Eclectic Sources

This is my new feature, a weekly blog posting with links to things I found interesting this week. They are not representative and in no particular order. I am posting it as much for my own use as others, since I often find interesting things and then forget them.

Currencies out of Whack

In China a McDonald’s Big Mac costs just 14.5 yuan on average in Beijing and Shenzhen, the equivalent of $2.18 at market exchange rates. In America the same burger averages $3.71. That makes China’s yuan one of the most undervalued currencies in “The Economist’s” Big Mac index, which is based on the idea of purchasing-power parity.

On a more serious note, “The Economist” also has an article about how to avoid a currency war.

Environmental Politics in Brazil

What the Green Breakthrough in Brazil Means – The loser in Brazil’s recent presidential election scores a win for the environment— the Nature Conservancy director of conservation strategies in South America explains. I also bookmarked this guy’s nature blog & traced down a link on Brazil’s new forest code. I have not found good, non-polemic, articles about the forest code in English and may have to do some research on my own to figure it out. The Brazilian minister of the environment is coming next week. I suppose she knows.

Forest Certification

People usually are unaware the most of the timber harvested in the U.S. comes from privately owned land, often family or individually owned. The American South produces 58% of the country’s timber. It is important to most owners, to be good stewards of their land, but sometimes it is hard to know if you are doing a good enough job. That is why many of us look for certification that kind of assures us that things are okay.

My tree farms are certified by the American Tree Farm System (ATFS) the oldest certification system, founded in 1941. ATFS is a good organization. It is easy to figure out what you have to do and it doesn’t let the perfect interfere with the good. In 2008, ATFS was accepted under the aegis of Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification. As you can tell by the spelling, it is not an American-based organization. In forest harvesting, it is good to be part of an international system, one that sets high standards but does not over interfere with management. Most of the things you do in sustainable forestry are reasonable. The only thing that I have some concerns about is that PERC is prohibiting GMOs. It hasn’t really come up yet as a problem, but with all the nasty invasive bugs flying around the globe catching rides on our airplanes or on our container ships, I think GMOs will become necessary to forest health within the next ten years. I suppose the ban can be reconsidered as science and circumstances advance.

Horrible Dictators of the Past

“The Economist” had a good review of a new book called “Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin.” It talks about how Hitler and Stalin complemented and enabled each other in their massive crimes & how most of the destruction was in Eastern Europe. A couple of historical facts were mentioned that I am familiar with because of my Polish experience but I realize are little known or appreciated in outside. One is that the only government that took direct action to help Jews during the Holocaust was Poland. Seven of the first eight operations conducted in Warsaw by the underground Polish Home Army were in support of the ghetto uprising. After the war the communist authorities executed Polish soldiers who had helped the Jews and tried as best they could to wipe out the memory. I remember talking to Polish heroes like Jan Nowak Jezioranski and Jan Karski, who risked their lives to call attention to the Holocaust during the war. Jan Karski had to take a train through Germany, so he had some of his teeth knocked out to give him an explanation for his poor German. Somebody should make a Schindler’s list sort of movie about them.

Karski, Nowak and most all the other heroes of those time are dead now. Soon they will all be gone. “old men forget yet all shall be forgot …” We may not soon see their like again, and that may be a good thing. Great men are forged in hard times most of us hope we will never endure.

Index of Government Dependence

The 2010 Index of Dependence on Government – The number of Americans who pay taxes continues to shrink—and the United States is close to the point at which half of the population will not pay taxes for government benefits. This new report talks about that.

Rare Earth

China’s Choke-hold on Rare Earth Minerals – China holds the largest reserves of the minerals required to manufacture cell phones, smart bombs, wind turbines and other high-tech products. In recent months, industries reliant on rare earths have encountered increasing delays, quotas and price hikes amid heightened demand. In 1990, the US was the industry’s dominant force, but because of costs, ceded control to China.

Wasting Money

Tax Spend & Shovel – Back in early 2009, President-elect Barack Obama was asked on Meet the Press how quickly he could create jobs. Oh, very fast, he said. He’d already consulted with a gaggle of governors, and “all of them have projects that are shovel-ready.”

Oh Wow Man

Drug Decriminalization Works – Next month, Californians will vote on Proposition 19, a measure to legalize marijuana. Because no state has ever taken such a step, voters are being subjected to a stream of fear-mongering assertions, unaccompanied by evidence, about what is likely to happen if drug prohibition is repealed.