Five things not to take for granted in 2012

Happy new year everyone. May 2012 be the year where all your dreams come true.

How many things do we just flat out not appreciate anymore?

We flip the light switch and the room better be lit. We open the fridge and our OJ better be cold. We raise the thermostat and demand within seconds the room be warm. How have we gotten so spoiled?

1) Electricity: Crazy as it sounds, not all people in the world have it. And lets try to lower our energy use, US is still the biggest consumer of energy per person in the world.

2) Elevators/Escalators: Lets set an arbitrary number of flights where above that amount you can feel good about taking the elevator. 4. There it is. If you live on the 5th floor, you can take the elevator. If not, TAKE THE STAIRS. IT WONT KILL YOU.

3) Water. Not everyone has access to clean water. The MAJORITY of Africa does not. So, don’t take 20 minute hot showers, and don’t let it run for 10 minutes before getting in either.

4) Food. 2012 – make me a promise. Don’t throw out food. If you can’t finish your food, take it home. ZIPLOC. ITS A WONDERFUL THING, try it.

5) Paper. Everyone can appreciate a nice hand-written letter. But otherwise, you don’t need paper bills (and if you do, recycle the paper).

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Another (good) article on the benefits of college education (NYT)

I have written many times on the benefit of post-secondary education. I came across a nice article in the NYT this morning and wanted to share.

Yes the economy blows right now and yes its frustrating to push papers – but there is no better advantage you can give yourself than by getting a college degree.

June 10, 2011, 10:00 am Struggling College Graduates
Sally Cameron has an Ivy League graduate degree, and yet found herself tending bar. Mel Rodenstein earned a master’s degree in international affairs but was working in a “mindless” clerk’s job, eating rice and beans to save money.

Then there was the young woman who attended a good public university only to spend the first year after college driving around North America, with a friend and fellow struggling graduate. “There are no jobs anyway,” the woman said.

All of these college graduates could have appeared in recent newspaper stories bemoaning the fate of college graduates. Yet they appeared in similar stories that ran years ago — 1982 in Ms. Cameron’s and Mr. Rodenstein’s case and 1993 in the case of the young women on the road trip.

So Kevin Carey, an education writer and policy analyst, did something brilliant. He tracked down the graduates to see what had become of them. He has written about his findings in The New Republic:

[Mr. Rodenstein] went on to a series of nonprofit management jobs and, by 2010, was a senior research project supervisor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Health…. Today, one of the [two road trippers] lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, and runs her own H.R. consulting firm. The other got a PhD and works 20 feet away from this author in a Washington, DC think tank.
Sally Cameron, meanwhile, isn’t tending bar anymore. She’s a senior manager at an international development consulting company that works under contract with USAID. Her recent work includes building railroads in cyclone-devastated Madagascar….

In other words, they all turned out pretty well. They were no doubt damaged by the downturn into which they graduated. But they turned out vastly better than most people of their generation who didn’t get a college degree. Today, in fact, you could probably use a couple of them to illustrate a very different trend: the growing gap in the pay between college graduates and everyone else.

Bureau of Labor Statistics
Mr. Carey again:

For going on four decades, the press has been raising alarms that college degrees may no longer be a sound investment. Two things about these stories have remained constant: They always feature an over-educated bartender, and they are always wrong.

I recommend the whole article. It’s more clever than my summary can convey. It’s also a good example of persuasive writing.

If you’re interested in more on the subject, Catherine Rampell and I have each written related posts recently.


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Ryan Giggs – how could you?

Ryan Giggs. The epitome of loyality, the embodiment of commitment, the archetypical professional.

Ryan Giggs, a welshman, has stood by his country through thin and thinner. Wales has never made a major tournament in his career, nor have they really even come close. Still, Giggsy (if I can call him Giggsy) stayed with them and commited himself to the cause. He could have easily defected and joined England (the overrated but yet active and competitive force in major tournaments). But no, not Ryan Giggs.

Giggsy also showed this commitment for his club. He joined Manchester United as a school boy and went on to amass a record of 613 games played. That is almost unheard of in the modern game where players are always looking for more money, more attention, more love and where players change teams like they change underwear.

Giggs’ professionalism as a soccer player is second to none. He does all the right things with regard to preparation, recuperation, and training. He has gotten better as he’s aged which is also a rarity in the modern game where athleticism and physical prowess reign supreme. Giggs’ ability to remain at the top for the past twenty years is because he worked so diligently and sacrificed so much. This is what makes him special and one of my boyhood idols.

So, when I found out that Giggs was the masked man in the whole media injunction/gag order cover up – I was shocked. I had the same look on my face as a high school freshman would when they realize the bottle is pointing towards their cousin.

Today, John Hemming, a liberal democrat in the English Parliament revealed Ryan Giggs as the mystery man behind the injunction ordeal. As it turns out, Ryan Giggs was able to engineer a high court ordered injunction preventing media sources (and his mistress) from reporting on his extramarital affair. (How that happened is another post for another day)

So, Giggs cheated on his wife, with whom he has two children. Three questions come to mind:
1) Does that tarnish his legacy as a soccer player?
2) Is he less of a role model?
3) Should public figures be forced to lead a life of the straight and narrow?

I’ll spare you a series of longwinded answers.

Answer to question 1) No, not at all. We’re talking about Ryan Flipping Giggs
Answer to question 2) Yes, probably
Answer to question 3 ) see next post

Ryan Giggs. How could you?

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A note on clean plates and clean consciences

I apologize for the lack of activity. If its any consolation, there will be very exciting things on the horizon that I will update as they materialize.

Today I came across an article on CNN detailing the amount of food that is wasted. Americans are notorious for not finishing their plate, not taking leftovers home from restaurants, and for generally having eyes bigger than their already inflated bellies.

You would not waste food if you saw how little some people in the world eat on a daily basis. Nor would you waste food if you saw how malnourished a large part of the world is. And you certainly wouldn’t waste food if you were malnourished and hadn’t eaten in days.

Please, don’t waste food. If that means taking smaller portions and having to get up twice (oh the agony!) to serve yourself more, do it. Leaving unfinished meals in a restaurant is equivalent to throwing away money. You paid for it, why not take it with you?

Lets all make an effor to not let any of our food go to waste. And lets pass this along to our friends and family to so that they are more aware of their food wasting ways.

From CNN

An average 30-year old who’s eaten three meals a day since birth has consumed more than 30,000 meals to date. Even if you’ve only eaten half that much you have to admit this: you’ve let some of that breakfast, lunch or dinner go to waste.

And it turns out we’re all to blame for this gut-wrenching fact: 30% of all food produced in the world each year is wasted or lost. That’s about 1.3 billion tons, according to a new report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

That’s the weight of more than 8.6 million full-grown blue whales, the largest creatures on earth. That’s the weight of more than 2.3 million Airbus A380s, the largest commercial planes in existence. That’s as if each person in China, the world’s most populous country with more than 1.3 billion people, had a one ton mass of food they could just throw into the trashcan.

It’s almost unfathomable isn’t it?

Breaking apart that big number, we find the people with the most money are the ones who waste the most.

Per capita, Europeans and North Americans waste between 95 and 115 kilograms of food. Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia waste much, much less – between 6 and 11 kilograms per person. The takeaway? The developed world wastes 10 times more food than the developing one.

Here’s another statistic: all the food that the world’s richest countries waste is about equal to all the food that sub-Saharan Africa produces. The numbers: 222 million tons and 230 million tons, respectively. Basically, the waste of the rich could feed much of the African continent.

And these numbers come as we’ve just been reporting about soaring food prices around the world in the past week.

China reported 11.5% April food inflation year on year earlier this week.

India reported 8.5% April food inflation earlier this month.

South Africa and the U.S. have yet to report their April numbers but year-end forecasts say the former could see up to 15% inflation, the latter could see up to 6% inflation.

A major change of mindset is what is needed.

The U.N. says one of the biggest challenges is helping people get over the perception of food perfection. Perhaps it’s instinctual to rummage through that pile of Red Delicious apples at the market looking for those few, unbruised perfect specimens. But beauty is only peel deep. And a fresh fruit that has a bump on it is actually still edible and probably tastes just as good.

The U.N. also suggests that charities work together with markets to collect food that’s unsold and about to pass its expiry date. It can be redistributed or cooked up at food kitchens for the needy and homeless.

A third suggestion: simply don’t buy more food than you need. You’re more likely to not finish it, you’ll end up throwing it away and you’ll have wasted your money.

And my own personal tip: if I eat at a restaurant and can’t finish it all, I ask for a doggie bag. I used to be a waiter years ago and will never forget the amounts of food I saw left on the table after the bill was paid.

There’s no reason to waste food. It’s up to all of us to use our common sense to eat and shop just a bit wiser. Remember, we’ve got 1.3 billion tons of food on our plate to clean up – each year and counting.

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The Frustrations of the Educated and Unemployed American

I came across this article this morning and wanted to share it. While we are looking at the protests ongoing in the Middle East and North Africa the spark was a frustrated youth population increasingly disgusted with politicians disconnected with the trials and tribulations of the everyday citizen.

Those issues are not that far removed from our issues stateside. 1 out of every 5 young American is unemployed. In fact, that number is probably much higher (as Matt explains in his article).

I’ll stop wasting your time so you can get to the article but I will say this: If we do not proactively respond to these issues soon enough, what we read in the paper about what is going on half way around the world may start taking place here.

Educated, Unemployed and Frustrated – Matt Klein NYT
WE all enjoy speculating about which Arab regime will be toppled next, but maybe we should be looking closer to home. High unemployment? Check. Out-of-touch elites? Check. Frustrated young people? As a 24-year-old American, I can testify that this rich democracy has plenty of those too.

About one-fourth of Egyptian workers under 25 are unemployed, a statistic that is often cited as a reason for the revolution there. In the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in January an official unemployment rate of 21 percent for workers ages 16 to 24.

My generation was taught that all we needed to succeed was an education and hard work. Tell that to my friend from high school who studied Chinese and international relations at a top-tier college. He had the misfortune to graduate in the class of 2009, and could find paid work only as a lifeguard and a personal trainer. Unpaid internships at research institutes led to nothing. After more than a year he moved back in with his parents.

Millions of college graduates in rich nations could tell similar stories. In Italy, Portugal and Spain, about one-fourth of college graduates under the age of 25 are unemployed. In the United States, the official unemployment rate for this group is 11.2 percent, but for college graduates 25 and over it is only 4.5 percent.

The true unemployment rate for young graduates is most likely even higher because it fails to account for those who went to graduate school in an attempt to ride out the economic storm or fled the country to teach English overseas. It would be higher still if it accounted for all of those young graduates who have given up looking for full-time work, and are working part time for lack of any alternative.

The cost of youth unemployment is not only financial, but also emotional. Having a job is supposed to be the reward for hours of SAT prep, evenings spent on homework instead of with friends and countless all-nighters writing papers. The millions of young people who cannot get jobs or who take work that does not require a college education are in danger of losing their faith in the future. They are indefinitely postponing the life they wanted and prepared for; all that matters is finding rent money. Even if the job market becomes as robust as it was in 2007 — something economists say could take more than a decade — my generation will have lost years of career-building experience.

It was simple to blame Hosni Mubarak for the frustrations of Egypt’s young people — he had been in power longer than they had been alive. Barack Obama is not such an easy target; besides his democratic legitimacy, he is far from the only one responsible for the weakness of the recovery. In the absence of someone specific to blame, the frustration simply builds.

As governments across the developed world balance their budgets, I fear that the young will bear the brunt of the pain: taxes on workers will be raised and spending on education will be cut while mortgage subsidies and entitlements for the elderly are untouchable. At least the Saudis and Kuwaitis are trying to bribe their younger subjects.

The uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa are a warning for the developed world. Even if an Egyptian-style revolution breaking out in a rich democracy is unthinkable, it is easy to recognize the frustration of a generation that lacks opportunity. Indeed, the “desperate generation” in Portugal got tens of thousands of people to participate in nationwide protests on March 12. How much longer until the rest of the rich world follows their lead?

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Nuclear Energy – why we aren’t prepared to live without it

My heartfelt condolences goes out to all those families have been affected by the tragic events that have unfolded recently in Japan.

In this post I am NOT taking lightly the nuclear problems ongoing in Japan. While conditions have not worsened, the situation is still very grave. I sincerely hope that conditions continue to stabilize and improve instead of deteriorating into what would be a truly nightmare scenario.

That being said, by no means can we simply write off nuclear energy as a source of power for the future. Even though what is going on now in Japan is awful and what took place at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl is also terrible, nuclear energy is vital to our energy supply today and tomorrow.

Citing the EDF Observor, 13.8% of the world’s total electricity production came from nuclear energy.
What would be the cost of replacing that with other fuels and where would those other fuel sources be found?

We are heavily dependent on the Middle East for our energy supply (along with Canada, Nigeria, and a handful of other countries) as it is. Our population continues to grow and our energy intake is rising. Concomitantly, demand from China and India is increasing exponentially (China, like Japan, is also heavily reliant on nuclear energy). Energy demand is very much increasing globally.

The idea of increasing our energy supply from fossil fuels to replace nuclear energy is much easier said than done. It would cause the price of gas, heating, electric, and many basic goods and services to jump many times higher than it is today (even if this transition was gradual and done over a multiple year span.

According to the IEA, the decline rate of production from existing oil fields is 6.7% per annum at the moment. This means that almost 35% of world oil production needs replacing over the next 5 years with either new fields or more wells in existing fields (or new technologies in existing fields)

China and India are scraping along to meet their energy needs. China has been extremely active in buying into foreign oil production sites and oil fields along with resorting to using desalinated water. India and China use coal-to-liquid technology to meet their oil needs.

The US EIA now says that US gas production will only grow by 0.8% per annum over the next 25 years. Nuclear energy is a vital, sustainable source of energy, but definitely one that comes with strings attached. Can we just shut out nuclear energy as a source of energy for the future? No chance – unless we want to pay $10 at the gallon, have our electric bills quadruple, and see our disposable income (the income we spend on whatever we want) shrink tremendously

The question then becomes, what price do we put on our “energy safety.” In other words, how much tolerance will we have for nuclear events like that in Japan or oil spills like that in the Gulf of Mexico? Are we willing to trade our quality of life for a nuclear accident every so often or an oil spill now and then?

Unfortunately we engage in this devil’s bargain whether we realize it or not. What we can do on an individual level is lessen our energy use as an individual. (GE’s website has many simple tips on reducing daily electricity expense.) Now, I am not talking about planting trees every other day, but I am talking about making sure you unplug electronics, not cranking up the AC in the summer and the heat in the winter (keep it cool in the winter and warm in the summer), and opting to take the stairs instead of the elevator. (Or walking instead of driving)

More importantly, what I am talking about is informing oneself of how much unnecessary energy we consume each day. One person will not change the world’s energy security and you may be thinking so what if I leave the lights on, big flipping deal.

Let me respond to that thought by writing a small story I once read (I don’t remember where but it was NOT me who created this story):

A young girl sitting on a beach noticed another boy in the distance continually bending down and throwing something in the ocean. When the boy approached she saw that the boy was throwing starfish back in the water that had been washed up from the tide so that they survive. The girl noticed that these starfish littered the beach – they were everywhere. The girl, noticing the boy was sweating and breathing heavily, remarked:

“There are thousands of starfish on this beach! You can’t possibly make a difference to all these starfish that cover the many miles of this beach.”

The boy, hesitating at first, bent down and picked up a starfish next to his feet and threw it in the ocean and responded: Maybe, but sure made a difference to that one!

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MENA: Part I

The Middle Eastern and North African protests are still the front page of the news for ten weeks. Where and when will it end? Will we see violent protests reach China and Iran?

What began in Tunisia in December quickly put all Middle Eastern and North African regimes on high alert. Stories of violence and massive protests are now daily events. While I am far from an expert on the issue, I have strong opinions on why this has happened and when we will see the climax in this tragedy.

North Africans have been living under corrupt regimes for many years. It is not as if one day Moammar Gaddafi or Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali started embezzeling funds and lived a life disconnected from the life of the masses. They’ve been doing it for years. And more importantly, it’s not as if this was a mystery to their people. They knew of the lavish lifestyles, the private jets, the yachts, but so long as their lives remained relatively happy, they were content.

So why all of a sudden did thousands take the streets? The answer, is food prices. Food prices have been sky-rocketing as surging demand from emerging markets and poor harvests from traditional suppliers have squeezed prices. This has left lower middle class and lower class North Africans struggling to put food on the table. When people’s quality of life is in jeopardy, they respond. In this case, when people go from having food on the table to not, they respond violently.

Another fundamental trigger was the huge disparity between the rich and poor that was concentrated between the young and the old. BBC reports that more than half the 250 million people in the Arab world today are under the age of 25 – but many Arab countries offer their young people little in the way of jobs and involvement in politics.

Rising food prices and political, economic, and social disconnects between rising youth populations and a resistant upper-level governments filled with cronies were the catalysts that really elucidated the wrongdoings of these corrupt leaders. This is no more evident than in Libya and Egypt, where Gaddafi and Mubarak are (were?) reported to have billions of dollars of assets tucked away in various offshore banks across the globe.

In Libya and in Yemen, the process is now irreversible. Government forces have fired upon their own people killing scores. Both countries will see regimes change.
Sticking with the Gulf, Saudi Arabia will see a “day of rage” set for March 11th. If this protest turns violent, this movement will escalate to a level not yet seen.

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