Wednesday, February 28, 2007

China's market plunge

My friend Dan Kubiske, who spent a few years in Hong Kong as a journalist, has an interesting view of today's stock market news. As chairman of the International Journalism Committee in the Society of Professional Journalists, he's done a fair amount of speaking and writing about the comparative natures of free and controlled press systems. Here's Dan:
If there ever was an argument that free media help, not hurt, stability it is the financial news of the past 48 hours.

Depending on who you listen to, the Shanghai market fell because: a.) there was a rumor the government would impose a capital gains tax beginning March 1 or b.) there was a rumor the head of the Shanghai stock exchange was going to resign soon or c.) rumors the government was about to impose new measures to tighten the money supply and slow down the market growth.

The key word in each of these scenarios is “rumors.” Because China does not have independent news media that can dig into and explain the dynamics of the market, and because few people believe anything said in the state-owned papers, the coin of the realm is rumor rather than fact.

For decades the Communist Party of China has argued it cannot allow media to be free from party control because it could cause instability in society. (And this fear is the real big concern that permeates Chinese thinking in the mainland, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. The memories of the warlord period still dominate a lot of thinking.) Of course, the way Hong Kong and Taiwan handle the fear of stability is to be more open so more people can get information that then leads to stability because there is trust (at least more trust) in the business community and government entities. Beijing, however, still seems to think it can keep a lid on information and release only its version of reality. (And yes, this sounds like any other government.) But by doing so – and by not having many other reliable alternative means to check information – Beijing ’s policies of censorship and media restrictions actually promotes instability.

As usual, so far the American media are still hung up on the economic reasons for the fall. None have looked at the very system in China that promotes instability in society or market economics.

Bottom line, when rumors are the major source of action – as they are in any regime that limits press freedom – the society becomes more unstable.
And here's a market update from today, via the Washington Post.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Hollywood loves "Inconvenient Truth"

I was pleased to see that Al Gore's environmental call-to-arms, An Inconvenient Truth, won the Oscar for best documentary. Here's the story, from Reuters via NBC. And here's more about the film from the producer's website. If you, like me, missed the film during its short stay in area theaters, you'll be interested to learn that it's available on DVD.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Step aside, bedroom coming through

I loved this piece of thinking from a writer in Washington, D.C. Except for the reference to snow she could well be talking about Miami. Check it out here.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Another way to recycle

Several weeks ago I told you about a consumer movement called the Compact, in which people promise year by year to make do, re-use or recycle instead of buying new stuff. There's a parallel group called Freecycle, which helps closet-cleaners hook up with individuals who need what's about to be thrown away. I just discovered that they have a Miami node -- accessible, of course, via Internet.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Corn's no solution to oil depletion

Knowing a bit about the cost of running a farm, I've had an uneasy feeling about all the recent talk of making ethanol for motor fuel out of corn. Now here's a savvy commodities writer to explain it all to you, at Marketwatch.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Energy conservation and the mercury question

I read in the newspaper that Wal-Mart aims to make a big footprint in energy conservation by pushing the sale of compact fluorescent tubes in place of standard incandescent light bulbs. These compacts last years longer and they use less energy, so even at the higher initial cost the economics would seem attractive. What I haven't seen addressed is how to dispose of the tubes when they do burn out. Remember, fluorescent tubes contain elemental mercury -- a poison when it is released into the air. Just as you shouldn't touch the insides of a broken tube or breathe the dust when you clean it up, you shouldn't dispose of tubes where the insides will make their way into the water or the ground. And if we simply send them to the landfill, isn't that what's going to happen?

I called my local Department of Solid Waste Management (SWM) to find out what to do with fluorescent tubes. They switched me to the Miami-Dade County 311 operator, who gave me the address of the nearest of two hazardous-waste disposal sites in the county. I drove to the one at 23707 SW 97th Ave., which is just behind that "mount trashmore" that forms the backdrop to Black Point Marina.

What I found there -- if I was indeed at the right place -- was not very encouraging to anyone who believes in safe disposal of these fluorescent tubes. The SWM people had a sort of a trailer office there, and some open-sided tents with barrels and tables where we're supposed to leave our chemical wastes or chemical-containing hardware, such as computers and TV sets. There was some of that stuff, but no fluorescents that I could see. No attendant was there so I left my tubes on the cart where the sign invited me to leave stuff, and drove away, hoping that whoever returned would do the right thing with my leavings. I'm betting darn few South Dade residents ever trek out to this place with their junk. Where does it go? Probably right into the trash bin, where it will be smashed and ground up with the other stuff spread out on the growing landfill.

But I did find out that Home Depot promises to recycle any fluorescent tubes its customers bring in when they buy new ones. According to the supervisor I talked to at the Pinecrest store, the used tubes are shut away in a locker until a recycling company called 3E comes to take them away.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Right-tweaking the public enterprise

It's been visible in Florida for years that the Republican-dominated government was trying to spin off as many state jobs as possible into for-profit organizations. Followers of the national news could see much the same thing in the widespread use of contractors to support the Iraq war. Now comes the New York Times with a dramatic report on how widespread this kind of contracting really is -- to the point that sometimes it's contractors, not the government, who oversee contractors. I highly recommend Sunday's report by Scott Shane and Ron Nixon. (You'll need to register to use the Times site, if you haven't already.)

For background, I turned up a couple of useful links:

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Myths in the face of climate change

An editorial writer in Pakistan wrestles with the implications of the IPCC report on global warming:
Myth No. 4: Congestion can be solved by road building. This is another classic, often followed by the corollary that less congestion is good for the environment. But a 1994 SACTRA report on the generation of traffic suggests traffic increases beyond projections if new roads are built. Indeed, building roads to ease traffic congestion is much like the government printing more money in times of economic sluggishness: such a step will only create inflation and lead to more sluggishness.
The newspaper is called, simply, The News.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Coverage continues on this week's report on global warming, which should dispel all doubt as to whether we created this climate-disrupting mess. A key passage:
Their report predicted severe heatwaves, droughts, storms and floods resulting from an expected rise of 3 degrees Celsius in average global temperatures by 2100. It will be difficult for governments to ignore because it was agreed by all UN members, including the US and China.
Six years in the making, the report is the most authoritative ever produced on climate change and will form the basis for negotiations on a possible successor to the Kyoto treaty, the main provisions of which expire in 2012.
The most succinct of many reports was in the Financial Times.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Miami magic, at not quite midnight

I caught this shot of the new Carnival Center for the Performing Arts just as I was starting home last night. Doesn't it make you wonder what charms await inside those gleaming walls? Well, here's one critic's take on the sounds:
... The room sounds great. When the music goes loud and fast in the 4th movement of the 9th it was almost overpowering. But where it really shines is on the quiet bits. Bernstein gets all 20th-century-American experimental in the first movement of his symphony, and there are little one- and two-bar solos for various instruments. Each time, it sounded like the player was sitting in my lap. Your ear adjusts for dynamic levels the same way your eye does going from a darkened theater into bright sunlight, but the Knight hall made everything sound just right.
The rest of that piece can be found at Critical Miami.
Want to check it out yourself? Here's what's coming.

Climate panel: Earth warming our own fault

We've seen this coming for a while, but it looks like the scientific consensus is almost complete. Today's report is from Reuters via the Washington Post website. Check out that photo of the melting glacier in Greenland, and the Post's background coverage. Also, here's the site of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I'll look for some other good links to add.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A great wit silenced

(Updated February 2)
One of my favorite writers, Molly Ivins of Texas, will write no more. Here's the AP obit, via CNN's website. She is remembered in her hometown newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman.