Sunday, August 30, 2015

Why Bees are Dying: Neonicotinoids

What Is Killing America's Bees and What Does It Mean for Us?
[...] Doan never really considered the possibility that the fault might not be his own until scientists at Penn State who had been testing his bees told him of news coming out of France that pointed the finger at a relatively new class of insecticides called neonicotinoids, or neonics. The first commercially successful neonicotinoid compound was synthesized by agrochemical giant Bayer CropScience in 1985, but it wasn't until the early 2000s that they began to be used extensively. Compared to older, more toxic insecticides, neonics certainly seemed to be a win-win: Though neurotoxins, they mess with insect brains far more than those of mammals, and their application is a breeze. All a farmer need do is sow a seed coated in neonics and the water-soluble chemicals get drawn back up into the plant as it grows. Referred to as systemic insecticides, they spread through the plant, making it resistant to predators. Neonics don't require repeated applications in a hazmat suit. Rain can't wash them away — but then again, neither can your kitchen faucet (unless you're eating strictly organic, you're eating neonicotinoids all the time).

Doan knew his hives had tested positive for the neonicotinoid clothianidin, but the results had seemed dubious because clothianidin wasn't even registered for use in New York state. That's when he learned that neonic-coated seeds weren't subject to the same regulations as sprayed pesticides, meaning that seeds couldn't be treated in New York, but they could be purchased elsewhere and then planted there, with no one the wiser. Furthermore, studies demonstrated that bees exposed to sublethal amounts of these neonicotinoids showed a loss in cognitive functions, including their ability to navigate home.

To Doan, this seemed like a breakthrough — a perfect explanation for why his bees hadn't just been dying, but disappearing altogether. He testified at the Environmental Protection Agency. He testified in front of Congress. He was interviewed for a Time magazine article on neonics in 2013, the very same year a report by the European Food Safety Authority showed "high acute risks" to bees from neonics and the European Union issued a ban on the three that are most widely used. Meanwhile, the Saving America's Pollinators Act, a congressional bill introduced in 2013 by Reps. John Conyers and Earl Blumenauer that would have taken neonics off the market until their safety was more definitively proven, never made it out of committee. (The bill was reintroduced this spring, but its fate remains uncertain.)

Doan waited expectantly for the EPA to step in and address the situation: "When I first started learning about this, I'm like, 'Well, the EPA's there to protect us. We don't have to worry about this, because the EPA's here to help.'"But as the years passed and the use of neonics spread, it started to seem that maybe the EPA wasn't there to help beekeepers after all. To Doan, the mystery of colony collapse disorder deepened. He no longer wondered what was killing his bees; he wondered why steps weren't being taken to save them. [...]
The EPA is doing nothing, is anyone surprised? And agribusiness is looking for new ways of pollinating without bees, or producing a genetically altered bee. Just what we need, Frankin Bees to go with our Frankinfoods.

The bee's aren't affected by the toxin immediately, the effects only start to show up 3 months later. The bees become confused, their cognitive functioning is impaired, and they can't find their way home to the hive. They can't function, and the hive dies.

And since the insecticide is systemic to the plants, we are eating it as well. What are the long term side effects of that? If it does this to bees, what would long term exposure do to people?

Read the whole things for links, details and more.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

China's growing pains

China’s economy is in big trouble, but it isn’t collapsing
[...] It has indeed been a brutal day in Chinese markets — and a very, very bad summer. But, while the plunge in China’s stock exchanges Monday and Tuesday signals big trouble, it does not mean things are about to collapse.

The problem is that investors seem to be reading what is happening in China’s highly volatile equity markets as a signal of the state of the economy as a whole — a mistake, experts say.

The two are linked, definitely, but not as much as those outside China seem to imagine. And the overall economy, though struggling mightily, is still showing some signs of life.

“Investors are overreacting about economic risks in China. The collapse of the equity bubble tells us next to nothing about the state of China’s economy,” Julian Jessop, chief global economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note to clients Monday. “The recent data from other major economies have generally been good and there is little to justify fears of a major global downturn.”


China knows it needs to undergo a fundamental economic transition, moving away from pumping money into heavy industry, infrastructure investment and the property market, and toward services, consumer spending and tech — a shift that will bring slower growth.

The government understands this and has moved to temper expectations, calling slower growth the “new normal” and vowing to let markets play a “decisive” role in the years ahead.

The trouble is, authorities seem unwilling or unable to let the “new normal” take hold. Their efforts at reform have been piecemeal and halting — they took steps on the currency, for instance, but have yet to move ahead with promises to truly shake up state-owned enterprises.

When the stock market started to slide this summer, the government stepped right in, turning to a series of extraordinary measures, including forcing big investors to buy stock and freezing initial public offerings.

This week, it has taken a more hands-off approach, so far steering clear even as the markets tanked.

The lack of a clear strategy has rightly spooked investors. “It’s a matter of confidence,” said Wei Wei, an analyst at Huaxi Securities in Shanghai, on Tuesday. “China’s economy is not really as bad as people imagine, but people are overreacting. The decline of the stock market reflects people’s expectations.”

Indeed, the picture is not altogether bleak.


Also lost amid the talk of collapse is the fact that, despite real and worrying problems, China’s economy is still making gains.

There is a debate about how fast China is growing — the government predicts 7 percent GDP growth, but some experts believe the true figure could be as low as 4 or 5 percent. Even if the figure is near the lower end of that range, it is growing still.

China’s industrial sector is struggling badly, but there have been positive signs in terms of services and consumption — the very sectors China hopes to develop.

The latest data show the services sector has become the biggest driver of economic growth in China, expanding 8.4 percent in the first half and accounting for 49.5 percent of GDP, according to government statistics — which, while not perfect, are generally thought to give a sense of trends.

China’s retail sales grew 10.5 percent year on year to 2.43 trillion yuan, or $383.8 billion, in July, slightly down from 10.6 percent growth recorded in June. In the first seven months of this year, retail sales grew 10.4 percent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

On Monday, Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook weighed in, saying in an e-mail to CNBC’s Jim Cramer that, from his perspective, things are still looking good.

“I get updates on our performance in China every day, including this morning, and I can tell you that we have continued to experience strong growth for our business in China through July and August,” he wrote. “Obviously I can’t predict the future, but our performance so far this quarter is reassuring.” [...]
Desperate attempts to control the economy stifle free market forces that could work for them. It's a learning curve they are climbing. Read the whole thing for embedded links and more.

Catstantinople? “Being a cat in Istanbul is like being a cow in India,”

Why Istanbul Should Be Called Catstantinople
Turkish city can’t quit delighting in felines; ‘like being a cow in India’
ISTANBUL—In this ancient city once ruled by sultans and emperors, the real king is the humble alley cat.

In historic neighborhoods along Istanbul’s Bosporus and Golden Horn waterways, an army of furry-tailed street cats are fed, sheltered and cooed at by an adoring public. Hundreds of fleece-lined houses have been erected at street corners by cat-mad residents. Most are flanked by makeshift feeding stations fashioned from yogurt pots or plastic bottles and overflowing with tasty scraps.

In some districts, ground-floor windowsills are lined with pillows and blankets, offering a cozy place for the discerning kitty to recline. In restaurants and cafes, cats are often part of the furniture, curling up next to dining tables or patiently waiting for leftovers from patrons.

Visitors to the city can dine at one of several cat-theme cafes or stay a night at the Stray Cat Hostel. During a 2009 visit here, President Barack Obama paused to pet Gli, one of dozens of cats living in Hagia Sophia, a museum that was once a Byzantine church and Ottoman mosque.

“Being a cat in Istanbul is like being a cow in India,” said Sibel Resimci, a musician and confessed cat junkie who says her husband often walks nearly 2 miles to work rather than disturb street cats sleeping on his moped. “For generations, they’ve had a special place in the city’s soul.”

Now, Istanbul’s feline fetish is adapting to the digital age.

Social media sites offering daily pictures of the city’s cutest street cats boast tens of thousands of followers. Web developers have created apps to help adopt and locate users’ favorite kitties. Local filmmakers have released a trailer for their coming feature film “Nine Lives” on video sharing platform Vimeo. Wildly popular YouTube tutorials show Istanbul residents how to build shelters and feeding stations so cats can nap and nibble in maximum comfort. The #catsofistanbul hashtag on photo-sharing website Instagram has more than 50,000 posts of cats nonchalantly—and almost always adorably—doing their thing.


Cats have a special place in Islam: Muslim lore tells of a cat thwarting a poisonous snake that had approached the Prophet Muhammad. One teaching tells that he found a cat sleeping on his shawl and opted to cut the fabric rather than disturb the animal. A popular saying goes: “If you’ve killed a cat, you need to build a mosque to be forgiven by God.”

The feline fetish is also functional: In the 19th century, cats were bred in large numbers for pest control to kill a rat population thriving in the city’s expanding sewage system. Before that, they helped Istanbul avoid the worst of a bubonic plague epidemic spread by rats.

Cats are even hard-wired into the city’s iconography and political culture.

In the bowels of Istanbul metro stations, pictures of waterside cityscapes feature cats posing alongside fisherman, in some cases munching the daily catch. Cat cartoons are used to satirize politicians: a digitized picture of a mustachioed sour puss named Recep Tayyip Erdocat was shared thousands of times last year, in a not-too subtle effort to lampoon Turkey’s pugilistic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. [...]
Who knew? See the whole article for pics, videos, links and more.


Friday, August 21, 2015

Bon Jovi Sings in Chinese

Jon Bon Jovi takes on Chinese classic love song
Jon Bon Jovi has become the latest Western pop star to woo the Chinese market, singing what is arguably the most famous Chinese love song ever. The BBC analyses his attempt.

The music video, set in a recording studio, starts in soft focus as the soulful opening strains of The Moon Represents My Heart cue up.

Then, Jon Bon Jovi's familiar gravelly voice fades in. "Ni wen wo ai ni you duo shen, wo ai ni you ji fen..." croons the American rock star in somewhat intelligible Mandarin.

"Jon put a lot of thought on choosing the right song for his Chinese fans," reads a statement on his website announcing the video.


Gift of love

Jon Bon Jovi's statement said he chose the "heart-warming classic for Chinese fans as a gift on Chinese Valentine's Day".

But there are actually two Chinese Valentine's Days.

One is Qixi Festival, which falls on 20 August this year. It marks the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, and is linked to the legend of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl - star-crossed lovers who remain separated but reunite one day every year.

The other Valentine's Day is Yuanxiao Festival, which marks the end of the traditional Lunar New Year celebrations.


It's no coincidence that the video was released ahead of Jon Bon Jovi's Asia tour in September, where he'll be playing in China for the first time.

He is also performing in other places with significant Chinese populations such as Macau, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia.

While Western pop stars regularly play in Asia, it's rare for them to sing in Mandarin - but it's a guaranteed crowd-pleaser and helps to boost their profile.


So how have the Chinese taken to Jon Bon Jovi's attempt?

It hasn't generated much buzz on microblogging network Weibo - yet - but initial reviews appear to be positive, with many moved by his attempt to sing in Mandarin.

The music video features several shots of the 53-year-old looking stumped as he ploughs through the song and practises his pronunciation. At one point, a woman who appears to be his Mandarin tutor gives him an encouraging thumbs-up.

"Bon Jovi's too hardworking, he's given us Chinese fans a nice Qixi surprise... you can see in the video that he's continually trying to get the lyrics right, it's quite sincere," noted popular Weibo blogger Eargod.

Other fans were more circumspect. Said user Zhufuaguai: "Even though it sounds horrible, it's still Bon Jovi - and that's enough for me."
It sounds like a pretty song, though I don't imagine it's easy for a Western singer to emulate, especially someone who doesn't speak Chinese.

The rest of the article is about the history of the song, the original singer that made it famous did so in Taiwan, where she was from. In the late 70's, when the Chinese Communists began to loosen up on restrictions on Music, the song became popular in Mainland China.

The article also mentions other Westerners who are singing or speaking in Chinese. Is it the beginning of a trend? See the whole article for embedded links, photos, translated lyrics and more.

For comparison, here is a video of the original performer, Teresa Teng, singing the song:


Can China Change? A Lot?

Why China will never be as rich as America
[...] The odds are against China ever becoming a rich nation by U.S., European, or Japanese standards. Since World War II, South Korea is the only large country to get rich for the first time. Once promising up-and-comers like Argentina and Thailand have fallen victim to the "middle-income trap," stuck in an economic halfway house between poverty and first-world wealth. China is a likely addition to that list, according to my AEI colleague Derek Scissors:

It would not be unusual if there were cities in China with income levels similar to, say, France. It would be highly unusual for China as a whole to reach French levels of income. … The single most likely result is that China will share the fate of many other economies and fall far short of being wealthy. [AEI]

That's why the Chinese Professor ad was actually pretty stupid. It imagined an American economy that eventually loses out to China's because Uncle Sam embraces big government. But it is actually China that is increasingly favoring state intervention over market reforms as the path to greater national prosperity. And it isn't working out so well for them. China needs to shrink the state sector if it is to have any chance of generating broad-based wealth. And if a more market-driven capitalism drives a new era of economic growth for China, it also means a China where there is a lot more economic freedom — and probably political freedom, too — than exists today. And that would be a great thing for global prosperity and peace — not something for economic populists to rage against.
To quote Ronald Reagan, "Never say never." If the state sector backs off enough to allow market-driven growth, and that resulted in more political and economic freedom, we could see very big changes in China indeed. Read the whole article for embedded links and more.


Dementia levels not getting worse

If we are to believe what this article says:

Dementia levels 'are stabilising'
The proportion of people living with dementia is levelling-off in parts of western Europe, a report says.

The University of Cambridge study shows the proportion of elderly people with the condition in the UK has fallen, contrary to predictions that cases would soar.

Improvements in health and levels of education might be protecting people from the disease, the scientists said.

Charities warned there was no guarantee the improvements would continue.

The report, in the Lancet medical journal, analysed twinned dementia studies that were conducted in the same way, but decades apart.

Data from the Netherlands, UK, Spain and Sweden showed that the proportion of people with the condition had stabilised over the periods covered by the studies - which ranged from nearly 20 years to almost 30. But in the UK and among Spanish men, it had fallen.

In the UK, the data from 1991 suggested that 8% of over-65s would have dementia in 2011, yet the team in Cambridge said the figure was in fact 6%.

It means there are around 670,000 people with the condition rather than the 850,000 figure regularly cited.
Improved health

An ageing population should have led to more people living with dementia. However, lead researcher Prof Carol Brayne said the expected rise "had not occurred".

She told the BBC News website: "Effectively it has stabilised rather than gone up.

"The age-specific prevalence has gone down so even though the population has got older, the number [of patients with dementia] has stayed the same." [...]
The article goes on to look a possible reasons why. The current generation of old people are generally wealthier and better educated than their parents and grandparents were, are more health-conscious and take advantage of advances in medical knowledge and health advice. Read the whole thing for more.