Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Review of Recent News on the Web

Globalization, Protectionism, and the Global Poor

In an insightful article in Prospect Magazine, “Protecting the Global Poor,” Ha-Joon Chang argues that developed countries’ push toward global free trade may increase total economic development, but without necessarily doing a lot to alleviate poverty in developing countries. Chang gives a useful overview of the past few centuries’ economic history and the role of protectionism in the economic development of almost all of the currently developed countries’ histories. For anyone who’s read much economic history or world systems theory, this will be review, but a concise and nicely written review.

Importantly, Chang is not against globalization and increased trading among all countries. He recognizes that trade is critical for economic development and that economic development is necessary, if not sufficient, for the alleviation of poverty. It’s just that Chang also recognizes that unfettered free trade tends to disproportionately benefit more developed and wealthier nations. It’s no coincidence that the British were protectionists when the Dutch were the dominant mercantile power and became free-traders after becoming the dominant economic power themselves.

Chang also usefully points out a rhetorical strategy often employed by free-trade advocates, which is to conflate opposition to free trade in some form or another with opposition to trade generally. Chang writes:

“But there is a huge difference between saying that trade is essential for economic development and saying that free trade is best. It is this sleight of hand that free-trade economists have so effectively deployed against their opponents—if you are against free trade, they imply, you must be against trade itself, and so against economic progress.”

Mexican Cuisine

I’ve recently encountered two interesting articles on Mexican food. The first, “Mexico’s long chilli (sic) love affair,” reports on recent archaeological findings of systematic use of chiles in Mexican cooking at least 1500 years ago. As the article points out, the cultivation of chiles implies a well developed tradition of seasoning and cookery. (There is some research indicating possible antiseptic qualities to chiles, but as food, chiles are grown more as seasoning than for caloric sustenance.) The finding of use of both dried and fresh chiles indicates familiarity with the distinct quality of chiles in different preparations, and to me implies even longer familiarity and use of chiles than is directly indicated by the archaeological evidence.

The second article, “A Crash Course in Mexico’s Varied Cuisine,” simply presents a savory overview of “Mexico’s varied cuisine.” For those only passingly familiar with Mexican food, much less its regional diversity, there will probably be several surprises. For those who are familiar with Mexico’s regional cuisines, there probably won’t be any surprises – but if you’re thoroughly familiar with the range of regional cuisine diversity in Mexico or anywhere else, you probably like reading about food like I do.

Burying the N-Word

A week or so ago, the NAACP held a mock funeral to bury the “N-word.” In my local newspaper, The Pensacola News Journal, columnist Reginald Dogan presented his response to this event in “NAACP campaign to ‘bury’ N-word overlooks the bigger picture.”

Dogan writes:

“I wasn't as troubled by the mock funeral to bury a word as I was by NAACP officials saying ending the use of the N-word is one of their main goals.

“I cannot believe that of the myriad problems facing black people in America, the NAACP sees the N-word as the root of all troubles.”

See also Dogan’s follow-up column, “Racism is not the cause of all ills that plague black people.”

Florida and Climate Change

Also about a week ago, Florida’s governor made surprising announcements regarding plans for the state on energy and carbon emissions. An article in Grist magazine summarizes the announcement:

“His plans include adopting California's strict vehicle-emissions law, making Florida the first Southeast state to go that route; calling for a 40 percent reduction in statewide greenhouse-gas emissions by 2025; and requiring state agencies to prioritize fuel efficiency when buying or renting vehicles and to hold events in facilities certified as green by the state Department of Environmental Protection. Crist is also asking state utilities to produce 20 percent of their power from renewables, and creating a Florida Governor's Action Team on Energy and Climate Change.”

Optimal Foraging

An article on Science Daily, “Monkeys don’t go for easy pickings,” has the following to say:

“Animals’ natural foraging decisions give an insight into their cognitive abilities, and primates do not automatically choose the easy option. Instead, they appear to decide where to feed based on the quality of the resources available and the effect on their social group, rather than simply selecting the nearest food available.”

In other words, monkeys at least do not simply always forage the closest resources, but also forage partly on the basis of nutritional quality of food resources. That alone is easily understood in terms of something like optimal foraging theory. What I find particularly interesting is that monkeys seem to take into account non-nutritional qualities of food resources, specifically potential social effects (presumably things like the different effects likely to result from foraging fruits that are large but less common versus smaller but more common and dispersed), when selecting foraging strategies. This could also be understood in terms of optimal foraging – it’s just that what’s “optimal” becomes a bit more complex to include factors in addition to use of physical space and nutritional qualities of foods.

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