Month: December 2016

Nigerian fake rice update

Artificial food products such as fake rice recently confiscated by Nigerian customs officials are intended for restaurant displays and not to be eaten, according to manufacturers.

The fake rice was made of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, “and should be labelled “artificial”, they said.

Nigerian customs recently confiscated 2.5 tonnes of fake rice but officials couldn’t discern what it was made of, according to a BBC report on Wednesday.

…Zhou Tao, a sales manager with an artificial food manufacturer in Yiwu, Zhejiang, said it was only intended for use in restaurant or store displays.

The artificial food products are popular with restaurants to display menu choices as they always look fresh and never rot. Artificial rice is made of PVC, a white, brittle plastic.

…He said he was puzzled why anyone would smuggle artificial rice to sell as real in Africa, as the product his company sold cost more than 70 yuan for 1kg, or 10 times the price of real rice in China. In Africa the cost would increase due to shipping and other costs.

Xiong Heping, the manager of another manufacturer in Shenzhen, said the rice was labelled “artificial”, when shipping to buyers in China or overseas.

Here is the full story, via George Chen.

*Island People: The Caribbean and the World*

That is by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, published this November, a great book, could it be the very best book on the charm and importance of the Caribbean?  Not the Caribbean of the cruise, but rather the real cultural Caribbean as found in Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, and Trinidad.  The Caribbean was open, globalized, multiracial, vulnerable, and deindustrialized before it was “cool” to be so, and so it stands as a warning to us all.  Yet so few seem to care.  The Caribbean cultural blossoming of the 20th century remains one of the most remarkable yet understudied sagas, but this book, among its other historical virtues, gives you a very good look under the hood.

Did you know that in the 1930s Cuba received more visitors from the U.S. than did Canada?

This is one of the very best non-fiction books of this year, and its depth of knowledge and understanding truly impressed me.  Just to prod your memories here is the broader list.

Is *this* what is going on?

In 1987, Trump made his goal of Russian collaboration on nuclear power explicit: The Soviet Union and the US should partner to form a nuclear superpower with the intention of intimidating other countries into dropping their own nuclear plans.

“Most of those [pre-nuclear] countries are in one form or another dominated by the US and the Soviet Union,” Trump told journalist Roy Rosenbaum. “Between those two nations you have the power to dominate any of those countries. So we should use our power of economic retaliation and they use their powers of retaliation, and between the two of us we will prevent the problem from happening. It would have been better having done something five years ago. But I believe even a country such as Pakistan would have to do something now. Five years from now they’ll laugh.”

Nuclear-related sanctions, from the two major powers, were to be applied to both Pakistan and France [sic].  Here is the full article, I cannot vouch for this account or any particular interpretation of it, but the hypothesis is new to me and so I present it to you as well.

What I’ve been reading

1. Charles Wohlforth and Amanda R. Hendrix, Beyond Earth; Our Path to a New Home in the Planets.  The core claim is that humans can (will?) colonize Titan, the moon of Saturn.  But what are we to make of sentences such as: “The temperature is around -180 Celsius (-290 Fahrenheit), but clothing with thick insulation or heating elements would keep you comfortable.  A rip wouldn’t kill you as long as you didn’t freeze.”  Pregnancy would be tricky too.

2. Ian Thomson, Primo Levi.  One of my favorite literary biographies, ever.  This is also a first-rate look at the history of the Holocaust, and the postwar Italian literary world.  Definitely recommended.

3. Philippe Girard, Toussaint Louverture.  One of the best and most readable treatments of the Haitian revolution, with a focus on Louverture of course.  Here is one good bit:

When it came time to pick between two extremes — slavery and unfettered freedom — Louverture stopped well short of the latter.  By order of General Louverture, all former field slaves, even those who had settled in urban areas during the Revolution, would return to their original plantations, sometimes under their former masters.  Those who refused would be “arrested and punished as severely as soldiers,” which implied that plantation runaways could be shot as deserters.  He thereby merged the two worlds he knew best — the sugar plantation and the army camp — into a kind of military-agricultural complex.

According to many critics at the time, rebel leaders were in essence confiscating the slave plantations of their former white masters.  Furthermore, the importation of laborers from Africa was to continue.

4. Lewis Glinert, The Story of Hebrew, delivers exactly what it promises: “For many young Israelis, Arial is virtually the only font they read.”

Also in various stages of undress are:

Jeffrey D. Sachs, Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable, foreword by Bernie Sanders.

Niall Kishtainy, A Little History of Economics, a modern-day Heilbroner.

Johan Norberg, Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future, a Julian Simon-esque take on the case for optimism.

Why I don’t enjoy the Rolling Stones anymore

If I were to make a list of the top groups/performers during the critical 1964-1973 period, no doubt the Stones would make the top five handily, perhaps the top three.  They also belong to that select tier with more than six excellent and important albums.  They probably have created more great and memorable riffs than any other rock and roll group, ever.

So I don’t think I am unappreciative.  My favorite cuts are probably the acoustic country songs on “Beggars Banquet’ and “Let It Bleed,” plus the riff-based songs from the mid- to late-1960s, such as “Under My Thumb” or “19th Nervous Breakdown.”

Still, I have not heard anything new in a Rolling Stones song for more than twenty years.  I don’t mean that their later work is worse (though it is, much, for forty plus years running), rather I don’t hear anything new in their very best work and thus repeated re-listening is a waste of time.  I don’t enjoy it.

In contrast, I’ve been listening to Jimi Hendrix for about forty years and still hear new bits in his songs most of the time.  I am almost always excited to hear this work again.

I have two other objections.  First, most (all?) of their blues covers are worse than the originals (the Beatles’ “Money” and “You Really Got a Hold On Me” and “Long Tall Sally” are all improvements, in contrast, not to mention John Lennon’s “Be Bop a Lula” or Hendrix’s “Hey Joe”).  Second, you don’t have to invoke political correctness to feel that a lot of the early misogyny has worn thin and aged poorly.

So the Stones are boring, mostly, though still excellent in the abstract.  It’s hard to imagine classic rock and roll, or the 1960s, without them.  But in terms of lasting overall aesthetic merit they are just a wee bit closer to The Who than you might like to think.

stones

Criticism of covert Russian intelligence operations for me but not for thee

The White House opposed a Republican-led push earlier this year to create an executive-branch task force to battle Russia’s covert information operations, according to a document obtained by POLITICO.

Sen. Tom Cotton, a leading GOP defense hawk who has long urged President Barack Obama to take a harder line on Russia, sought to force the White House to create a panel with representatives from a number of government agencies to counter Russian efforts “to exert covert influence,” including by exposing Russian “falsehoods, agents of influence, corruption, human rights abuses, terrorism, and assassinations.”

But the administration rejected the call, saying in a letter to Congress that hasn’t been released publicly that the panel would duplicate existing efforts to battle Russian influence operations — an argument Cotton rejects.

…The panel would not have been set up in time to have had an impact on Russia’s role in last month’s presidential election — even if the intelligence bill had become law. But the Arkansas senator said in an interview the White House’s dismissal of his proposal is symptomatic of the administration’s lax pre-election attitude toward Russia.

Here is the full story.  Here is my earlier post on this and related issues.

Nigeria markets in everything

Nigeria has confiscated 2.5 tonnes of “plastic rice” smuggled into the country by unscrupulous businessmen, the customs service says.

Lagos customs chief Haruna Mamudu said the fake rice was intended to be sold in markets during the festive season.

He said the rice was very sticky after it was boiled and “only God knows what would have happened” if people ate it.

It is not clear where the seized sacks came from but rice made from plastic pellets was found in China last year.

Rice is the most popular staple food in Nigeria.

Here is the full story, via Jodi Ettenberg.

Addendum: Here is an update, as the story spirals into increasing confusion.

How to make annoying alarms

The faster an alarm goes, the more urgent it tends to sound. And in terms of pitch, alarms start high. Most adults can hear sounds between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz—Baldwin uses 1,000 Hz as a base frequency, which is at the bottom of the range of human speech. Above 20,000 Hz, she says, an alarm “starts sounding not really urgent, but like a squeak.”

Harmonics are also important. To be perceived as urgent, an alarm needs to have two or more notes rather than being a pure tone, “otherwise it can sound almost angelic and soothing,” says Baldwin. “It needs to be more complex and kind of harsh.” An example of this harshness is the alarm sound that plays on TVs across the U.S. as part of the Emergency Alert System. The discordant noise is synonymous with impending doom.

After the alarm designers create a range of sounds in the lab, says Baldwin, they will test the annoyance factor of these sounds in a process called “psychophysical matching, or psychophysical ratings.” Yes, this involves subjecting human beings to a bunch of irritating sounds. Participants determine how annoying the sounds are by sorting them into categories ranking them on a scale of one to 100. 

Then there’s more testing. “If it’s a medical alarm, for instance, we’ll start using that sound and then we’ll maybe measure people’s physiological response to it—does their heart rate go up, does their skin conductance level go down, what happens to their brain activity,” says Baldwin. Skin conductance measures how much the sound affects the body—skin gets better at conducting electricity when the body is physiologically aroused.

An effective audio alarm is one in which the annoyance factor and perceived urgency of the sound is matched to the hazard level—a soft little chime for the fridge door, say, and a “BREHHHHK BREHHHHK BREHHHHK” for a plane in a tailspin. “We want it to be detectable, so to get your attention, but for you to recognize what it means right away,” says Baldwin.

It turns out this is a problem in hospitals:

In hospitals in particular, there are “so many nuisance alarms going off all the time, that people—nurses, doctors—just tune them out,” says Baldwin. “They don’t even hear them anymore.” The statistics say that most of these alarms are not indications of peril. A 2012 review of medical audio alarms found that in one intensive therapy unit, “of 1455 soundings of alarms, only eight were associated with potentially life-threatening problems.”

Here is the full piece, from the excellent Atlas Obscura, and for the pointer I thank Torsten Kehler.

Promotions and gender-specific divorce risk

We show that promotions to top jobs dramatically increase women’s probability of divorce, but do not affect men’s marriages. This effect is causally estimated for top jobs in the political sector, where close electoral results deliver exogenous variation in promotions across job candidates. Descriptive evidence from job promotions to the position of CEO shows that private sector promotions result in the same gender inequality in the risk of divorce.

The paper is by Olle Folke and Johanna Rickne, via James Feigenbaum.

The wisdom of Garett Jones

On wage subsidies:

True, would likely boost employment rates. But note: if it works, it means current low employment rates are largely supply-side & voluntary.

Here is the link, and here is Garett’s follow-up tweet.  Here are previous installments in the series.

I would note that it is oh so hard for people to keep consistent views on labor markets (e.g., minimum wage vs. wage effects of immigration, or how about minimum wage vs. nominal wage stickiness?).  Those moods and emotions keep on getting in the way…

Thursday assorted links