Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?" (Link Round-Up 11/30/11)

"Rock" is no longer a catch-all term for pop music.
But if not rock, what? Is it time to start talking about emerging rock bands plugging into “the heart of hip-hop”? Should rappers be claiming non-rap artists as their own, forming a new lake that all other musical tributaries lead to? It might only be a matter of time before music historians remember Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith for contributing drum parts to so many classic rap songs; The Beatles for inspiring parts of the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique; and King Crimson for supplying an awesome hook to “Power” from West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Because Run-DMC won’t be barging into the music museums of the future; it will be running them.
Gene therapy blocks HIV in lab mice
But both Burton and Koff caution that gene therapy comes with its own set of problems. Because the antibody DNA is permanently inserted into the genome, there’s no way to turn it off if someone has an immune reaction against the antibodies. But it won't be known whether such side effects exist until the method is tested in people, something that Baltimore aims to do in the next few years. The researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, meanwhile, hope to get the first round of human trials of their technique started before the end of 2012.
Why energy journalism is so bad
If the article only talks about resources or reserves, and doesn’t mention production rates, you can safely ignore it. Yes, America may have 1.5 trillion barrels of oil shale (not shale oil, which again is an entirely different thing), but right now we’re producing exactly zero barrels of it, and for good reason: it’s a highly marginal source of hydrocarbons, and too expensive to produce with today’s technology. Remember this: Only flow rates matter, not how much is in the ground.
100,000 Year-Old-Artifacts in Arabia Rewrite "Out of Africa" Theory
Instead of hugging the coast, early modern humans might therefore have spread from Africa into Arabia along river networks that would've acted like today's highways, researchers suggested. There would have been plenty of large game present, such as gazelles, antelopes and ibexes, which would have been appealing to early modern humans used to hunting on the savannas of Africa.
Henry Morgan Stanley's Willpower Secrets
You might think the energy spent shaving in the jungle would be better devoted to looking for food. But Stanley’s belief in the link between external order and inner self-discipline has been confirmed recently in studies. In one experiment, a group of participants answered questions sitting in a nice neat laboratory, while others sat in the kind of place that inspires parents to shout, “Clean up your room!” The people in the messy room scored lower self-control, such as being unwilling to wait a week for a larger sum of money as opposed to taking a smaller sum right away. When offered snacks and drinks, people in the neat lab room more often chose apples and milk instead of the candy and sugary colas preferred by their peers in the pigsty.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Muslim Brotherhood Will Not Dominate Egypt's Election

Another PolicyMic article I wrote:
Incumbent ex-members of Mubarak's dissolved National Democratic Party are expected to compete with the FJP for several seats. The Islamist vote will be split between the FJP, the Salafi fundamentalist al-Nour Party, Al-Gama'a al-Islamiya, and various smaller Islamist groups. Although many opposition groups joined the protests in Tahrir Square to condemning the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces holding an "illegitimate" early election, the square has mostly emptied out since Monday, and this may give an unexpected boost to secular liberals, independents, and other parties of all ideologies and sizes. The FJP gains will be sizable, but the resulting lower Parliament is likely to be fragmented and will force the party to focus on Egypt's vast economic problems instead of enforcing Islamic social codes.
As of the time of this posting, the Brotherhood is already calling for the Parliamentarian majority to appoint a Prime Minister, instead of the ruling SCAF.

Once the votes are counted, we shall see who gets to call the shots in Egypt.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Egyptian Election, Fed's Secret Bank Bailouts, and Stem Cell Windpipes (Link Round-Up 11/29/11)

[via Reddit]

Whoever wins the Egyptian elections faces economic disaster
In a trenchant posting last week, financial analyst David P. Goldman (Spengler) reported that Egypt’s stock exchange fell 11 percent in the first three days of the week and that the Egyptian pound was on the verge of collapse. Residents and foreigners were dumping the Egyptian pound and buying dollars and Euros -- yes, even Euros. It was becoming impossible to transport bank notes across the country, he noted, quoting Al Ahram, Egypt’s largest state-owned Arabic newspaper, as mobs of Egyptians were attacking the armed cars that try to transport them to branches of Cairo banks.  
First artificial windpipe made with stem cells
The artificial trachea was custom-made using three-dimensional imaging. First, a glass model was built to help shape an artificial scaffold. Stem cells were then inserted into the scaffold to create a functioning airway, the authors explained in a journal news release. 
The scientists said their technique is an improvement over other methods because they used the patient's own cells to create the airway so there is no risk of rejection and the patient does not have to take immunosuppressive drugs.
Record numbers of Japanese young people are single
The latest found that 61% of unmarried men aged 18 to 34 have no girlfriend, and half of women the same age have no boyfriend - a record high. 
More than a quarter of the men and 23% of the women said they were not even looking. 
Some cited a shortage of money, others a belief that it is impossible to find a good partner once they had passed the age of 25.
Fed secretly loaned $13 billion to banks in bailout money
The Fed didn’t tell anyone which banks were in trouble so deep they required a combined $1.2 trillion on Dec. 5, 2008, their single neediest day. Bankers didn’t mention that they took tens of billions of dollars in emergency loans at the same time they were assuring investors their firms were healthy. And no one calculated until now that banks reaped an estimated $13 billion of income by taking advantage of the Fed’s below-market rates, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its January issue.
From "Made In China" to "Brands From China"
The Chinese, he points out, are an innovative, with strong salesman-like instincts. Switching from assembling to a creating, from an engineering mindset to inventing, will inspire Chinese brands to export. Chinese aesthetics travel well, and cultural values, if not the political, are becoming universal.
UN Says Libyan ex-rebels are still detaining 7,000 prisoners
The detainees are being held without access to legal process because the police and courts are not functioning, and some may have been tortured.

Many are sub-Saharan Africans suspected of being mercenaries hired by the Gaddafi regime.
More food, more child malnutrition in India? 
To address malnutrition, he called for greater coordination in areas ranging from health and sanitation, to agriculture, to women’s status.

Egypt's Gas Problems

I've been working on a PolicyMic piece on the Egyptian election for the past couple of days.

So far, the elections have been peaceful, if not rife with campaign law violations.

At the same time, someone blew up a gas pipeline to Israel and Jordan in the Sinai Peninsula.

Meanwhile, the first third of a shipment of 21 tons of tear gas from the U.S. to the Interior Ministry was intercepted by customs officials the Suez Canal. Tear gas has previously been used as recently as last week in Tahrir Square against protesters.

So much for America winning hearts and minds in post-Mubarak Egypt.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Big Brother's Tolkien Fandom, OWS Protester's Alan Moore Fandom (Link Round-Up 11/26/11)

[via MetaFilter]

Alan Moore on protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks
"I suppose when I was writing V for Vendetta I would in my secret heart of hearts have thought: wouldn't it be great if these ideas actually made an impact? So when you start to see that idle fantasy intrude on the regular world… It's peculiar. It feels like a character I created 30 years ago has somehow escaped the realm of fiction."
Reddit users looking to create an alternate, censorship-free internet
Mesh networks are designed to allow users to connect to one another directly instead of to a centralized Internet service provider. Universities like John Hopkins and Purdue have experimented with building mesh network technologies, and the State Department and the One Laptop Per Child program have both developed their own versions of mesh networks to either circumvent censorship in foreign regimes or, in OLPC’s case, connect users who don’t have access to Internet service providers.
Pakistan closes NATO supply routes after accidental friendly fire
"This will have a catastrophic effect on Pakistan-U.S. relations. The public in Pakistan are going to go berserk on this," said Charles Heyman, senior defense analyst at British military website 
Other analysts, including Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, predicted Pakistan would protest and close the supply lines for some time, but that ultimately "things will get back to normal."
Banned neuro-toxic nerve gas used in Tahrir Square
Rashes, epileptic-type convulsions, temporary blindness and coughing up blood are among the symptoms being reported by Egyptian protesters who have fallen victim to a potentially lethal form of neuro-toxic nerve gas reportedly being deployed by security forces. 
After almost a week of protests against the ruling military junta left some 41 people dead, several sources claim scores have died from gas asphyxiation, while thousands more have received medical treatment after possibly being exposed to an agent known as CR gas.
Bankers arrested after siphoning millions of euros from Latvia, Lithuania 
Vladimir Antonov, 36, and a Lithuanian partner, Raimondas Baranauskas, 53, were detained Thursday on an arrest warrant issued by investigators probing alleged fraud and money laundering at his banks in the Baltic states, Lithuanian prosecutor Tomas Krusna told reporters.   
The Bank of Lithuania said late Thursday that his bank there, Snoras Bank, will be liquidated, calling it the best solution for country's financial system and economy, which were jolted after the bank was nationalized and its operations halted.
Palantir, the Tolkien-inspired War on Terror search engine for U.S. Intelligence groups
An organization like the CIA or FBI can have thousands of different databases, each with its own quirks: financial records, DNA samples, sound samples, video clips, maps, floor plans, human intelligence reports from all over the world. Gluing all that into a coherent whole can take years. Even if that system comes together, it will struggle to handle different types of data—sales records on a spreadsheet, say, plus video surveillance images. What Palantir (pronounced Pal-an-TEER) does, says Avivah Litan, an analyst at Gartner (IT), is “make it really easy to mine these big data sets.” The company’s software pulls off one of the great computer science feats of the era: It combs through all available databases, identifying related pieces of information, and puts everything together in one place. 
“We were watching the government spend tens of billions on information systems that were just horrible,” Lonsdale says.“Silicon Valley had gotten to be a lot more advanced than government contractors, because the government doesn’t have access to the best engineers.”

Friday, November 25, 2011

Chinese Nude Photo Protests and Occupy Wall Street (Link Round-Up 11/25/11)

Bye, bye, Eurozone
A euro break-up would cause a global bust worse even than the one in 2008-09. The world’s most financially integrated region would be ripped apart by defaults, bank failures and the imposition of capital controls (see article). The euro zone could shatter into different pieces, or a large block in the north and a fragmented south. Amid the recriminations and broken treaties after the failure of the European Union’s biggest economic project, wild currency swings between those in the core and those in the periphery would almost certainly bring the single market to a shuddering halt. The survival of the EU itself would be in doubt.
The men behind Adbusters and Occupy Wall Street
Early on, Lasn and White said that the Wall Street occupiers needed a clear message. The revolutionaries in Cairo, they wrote, presented “a straight-forward ultimatum”: they wouldn’t leave the square until President Hosni Mubarak left office. Adbusters invited readers to “zero in on what our one demand will be.” The suggested ideas included a Presidential commission charged with ending the influence of money in politics, and a one-per-cent “Robin Hood tax” on all financial transactions.
Chinese Ai Weiwei supporters post naked self-photos to protest "pornography" charges
The daring move came after the Beijing authorities opened an inquiry last Friday into whether photographs taken by one of artist Ai Weiwei’s assistants are “pornographic”. Online protesters immediately launched their nude self-portrait campaign to condemn this move, which they see as yet another attack on Ai Weiwei, the artist who rose to international notoriety for speaking out on human rights violations in China.
The internet ruined film criticism (and so much more)
The rigorous division of websites into narrow interests, the attempts of Amazon and Netflix to steer your next purchase based on what you’ve already bought, the ability of Web users to never encounter anything outside of their established political or cultural preferences, and the way technology enables advertisers to identify each potential market and direct advertising to it, all represent the triumph of cultural segregation that is the negation of democracy. It’s the reassurance of never having to face anyone different from ourselves.
Chicago woman who got a drug raid sooner than an investigation of her attacker
A year and a half ago she was beaten by a neighborhood thug outside of a city bar. It took months of do-it-yourself sleuthing, a meeting with a city alderman and a public shaming in a community newspaper before the Chicago Police Department would pay any attention to her. About a year later, Shaver got more attention from cops than she ever could have wanted: A team of Chicago cops took down her door with a battering ram and raided her apartment, searching for drugs.
India creating powerful "regulatory" body just for genetically-modified crops
And yet, India’s Agriculture Minister has stated that the Ministry is "very supportive of GM crop research" and that the government is the process of designing a large number of transgenic crops. He also happens to own a stake in the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mayhco) that develops these very seeds, and is partially owned by Monsanto.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Stop Occupying Wall Street, and Start Doing The Real Work

Some Occupy Wall Street debate fodder for your Thanksgiving dinner, courtesy of yours truly:
As Marshall McLuhan famously stated, the medium is the message. With so much of the news media driven by television and the internet, OWS protesters should ask themselves which image they honestly believe that journalists, politicians, and the general public are more likely to have the credible message to rally behind: The image of a mass of black hoodies, Guy Fawkes masks, and banners with vague, handwritten slogans? Or the image of a business suit-wearing representative of a political organization with an "official"-sounding name and digestible sound bites?
If you're American, be thankful today that you live in a society where you can debate nearly anything you want.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Chevron's Brazilian Oil Spill and Drug War Mercenaries (Link Round-Up 11/22/11)

"Conventional wisdom" about why the Egyptian revolution happened is wrong
Egypt’s was no cartoon dictatorship that indiscriminately banned protests. For at least a decade before Mubarak’s ouster, Egyptians were doing their politics outdoors. Citizens assembled daily on highways, in factory courtyards, and in public squares to rally against their unrepresentative government. Mubarak’s regime responded with a million-man police force that alternately cajoled and crushed the demonstrators. The goal was not to ban protests, but to obstruct any attempt to unify different groups and prevent sympathetic bystanders joining them. 
Egypt’s uprising happened when three distinct currents of protest—labor, professional, and popular—finally converged. That convergence transformed a routine political demonstration calling for reforms into a nationwide cry for regime change. Together, the protesters defeated a formidable police force and brought down a tenacious president. Now they are shaping the politics of post-revolutionary Egypt, resisting the military rulers’ efforts to take them off the streets.
Chevron's Brazilian oil spill leaves more questions than answers
On Wednesday, November 23, Chevron is expected to give further explanations about the disaster in a public hearing of the Environmental Committee of the Senate, along with Minister of Environment Izabella Teixeira, Minister of Mines and Energy Edison Lobao and representatives of the National Petroleum Agency (ANP) and IBAMA.
Anti-Islam is the new Antisemitism for European nationalists
Data in the study was mainly collected in July and August, before the worsening of the eurozone crisis. The report highlights the prevalence of anti-immigrant feeling, especially suspicion of Muslims. "As antisemitism was a unifying factor for far-right parties in the 1910s, 20s and 30s, Islamophobia has become the unifying factor in the early decades of the 21st century," said Thomas Klau from the European Council on Foreign Relations, who will speak at Monday's conference.
The obscure Pentagon office paying mercenaries to fight the U.S. War on Drugs
In 2009, a bureaucratic shift plucked the responsibility for training Afghanistan’s police out of the State Department’s hands. Suddenly, the contract — worth about $1 billion — landed with CNTPO. CNTPO quietly chose Blackwater for the contract, even though Blackwater guards in Afghanistan on a different contract stole hundreds of guns intended for those very Afghan cops. 
The incumbent holder of the contract, Blackwater competitor DynCorp, protested. It didn’t help that a powerful Senate committee discovered Blackwater’s gun-stealing antics. In December, DynCorp finally received the contract — administered by an Army office, not CNTPO.
The Illinois water pump that may have been hacked
It’s misleading to say that they’re connected to the Web. It makes it sound like the SCADA system has its own website or that the control engineers are playing online games from their desktops. That’s not the case. The reality is that in order to save money, the control servers are connected to the same local area network (LAN) as the front office computers, which do have Internet access. Therefore, if a bad guy can take over a desktop belonging to the receptionist, for example, he’ll very quickly figure out how to connect with the control servers that are part of the same LAN. In order to avoid this from happening, control servers are supposed to be on an entirely separate network. (This is called being “air-gapped.”) However, setting up two completely separate networks can be a very costly exercise, and a lot of small utilities just don’t bother to do it.
The problems with defining a "Greater Iran"
But if “Greater Iran” usually has secular-nationalist roots, the concept has also been taken up by some members of Iran’s clerical leadership. LiveLeak reported in 2010 that Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer Kharrazi, Secretary-General of Hezbollah-Iran, forwarded a plan for “reestablishing” a “Greater Iran,” encompassing all territories of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. Kharrazi’s scheme is grounded both in a conviction of Persian cultural supremacy, especially over the Arabs, and in Shia eschatology. According to the memo, his plan was designed to anticipate the “establishment of global government led by the Mahdi,” the messiah-like “hidden Imam” of Shiite end-of-days doctrine.
Study shows insects swap bacteria by drinking from the same plant
In this study, Caspi-Fluger only worked with whiteflies, but it’s likely that plants could also transmit bacteria to other arthropod groups. After all, the same strains of Rickettsia are also found in aphids, leafhoppers and mites. It will be interesting to see if the bacteria can form a stable relationship with insects that suck it up from plants, and whether it gets passed down from mother to daughters. If so, plants could act as unwitting match-makers that create new lasting alliances between insects and bacteria.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Saturn Storms, Boy and Girl Brains, and Iranian Drug Use (Link Round-Up 11/20/11)

Saturn's beautiful, 9,000 mile wide thunderstorm
The monster tempest, which extended north-south approximately 9,000 miles (15,000 kilometers), is the largest seen on Saturn in the past two decades and is the largest by far ever observed on the planet from an interplanetary spacecraft. 
"The Saturn storm is more like a volcano than a terrestrial weather system," said Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "The pressure builds up for many years before the storm erupts. The mystery is that there's no rock to resist the pressure - to delay the eruption for so many years."
Iran's serious drug epidemic
There are opiates, such as opium, morphine, and "crack" (which in Iran describes not the most addictive form of cocaine, but the most impure form of heroin) -- and synthetics, which includes ecstasy, psychedelics, and "shisha" -- crystal meth. Shisha and crack habits, Ali told me, are the most common forms of addiction.
Rumors of the medicinal power of rhino horns are driving them extinct
In fact, rhino horn is largely composed of keratin, the substance of which our fingernails and hair are made, and has no medicinal properties whatsoever. But the burgeoning Asian middle classes – those for whom traditional medicine is a way of life – have now gone from an ancient belief that the horn cures fevers, to believing that horn cures cancer, and are bidding the price up to spectacular and disastrous levels.
How do you measure the difference between boy and girl brains?
Sex differences don’t show up as separate clusters. They show up, in Cahill’s words, as “overlapping distributions.” Hyde explained that to compute the “effect size” of sex, you have to factor in the variability of scores among males and among females. Otherwise, you have no perspective on how meaningful the gap is between the male and female averages, relative to being Jane rather than Sally, or being Mike rather than Bill. You certainly can’t infer from a person’s sex how well he or she will do on a test.
A growing Indonesia will the be geopolitical battleground between China and US over the Pacific
There is no question that China is losing its export edge in low-grade industrial products. One of the reasons Western investors liked China was that a single country and a single set of relationships allowed them to develop production facilities that could supply them with products. All the other options aside from India, which has its own problems, can handle only a small fraction of China’s output. Indonesia, with nearly a quarter-billion people still in a low-wage state, can handle more. 
The political risk has substantially declined in the last few years. If it continues to drop, Indonesia will become an attractive alternative to China at a time when Western companies are looking for alternatives. That would energize Indonesia’s economy and further stabilize the regime. A more stable Indonesian regime would remove any attraction for an alignment with China and any opportunities for Chinese or Islamist subversion — even if, in the latter case, prosperity is not enough to eliminate it.
How did the world export $331 billion more than it imported?
The good news is that international concerns about global imbalances may be much less pressing than many think. The bad news is that conventional balance-of-payments measures are clearly less reliable in a world of rising intra-firm trade and complex supply chains. That matters because dodgy statistics lead to policy mistakes. Governments should clean the figures up.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Post-Arab Spring Politics of Fashion: Niqab vs. Nudity?

[via albawaba]

Fully veiled or fully naked?
SOON after the liberation of Tripoli, the Libyan capital, this correspondent met a woman sporting a niqab, or face veil, along with a floor-length black dress and black gloves. Her eyes, all that could be seen, gleamed as she revelled in a new-found freedom. For 40 years under what she disdainfully termed the “liberalism” of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, the niqab had been forbidden. “But now we can wear what we like!” 
Aliaa el-Mahdi, a 20-year-old university student in Cairo, has found a very different way to celebrate the Arab spring. She recently posted an alluring photograph on Facebook, Twitter and her personal blog. It showed herself standing unclothed, bar thigh-length stockings and a pair of bright-red shoes.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Orbiting Solar Power Plants Vs. Money and Space Junk

What if we could have satellites gather solar energy then beam it down to Earth?
The plan would be to release first one satellite, followed by a series of solar powered sattelites over the equator. Each would be several miles wide and would be built to collect sunlight 24 hours a day. The energy would then be converted to electricity aboard the craft and sent down to earth via giant antennas or lasers that would feed into power grids all over the world. 
The main obstacle scientists face with this project is funding. It is estimated to cost tens of billions of dollars just to fund the earth to space vehicles that would install the satellites over the equator. Scientist believe the project to be so internationally relevant that they recommend a number of governments, agencies, organizations, universities, and private donors to fund the solar satellites. 
For now, Artemis Innovation Management Solutions LLC, a Californian consultant company, has received a $100,000 contract from NASA for a pilot project that will explore and test the technology on a much smaller scale.
I love that instead of applying some of our government-funded R&D to this incredibly innovative idea, NASA outsourced the pilot program for a fraction of a cost of launching a space shuttle.

Still, with the amount of space junk orbiting Earth, I'm not sure how foolproof an orbiting power plant would be. Hopefully, the future test programs will be keeping their eyes on the skies.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Even Turkish Kids Can't Find Jobs Right Now

While I've been scrapping by the past few months with temp work and odd jobs, I'll gladly take my employment prospects here over the situation in Turkey.
Setting the stage for the unemployment conundrum is the demographic fact that more than half of Turkey's estimated population of 75 million people is under the age of 30. And not only are there more youngsters seeking employment, they tend to be better educated than their elders. 
Over the past decade, many 20-somethings in Turkey have become the first members of their respective families to attend university or other institutions of higher learning. Over the same period, the country has experienced robust economic growth -- 8.2 percent in 2010, and averaging 6 percent annually from 2002-2008. But the growing economy hasn't been able to create jobs fast enough to handle the increasing number of youths entering the labor force. That has left many newly minted graduates unable to find a job to match their skills.
Interestingly, Occupy Istanbul hasn't really taken off.
So far, the issue of youth unemployment has not resonated politically. Among Turkey's mainstream opposition parties, interest tends to gravitate more toward issues with regular news coverage, such as constitutional reform. Young people, meanwhile, haven't been very politically active of late. For example, youth turnout was low at a scantily attended Occupy Istanbul event staged in early November.
Like members of their generation elsewhere, it may not be long before an event or person galvanizes the young, frustrated, overeducated and underemployed masses into rising up to do...something.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

How Tourism, The World Cup, and The Olympics Could Reshape Rio's Favelas

Police have taken over Rio de Janeiro's largest favela (legal slum), Rocinha, as part of a program to rid drug traffickers from several favelas ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.
Rocinha's location has made it one of the most lucrative and largest drug distribution points in the city.
"Rocinha is one of the most strategically important points for police to control in Rio de Janeiro," said Paulo Storani, a security consultant and former captain in the elite BOPE police unit leading the invasion. "The pacification of Rocinha means that authorities have closed a security loop around the areas that will host most of the Olympic and World Cup activities."
Some estimates say the Friends of Friends gang brings in more than $50 million in drug sales annually in Rocinha and Vidigal alone. Much of the drugs are sold to tourists staying in the posh beach neighborhoods of Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana and to middle- and upper-class Brazilians who live there.
I had the opportunity to take a tour through Rocinha when I was in Rio almost 3 years ago.

The favela I saw was bustling, functional city-within-a-city. Although the stench of piled garbage (handled by bulldozers instead of garbage trucks) stuck to the hot air, it was hard not to be impressed by the dizzying streets and buildings, complete with vendors, restaurants, wi-fi cafes, and even a bank and a fast-food chain.

Although my tour guide avoided mentioning the drug cartel presence in Rocinha, he introduced me to family members, friends, and NGO workers in the neighborhood. This all helped to highlight the surprisingly robust community that has endured despite economic and social hardships.

Now it appears that backpackers, tourists, and even citizens of Rio have taken personal (and economic) interest in other poor Rio communities.
For the past five months, Abreu has led tours of favelas for clients of the advertising agency at which she works, NBS. They have included the Oi telecom company, the fast-food restaurant chain Bob's, and Coca-Cola. NBS' goal has been to show off the potential in favelas such as Providencia, which is to be revamped along with the nearby port. 
"The regular citizen that's living his life in this town needs to know and see with his own eyes what's happening here," she said, stopping to chat during a recent tour. 
Providencia, with its sweeping views of downtown Rio, was a fast sell for visitors such as Mariane Maciel, another NBS employee, who predicted that favela residents would soon enter the lower middle class. Raoni Lotar, 30, who works at Coca-Cola, said it was clear from what he had seen that the favelas were being "integrated into our city."
However, I do wonder how smooth the integration of the favelas into the rest of Rio de Janeiro will be.
"It's a huge experimental stage. Everything is new," said Daniela Tavares, a city economist overseeing new programs in the favelas. "It's a new environment for all of us, for the community, the government, all of us."
Despite the recent growth of the Brazilian economy, how many current favela residents will actually be able to enter the lower middle class? How many people working informal jobs will be "formalized"? How many buildings will be razed for the sake of "zoning deficiencies" and replaced with highrise condos located near some of the most valuable real estate in all of Latin America?

Artists and backpackers have taken up residencies in some of these safer favelas. Will it continue to be "cool" and "edgy" to move into these micro-communities, to the point where waves of artists all over Brazil and the world flock to the neighborhood for cheap rents and favorable exchange rates, and create a bohemian bubble indifferent to the local communities (see also Istanbul, Turkey)?

Regardless, removing organized crime from the favelas closest to future Olympic tourist areas is a wise idea that will legitimately improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

I just wouldn't be surprised if the favelas themselves are removed over time.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Go West, Young Chinese

While Chinese migrants helped build the U.S. railroads in the late 1800's, many Chinese are still looking westward for economic opportunity.

Some are sending their kids to cash-starved American universities...and the kids are coming back with bad impressions of America.

(Meanwhile, China is already trying to bribe major universities into ignoring the whole Tibet issue.)

Still, other entrepreneurial Chinese are making their way into Italy.

And much like the Italians, many Africans are unhappy with Chinese workers moving in, working hard, and taking over the local market share.

A sluggish global economy + 7 billion people worldwide = plenty more tension to come.

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