the interest of not giving up hope, let’s reiterate again that though the United States needs to get its act together in confronting climate change, the real challenge going forward is other countries as the chart below illustrates. Sure it may be unfair that in the past the United States and Europe accounted for a large portion of CO2 emissions (the Soviet Union too) but going forward it’s China and India that are the largest culprits. Finding policies that help those and other fast developing countries to reduce emissions is the most important factor to combating climate change.

*Editor’s Note: So you’re saying we’re not doomed? INTN Response: We are always and everywhere doomed–eventually

To Boldly Go

During our travels a few weeks ago, the 50th anniversary of humans landing on the moon took place. And last week, India launched a rocket into space as they ramp up their space exploration. So which countries spend the most on space (outer we mean, not real estate, which would clearly be China)? As you see below, the U.S. is still the leader by a large margin with China and Russia a distant second and third. As a share of GDP, however, Russia is first, and India is sixth. And by this measure Israel pops into the top ten. Of course, there are many private space efforts as well. One of the great disappointments of our lifetime is the lack of progress in space exploration. Perhaps with the many new countries and companies joining in the adventure, that will change.


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.