Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Sushi Economy

On Marketplace today Kai Ryssdal interviewed Sasha Issenberg, author of "The Sushi Economy" in a fascinating story. First of all, it made me hungry because they did the interview while sitting down over what sounded like really tasty sushi. Secondly, it was interesting to hear the premise of the book, which is that sushi one of the unabashedly positive* products of globalization. Globalization has helped the fishermen who can catch their fish and get access through fax machines in remote villages to find out exactly how much fish is selling for so that they can get a good price. Quick travel (by plane) and fancy deep freeze machines have also meant that fishermen can expand their reach. On the flip side, globalization of culture has also meant that what was a strange Japanese roadside snack is now a luxury available worldwide, so the market for sushi has expanded tremendously. Overall, more people being happy eating wasabi around the globe (except they aren't actually, but that's a whole other story...). And that's a good thing.

*Of course, by eating more sushi we're also contributing to the over-fishing of the oceans and probably to the destruction of the planet et cetera...but let's stay positive today people, shall we?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Presidential Candidate, the First

I work for a large multinational corporation. Often I feel slightly guilty about this, especially having grown up in Berkeley where joining such an entity is about the worst thing you could do. However, one of the perks is that we get excellent speakers who show up to talk to us. Many times I hear someone being interviewed on NPR and know that I have an appointment on my calendar later that day to hear that author in person. As election season comes upon us, we're also starting to get all the various candidates in. I've never attended one of the political talks before so when I saw the invite to see Bill Richardson last week I didn't quite know what to expect; however I'd heard good things about his experience and I've been wanting to find out more about him so I took the opportunity to go see him.

I'll thought I'd share a few thoughts about him with you, in no particular order:
  1. Overall, I was disappointed. I don't want to vote for a president just because he has stage presence and charisma, but boy it sure would help to have a little bit if you're going to be on the world stage. Unfortunately Richardson came across as your kooky uncle who regales you with anecdotes that bear only passing resemblance to relevance and was pretty forgetful on top of it all.
  2. I'm a technology snob (see some previous posts) and I have to say I couldn't believe that does not go to Bill Richardson's election campaign! Instead it goes to a landing page that I'm sure is making someone lots of money.
  3. When you do go to his actual website at there's no search box! The feeling of panic I had in the pit of my stomach when I figured this out is obviously extreme for a normal person, but still, this is pretty egregious.
  4. On the other hand, his website did have a few really funny ads where he pretends to be having a job interview.
  5. Richardson started his speech by telling us that he wasn't going to give us his stump speech because we were too smart for that. I have to say, I'm too smart to fall for the "you're too smart" speech too.
  6. He then went into a rambling discussion of some of the issues that he thinks are important. Often throughout the talk he would say he had three points to make and only make one or two. He also discussed a lot of issues about things that were relevant to New Mexico but not really important in Seattle (like water rights)
  7. Every once in a while he would turn on the charm and say some pretty funny things, like "I’m not a rock star" (if you'd seen him you'd know why this is funny) and "my consultants hate me to use the word 'sacrifice' as part of my energy policy because it sounds like I'm turning into Jimmy Carter...are you going to wear a sweater?" and “Chavez is not a stable guy”
  8. There were a few areas that he seemed really passionate about, but the one he kept saying he was most advanced of all democratic candidates on was about his energy policy. When you read his website it sounds reasonable, and he kept saying that we need a policy like Kennedy's race to the moon to solve it, which of course I agree with. Unfortunately several people asked him questions about it but he never articulated any substantial ideas other than saying we need to mandate carbon limits and that NM was the only state that was following the rules of the Kyoto Protocol. This was the same for his policy on education.
  9. Twice during his talk he forgot words and had to yell for his advisors to help him remember what various things were called (for instance, he forgot the name for the "100 mpg car" that he claimed credit for - the name is "100 mpg car" so it's not like it's really hard to remember)
  10. In the intro, the gentleman introducing Richardson said that he'd been nominated for the Nobel peace prize four times. As has been pointed out, though, nominations for the Nobel peace prize are kept secret for 50 years so we have no way of confirming this, and furthermore all it takes to get nominated is for any government employee to add you to the list.

As I look back on this list of random thoughts, it sounds like the talk was worse than it actually was. However overall I was disappointed and I'm hoping that the other candidates who come through (especially the democratic ones of course) impress me a bit more. If you have any thoughts on Richardson and why I should re-evaluate, I'd love to hear them.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Twits for Twitter

On All Things Considered last night, Laura Sydell did a long overdue (only because every other fatuous technology reporter did it last month) review of Twitter, the service that lets you tell all your friends exactly what you're doing at all times. If I had a penny for every article hailing Twitter as this year's YouTube, well, I would probably have at least a dollar. Twitter is for people want to share everything about their lives, but, in Ms. Sydell's words, "don't want to commit to a fully thought-out journal entry". Instead, they want to share 140 word (max) chunks of information about exactly what they're doing right now. I don't know about you, but I don't want to constantly hear the minute details of your life and and I don't know why you'd want to hear mine, certainly not until I'd digested them a bit and taken the time to come up with some intelligible thought, rather than a "twitter". Aside from the inanity of the service*, I think the thing that bugs me most is how many journalists are hopping on the bandwagon and insisting that this is the new hot thing (well, unless they're writing paeans to the iPhone). Either way, Twitter has my vote for most over-hyped new service of 2007.

*I tried to find something to like about Twitter and the only thing that seems remotely amusing is the fact that it lends itself to a new art form - Twitter Haiku. Here's apparently a real one:

very crazy day
please don't ask me about work
folks, seriously

Not a lot of redeeming value (especially since in spoken English you'd elide the second and third syllable of the last word and end up with a 4-syllable line instead of 5 as a Haiku demands) but it's as much as I could find.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


I am a thirty year old woman who watches Gilmore Girls. Well actually I haven't watched it for the past few months because we upgraded our Media Center and it's gotten so lame that I forgot to add it back to my set of shows to record. However, I just remembered last week and found out that tonight is the finale of the series.
I'm happy to report that NPR doesn't always just report on stuff we can feel superior for knowing, but occasionally, it does cover lame pop culture. Today on Day to Day, they did a fun piece interviewing a bunch of Gilmore Girls fans and covering topics like the show's recent ratings, why the show sucked the past year (apparently the main writer quit last year right after making Luke and Lorelai break up) and spoilers about the finale. I kind of felt like I'd been sneaking a read at People magazine in the supermarket checkout, but I have to say, I really enjoyed the piece.


I love it when I learn about something I'd never heard about on NPR. On Friday on All Things Considered, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro did a great report about house-swapping in Cuba. Before the segment, here's what I knew about Cuba:
  1. They make Mohitos there - yum
  2. Americans aren't supposed to visit*
  3. Castro is sick but his previously unknown brother doesn't seem to be any less into crazy communist theories than he is.

Okay, so really I know a few more things, but those were the main ones. What I didn't know was that, as part of the Communist mantra, all Cubans get a house. However, they're not allowed to buy or sell houses because they've been granted them by the government, so if they want to move, they have to find someone who's willing to swap houses! Every day there's a house-swapping spot (isn't this a great opportunity for Craig's List -Cuban edition?) where people gather to discuss who wants to move where. If people want to move in together they have to find two people who live together and want to split up. If people want to move out of a neighborhood (as long as they're not in one of the areas that the government has declared dead zones and can't be traded into or out of) they have to find someone who wants to move in and is living where they want to go to. And after finding a match, they need to get government approval! There is of course a black market of people swapping houses and offering or demanding money in exchange, but either way this was a fascinating glimpse into a very different culture.

* When I told him about this story, J mentioned that Michael Moore was doing a documentary about health care and took a bunch of Canadian journalists to Cuba to get their opinion on Cuba's free health care system and now he's getting in trouble with the US government for having visited. For some reason this struck me as funny.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Going Bananas

Today on All Things Considered was letter day, and one of the letters was about a story last week about - you guessed it - carbon. Apparently they asked the question, "which is better, composting your banana peel, or putting it in the garbage disposal?" The response was that it doesn't matter because the carbon that is in the disintegrating banana was taken from the air in the first place. The letter-writer said that they should have thought outside the box and said, "neither" - that you shouldn't eat bananas because they're not grown locally and the amount of carbon used to transport them is very high. So I have two responses:
  1. Damn, I knew I was doing badly at my "eat local" goals when I tried that mango last week, but I really hadn't thought through bananas. Bananas are a staple at our house. J will only eat them when they're at the perfect ripeness but I like them in almost any condition - in cereal when under-ripe, on brown rice crackers with peanut butter when perfect, and in banana pancakes when they're past their prime. Mmmm. I'm not giving them up, even if they do get carted all the way from Guatemala. So much for my ideals.
  2. The fact that the carbon output of a banana is the same whether you stick it in the garbage disposal or in the compost pile isn't the only thing to consider, and I'm disappointed that they wouldn't have reported that of course it's better to compost it and re-use the remains than to stick it in a landfill (or in the Juan de Fuca Straight if you're in Victoria)

Wednesday, May 9, 2007


On Weekday yesterday, Steve Scher interviewed people who are involved with micro-loans. Micro-loans are great - everyone loves them because they seem like the perfect way of helping people pull themselves up by their own bootstraps rather than just giving charity. You feel good about yourself, the recipient feels good about themselves, and the world is a better place. The folks being interviewed were all very positive on micro-loans of course, and talked about how they actually work with local organizations in poor countries who can then give out loans themselves to local people whom they vet. They also talked about how micro-loans are working even in America - one of the women had been given a $500 micro-loan (yes, just $500) and managed to start a business that employs several people now, some of whom have gone off and started businesses of their own. In general the stats are great, especially for women. When women get out of poverty they tend to spend money on their children's education, which helps everyone in the long run.

So what's not to love? Well, the fact that it's not all jolly in the world of micro-loans. Time did a great story on them back in April, and while they included several success stories, they also talked about the darker side - namely that many people are using their micro-loans to pay off debt rather than start a business, or even worse, to buy consumer goods. By the time they're done they're even more in debt than when they started. As micro-loans become more popular, for-profit companies are getting into the game, and their screening process to make sure that the money will be used wisely is much less strict because ultimately they just want to loan the money out (and get up to 60% interest because the borrowers are so high risk!) Also, all the charity money going into micro-loans means that much less is going towards developing infrastructure and other necessities in these countries.

While I like the idea of giving directly and potentially seeing immediate results, I think if people really want to help, they should sponsor a child's education through one of the many programs available - long term that will help raise a generation who can support themselves.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

In which the BBC sounds a bit silly

On Tuesday as I was driving home listening to All Things Considered, David Folkenflik (seriously, what is it with these reporters and their funny names?) did a great report on Rupert Murdoch's offer to buy Dow Jones and acquire the Wall Street Journal for a very large sum of cash. He immediately started by explaining that the Bancroft family, which controls restricted shares (or some kind of special shares that give them an outsize influence) of Dow Jones has turned down the offer, which is likely to mean that the board of Dow Jones will also turn down the offer. He then described the offer, the fact that it made Dow Jones' stock rise, why Murdoch would want to buy it, and what it would mean to consumer. Most interestingly, he interviewed a gentleman from T. Rowe Price who explained that if Dow Jones turned down such a generous offer, there would be a potentially huge backlash from shareholders who might even sue the company for acting against it's own financial interest, which could cause a long-term sharp drop in the stock price.

A couple of hours later as I was driving to C's house for TNFN, I overheard the BBC News doing an in depth story on the Dow Jones offer as well. However, in a story that seemed equally long, they only covered the offer and why Mr. Murdoch was interested in Dow Jones, leaving the listener (if they hadn't heard David Folkenflik earlier in the afternoon) convinced that the offer must be on the verge of going through. It was an interesting case where you could clearly see the difference in quality between the two stories. I have to admit, given the BBC's biased coverage of almost all stories regarding Israel, that I wasn't too sad to see them look a bit silly.

And even more follow-up

According to Morning Edition the Queen of England is planning to spend $20,000 on carbon credits to offset the carbon emitted on her state visit to the US. Why does she have to spend so much money? Because she wants to feel better about the fact that she and her small entourage are flying by themselves in an otherwise empty large passenger jet! Just the kind of hypocritical "conservation" I like to waste my time railing against.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

To Follow Up

In his blog today, Dan Savage reviewed an article in The Nation, a magazine which I definitely don't read and I'm surprised he does, regarding carbon consumption for various methods of travelling (see my blog post from last week) . Not only is it an interesting, if depressing, discussion, but it's also by Dan Savage and therefore worth reading by definition. In general, while cars suck, planes, zeppelins, trains, and boats suck too, and possibly more.

The last non-capitalist in America

Robert Siegel interviewed a sweet old baseball card collector named Lionel Carter yesterday on All Things Considered who was heartbroken about having to sell his cards for over a million dollars, and counting. Mr. Carter has been collecting baseball cards for years but a while ago his house got broken into and his cards were stolen. Although they were recovered, his wife put her foot down and insisted that he get the cards out of the house. Robert Siegel asked him why he didn't just put them in a safe deposit box and Mr. Carter, in that way that people have of explaining something so simply that you just feel kind of stupid but you know that they don't intend to make you feel that way, said that it would take a lot of space to store 50,000 baseball cards and all the albums he keeps them in, and anyway then he wouldn't be able to show anyone his collection. Instead he's had to put them up for auction, but he sadly said that he's not paying attention to the amount of money they're making because it just makes him miss his cards. At the end of the interview, Robert Siegel said, "well congratulations on your 1.3 million dollars so far" and Mr. Carter just said, "Okay." I truly think he's the last person who's not out to make a buck in this whole country.