Friday, August 29, 2008

Famine? Have some noodles!

Hearing about the intermittent famine that has hit North Korea for more than a decade now is not really news. Kim Jong Il's regime has depended during these years on foreign aid, mostly from South Korea, China, Japan and the US, in order to feed its population. Nevertheless, the North Korean government keeps its Military First policy in full effect, for which the Korean People's Army is considered the priority in the national budget, and gets allocated a huge portion of it as a result.

Well, not everything is bad news for the situation of North Koreans. Their government does allocate some part of the budget (I don't know how much, but it must certainly be a tiny amount compared to the portion destined to military and nuclearization purposes) for useful research! Kim Jong Il's regime is claiming that North Korean scientists have developed a new type of noodles, made from soybeans and corn, which can suppress the feeling of hunger due to its unique nutritional properties: twice as much protein and five times as much fat as regular noodles. Bonanza!

It is utterly upsetting to hear Kim Jong Il's regime to boast about developing noodles that delay hunger, while North Korea's national budget spills money over military activities, development of new weapons, and of course its Dear Leader's eccentricities (palaces, gourmet food, industrial amounts of expensive wines and cognac, movies, race cars, and all types of luxuries). Indeed, the noodles will keep people from suffering hunger pangs whenever they are available all across the country, but are they really the solution for the famine? Will North Koreans be appropriately nourished by eating these fat-rich noodles? I doubt it. As Spanish-speakers would say, this is just like 'covering the sun with one finger', or in different words, to minimize the seriousness of the issue by providing a very temporary relief to it. Sadly, a very normal attitude from the North Korean government towards its citizens.

Hopefully someday there'll be a North Korean government that truly believes that the well being of its people is more of a priority than the development of weapons, or the worship of a leader that couldn't care less about them.

Click here to read the full note from BBC News
Photo by China Daily

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Olympic feats

No more shiny, sunny days in the Canadian West Coast. We're back to our usual, almost year-round rainy weather, which pretty much indicates us that summer is over. And along with it, the Beijing 2008 Olympics also came to an end. They will be certainly remembered in the years to come, for many reasons.

It was not only Michael Phelps' feat of winning 8 gold medals in the same Olympics. Not only the Jamaican runner Usain Bolt smashing the world records for both men's 100 and 200 meters. Nor Elena Isinbaeva breaking the world record for women's pole vault, which was previously held by herself. Of course, all of those achievements are remarkable themselves (among many, many other feats by athletes from different parts of the world in different categories - I believe that all of the contestants deserve some credit, regardless), but the Beijing Olympics themselves also broke a record: The most viewed Olympics in history.

That's right, a few days some newspapers around the world, along with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) noted that no other Olympics in history have been viewed more than Beijing 2008. The rating achieved here, which surpassed the old record held by Athens 2004, was partly boosted by the numerous communications tools that made it easier for people around the world to follow the different events. More precisely, internet tools such as Youtube, helped a lot to allow people to watch different events during the Olympics, including the opening and closing ceremonies.

This is good news for the organizers of Beijing 2008. But it is indeed an ironic fact, given the controversy that arose about the Olympics a few months ago, when the torch relay was going worldwide and it appeared that numerous groups were making their best to guarantee a boycott to these games. Well, the news for those groups couldn't be worse than this, as not only the Beijing 2008 games reached unprecedented levels of audience, but also the Chinese authorities managed to keep protesters, activists, and other 'threats' (so to speak) silent during the games, and mostly out of their country.

Congratulations for the success of Beijing 2008, and thanks to the organizers for such a wonderful event. Last, but not least, the Paralympics are coming, which I am sure will also be full of amazing feats and memorable successes.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A bit-too-overcrowded world

After taking a little break from writing stuff for my blog (I apologize for my sudden and momentary disappearance), I come back home and read the newspapers to get an update about the world. Then I find a note that calls out my attention on The Globe and Mail. It claims that the poorest countries in the world have the highest rates of population growth. According to the note, at the present time there is a total global population of 6.7 billion people, from which 1.2 billion (18%) live in developed countries (as defined by the United Nations), while the remaining 5.5 billion (82%) live in the so-called developing regions. Now, is that really news?.

There is nothing in that note that we, as a global civilization, didn't know yet. I have never done any formal research about the correlation between education level, income per capita, and population growth, yet to me it was quite evident that it existed. Maybe it was just a feeling I had, or maybe it was a concern that everybody else noted, but just a few saw that as a concern. This phenomenon, of course, contributes greatly to the mother of all of our major problems on Earth: Overpopulation. Thomas Robert Malthus, the famous economist and demographer, got it right in his work An Essay on the Principle of Population: From any perspective that we want to analyze this issue, we can find that overpopulation contributes to the generation of different problems we currently face in many ways, in different parts of the world.

For instance (please note that the following thoughts come from my own rationale, and not necessarily based on Malthus' works), if we analyze the situation from an economical perspective, it won't be very difficult to discover that overpopulation means scarcer resources for larger populations, ultimately resulting in uneven distribution of wealth. Such uneven distribution of wealth contributes to the widening of the gap between rich and poor, meaning that less people will have access to basic products and services (such as food, education, house, and so on). In turn, the impossibility to satisfy basic needs will create clusters of low skilled, uneducated, and needy people. As a consequence, these people will generally have access to low-paid jobs, and as a result of their poor education background, will potentially also have a poor family planning, resulting in large families being supported with low, insufficient incomes. This situation will bring social unhappiness and socioeconomic exclusion, which may in turn derive in some other different scenarios: immigration (frequently as illegal aliens), crime, diseases (as a result of inadequate sanitary conditions), etc. Then, the new generations face similar socioeconomic problems as their parents did, ultimately resulting in a vicious, never ending cycle.

Without overpopulation problems, it would be much easier to provide individuals with the necessary products and services to live a decent life. But I have seldom seen governments addressing this urgent issue (the Chinese government being the most notable exception). Moreover, the problem seems to be transferred to developed nations with good population planning practices in place, as in fact it becomes their responsibility to help regions where populations keep growing exponentially, and where social and economic problems arise on a daily basis.

Needless to say, I believe it is important to help those nations with people suffering all the problems I've described in this note. But it is equally important that those nations put in place regulations to guarantee that their populations don't grow at almost astronomical rates, just as the Chinese did with their one-child policy. Otherwise, our social issues worldwide will keep growing, while developed economies will keep providing short-term remedies to long-term concerns. I know, it does sound harsh, but I am convinced that controlling the population growth rates with strict regulations and sanctions will be the most effective and humane way to gradually reduce this problem, so all humans can enjoy decent lives in generations to come.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Grand Theft Auto... a scapegoat of social violence?

A story published recently in the Globe and Mail talks about the case of a guy in Thailand who decided to take his passion for Grand Theft Auto to the next level. The 18 year old guy, a compulsive player of the popular video game famous for its explicit violence, apparently liked a lot to steal cabs in the game and kill the cabbies, so he wondered whether doing that in the real life would be as exciting and easy as he found it to be in Grand Theft Auto.

Thus the teenager went for it. He hijacked a cab in Bangkok, severely wounded the 54 year-old driver (who died shortly after the incident) with a knife, and tried to flee the scene of his crime unharmed! Unfortunately for his case, he learned the hard way: carjacking, killing cabbies, and escaping the crime scene while hitting pedestrians is not fun, and leaving the cops behind is not as simple as he thought. This Tommy Vercetti wannabe faces now charges of manslaughter and robbery, and if found guilty he could be facing even death penalty.

As a result of this bizarre incident, the Thai distributor of Grand Theft Auto decided to stop the sales of the video game, pulling it off the retailers' shelves and game arcades. And of course, I have no doubt that more than one were happy that Grand Theft Auto was somehow censored after the incident.

Can we blame Grand Theft Auto for the actions committed by its users? Can pulling the game off the shelves and game arcades be a successful measure to prevent real-life recreations of it? My personal opinion is that it won't make a difference. Being a player of Grand Theft Auto myself, I find no real benefit on banning the game. Let's face it, violence is not only depicted in Grand Theft Auto, but virtually everywhere. If we wanted censor violence in the media, we should start by censoring numerous Hollywood movies, cartoons, TV dramas, books, magazines, etc.

There might indeed be a relation between the interest of the Thai youngster in Grand Theft Auto and the crime he committed. But it is probably (and hopefully) an isolated case. I don't believe that people who play Grand Theft Auto is prone to committing crimes that they see in the game, the same way as I don't believe that movie aficionados would go out to the streets to kill people in the same fashion they enjoyed watching on movies like The Godfather or Goodfellas. The moral of this story is that we cannot believe just anything that comes to us from the media, and of course, we have to act consistently according to our moral and social values, and not according to what the media tells us is good or bad.