Archive for April, 2008

Two unamalgamated worlds

Friday, April 18th, 2008

– I wrote a piece the other day entitled Immigration and Assimilation in which I discussed the problems that can arise when immigration rates are too high.

– Here’s a nice follow on which describes what’s going on in Germany now between the native Germans and the imported Turks.

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HE DID not plan it that way. But when Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, arrived in Germany for an official visit in February he found the Turkish community in turmoil. A few days before his arrival nine Turks, five of them children, had died in a fire in the south-western city of Ludwigshafen. A hate crime, many Turks suspected. The month before, Roland Koch, the conservative premier of the state of Hesse, had tried to win re-election by promising to deport foreign criminals (two-thirds of Turks do not have German citizenship). The transparent appeal to xenophobia backfired, costing Mr Koch his majority and perhaps his job.

Mr Erdogan both calmed tempers and inflamed them. In Ludwigshafen he reassured sceptical Turks that German police and firemen could be trusted. But then he seemed to urge them to hold themselves aloof from German society. Assimilation was a “crime against humanity”, he told a crowd of 16,000 in Cologne. Turkish children should be able to study in Turkish-language schools and at a Turkish university. With that, he largely wore out his welcome. Politicians across the spectrum accused him of fomenting Turkish nationalism on German soil. Perhaps, some mused, the European Union should suspend membership talks with Turkey.


080415 – April 18th – and SNOW!

Friday, April 18th, 2008

– This is the second time in recent weeks that we’ve simply closed the gate to our business because the weather has just been too weird to deal with. It is 2 PM on April 18th. I understand there was some snow yesterday in Seattle and that set a new record for the latest day in the year that it has ever snowed.

– This kind of thing can be very damaging to us. It is late enough in the year that many plants and trees have decided it is spring and they sent out their tender new spring shoots. Shoots that will not survive if the temperatures drop into a hard freeze tonight. We’ll just have to wait and see. With 8 acres and literally thousands of plants and trees outside, there’s nothing we can do but see what comes.

Snow on April 18th !!!

Some folks will, of course, say that this proves there is no Global Warming.   But, they are deeply confused.   The issue is really Global Climate change and such change is going to happen in a chaotic manner with a lot of wild swings both ways even as the average temperature rises.   Is this one such swing?   No one can say but I am certainly wondering about it.

Greed in NZ, too

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

– Nice post today in a New Zealand Blog (Amerinz) written by an American immigrant to that country. He writes about corporate greed and how corporations are only beholding to their shareholders and how, as a business model, that isn’t necessarily the best thing for the people who have to share their societies with these ravenous and amoral entities.

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I’ve written about corporate greed many times. I’ve been critical about corporate ethics, and about the modern business paradigm in which nothing matters to corporations except maximising return to investors.

Today, there was an example of what I’ve been talking about.

New Zealand appliance manufacturer Fisher & Paykel has announced that it’s shutting factories in Dunedin in New Zealand, Brisbane in Australia and one in California, shifting the jobs to Asia. 1070 people will loose their jobs, 430 of them in New Zealand. Last year the company announced that it was eliminating even more jobs in Auckland, shipping them to Asia.


Japanese Pay Less for More Health Care

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

– Not too long ago, we had Michael Moore’s movie “Sicko“.   In it, we got to see how much better the socialized medicine systems of places like Britain, Canada and France are than what we’ve got here in the U.S.

– Now comes NPR to to regale us with the Japanese system which is run by – corporations. And its health outcomes are far better than ours – at about half the cost we pay. Now that’s a poke in the eye.

– But, don’t look for things to change anytime soon – not while the big corporations have our government largely under their control.

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Japan produces cars, color TVs and computers, but it also produces the world’s healthiest people. It has the longest healthy life expectancy on Earth and spends half as much on health care as the United States.

That long life expectancy is partly due to diet and lifestyle, but the country’s universal health care system plays a key role, too.

Everyone in Japan is required to get a health insurance policy, either at work or through a community-based insurer. The government picks up the tab for those who are too poor.

It’s a model of social insurance that is used in many wealthy countries. But it’s definitely not “socialized medicine.” Eighty percent of Japan’s hospitals are privately owned — more than in the United States — and almost every doctor’s office is a private business.


– research thanks to L.A.

Bakken Formation

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

– Recently, I heard about a new oil discovery here in North America called the Bakken Formation. There seems to be a lot of excitement about it and, like a few other recent discoveries (), it may push the menace of Peak Oil away for a number of years more.

Most of the information I’m seeing is recent but This Wikipedia article shows that we’ve known about the Bakken Formation for some time now. But, it may be that with the current price of oil so high, extracting it from places like this becomes profitable.

– And indeed, it is just this logic that has made me think for some time that the Peak Oil crises will not come on like a lion – but rather more like a lamb.

– As the oil prices go up, sources that were formerly marginal will become profitable and oil use will continue. People do not want to give up the perks of our oil based economies so we will continue to pay higher and higher prices for oil and continue to extract it from ever more difficult sources until, finally, the pain is just too high to continue.

– Along the way, many of us will continue to talk about the rising CO2 levels and Global Climate Change which are resulting from the continued use of oil – but I fear no one will be listening to those complains either – until it is far too late.

– I googled for “Bakken Formation” and got a huge number of hits.   here are just three of the first ones: 

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The Bakken Oil Formation

Bakken Reserve Estimates

Bakken no energy panacea

– research thanks to Dave C.

Food problems are seriously on the rise

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

– It seems that articles on food shortages have been blossoming on the web this last week or two. Some of it is, I suspect, the media’s interest in the subject feeding on itself as their interest creates interest which drives more interest and so on. But, one has to strongly suspect that beneath the media’s positive feedback loop of excess excitement, some real and serious things are happening.

– I may have related that we went out and bought some freeze-dried food a week or so ago on the Internet? While I was shopping, I discovered that the prices have been rising strongly in recent months and that the three major freeze-dried food makers in the U.S. are OVERWHELMED with orders. Delivery times run to six weeks and more.

– On another tack, back in November, I bought some shares of an ETF (Exchange Traded Fund; like a mutual fund in its scatter but like a stock in that you can buy and sell it whenever) named DBA which is a move by analysts at Deutsche Bank to capitalize on basic food futures focusing on things like Sugar, Soybeans, Corn and Wheat. When I bought the shares, they were at $29/share. At the market’s close today, they were at $39/share.

– Here are a collection of articles I’ve pulled from the wires in just the last few days. I’m just going to put them up without commentary since there are so many of them. As you read them, imagine you have your ear down on the railroad rail and you can hear something coming from a long ways off. I wonder what it might be?

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We need a food security strategy <— from New Zealand

Haiti leader urges cut in food taxes to stop riots <– from Haiti

Agriculture must revert <– from the U.N.

World Bank tackles food emergency <– from the World Bank

Food Price Surge Could Mean ‘7 Lost Years’ <– from the World Bank

Rising food prices spark riots, trigger inflation <– from Miami

Global Hot Spots of Hunger Set to Explode <– Inter Press Service

Food riots ‘an apocalyptic warning ‘ <– ABC News

Immigration and Assimilation

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Culture’s have a limit to the rate at which they can absorb new immigrants. And I’m not saying this because of some prejudice against new comers. Rather, I think it’s a matter of common sense – backed up by simple empirical observation.

And this ‘rate’ is not a constant. It varies with how similar the immigrants are to the culture they are joining.

Close cultural analogs like say, Canada and Britain, could absorb large numbers of each other’s people without much distress.

But when the receiving and donating cultures are significantly different, then concerns about what rates are supportable should come into play.

When new comers, who are significantly different than the receiving culture, immigrate into it at too high a rate, they will tend to collect into small insular communities based on their previous culture. If these insular communities grow faster than cultural assimilation can dilute them, the result will eventually be two distinct cultures living where one used to be and a type of cultural schizophrenia will result.

When a country’s culture is essentially cut from one cloth, one can say that the culture of the country ‘owns’ itself. One can say that ‘it’ can rightfully decide if ‘it’ wants to let immigrants in and in what quantities and from what sources. It is within its power to decide whether it wants to allow high rates of immigration and risk cultural schizophrenia – or if it wants to hold the rates low enough to make genuine assimilation by the new comers into the original culture probable.

But, once the immigration barn door has been left wide open for awhile and a large secondary culture is present, then this power of the original culture to decide its own fate erodes and eventually disappears – because the fate being decided is no longer exclusively its own. From that point forward, there are other voices who also have the power and the right to have a say about the country’s decisions and directions.

The central take-away idea here is that the point-of-power for the original monochromatic culture is when it still ‘owns’ itself. Then it still has the right to decide how things will evolve for itself. But once the culture has allowed itself to become multicultural, then the original culture no longer has the right to decide for everyone in the tent – much as they might regret their earlier enthusiasm for multiculturalism.

I said that a lot of this is based on common sense and empirical observations. Look at the U.S., France, Britain, Germany, Belgium and Holland just to name a few cultures which are now multicultural and somewhat schizophrenic as a result of it.

Ask yourself if the original German culture in Germany can and should be able now to make sweeping decisions about further Turkish immigration?

Perhaps they physically could, since they still outnumber the Turks, but the question runs a lot deeper than having a simple majority now. The Turks are there in sufficient numbers and for a long enough time that they have, or should have, a seat at the table when decisions are made in Germany about immigration. And, if the Germans don’t like it – well , the irony’s on them since they were the ones who originally invited the Turks to come. The same could be said of the U.S. and the Mexicans or France and the North Africans.

The following attributes of immigrants are important to think about when a country considers the rate at which they can allow immigration to proceed without Balkanization occurring:

– Do the immigrants speak the local language fluently?
– Do the immigrants share many of the same cultural assumptions?
– Do the immigrants share the same religious traditions?
– Do the immigrants have respect for the receiving culture?

As more of these attributes end up being answered with a ‘No‘, then the rate at which such people can be assimilated into their new culture without Balkanization occurring drops proportionally. In other words, the more different they are, the longer it will take for them to be assimilated and the fewer of them that can be dealt with at once.

Language is a tough one. It is very hard to feel at home, feel accepted and be accepted when you don’t speak the language of the new culture.

When the culture assumptions are different, it also makes assimilation more difficult. The way one dresses, the kinds of food one eats, the way business is conducted, how men and women interact publicly. All of these and more are mine fields that have to be navigated by the new immigrants if they are to be assimilated. The things that are familiar to them must be partially set aside and the ways that are foreign to them must be adopted if they hope to really assimilate into their new culture.

Neither of these barriers (language and culture) are easy to get by. And if, when you arrive in your new country, you find ready-made enclaves there of people speaking your language and practicing your cultural assumptions, then how likely is it that you are going choose to go through the hard work of assimilating into your new culture by living outside the enclaves and struggling to learning a new language? A few will – but most won’t.

Religion may or may not be a factor. Mexicans are culturally quite different than Americans or Canadians but they share the same root Christianity in their religious beliefs. But that’s not to say that a Buddhist from Southeast Asia or a Hindu from India would have a harder time being assimilated in America than a Mexican because they are Buddhist or Hindu. Frankly, I don’t think they would have a harder time because their religions are not essentially antithetical towards Christianity and western culture. But, in the more conservative variants of Islam – that’s another matter. Some conservative Muslim’s fundamentally believe that western culture is corrupt and that their mission as Muslims is to convert the world to Islam.

So the point really isn’t about religion but about whether or not the new immigrants have respect for the culture they are joining or if they’ve just decided that they can tolerate it in exchange for the other benefits that will accrue to them by living there.

I’m sure that there are those who will read what I’ve written here and think that I am a prejudiced and bigoted individual.

If you feel that way, I am sorry, but I must respectfully disagree. I think all I’ve done is point out the obvious mechanics that come into play when cultures are mixed.

The most important point I want to make here is directed at those countries who are still essentially composed of one culture; those countries who still essentially ‘own’ themselves and rightfully have the ability to decide how they wish their own future to evolve for the good of the people who live there now.

Unless you want to be split into multiple competing cultures at odds with each other, you must limit the rate of your immigration to levels that will allow the new comers to be genuinely assimilated into your dominate culture. You must select immigrants who speak your language fluently to optimize their probable success. And, you must select immigrants whose cultures and religions are not antithetical to your own; immigrants who will willingly accept being assimilated into their new culture because they can respect its values – rather than immigrants who disdain its values and will simply tolerate it until they can amass sufficient force to subvert it.

Storm Warning

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

The world could be one crop failure away from an actual food crisis. Market panic has already started.

When all goes well, thunderheads tower above India’s southwestern state of Kerala in early June, drenching the region’s vital rice fields and ensuring a bountiful harvest. From there the summer monsoon plods northward to soak the baking plains and irrigate vital breadbasket regions that feed 1.1 billion people before arriving at the foot of the Himalayas in August. Forecasting this complex meteorological process has always been an obsession within India, but this year the world will be watching. Changes in the monsoon cycle can shrink India’s total grain harvest by up to 20 percent, creating a shortfall of 30 million metric tons. During India’s last crop failure, in 2002, the country had a massive reserve to fall back on. “Now,” says Usha Tuteja, an agricultural economist at Delhi University, “we don’t have enough buffer stocks to make up for one bad year.”

India isn’t the only danger zone today. A major storm battering the Philippines or Bangladesh at the wrong moment, a pest or plant-disease outbreak in Vietnam, or floods along China’s Yangtze River like those that occurred in the mid-1990s would put serious strains on global grain reserves already depleted to levels not seen since the 1970s. Global markets are behaving as if a food shock is imminent.

In recent months the commodity prices of rice, wheat and corn has jumped 50 percent or more, pushing retail prices to levels unseen in a generation and prompting grain-exporting countries to curtail trade to suppress domestic inflation. On March 20, the World Food Program issued an emergency appeal for more funding to keep aid moving to the world’s poorest countries. Last week World Bank president Robert Zoellick called for urgent global action on the part of rich nations “or many more people will suffer or starve.”


In Mexico, refusing to take men for an answer

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

In some of the country’s rural towns, women have no voice and no vote. A Oaxacan villager didn’t accept that, and she took on the system.

OAXACA, MEXICO — Many years ago, when she was still a tiny girl in braids, and not the professional she is today, Eufrosina Cruz heard the story of how her father married off her sister to a stranger at age 12: She wondered if a man might come to claim her too.

Being a girl isn’t easy in Santa Maria Quiegolani, a poor rural village where Zapotec is the native language and most girls are lucky to complete grade school.

Cruz left to eventually become a college-educated accountant. But now, at age 27, she has returned to her old village in the mountains of Oaxaca, and stirred up a gender war.

Her struggle, at first personal and local, has sparked the governor of her state and Mexican President Felipe Calderon to back her call for legislation that would grant thousands of women in Oaxaca state the right to vote and run for office in about 100 rural towns. Male-only assemblies run those communities, which follow indigenous customs that predate the Spanish conquest.

“We have to help those women who are still in that place where you don’t have any rights because you’re a woman,” she says. “The women who live in the mountains are shouting that someone listen to them. . . . I don’t want any women to ever feel alone as I did.”

Cruz’s effort began with her decision to run in the election last November for mayor of Santa Maria Quiegolani, a mountain community of about 1,200 people. It gained momentum on election day, when the votes for her were tossed out.


WHO: Climate Change Threatens Millions

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Millions of people could face poverty, disease and hunger as a result of rising temperatures and changing rainfall expected to hit poor countries the hardest, the World Health Organization warned Monday.

Malaria, diarrhea, malnutrition and floods cause an estimated 150,000 deaths annually, with Asia accounting for more than half, said regional WHO Director Shigeru Omi.

Malaria-carrying mosquitoes represent the clearest sign that global warming has begun to impact human health, he said, adding they are now found in cooler climates such as South Korea and the highlands of Papua New Guinea.

Warmer weather means that mosquitoes’ breeding cycles are shortening, allowing them to multiply at a much faster rate, posing an even greater threat of disease, he told reporters in Manila.