Monday, June 22, 2009

Beauty Amidst the Chaos

As has been widely reported, Iran is in the throws of a large social movement. Some have called it the beginning of the end for the current regime. (Another similar opinion here.) I will reserve judgment for now. But as can be gained through print and video, dissent is flowing through Tehran. And faced with such a massive political movement, the regime is threatened.

The unfortunate truth is that these movements often entail violence -- both from protesters and (especially) from a threatened government. But while surveying the many many videos of the Iranian struggle, I came across something that, I think, is worth pointing out because it rare among the footage. In a particular video (below), a motorcycle-mounted agent of the government (could have been police or Basij militia) either fell off of his bike or was forced off by protesters. Afterward, he was presumably beaten (though it is not shown in the video) by some in the crowd.

Yet in this chaotic scene filled with fire, screaming, and violence, beauty emerges. The government agent, who looks to be suffering from a concussion, is pulled out of danger by a number of protesters. Then, most profoundly, they proceed to protect and care for him. This is such a heartening act of humanity. These people had the courage and kindness to almost immediately take in the same person who, moments ago, had been beating other protesters.

It begins at about 2:20 and continues until the end of the video (3:30). I look forward to your thoughts.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

In defense of meat

A different version of my last post (regarding the myth of eating meat) was published today on the Foreign Policy website. It can be found here.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Eating meat is bad for you and the world... kind of

When reading a recent Foreign Policy article, I was reminded of the growing movement toward vegetarianism and away from meat or animal food products. I was also reminded of the nutritional falsehoods being touted in this campaign.

There are three essential lines of argument against eating meat, all of which are discussed in the linked article above.

First, meat is bad for a human's health. Second, the meat industry emits a tremendous amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which is contributing to climate change. Third, killing animals for food is immoral in and of itself.

I disagree with the third issue philosophically. (Although the manner in which many animals are farmed is horrid.) But animal rights is a much more murky issue and I'll leave it alone for now.

The second premise is accurate; the livestock sector accounts for 18% of GHG emissions. But saying just this misses some nuance within the meat industry. Beef and pork are not equal to poultry, some fish, and other sources of protein relative to GHG emissions. According to one study (page 6), poultry and milk are three times more energy efficient (in carbon emissions) than beef and six times more than pork. Herring is seventeen times more efficient than beef. And this does not even account for methane emissions, which are 25 times more potent as a GHG. With everything factored in, the beef industry emits 13 times more GHG than the chicken sector.

Lastly, the idea that meat is bad for your health is simply not true. Again, there is a huge difference between eating a diet with a lot of beef and pork and one with a lot of poultry and fish. The main difference here is saturated fat. Beef, pork, chicken, and fish all have relatively high amounts of cholesterol. But cholesterol, by itself, is not a threat to your health. It only becomes the bad stuff that clogs arteries when a person's diet is also high in saturated or trans fat. Most cuts of beef and pork are quite high in saturated fat. Chicken, however, are composed of leaner cuts.

Furthermore, to group fish in with either of these is absurd. Any fish that is high in fat is composed of very healthful Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically docosahexaenoic acid. Far from being damaging to health, a person is more likely to have a healthy cardiovascular system by eating fish, when compared to a diet without it.

The other nutritional component here is the utility of protein. The argument from a climate perspective is that more protein is not linked to better health. Again, a falsehood. Protein, as a building block in the body, may have diminishing returns, but when compared to the common alternatives for vegetarians, then the importance of protein becomes clear.

If someone is not eating protein as a source of calories, then they must be those calories from either carbohydrates or fat. Since carbohydrates are the cheapest to produce (e.g. grains, rice, sugars), this will be the most likely food choice. But these are also the foods that will raise blood sugar in high consumption. Therefore, these are the most likely to cause diabetes in people. Protein, on the other hand, has negligible effects on blood sugar. So a diet high in protein is less likely to raise blood sugar than one high in carbohydrates.

(Carbohydrates, of course, have an important role to play as well. Top among these are fiber and the many vitamins/minerals/antioxidants associated with carbohydrate foods. My point is simply that anything can be overdone.)

Rather than educating the public on the above nutritional differences, many in the climate movement generalize all meat together, using studies that also do not differentiate types of meat.

The upshot: beef and pork farming emits a lot of GHG. At the policy level, governments need to begin taxing or capping GHG emissions in order to reduce the most polluting meat sources. Furthermore, public money needs to be pumped into a solution that would make this whole issue null and void: in vitro meat. Until that happens, we all need to diversify our sources of protein, eating less of it from meat in our daily diet. Dairy, whey protein powder, soy, and poultry are some of the least energy intensive choices.

I am a strong supporter of policies and behavior that will halt climate change. That is why it bothers me when falsehoods are perpetuated by others with a common interest. Campaigns for change are a necessary part of human progress, but not if they are driven by dishonesty.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Made in the USA -- Owned in China?

There are three recent and interesting cases of Chinese businesses buying into American brands. First, in order to receive public money, Morgan Stanley had to raise some private funding. As a result, China's sovereign wealth fund now has a 10% ownership stake in Morgan Stanley, America's sixth largest bank.

Second, two Chinese investors, Jianhua Huang and Adrian Cheng, are buying a 15% combined stake in the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers. (Incidentally, this is my hometown team.) The move by Cleveland may have a lot more to do with globalizing the team's brand than budget problems. Cleveland hopes to entice the team's phenom, LeBron James, who could be fancying a new city after the Cavs were beat -- yet again -- in the late stages of the playoffs.

Lastly, a Chinese industrial company, Tengzhong, is expected to close a deal later this year on total ownership of Hummer. General Motors, Hummer's current owner, chose to sell off Hummer as part of its restructuring deal with the federal government. 

These three bids are important for a few reasons:

1) They represent the larger economic trends underway in the US and China. During this deep and long recession, the US contracted by 6% in the first quarter of 2009 while China grew by the same amount. China has taken a hit in its export sector, but its large government stimulus and considerable investment has left many Chinese companies in strong positions. Meanwhile, the US market has made penny stocks out of heretofore dependable behemoths -- such as GM -- and these firms are cutting jobs or going belly-up. In some cases, then, Chinese companies are well-suited to buy up these quintessential American brands while the market price is dirt cheap and the US companies are desperate for cash. In short: China and its businesses are gaining from the economic destruction taking place in America. 

2) Relatedly, such investment is ultimately good for the US economy. America's deflation is worsened by the lay-offs produced by businesses shutting down. Every Chinese firm that saves a US firm from liquidation helps to counter deflationary pressure. For example, Tengzhong's buy-out of Hummer will keep employed 3,000 factory workers as well as employees at 100 Hummer dealers.  

3) These investments are signs of deepening globalization. As Chinese entities take more ownership in US entities selling in the American market, China's fate will necessarily be more connected to the fate of America. Even though the pattern, until recently, has been interconnection via cheap Chinese exports and incredible American consumption, this new direction should be expected to become more common. Furthermore, heightened interdependence will make official Sino-US relations more complicated. But at the same time, it may also assure that the relationship remains peaceful. 

Of course, you may have a problem with the loss -- partial or total -- of big American brands to foreign entities. (A "quasi-American" Hummer just doesn't have the same patriotic appeal.) I would offer a couple responses. First, if it is any comfort, most components for your favorite American products have been coming from abroad for many years. Second, find a positive coping mechanism. Globalization is quite unlikely to go away, particularly during the most globalized recession in human history.