Shark slaughter shock

Shark slaughter shock – life – 30 September 2006 – New Scientist
At least four times as many sharks are killed for their fins as are reported in official figures.

From inventories of shark-fin sales at auctions in Hong Kong, researchers from the University of Hawaii and elsewhere estimate that the numbers of sharks caught around the world are far higher than the figures published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

Matsuzaka beef Spend
Kazahana specializes in Matsuzaka beef from Mie prefecture which has the highest grade in Japan. The cattle are raised on beer and massage and the taste is spectacular. You barely have to chew the meat as it melts in your mouth. My dining companion and I looked at each other in amazement.

This doesn’t come cheap. A course costs 20,000 yen ($172) per person and there is only space for six people at the two teppanyaki counters.

Our chef brought us a card listing the cow our sirloin and fillet came from, where it was raised and the farmer that raised it. Ever since “mad cow” disease appeared in Japan in 2001, it is obligatory for restaurants to offer customers proof of where their steak originates, he told us.

The standards maintained for Matsuzaka beef are very high. The cow is raised in a quiet, serene area surrounding Matsuzaka, with the Kumozu River to the north and Miya Gawa River to the south. It must be from a good breed, and must not be bred. It will live quietly for two to three years and treated with the utmost care. It is said that if the cow has calves, then the sashi, the fatty parts, do not retain the characteristic patterns. For the best feeding methods, each farm has a different approach, such as including beer in the diet. The key lies in the feed.

Brazilian election pre-empted by sex video Exclusive
The hottest topic on many Brazilian voters’ minds isn’t this weekend’s presidential election. It’s the video of a Merrill Lynch & Co. banker having a sexual encounter on a Spanish beach with an ex-girlfriend of Brazilian soccer star Ronaldo.

The video showing MTV host Daniella Cicarelli, 27, a triathlete and model, with Renato Malzoni Filho, 33, a private banker at Merrill in Sao Paulo, has crashed computers on trading floors in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The topic dominates office and party chat more than the future of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is forecast to win a new term, said Brazilian gossip columnist Ricardo Boechat.

“This has become a sensation, and it’s much more exciting than the election,” Boechat said. “In Brazil, people find it hard to resist anything with a rich, handsome young man and a gorgeous young woman.’

Here’s how the world works

Telegraph | News | Here’s how the world works
A new catchphrase is buzzing its way around the political salons of Washington and New York. Move over, “tipping point”.

The “J curve” is an explanation for the way the world works that is so simple that you can draw it on the back of a paper napkin.

Meanwhile, the J curve fascinates the dinner-party bluffers who, five years ago, bored everyone senseless by explaining Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point (a groundbreaking study of social epidemics which was able to explain why, for example, American teenagers suddenly rushed to the shops to buy Hush Puppies).

J curve graph

How does the curve work? The J is suspended between a vertical axis, “stability”, and a horizontal axis, “openness” (to both political and economic reforms).

At the top left of the graph are totalitarian dictatorships. North Korea is the classic example. At the top right are Western democracies, such as the United States and Britain. “Think about the presidential election here in 2000,” says Bremmer. “The other guy got more votes, the result was decided by a controversial Supreme Court vote, and what happened? Nothing. That’s stability.”

The world would be a much safer place if countries could leap across the top of the graph, staying stable while introducing democracy and free markets. But that is not what happens. Although dictatorships can be amazingly stable – Castro has been in power since Eisenhower’s presidency – the moment the prison door swings open, things fall apart.

Authoritarian states or command economies typically move down the J curve once their citizens taste freedom. And the downwards slope is usually pretty steep. The climb to the sunny uplands of free-market democracy, by contrast, is a painfully slow business. The slope may be gentle, but the journey can take decades, if it is completed at all.

The state that really worries Bremmer is Iran. A few years ago, Teheran seemed to be moving from the bottom of its curve towards democracy: liberals won seats in parliamentary elections, while young people were visibly embracing Western values. “It’s hard to believe that, not long ago, Iran was the third most liberal regime in the Middle East,” says Bremmer.

Nothing covers up a surreptitious slide back up the J curve more effectively than an outbreak of popular nationalism. But Iran remains a semi-democracy – which means that Ahmadinejad and the mullahs must work hard to sustain the mood.

China thought it could beat the J curve, jumping from closed stability to open stability. Now it is finding out that this is not possible, and the smell of panic is spreading. “The state employs 50,000 security officials whose sole charge is to monitor chat rooms and to police the internet,” says Bremmer. “But they’ll be busy. There are 100,000 new internet users in China every day.”

And that brings us to the tricky subject of Russia. “After the end of the Soviet Union, Russia seemed headed towards the right side of the curve,” says Bremmer. “Then, thanks to a combination of mismanagement in Moscow and lack of commitment from America, we lost the plot. Putin has led Russia back to the left-hand side.” Towards stability? That depends. The scariest passage in The J Curve is where Bremmer discusses Russia and terrorism.

“Russia is the only country in the world with the combination of unaccounted-for radiological material, specialised scientists who are significantly underpaid, and well-organised terrorist groups,” he writes.

In other words, pundits who expect the world’s first “dirty bomb” to explode in an American city centre could be looking in the wrong place. No wonder the Russians are rediscovering their taste for authoritarian government.

“What we need to realise is that, if the world moves faster, then the speed with which things go wrong picks up,” explains Bremmer. “Terrorists need less and less space in which to operate – and the people who commit atrocities are by no means highly trained operatives enmeshed in a global conspiracy.”


The march of Islam

Telegraph | Entertainment | The march of Islam
Nuclear power is not the only weapon Iran has at its disposal – its population is growing seven times faster than Britain’s. In this exclusive extract from his new book, Niall Ferguson reveals how Islam is winning the numbers game:

Europeans, quite simply, had ceased to reproduce themselves. The United Nations Population Division forecast that if fertility persisted at such low levels, within 50 years Spain’s population would decline by 3·4 million, Italy’s by a fifth. The overall reduction in ‘indigenous’ European numbers would be of the order of 14 million. Not even two World Wars had inflicted such an absolute decline in population.

On the eve of the 20th century, H. G. Wells had imagined a ‘War of the Worlds’ – a Martian invasion that devastated the earth. In the hundred years that followed, men proved that it was quite possible to wreak comparable havoc without the need for alien intervention. The War of the Worlds remains science fiction. The War of the World is, however, historical fact. Perhaps, like Wells’s story, ours will be ended abruptly by the intervention of microscopic organisms such as the bird flu virus, which could yet produce a worse mutation and pandemic than that of 1918. Until that happens, however, we shall remain our own worst enemies. We will avoid another century of conflict only if we understand the forces that caused the last one – the dark forces that conjure up ethnic conflict and imperial rivalry out of economic crisis, and in doing so negate our common humanity. They are forces that stir within us still.

The war of the world

Telegraph | Entertainment | The war of the world

Historian Niall Ferguson’s latest book, The War of the World, examines a century of history and finds that the West is well on the way to being eclipsed by Asia. Ferguson tells Steve Inskeep that it’s a destiny that was set a long time ago was recently featured on NPR

Niall is a regular contributor to the UK’s Daily Telegraph. The link at the top of this post goes to a book excerpt.

I identify ‘the descent of the West’ as the most important development of the 20th century. Powerful though the United States was at the end of the Second World War – the apogee of its unspoken empire – it was still much less powerful than the European empires had been 45 years before. The combustible character of ethnically mixed borderlands; the chronic volatility of mid-20th-century economic life; and the convulsions that marked the decline of Western imperial dominance.

A hundred years ago the West ruled the world as result of centuries of overseas conquest and colonisation. Now little remains of Western imperialism, aside from America’s waning military presence in the Middle East and Asia. Then, the frontier between West and East was located somewhere in the neighbourhood of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Now it seems to run through every European city. That is not to say that conflict is inevitable along these new fault lines; history suggests that there may be as many clashes within civilisations as between civilisations in the years that lie ahead. But it is to say that, if the history of the 20th century is any guide, the fragile edifice of civilisation can very quickly collapse even where different ethnic groups seem well integrated.

How to beat anyone at Rock Paper Scissors

World RPS Society – How to beat anyone at Rock Paper Scissors
Basically, there are two ways to win at RPS. First is to take one throw away from your opponent options. ie – If you can get your opponent to not play rock, then you can safely go with scissors as it will win against paper and stalemate against itself. Seems impossible right? Not if you know the subtle ways you can manipulate someone. The art is to not let them know you are eliminating one of their options. The second way is to force you opponent into making a predictable move. Obviously, the key is that it has to be done without them realizing that you are manipulating them

Geniuses, Geocoding, and the Forbes 400 List

Paul Kedrosky’s Infectious Greed: Geniuses, Geocoding, and the Forbes 400 List
I’m in a mapping frame of mind recently, having just Google mapped MacArthur awardees. This time around it’s the Forbes 400 list of the wealthy that got my attention, and so here is a map of the billionaires among us. Click on it for a live version:

Interestingly, at least to me, the geographic distribution of Forbes 400 sorts is considerably more even than MacArthur “genius” award-winners. That said, it is useful to see where Forbes 400 members aren’t, which is North and South Dakota, New Mexico, Louisiana, Alabama, etc. You might think that would be correlated with state GDP per capita, it is actually somewhat more closely related to state populations.

Diver’s last catch a fatal one | 09/15/2006 | Diver’s last catch a fatal one
Gary Cagle, an avid free diver, made two mistakes on a Key West fishing trip last Saturday:

He speared a goliath grouper, a fish that is illegal to kill in the Florida Keys. He also forgot to bring along his knife.

That error cost him his life.

Cagle, spearfishing a half-mile off Smathers Beach, shot a 40-inch goliath grouper. The fish bolted under a coral head, entangling the diver in the line and, acting like an anchor, held him underwater until he drowned. Thanks to Darryl Edwards for thie fish story.

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