Weekly Round Up January 11 – 2012

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The only lost cause is one we give up on before we enter the struggle.” – Václav Havel

Science, General Knowledge & Environment

Apocalypse Not Now: 2012 Doomsday Predictions Debunked by NASA – “On Dec. 21, 2012, many doomsday believers fear the apocalypse — anything from a rogue planet smashing into us to our world spinning end over end. However, the world should expect nothing more next year than the winter solstice, the longest night of the year.

Wary of Energy Drinks in an Adrenaline Sport- “Caffeine is generally well tolerated, but there’s many physiological effects large quantities of caffeine can have. Increasing blood pressure, heart and respiratory rate. In some, it can lead to cardiac arrhythmias, and hyperactivity and anxiety in young people.” Drink Water.

Organic Agriculture May Be Outgrowing Its Ideals – “(…) some large farms that have qualified as organic employed environmentally damaging practices, like planting only one crop, which is bad for soil health, or overtaxing local freshwater supplies.

World

The Myth of Japan’s FailureMust Read – “But that presentation of Japan is a myth. By many measures, the Japanese economy has done very well during the so-called lost decades, which started with a stock market crash in January 1990. By some of the most important measures, it has done a lot better than the United States.” So Japan weathered its crisis pretty well while the Western world is currently cutting its own throat in order to avoid a ‘Japanese lost decade.’

China’s Top 10 Business Stories in 2011 – High speed rail, inflation, real estate downturn, Wenzhou credit crisis, Muddy Waters, RMB internationalization, Eurozone crisis, US currency threat, national social insurance law & Telecom antitrust investigation.

Hu Says West Is Trying to Divide China by Using Ideology, Cultural Weapons – “Many countries, especially Western powers, are attempting to expand their influence through cultural hegemony, and China must deepen and promote its own values of “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” China needs to strengthen its cultural values as it faces possible challenges from the West, he said.

China reveals its space plans up to 2016 (AP) & Space Plan From China Broadens Challenge to U.S. (NYT) – 1 event, 2 takes. Reading both is interesting, although the NYT articles makes some unneeded comparisons. If you believe China is out to take total control of space, this excerpt should relieve you: “While a leader in the business of launching satellites, China is still years behind the United States in space. Its human spaceflight accomplishments to date put it roughly where the United States and the Soviet Union were in the mid-1960s.

How Downed U.S. Drone Helps China – “Access to the drone could allow China to use reverse engineering to incorporate key technologies into its own indigenous aerospace systems and to develop countermeasures that would make it harder for U.S. stealth UAVs and aircraft to operate near China.” China has done it before and thus I wouldn’t be surprised if they would do it again. Look at a downed F117 in Serbia and a downed Blackhawk in Pakistan.

Iran unlikely to block oil shipments through Strait of Hormuz, analysts say – “We would be committing economical suicide by closing off the Hormuz Strait,” said an Iranian Oil Ministry official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. “Oil money is our only income, so we would be spectacularly shooting ourselves in the foot by doing that.

Lure of Chinese Tuition Pushes Out Asian-Americans – “The University of California system, rocked by budget cuts, is enrolling record numbers of out-of-state and international students, who pay almost twice that of in-state residents.” I had dinner with an American professor a week ago who told me that these Chinese students were literally seen as cash cows.

How Many U.S. Soldiers Were Wounded in Iraq? Guess Again – ‘The true number of military personnel injured over the course of our nine-year-long fiasco in Iraq is in the hundreds of thousands — maybe even more than half a million — if you take into account all the men and women who returned from their deployments with traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress, depression, hearing loss, breathing disorders, diseases, and other long-term health problems.

Why America Can’t Afford Its Military – “Looking forward into 2012, American voters seem to understand what many of the men running for President do not: Given America’s fragile economic health, 2012 is no time for uninformed decisions regarding the use of force. The deficit Americans worry most about is not fiscal; it’s a national deficit of integrity and reason.

Contractors’ role grows in drone missions, worrying some in the military – “America’s growing drone operations rely on hundreds of civilian contractors, including some (…)who work in the so-called kill chain before Hellfire missiles are launched… (…) About 168 people are needed to keep a single Predator aloft for 24 hours, according to the Air Force. The larger Global Hawk surveillance drone requires 300 people. In contrast, an F-16 fighter aircraft needs fewer than 100 people per mission..

Pentagon trimming ranks of generals, admirals – “The number of four-star generals and admirals today, for instance, is roughly the same as in 1971, during the Vietnam War, even though the number of active-duty troops has shrunk by half.

Finance & Economics

Satyajit Das on What Went Wrong With Finance – Video – “Rob Johnson interviewed world renowned derivatives expert Satyajit Das on the evolution of modern finance. As Das recounts, he got in more or less on the ground floor as sophisticated new products and modeling techniques were introduced. Although Das is wry and understated in his criticisms, he is clearly skeptical of how the financial services industry has evolved.

Why Ron Paul Challenges Liberals – “This is why Ron Paul can critique the Federal Reserve and American empire, and why liberals have essentially no answer to his ideas, arguing instead over Paul having character defects. Ron Paul’s stance should be seen as a challenge to better create a coherent structural critique of the American political order.

This is crony capitalism. – “A capitalist economy in which success in business depends on close relationships between business people and government officials.” Welcome the U.S. of A.

China manufacturing activity falls again – Bad news for the world. We believe China is stuck between bad growth and low growth: when the economy slows too quick Beijing unleashes credit which produces (bad) growth and once Beijing wants to stop the bad growth, the economy slows way too fast for Beijing which then unleashes credit. The problem is that you can only do that for so long before major problems become inevitable (and dangerous). I strongly recommend Michael Pettis if you want to have a better idea about economic prospects for China or the world.

Number of the day: “(…) Chinese sociologists estimate that the number of mass incidents reached 180,000 last year.  What’s notable about this set of numbers is that, if anything, economic growth fuels social discontent in China. The size of the Chinese economy has more than doubled in the last decade. The number of mass incidents rose roughly four times in the same period.

Picture of the day: National Geographic Photography Contest Winners: 2011

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"Great perfection may appear imperfect, but its usefulness is inexhaustible. Great abundance may appear empty, but its usefulness cannot be exhausted. Great correctness may appear twisted, great skills appear crude, great eloquence appear awkward. Activity conquers cold; inactivity conquers heat. Clear serenity governs the world." - Lao Zi

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