Archive | February, 2007

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GARY!

27 Feb

Corn – eat it or use it?

27 Feb

corn.jpg

I thought biofuel was a good solution to replace conventional natural resources, such as oil, gas and coal. Apparently, this technology has some problems including creating food shortages.

Biofuel is considered good for environment because most of them are plants’ produces, such as corn, barley, and sugarcane. When they are processed to generate power, the carbon dioxide produced is already cancelled out by the carbon dioxide inhaled during the plants’ growing period. So there is no real increase of it. Also, it allows countries to reduce their reliance to oil-producing countries; thus, reducing the international tension.

The idea is wonderful, but it fails to take note of many related issues. One of them is the fact that the supply of biofuel cannot catch up with the demand. It has resulted in increasing prices of crops. As reported by FT last Friday, the price of corn was 10-year high.

Not only this has resulted in higher cost for electricity producers which use biofuel, this also resulted in higher price of main food for many people. Now Mexico is facing shortage of corns and this has driven the price of tortillas to the ceiling. If the demands by the big electricity corporations keep increasing, will the people be left without food?

Also, the crops will take up huge amount of water and lands, which means less rainforest to retain water. With increasing water consumption and decreasing supply, will the lands dry out? Without food and water, how can people continue living?

So far, the common ways to produce electricity have brought negative impact and it is unlike that they are going to be solved soon. Perhaps the solution is not about more supply, but less demand. Perhaps the fastest and easiest answer is the change of individual usage of electricity.
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Additional info from BBC website:

  • The grain required to fill the petrol tank of a Range Rover with ethanol is sufficient to feed one person per year. Assuming the petrol tank is refilled every two weeks, the amount of grain required would feed a hungry African village for a year
  • Much of the fuel that Europeans use will be imported from Brazil, where the Amazon is being burned to plant more sugar and soybeans, and Southeast Asia, where oil palm plantations are destroying the rainforest habitat of orangutans and many other species. Species are dying for our driving
  • If ethanol is imported from the US, it will likely come from maize, which uses fossil fuels at every stage in the production process, from cultivation using fertilisers and tractors to processing and transportation. Growing maize appears to use 30% more energy than the finished fuel produces, and leaves eroded soils and polluted waters behind
  • Meeting the 5.75% target would require, according to one authoritative study, a quarter of the EU’s arable land
  • Using ethanol rather than petrol reduces total emissions of carbon dioxide by only about 13% because of the pollution caused by the production process, and because ethanol gets only about 70% of the mileage of petrol
  • Food prices are already increasing. With just 10% of the world’s sugar harvest being converted to ethanol, the price of sugar has doubled; the price of palm oil has increased 15% over the past year, with a further 25% gain expected next year.

References:
The Financial Times February 23 2007
BBC: Green energy or grim reaper

Note: this edition is revised version of the submitted piece and with additional information that I could not squeeze into the 280 words.

blue, red or green?

21 Feb

If the colours represent political stand, which one will you choose?

I find it difficult to choose. I even find it confusing with authoritarian or democracy; socialist or conservative; communism or liberal market.

The problem is I don’t know if they will all work when they are at the extreme. I know I don’t support authoritarian government. I think it’s nice to have a voice, choices and freedom; to know that I won’t be killed or get jailed just for speaking out what I think. It made me like democracy.

But, all the nonsenses (by the way, my definition of nonsense is always changing) many people made in democratic society make me think that democracy is very troublesome. Also, sometimes I do think that what the crowd want is not necessarily what is good for everyone (just like consumerism which is very popular may not be good for us).

Also, many people are actually just pursuing their own interest, except for special occasions perhaps. Can I say that their voice which is loaded with self-interest is right? Isn’t the will of crowd a collection of self-interest?

NGOs do a lot of good things, but like what Marcus (I disagree with some of his views, but I do understand his concerns) said the NGOs did not have to think about balancing act. They just have the priviledge to pursue their single goal. I am not sure if government can do it.

At the moment, I am in favour of democracy; but I’m still not fully convinced yet. I may need more information to decide.

NGOs are good, though, if they don’t pursue the power to govern.  

Crawling, not even walking

20 Feb

I had expected it to be difficult, but I have not expected interviewing to be this difficult.

On top of having to pick up the phone and talk to some strangers, I must formulate questions – good questions – to get information out of the interviewee. What is good clever question?

Today I called a lady to interview her. After five minutes or so, she got really annoyed. She asked, “Do you have any idea what information you want to get from this interview? You lack focus.” Then she started telling me the whole story and asked, “Did I answer all your questions?” And, she reminded me once again, “Set the purpose for your interview.” I was so embarrassed, but thanked her anyway for her advice. Not many people take time to point out someone’s else mistakes in front of him/her, so I think she did it with good intention.

The whole conversation made me realized some blunders I made.
1. I jumped into the conversation expecting certain information. When the fact was not what I expected, I did not know how to react.
2. I lack knowledge on the subject I ask thus I started asking stupid questions.
3. My questions were too broad and at the same time I was thinking too narrowly.
4. Ask Ask how much time available for the interview.
5. I did not really know the telephone norms here. Should I use the first name or the last name? How casual it should be?
Basically I did not ask the right questions.

I guess I’m really crawling in this journalism thing.

Never mind! Will do better tomorrow – after spending tonight healing my brushed ego.

World without corruption?

20 Feb

The Economist reported last week that the World Bank is still continuing its initiative in fighting corruption. It made me feel hopeful, but I wonder how determine it is to continue doing it.

 I first heard about the World Bank’s promise to fight corruption last year. The institution’s new president Paul Wolfowitz’s pledged that he would not lend to countries with corruption. I was cynical. I thought it was mission impossible. The borrowing countries are mostly developing countries where corruption flourished. If the World Bank refused to lend to them, they have no more market. Still, I was secretly hoping that Mr Wolfowitz would do what he said.

Corruption is a chronic problem in many developing countries and it is so bad that whoever is not corrupt is often outcast rather than praised. On the other hand, on international level, often these countries are condemned by developed countries as not doing enough to fight corruption. It made me thought rather highly of the developed countries.

So, the Britain’s decision to stop probing into corruption allegation with Saudi Arabia was quite a blow to its image. If even in the military industry – high-level security industry and dominated by developed countries – no agreement can be achieved for not practising corruption, there is little hope to expect better situation for other industries.

The developed countries should have been hold responsible if they kept offering non-stated money because it would exacerbate the corruption practices in borrowing countries. The World Bank’s initiative to fight corruption internally and externally is a good start.

Let’s hope it is determined enough to pursue it till the end, and perhaps pull other countries to do the same.

Fishy money generating system

11 Feb

I don’t quite get the big hoo-ha about cash-for-honour. Is it really unexpected that such large donations will be repaid somehow in certain form?

Recently some Labour Party’s members have been under investigation. They have allegedly rewarded some people with honourable titles in return for their donation. Last week, The New Statesman magazine, being cautious, warns David Cameron to be careful about his own party’s funding because Baron Ashcroft of Chichester, who loaned them £3.6 million, happens to be the deputy party chairman.

Does it mean that when someone donate or loan few million pounds to a party, it’s assumed that he/she does it solely based on pure support for the party’s causes and not based on any other motive? Is it a reasonable assumption?

Mr Ashcroft may have work his way up the party ladder partly due to his big ‘support’ to the party. So, if Tories win the next election and Mr Ascroft, an important figure in the Conservative Party, may then hold important position in the government. Is his loan part of the road to the new position? Isn’t it worse than mere honourable title?

It reminds me of a news piece about a restaurant critics who was sued by the restaurant that she criticised because she said that the chicken
marsala was “so sweet as to be inedible”. With common sense, it can easily be understood that she used a hyperbole. However, the restaurant won the lawsuit. If only the critic replaced ‘inedible’ with ‘almost inedible’, thing may turn out differently.

It seems that the same intention that worded differently can determine whether it is legal or illegal. Common sense tells me something is fishy here.

Long road to democracy

10 Feb

I used to be angry with my own country; I was disappointed with our bad government. After the downfall of the Indonesian dictator, President Suharto, in 1998, Indonesia was in chaos. Inflation was high, corruptions rampant, and there was hardly any law and order. Worst of all, instead of working on rebuilding the nation, politicians were stabbing each other in the back to get to the top. The political instability slowed down economic recovery.

By then, I had grown so cynical that I believed that any politician just wanted to get into power for personal benefit. I boycotted the 2004 presidential election. After coming to the UK, where democracy flourished, I saw how painfully time-consuming democracy can be and how slowly it develops. I started to understand that it is not easy to govern, Indonesia being no exception, and I should give it another chance.

At least there are signs of improvement in Indonesia. The peaceful power transfer after the last election is an achievement. Clearing our foreign debt is another. The peace in Aceh is almost a miracle. Now we have freedom of press, even if it lacks judicial protection and often comes under-threat of irresponsible social or religious extremist groups. Speaking Mandarin now seems as an advantage rather than a threat to national security.

I am not complacent with the current situation. However, I can’t deny the fact that it is not easy to fix all problems left by previous regime and to change mindsets that have been there for years. As mentioned in The Economist last week, Indonesia’s democracy is a work in progress.

We just have to keep working on it, Indonesia.