Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Why geography challenges Americans?

As citizens of a country that ends up in armed conflicts all over the world, Americans should know a thing or two about geography. Recent polls over several years however have shown that the American youth cannot locate even those countries on a map where the US has been involved in an armed conflict. A May 2006 poll revealed the following:

Take Iraq, for example. Despite nearly constant news coverage since the war there began in 2003, 63 percent of Americans aged 18 to 24 failed to correctly locate the country on a map of the Middle East. Seventy percent could not find Iran or Israel.

Nine in ten couldn't find Afghanistan on a map of Asia.

And 54 percent were unaware that Sudan is a country in Africa.

Remember the December 2004 tsunami and the widespread images of devastation in Indonesia?

Three-quarters of respondents failed to find that country on a map. And three-quarters were unaware that a majority of Indonesia's population is Muslim, making it the largest Muslim country in the world.

And then there is Miss South Carolina in Miss Teen USA 2007 pageant with her illustrating answer about the causes of such ignorance amongst the “US Americans”. Watch the 49 second clip below and you will see how deep-rooted the problem is as she explores the reasons behind why 20% of the Americans couldn’t locate  their own country on a map.


Causes of geographic illiteracy amongst “US Americans”

Monday, July 25, 2011

Winehouse, Cobain, Hendrix: What is it about age 27? - The Globe and Mail

Amy WinehouseImage by NRK P3 via Flickr
The Globe and Mail wonders why some performers have died at the young age of 27. While there may not be anything peculiar or special about some performers dying at age 27, there is however enough statistical evidence to suggest that pop stars have a higher propensity to die early than the general population.

Mark Bellis and others studied the mortality rates of 1,064 British and North American pop stars and concluded that two years after becoming famous, pop stars experienced a two to three times higher risk of mortality than those in the general population who shared similar demographic traits.

Writing in the Journal of Epidemiol Community Health, the authors noted that drug and alcohol were associated with most deaths followed by cancer, accidents, and other cardio-vascular ailments.

Winehouse, Cobain, Hendrix: What is it about age 27? - The Globe and Mail
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Forklift mishap destroys $1m of shiraz wine

The birth of containerized logistics is partly owed to the fact that shipments were damaged during transport. However, there were certain shipments that had a higher incidence of damage than the rest. For instance, alcohol often ended up lost when bottles broke during shipments. No one really new if the ship's crew helped themselves to some fine while being on sea for weeks. Containerization put an end to this until a forklift destroyed $1m of fine wine.

BBC News - Australia: Forklift mishap destroys $1m of shiraz wine

Why tall people have higher hopes of good health

Is it true that most tall people have been healthy in their lives and thus being rewarded with a height above and beyond their genetic endowments! But what about other correlations between height and incidence of cancer later in life.

BBC News - Why tall people have higher hopes of good health
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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Well endowed universities!

The current value of Harvard University’s endowment is larger than the combined GDP of the poorest nine nations. Yale’s endowment rivals Bolivia’s GDP!

The following info-graphic is reproduced from http://www.degreescout.com.

US Housing starts still in historic lows

The latest figures for the US housing starts continue to portray a dismal picture. The housing starts are at historic lows in the US showing a collapse in demand for new housing units.

Many observers are looking at the short term gain in housing starts that shows a six month high in housing starts for June 2011. However, the long-term picture (see the graph below) suggests otherwise.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Which Top Donor Countries Actually Send More Remittances?

"The Philippines is also a top destination for remittances from Canada and Japan. The country’s economy relies more on remittances than ODA – in fact, remittances to the Philippines ($19.76 billion in 2009) dwarf the development aid it receives ($310 million)."
International Development - Which Top Donor Countries Actually Send More Remittances?

Monday, July 11, 2011

BRICs producing fewer bricks and more motors

Professor Madhav Badami of McGill University points out another shift in the global productivity, i.e., production of motorised vehicles. It used to be the case that the US and Europe for decades produced more automobiles than the rest of the world. This is no longer the case, as Professor Badami points out:
One indicator of this is the motor vehicle production data. In just the last five years, China has surged to #1 place, producing more than twice the automobiles, trucks and buses as the USA. And while India is seventh in the list, India would be ahead of the USA if two-wheelers were included (India now produces NINE million !!!! annually.

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Africa slow to launch, but keeps the lead

Map of Africa indicating Gross Domestic Produc...Image via WikipediaAfrican states have only recently started to expand their economies at a faster rate. Compared to India, which started experiencing rapid growth in early nineties, African states did the same in the past 5years. Click on the link below to see how India and Africa have seen their share of global productivity change over time.

Africa GDP/World GDP, India GDP/World GDP - Wolfram|Alpha
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India drives South Asian economic stats

With $1.29 trillion, India’s economy represents more than 80% of South Asia’s economic output, which currently stands at $1.59 trillion.

While India’s current economic boom has been tied to the liberalisation of its economy in the early 1990s, the historic figures suggest that at least for South Asia, India’s economy always represented roughly 80% of the region’s output (see graph below).


The sudden drop in India’s economic productivity in the early 1990’s perhaps lead to the realization amongst Indian planners that the status quo of a protectionist/isolated economy may lead to further decline in productivity.  Hence the economic deregulation of the 1990s that resulted in rapid growth of the Indian economy. However, the growth in the past 20-odd year has only restored the long-term share of India’s economy in South Asia.

What happens in the next decade is more important and relevant. Can India maintain the growth in its share of the regional output, or other smaller economies will grow faster than Indian economy?

As for the global picture, India’s current share (2.2%) of global productivity is still almost half of what it was in the mid-sixties (see graph below). It’ll take sometime before India is able to capture the same market share of global productivity that it had enjoyed some 40 years ago.


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Sunday, July 10, 2011

US economy now less than 1/4th of the World economy

The American economy currently stands at less than one-quarter of the world economy. This is the first time in 50 years that the US economy represents less than the quarter of the global economy. wolframalpha-20110710222237309

At one point the US economy was almost half of the world’s economy. Current trends suggest that US economy is loosing ground to other emerging economies.

China for instance has seen an exponential increase in its share of the global productivity where its share of the global GDP rose from around 2% in 1990s to almost 9% by 2008 (see graph below).


As for the BRIC economies, they continue to grab an increasing share of the global GDP as well, which is reflected by the steep increase in their share of global productivity. BRIC economies are account for 16% of the global output (see graph below).


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The Mauritius economic miracle

"With no natural resource and a history of colonialism, the island nation has drastically raised its standard of living.

The Mauritius economic miracle - Opinion - Al Jazeera English

Red-light cameras as money-making devices

A red-light camera in use in Beaverton, Oregon...

Image via Wikipedia

Many transport researchers jumped on the idea of having red-light cameras installed on intersections where running red lights is a common occurrence. They were motivated by the fact that such devices improve traffic safety.

City officials, on the other hand, used these devices to generate millions in revenue. The manufacturer of such devices invested heavily in the campaigns of local politicians who later doled out lucrative contracts to the manufacturers.

Problems arose when the drivers became smart and stopped violating as much resulting in a massive drop in convictions and revenue.

Read more on this below.


Drivers Stopping Means Red-Light Cameras Don’t Yield Cash Goals

July 6 (Bloomberg) -- Miami, which counted on $10 million in fines from motorists caught on camera running red lights, is planning to furlough some workers in part because penalties didn’t come close to forecasts as drivers began obeying the law.

Houston, where voters banned cameras in November, will receive about $10 million less than anticipated and faces a potential claim from supplier American Traffic Solutions Inc. for canceling a contract. The Los Angeles Police Commission voted last month to let its agreement with American Traffic expire, citing the expense.

Since cameras began spying on motorists in the late 1980s, they’ve faced lawsuits challenging their constitutionality, been banned in voter initiatives and restricted by legislation. That hasn’t stopped U.S. cities from deploying them: The number of municipalities with cameras has doubled to 539 since 2007, according to the Washington-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“This is about money and not about safety,” Ted Hollander, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who defends people charged with traffic offenses, said in an interview.

Redflex Holdings Ltd., a South Melbourne, Australia-based camera supplier, successfully defended itself against lawsuits challenging its product in 10 states last year and legislation that would ban them in six, according to its annual report.

An Arizona employee of the company was shot and killed while monitoring a speed-detecting camera in 2009.

Enforcement Battleground

“Photo enforcement is very much a battleground,” said Gary Biller, executive director of the Waunakee, Wisconsin-based National Motorists Association, a drivers’ rights organization.

The group’s website lists 10 reasons for opposing cameras, including that vehicle owners who get tickets in the mail may be forced to snitch on friends or family who borrowed their car.

Studies diverge on whether cameras, which have been endorsed by the World Health Organization and the National Safety Council, actually reduce traffic accidents.

A September 2007 review by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded they reduced fatal side-angle collisions. It also said less-serious rear-end collisions increased as drivers braked after spotting cameras.

“These cameras are never installed as revenue generators,” said Charles Territo, a spokesman for American Traffic in Scottsdale, Arizona. “They are installed with the purpose of enhancing public safety.”

Cost-Neutral Contracts

Most contracts are “cost neutral,” Territo said.

“A city will never pay more in fees than the cameras generate,” he said. “If a camera is contracted at $4,000 a month and it generates $6,000, they pay $4,000. But if the cameras generate $2,000, they only pay that.”

In Florida, where legislation allowed cameras beginning last year, American Traffic donated $159,000 to state-level candidates and committees during the 2010 election cycle, according to the Florida Elections Division. The payments included $64,500 to Florida’s Republican Party and $37,500 to the Democratic Party.

The state, which splits camera revenue with cities, expects about a third less income than initially projected from the program, according to a March report from the Legislature’s research office.

There are 28 class-action lawsuits in Florida against municipalities related to the cameras, said Michael Popok, a partner with Weiss, Serota, Helfman, Pastoriza, Cole & Boniske in Coral Gables, Florida, who represents six cities.

Warning Signs

“If it was really about the money, we’d hide the cameras,” Popok said. “There are big signs warning people that they’re there.”

The lawsuits had a “slightly chilling effect” on the rollout, leading to the lower revenue, said Amy Baker, the Florida Legislature’s chief economist. Territo disagreed, saying 80 communities in the state use cameras.

Miami planned for $10 million from 32 cameras installed this year. Instead, projected revenue is less than $2 million, Mayor Tomas Regalado said in an interview. The shortfall will contribute to a $15 million projected fiscal 2012 budget deficit that may force the city to give employees unpaid days off one day a week.

Miami based its estimate on tickets issued at comparable intersections in other cities, Regalado said. Visibility of the cameras and news coverage led to fewer violations, a 25 percent reduction in accidents and less revenue.

“They worked too well,” Regalado said.

Goldman Investment

American Traffic, which supplied Miami’s cameras, had 19 cities sign up in the first six months of this year, Territo said. The closely held company received an investment in 2008 from Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which remains a stakeholder.

Redflex’s stock plunged 30 percent on May 10 after shareholders rejected a takeover offer from Macquarie Group Ltd. and Carlyle Group, a private-equity firm. On June 17, Carlyle announced it had withdrawn as an investor in Redflex. The firm, which held a 12 percent stake in February, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Los Angeles has seen a 62 percent reduction in red-light- related collisions at its 32 camera-monitored intersections since 2004 and no increase in rear-end crashes, according to a report Chief Charlie Beck gave the Police Commission last month.

The program would cost the city $2.3 million over three years if American Traffic is kept as the contractor at the same intersections, the report said. Territo said the estimate includes costs not directly tied to cameras and that the contract could be structured so the city doesn’t lose money.

Lapsed Contract

The five-member commission voted unanimously June 7 to let the contract expire. During a public meeting, it cited the department’s $41 million deficit, potential changes in California law that could increase the program’s expenses and the City Council’s boycott of Arizona-based companies over the state’s immigration law.

Houston, which raised almost $16 million in fiscal 2010 with red-light monitors, stopped ticketing in November after residents voted to turn off its 70 cameras by amending the city charter. The city received about $10 million less than expected because of the ban, according to budget documents.

That loss was “one of numerous factors” contributing to a budget deficit for fiscal 2011, which ended June 30, said Janice Evans, a spokeswoman for Mayor Annise Parker.

A judge ruled last month that the vote, where 53 percent of residents favored stopping the cameras, wasn’t valid and couldn’t be used to end American Traffic’s contract.

The company maintains Houston must honor its agreement, Territo said. The city hasn’t decided whether it’s going to resume the program, Evans said.

The unpopularity of red-light cameras has spawned a business in alerting drivers when they may be photographed. Radar detectors linked to satellites and centralized databases can tip off motorists before the shutters snap.

“Public opinion is awful on the cameras,” said Aaron Thomas, a marketing manager at Escort Inc., a West Chester, Ohio-based maker of warning devices. “Everyone’s looking for a solution to get around them.”

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Friday, July 8, 2011

Baby Formula with a twist

It started in 1867 when Nestle made it possible for overtired mothers to have their babies nursed on something other than the breast milk. Unlike some cultures where wet nurses were, and in some instances are still, retained to breastfeed infants, European mothers had no such reprieve. Nestle changed that in 1867 by inventing the baby formula.

Now Nestle is back with another invention, BabyNes, which is based on the success of its Nespresso machine. Just drop a pod in the machine and the baby formula is ready in seconds. No need to boil the water or cool the boiled water or to refrigerate the prepared milk. Just drop the pod in the machine, press a button, and the formula is ready to be served to your infant.


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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Would Killing the Minimum Wage Help?

Wage_labourImage via WikipediaAn article in the Business Week discusses the impact of minimum wage on unemployment amongst young and/or semi-skilled workers. Those who appose it argue that abolishing minimum wage would increase employment by allowing employers to hire workers at wages the employers think workers deserve. Those who appose it argue that abolishing minimum wage would not make much difference.

Would Killing the Minimum Wage Help? - BusinessWeek
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Saudis hiring their own, finally

Jeddah Saudi ArabiaImage via WikipediaIt is hard to get good news out of Saudi Arabia. However, there are always exceptions. The Saudi government is now pushing firms operating in the kingdom to hire more locals than the current practice of hiring foreigners who were sending $26 billion in remittances back home.

The increase in Saudi nationals working will mean fewer listening to the Wahabi hadliner mullahs, and that's a good thing.

Saudi Arabia Imposes Quotas to Boost Local Hiring - BusinessWeek
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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

TTC makes ‘dumbest decision ever,’ former head warns - The Globe and Mail

It needed David Gunn's no nonsense comments on how to fix public transit in the greater Toronto Area to be able to get some column space in the popular press, which is dominated by well-meaning transit enthusiasts who would rather bankrupt the city building subways than to see it prosperous and moving using bus-based transit alternatives.

TTC makes ‘dumbest decision ever,’ former head warns - The Globe and Mail