Archive for month: February, 2020

No Excuse for Not Liberalizing, Cancer Deaths Decreasing, and Mecca Rapper is Sugar Candy

In the spring of 2003 we were returning from a trip to China and we caught a cold (the cold caught us?). A day or so later as we drove home from the office our right eye felt strange and we realized goop was streaming out of it. Not a trickle, more like a gushing river. Needless to say we found this alarming and it made driving difficult. We had no experience with something like this and were frankly considering panicking. At one point we saw a cop on the side of the road and briefly considered pulling over and asking the police what the hell was going on with our eye. But we calmed down enough to make our way home where we asked our wife, “what the hell is going on with our eye?!!!” By this time our eye was completely bright red and swollen—we looked like an extra on a demented horror movie set. Our wife also had no idea what was going on so we made a doctor’s appointment for first thing the next morning. We wore dark sunglasses at the doctor’s office lest we frighten the children and other innocents there with our incredibly gory looking eye. We were shuffled to one of the examination rooms and when our long-time doctor walked in asking how we were doing we took off our sunglasses. She looked at us and said, “that’s the worst case of pink eye I’ve ever seen.” But we did not have SARS which was running rampant in China while we were there, although during the first part of the trip one would not have known it from the Chinese media. So while we are not panicking like in the car drive home in 2003, we will act cautiously during our trip to Japan which we leave for tomorrow. In the meantime we squint at China’s excuses for not liberalizing, hold a microscope to world cancer rates and raise our eyebrows at Saudi Arabia’s treatment of a female rapper. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, announcing we are running for president…in 2044…when we’ll be old enough to be a candidate for president.

International Need to Know will be off next week during our trip to Japan but back on March 12 either from Seattle or in quarantine.

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

No Excuses for Not Liberalizing

Japan, South Korea and Taiwan all experienced fast economic growth over a long-time period and then as their working age populations peaked, reverted to slower economic growth. See the charts below to illustrate this. As they grew economically, they liberalized their politics. China has experienced rapid economic growth over a long-time period but its working age population has now also peaked. The China Communist Party has promised fast economic growth and by doing so has maintained power. But China’s fast economic growth is now history. So why not liberalize politically like other Asian nations did?  Undoubtedly the answer from the CCP will be that their continued rule is the only way to ensure stability in China. But if you’re going to have slow economic growth, why would people continue to give up freedom of information, assembly, speech and other freedoms? People may give up those liberties if they perceive by doing so high economic growth is guaranteed. But now that fast economic growth is over, we doubt the Chinese people will be fine with no political freedom. We delve into this much more deeply in our upcoming book on China and the U.S.

Cancer Deaths Decreasing

The world is awash in fear of the Corona virus (and if the world was more diligent about washing, perhaps we would not have so much to fear). We’re a bit nervous ourselves given we’re headed to Japan tomorrow. But one of the tragic stories of Corona in Wuhan is that patients, including those with cancer, are being ignored as the city focuses all its attention on the virus. But there is good news about cancer in general in the world. According to, the age-standardized cancer death rate is decreasing. The overall number of people dying from cancer has increased over the years but that’s due to there being more people in the world overall (a lower percentage of a greater number of people is still high). And the cancer death rate not age-standardized has increased because there are more old people in the world and older people are more likely to get cancer. But the best way to assess how the world is doing with cancer is age-standardized cancer death rates, normalizing the data to adjust for there being more people in the world and a higher percentage of older people. The age-standardized cancer death rate is down due to fewer people smoking and better treatments now available. Let’s hope it continues to go down in the coming years, viruses or no.

Mecca Rapper is Sugar Candy

Because we miss being surrounded by music in New Orleans, let’s finish the week with a story about a female rapper in Saudi Arabia. Asayel Slay released a rap song on YouTube that led to Saudi authorities to call for her arrest. What does Slay rap about? According to the BBC, she “raps about women in the city of Mecca” calling them “powerful and beautiful.” One of her lyrics goes, “Our respect to other girls but the Mecca girl is sugar candy.” This obviously inflammatory lyric led the governor of Mecca Khaled al-Faisal to tweet, “it insults the customs of Mecca.” The video is no longer available on Youtube and Slay’s account has been suspended which if this is a decision by Youtube, makes us want to create a video criticizing Youtube. We look forward to a world where Asayel Slay is free to rap about what she wants and the world ignores D.J. Khaled (how is this guy still a thing?).

Asayel Slay – Girl Of Mecca (Official Music Video)

Watch the Video

African Handwashing, Languages Most Spoken, and India’s Economic Troubles

Up ahead a family wheeled their ladder on the specialy constructed platform that they then flipped over for their children to sit in. Bam and Nikka, who we just met, took us under their hospitable New Orleans’ wings and showed us how to plead for the best throws from the Mardi Gras floats parading by. Notwithstanding stereotypes, this has nothing to do with baring one’s chest. Mardi Gras is really a family affair, full of kids, costumes and the coming together of the most unique and special city in the world. The parades that first carnival weekend featured bands, floats, dancers, and entertainment of any category you can think of. Mardi Gras betrays the stereotype of easy-going, lazy New Orleanians. Sure they may not fix their potholes, create the latest gee-whiz technology or work insanely long hours, but to put on the equivalent of a dozen torchlight parades in a single weekend, with complicated floats and “throws” that are mini works of art tossed to the deserving crowd, along with the beads, takes a year-long dedication to the cause that no other city’s culture possesses. Nikka spent the last month working on her sign sculpted with lights to attract the most coveted throws, including purses and shoes. The Mande Milkshakers–women of every size, age and race–had obviously practiced their moves over and over to get such fun loving precision, as had the high school band with their high steppers and drummers banging the beat with the seriousness of Moses on the Mount. Even the 610 Stompers (“Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Moves”) had obviously spent many an hour perfecting those dances. New Orleans is as relaxed as anywhere you’d want to go but you gotta work hard to have fun. And they do, and we work hard to bring you corona hand washing worries in Africa, which languages have the most speakers and India’s spiraling economy. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, blowing international information and data like Trombone Shorty at Shorty Gras.

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

African Handwashing

There is a face mask shortage in Asia due to the Corona Virus (we refuse to mar the small Arizona company, Covid, with WHO’s made-up moniker—the beer company can handle it) but not a soap shortage despite the fact medical professionals tell us the most important thing we can do to avoid Corona, or any virus, is to wash our hands diligently. But what if you don’t have the ability to wash your hands? This is unfortunately the case for too many people in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to the World Bank, “In 42 countries, less than half of the population have basic handwashing facilities with soap and water in their homes. The countries with low access are concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Access to handwashing facilities is part of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals for a reason. There is much concern about Corona spreading to Africa because of its lack of health care infrastructure. But lack of basic handwashing facilities should also be a big concern.

Languages Most Spoken

Let’s pull up a stool and make a bar bet (maybe at Napoleon House in NOLA,  for a Pimm’s Cup): which language has the most speakers in the world? If you said Mandarin, you owe me a drink. But don’t feel bad, that’s what I would have guessed too until I read Visual Capitalist’s graphic of the “100 Most Spoken Languages Around the World. (original source: Word Tips)” But there’s a catch. There are 1.132 billion English speakers around the world, more than the 1.116 billion Mandarin speakers, but only 379 million of those English-speaking people are native speakers (including certain Bostonians). But because English is now the Lingua Franca of the world, English is the second-language for a heckuva lotta people. If we’re just counting native speakers, than Mandarin is indeed the most spoken language in the world with Spanish second and English third. The full list is below, only in English.  What will this list look like in 2120 (should there still be spoken languages–by then everything may be communicated in emojis)?

India’s Economic Troubles

India, one of the most important countries in the world, has been going in the wrong direction politically recently–you have probably seen the news about Modi’s citizenship law. But economically things are going south too. Good chance the two are related. India’s economy is in a rather severe slowdown as a paper at Harvard’s Center for International Development documents. GDP is growing at a much slower pace but the paper says the underlying data is even worse: “The growth of consumer goods production has virtually ground to a halt; production of investment goods is falling. Indicators of exports, imports, and government revenues are all close to negative territory.” What is causing the economic slowdown? Harvard’s paper suggests it is a complicated balance sheet recession coming at the end of a credit boom. We don’t know if credit petering out in India is a problem, but if it is then there’s a lot of credit relying countries in the world that may be in for a rude awakening soon. Good times.

Bad News on Hunger, Branding Our World, and Homelessness Around the World

It is a little known fact that we were born in Iowa City (Editor: little known because nobody cares where you were born) though we only lived there the first year of our life. So we have no special affinity for Iowans and lament their voting Bernie Sanders either second or first in their little caucus (as of this writing they are still learning to count votes–I believe they are reduced to using corn kernels as some sort of primitive abacus). But we are on record, admittedly after a glass of wine and only in front of a small group of friends, of asserting that if the choice this fall is between 75-year-old, anti-non-white immigrants, loud-mouthed, Putin-loving Donald Trump and nearly octogenarian, anti-immigrant, Soviet Union honeymooning, hectoring Bernie Sanders, then Nate Silver calculates there is a 73.5 percent chance we will renounce our citizenship, leave the country, and move to New Orleans. Just in case, we are doing a test run to NOLA next week smack dab during Carnival season where we will watch various Krewes’ parades, Shorty Gras featuring eponymous Trombone Shorty, Bounce legend Big Freedia, and Brass Band veterans the Soul Rebels, and avoid all politics and policy while eating and drinking ourselves silly. Among the Krewe parades we plan on seeing are the Mystic Krewe of Femme Fatale, the Krewe of Pontchartrain and the Krewe of Barkus, which is a parade of dogs. In the meantime, while we prepare to eat crawfish and beignets, we regretfully report bad news on world hunger, inform you of the most valuable brand in the world and note which countries are battling homelessness best. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, tossing beads of international data from our global float.

INTN will be busy parading next week but back on February 20th. 

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

Bad News on Hunger

We have continued to remind people in this space that the world has consistently gotten better over the years, including the last ten. But unlike China in the early stages of the Corona Virus, INTN is nothing if not transparent and honest and so we note that the latest data on hunger and undernourishment is troubling. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s latest report states that, “the decades-long decline in the prevalence of undernourishment in the world had ended and hunger is slowly on the rise.” After decades of great progress in reducing hunger, it has been increasing since around 2015. Hunger continues to decrease in Asia but is rising in both Africa and South America. We wonder if the northern African refugee crisis and the catastrophe in Venezuela explain the problem. Regardless, there are 820 million people in the world suffering hunger and instead of that number decreasing, it went up the last four years. We worry that so many of the institutions and policies that led to a much improved world the last 50 years, are being cast away with resulting negative consequences.

Branding Our World

International Need to Know’s brand is golden but what are the other most valuable brands in the world? Brand Finance has the answer in their 2020 Global 500 Report which determines that Amazon is the most valuable brand in the world. In fact, the U.S. dominates with six of the top most valuable brands being American companies. China has two companies in the top ten, including ICBC bank and the insurance/financial service giant Ping An. That both of China’s top ten companies are in financial services is a bit worrying given the reports of debt and non-performing loans in that sector. On the other hand, lower on the list but rising are a variety of Chinese tech companies such as Tencent. However, one of China’s large tech companies, Baidu, saw the largest drop in brand value over the last year. Brand Finance determines brand value based on business performance, brand revenues and other categories. As you shop on Amazon for a new secure phone for Jeff Bezos, check out the list below.

Homelessness Around the World

Here in Seattle, the worldwide headquarters of INTN, you can’t escape the homeless, whether walking down the street or in casual conversations at cocktail parties. But what is going on in homelessness in the rest of the world? According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), homelessness has increased in about one-third of OECD countries, including in the UK, Netherlands and New Zealand. But homelessness has decreased in about one-quarter of OECD countries while remaining flat in the rest. The largest decreases in homelessness were in Finland, Norway and next door in Canada. Perhaps we should study what is happening in those countries to fix our own homeless problems, including here in Seattle.