Monday, August 27, 2007

Pascua Lama dispute

Today, I received a chain email that seemed to me more interesting than the average message of its kind. It talked about the plans of a Canadian multinational mining company, Barrick Gold Corporation, to extract gold and other mineral resources from recently discovered deposits in the Huasco Valley, Chile, as well as in some areas of the neighbouring San Juan province in Argentina. The project, named Pascua Lama, would allegedly require to drill two big glaciers, which provide two rivers with fresh waters. The glaciers would disappear and the water of the rivers would suffer irreversible pollution effects, making it unsuitable for human and animal consumption. Moreover, the email emphasized the interests and influence of some stakeholders in the project, such as former U.S. President George Bush Sr and former Prime Minister of Canada Brian Mulroney, who are supposedly involved in Barrick's Board of Directors and among its main shareholders.

The email, which requested every recipient to write down the name and to forward it to as many people as possible to "gather signatures" that would eventually be sent to the Chilean government to show the opposition to this project, really touched my emotions. I found especially worrying the description it gave about the potential pollution that would be generated in the region and the irreversible effects that it would cause to local ecosystems and agricultural activities of local communities. However, I found necessary to research a bit more about the topic before forging a solid opinion about it.

I went through several websites, trying to find a neutral opinion about the case (because obviously the email was biased against Barrick). After going through several sources, such as Wikipedia and newspapers, I found that Barrick was indeed a company that has been involved in some legal issues concerning unfair deals to purchase lands in various locations, such as Australia, Philippines, the United States... and even Chile. In fact, a person named Rodolfo Villar sued the company when he sold his land to Barrick and received much less money than he expected from the Canadian corporation. This lawsuit is still on process, and it's Barrick's one of the key hurdles that Barrick is facing in order to begin its Pascua Lama project.

On the other hand, Barrick has a very clean record environmentally speaking, having notorious performance and waste management systems put in place in mines around the world, as are the cases in Australia and Papua New Guinea. They were also conditioned by the Chilean government to fully comply strict measures to make sure that Barrick will have little or no impact in the environment, and that they will benefit local stakeholders. Barrick agreed to these measures.

However, it looks that people don't trust Barrick about their intentions in Chile. What is Barrick's attitude towards these scandals? It was surprising to go through such multinational's internet site and find out that they have got the same email I received! They actually wrote an entire page of myths and facts about the Pascua Lama project, in which they take some key ideas written in the email message and respond to them by giving what they say are the true facts. The page can be accessed by clicking here.

What's the truth behind all this issue? As usual, more questions than answers are left in the air and there are two opposing parties that depict the situation in two radically different ways. On one hand, Barrick boasts about its corporate responsibility in environment, social responsibility by creating temporary and permanent jobs for the local communities. On the other hand, we have the project's foes who claim that environment will be affected regardless of what plans Barrick thinks of implementing to avoid so, and that local communities and their economies will be negatively affected by Barrick's operations. In between, the Chilean government who wants to attract foreign capital to keep its economic growth, but who also has the responsibility of keeping its population happy and protected. The landscape couldn't be more complex than that.

In the end, it looks that Barrick will be successful to set up and begin operations of their Pascua Lama project. Will opponents stand back and forget about the issue? Time will say. But it is an international issue that will have to be watched closely.

Monday, August 20, 2007

NFL: The end of the Vick era in Atlanta?

Michael Vick, the Atlanta Falcons' quarterback, is in real trouble. He pleaded guilty to charges of illegal dogfighting operation, and he's probably facing some time in jail. This occurs only about a week after he pleaded not guilty to exactly the same charges.

Vick was accused of promoting illegal dog fights through a venture named Bad Newz Kennels, where some dogs were sacrificed and some others kept in harsh conditions. Unofficial sources estimate that he'll be given a sentence of 18 months in prison, plus a fine of US $250,000. This information, of course, is not confirmed. But this case against Vick will keep him off the next NFL season, and it is still unknown whether he will ever return to professional football activity.

It looks that the Atlanta Falcons will have to do something about their case, and quick. Michael Vick used to be the key player of the team; his contributions made the Falcons improve their games in the last years. But now, it looks that it's gone. Who'll be the brave quarterback who'll carry that heavy weight on his back?

I am sure that the Falcons are about to start a restructuring period, in which this radical change will negatively affect the team's performance. But they'll have to come through it.

More information about Michael Vick's case on

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tata's Rs 1-lakh: The cheapest car in the world

The automobile industry might take a new course when the first ultra cheap car is rolled out of the assembly plant. At least, that's what Ratan Tata, chairman of the Indian manufacturer Tata Motors, is hoping to happen.

The car, currently known as the Rs 1-lakh car in India, will make its first public appearance in six month's time, during the Auto Expo 2008 in New Delhi. Those who have seen the prototype say that this Tata model resembles the Daewoo Matiz (picture above). Some technical specifications have been published by now; for example, Tata announced that its diesel engine will have 667 cc of power, and the structure will contain iron, alloys and plastic components - although they didn't specify in what proportion will they use each type of material, but we can expect to have much more plastic than usual, as Tata is trying to make the car as light as possible in order to reach maximum fuel efficiency.

Tata's plans are ambitious: the company wants to sell about 1 million units per year, which almost doubles the current annual sales of cars in India. However, they think that the price of their milestone car will be a key factor to achieve their goal. The price is expected to be the equivalent to $2,500 US Dollars. They are aiming to convince a fair amount of two-wheeler buyers in India (who purchase 7.5 million units annually) to switch to Tata's new model.

Not everything is so positive in Tata's plans. Many people have been wondering about the reliability of the new car; its low price could mean low quality components as well, and some safety devices, such as airbags (which are not mandatory in India) will be likely sacrificed. Also, Some NGOs have started to let their concerns out about the model, arguing that, should the car be as successful as Tata thinks, it will easily cause permanent traffic jams in the (still developing) Indian road system. Moreover, the consumption of diesel will soar, possibly causing increases in fuel prices and extreme pollution levels.

Still, lots of people in India are excited about the idea, and they are enthusiastically looking forward to buying the new car. If Tata's proves to be successful, this kind of model would probably be imitated by larger manufacturers in other countries and we could expect to have similar models all around the globe in some years. But the plan fails, Tata will take a long time to recover. It is an interesting challenge for the giant Indian consortium indeed.

Click here to read the original article from
Special thanks to Kirti for the info for this post.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Johnson & Johnson: Beyond a simple red cross

Look attentively at the picture on the left. You probably recognize it as Johnson & Johnson's logo, but can you see the red cross in it? If not, you might want to give it another try, but seeing with more detail. Do you see it now?

If you were unable to locate a red cross in their logo, you were not the only one. I wasn't able to find it either, and millions of people around the world have failed to see it. But the senior management at Johnson & Johnson, one of the largest multinational pharmaceutical companies in the world, believes that a red cross is the trademark through which their company has gained their worldwide reputation and market share, and they have decided to sue the American Red Cross for utilizing their logo to make money.

Yes, it sounds ridiculous... and it is. Whilst it is true that Johnson & Johnson registered such symbol as a trademark in 1887, the disgusting fact is that they are suing a humanitarian, non for profit organization, just to increase the cash in their pockets. Their claim is that the Red Cross is supposed to use its logo "only in connection to non-profit relief services", but they have been stamping it in other products that they have been selling to make money.

The Red Cross does not deny that fact. They say that the symbol has been used to sell some products, such as hand sanitizers, combs and humidifiers, all of which are part of health and safety kits. Those kits are sold with the only intention of raising funds for the organization, to support their humanitarian tasks. The money raised from those sales is estimated to be of about $10 million US dollars, which shouldn't be a major concern for Johnson & Johnson given the fact that they reported net earnings for $11.05 billion US dollars for the year 2006, and $10.06 billion in 2005. Their net earnings, by the way, are in the range of billions of US dollars since at least 10 years ago.

Let's analyze a bit of history to determine who stole the logo from whom. The American Red Cross was founded in 1881, and began using its red cross symbol since then. But they received their congressional charter until 1900, 13 years after Johnson & Johnson registered the red cross as its trademark.

I have been looking at several Johnson & Johnson products' packages (from Band-Aids to Tylenol) to see the mysterious red cross that the multinational corporation is claiming as its own. I failed to find even a single product in which the "trademark" they're defending so fiercely appears. That can only have one meaning: Their market share and their success is not linked to the image of the red cross whatsoever. Yet, they are decided to defend it, no matter what the cost is... even if such cost is a bad reputation and the erosion of public opinion. That should be a major concern for Johnson & Johnson, as they have been ranking as a top company in the annual reputation surveys made by Harris Interactive, one of the most respected organizations in the field. But they might be willing to give that up in order to preserve their beloved red cross.

There is not much to comment on this sad and fairly pathetic episode. Even if Johnson & Johnson is entitled to file a sue against the Red Cross, in my opinion the pharmaceutical giant has just reached a new low.

Click here to read the original article from The Globe and Mail.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Barry Bonds: his 756th homer is a reality now

On May 20, 2006, Barry Bonds made history by connecting his 714th home run of his professional career, tying Babe Ruth's record as the player with the second largest amount of home runs scored, just after Hank Aaron. At that time, I wondered (and many other baseball fans around the globe did as well) whether Barry would be able to reach Aaron's record of 755 home runs.

More than a year after that, we already have a definite answer to that question: Yesterday, Barry Bonds hit his 756th home run of his sports career, making him the player with the most amount of home runs scored in history. It happened during the 5th inning of a match against the Washington Nationals, at the AT&T park in San Francisco.

I see this as a major event in sports history, but many people claim that Bonds' success has been greatly supported by the use of illegal substances (like steroids). Such scandals have been out there for years, and whether Bonds has used steroids to achieve his records is something nobody knows for sure... except Barry Bonds himself.

Myth, reality? We don't know. There are no signs that let us know for sure whether his success is due to illegal substances, and given that the situation we can't do more but to celebrate his success as well: Congratulations, Barry!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

NFL's Hall of Fame, updated

Today, six former former football players were inducted to the NFL's hall of fame as the "Class of 2007". Six players who made made contributions to the history of the league and to the success of their teams:

Gene Hickerson - Played as a guard for the Cleveland Browns, from 1958 to 1963. His contributions were critical to drive the Browns to become the leading team in terms of rushing yards on his time.

Michael Irvine - Wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys, from 1988 to 1999. He was selected to play 5 straight Pro Bowls, recorded 750 career receptions for 11,904 yards and 65 touchdowns. He was one of the key players who drove the Cowboys to win two straight superbowls in the 1990's.

Bruce Matthews - Multifunctional player, played as Guard, Tackle and Center for the Houston Oilers (which would later become the Tennessee Oilers and eventually the Tennessee Titans) from 1983 to 1991. Selected 14 times in a row to play the Pro Bowl (9 as guard, 5 as center).

Charlie Sanders - Tight end for the Detroit Lions. Active from 1968 to 1977, was successful in receiving for more than 500 yards in 6 different seasons, and played 7 Pro Bowls.

Thurman Thomas - Played as a running back for the Buffalo Bills, from 1988 to 1999, although he retired in year 2000 playing for the Miami Dolphins (where, by the way, his contributions weren't precisely notorious). While playing for the Bills, he was awarded the most valuable player (MVP) for the 1991 season, rushed for more than 1,000 yards in eight seasons in a row, and was selected to play 5 consecutive Pro Bowls. His jersey number, 34, has been retired from the Bills' roster in honour to Thomas' contributions.

Roger Wehrli - Active from 1969 to 1982 with the St. Louis Cardinals (which would later become the Arizona Cardinals), he had an outstanding performance as a cornerback. He managed to achieve 40 career interceptions and to recover 19 fumbles, and was the interception leader during his time with the Cardinals. He was selected to play 7 Pro Bowls.

It is very exciting to hear that all those players were finally inducted to the hall of fame. As a Buffalo Bills' fan, I am especially happy for Thurman Thomas' induction, as he was a candidate for induction for the class of 2006 but didn't make it on that occasion. However, all those players' records show outstanding performance patterns and statistics and there is no doubt that all of them deserve to be there. Congratulations to all of them!