28 January 2015

Selected International Developments

I haven't been covering all of these stories in daily detail, but some major international developments deserve mentioning:

European Economic Crises

* Greece was bailed out by the European financial community a while ago in the face of a sovereign debt crisis, in exchange for imposing austerity measures of dubious economic merit.  Opposition mounted to this deal and a few days ago, Greek elections gave a far left party 149 out of 300 seats with parliament after it ran on an anti-austerity platform.  This party allied itself with a far right party that is also opposed to the austerity measures that won 12 seats.  This produced a far left prime minister with majority backing who wants to disavow the deal and either renegotiate or default on the bailout deal.  This outcome has looked likely for a long time.  As a result, the Greek stock market has lost 15% of its value in the last three days and 50% of its value in the last ten months.

* International sanctions related to Russia's military incursions into Ukraine, and falling oil prices, have conspired to do deep harm to the Russian economy.  Among other things, the bonds that finance its national debt have been down graded to junk bond status.  Russia is hanging tough and appears to have popular support (in part due to controls over the media), but is enduring lots of economic pain as measured by a variety of economic indicators.

* A dramatic change in the policies of the central bank of Switzerland has caused the value of the Swiss Franc to rise dramatically (ca. 50%+) in a matter of days.  This matters because mortgages and other loans in many of Europe's less economically developed countries (e.g. about 45% of mortgages in Poland), are denominated in Swiss Francs rather than Euros.  The Swiss Franc has historically been one of the most stable currencies in the world, so few people anticipated that this would produce a dramatic increase in their effective repayment obligations in the absence of hyperinflation of the Euro which has not occurred.  This international payments crisis continues to unfold.

European Independence Movements

* Voters in Scotland rejected a referendum giving its independence from the United Kingdom, but won substantial new economic subsidies and autonomy concessions in the process.  The referendum was also notable because sixteen and seventeen years olds were allowed to vote.

* The autonomous Catalonia region in Spain has called for an independence referendum, and has staged events making it clear that such a referendum would pass if it was held by wide margins.  Spain has vehemently opposed any effort to conduct such a referendum, whether or not it is officially binding, and so far, no referendum has been held.

Conflict and Change In The Islamic World

* The moderately pro-Western, pro-Saudi government of Yemen collapsed, giving rise, de facto, to military law and a renewed division of the country into North Yemen and South Yemen.  But, the government was so ineffectual to start with that the chaos before this happened was only moderately less than the chaos afterwards.  Among other things, this makes the prospect of repatriating Yemeni individuals held at Guantanamo Bay by the U.S. military to their home countries (a process that Congress has thwarted despite President Obama's efforts to shut down the military prison camp in U.S. controlled territory in Cuba).

* The recent attacks in France on a satirical newspaper that had lampooned the Muslim Prophet, customers at a Kosher deli, and French law enforcement officers was led by individuals in France with ties to violent radical Islamist movements in Yemen and connected to ISIS.

* Saudi Arabia's sixth king died.  In Saudi Arabia, a successor king is chosen somewhat democratically by the senior male members of the roughly 5,000 strong royal family, from among a pool of several dozen family members who would be eligible for the office, rather than automatically passing to an eldest child.  In this case, the seventh king of Saudi Arabia is a 79 year old collateral relative (as opposed to a child) of the previous king.

* U.S. led international coalition air strikes on ISIS have killed about 6,000 ISIS soldiers (out of 12,000-18,000 on active duty and about 32,000 available in all to ISIS), in addition to many of its military bases and much of its heavy armaments.  Until last week, this wasn't accompanied by much in the way of territory leaving ISIS control.  But, in the last few days, Iraq's Kurdish militias supported by the air strikes and allowed to reach the field of battle across roads in Turkey finally drove ISIS out of Kurdish city (formerly of about 60,000 people most of whom have fled as refugees to Turkey) near the Turkish border with Syria.

* The radical Islamist Boko Haram group in Northern Nigeria and parts of the African Sahel in neighboring countries has massacred thousands in a Northern Nigerian village and continues its genocidal wave of mass murders and mass kidnappings of young women, while the central Nigerian government led by Jonathan Goodluck who is facing an election challenge that is nearing its final days, has been completely unable to get its own military, whose inclinations has been to flee or refuse to confront Boko Haram, dent the violence.

* In the "tribal areas" of Pakistan, the government has vigorously and largely effectively waged a military war on the Taliban in Pakistan (which had previously had support from some military and intelligence community factions), prompting a suicidal massacre at an Army sponsored school by a group of Taliban supporters.

27 January 2015

New To Me (Food and Drink Edition)

I have been blessed to live at a time of great cultural change.  Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is by example.  I list below some of the foods and drinks that I started to consume, in various categories, as an adult, in roughly chronological order.  These are not all necessarily newly invented, but illustrate in sample size N=1, the expanding horizons that have come from cultural change.

Foods I Grew Up With That Were Not Eaten Or Exotic For Both Of My Parents Before College
Chinese food
Pineapple juice

High School (Oxford, Ohio; New Zealand; domestic and Western European travel)
wine and beer
Toblerone chocolate
star fruit
raw oysters
ugly fruit
Mexican food other than tacos (e.g. enchiladas, burritos)
dim sum
Indian food
frozen yogurt
rice cakes
selected Greek foods (e.g. Gyros, baclava)
British style fish and chips with malt vinegar as a topping for the chips
meat pies and Shepard's pie (other than Cornish pasties)
tea with milk
Yorkshire pudding
mince pies
Kiwi fruit
fried cicadas

College (Oberlin, Ohio), Law School (Ann Arbor, Michigan) and Buffalo, New York
Hawaiian pizza
barbecue tofu
matzo ball soup
bread bowl salads
squid aka calamari
Tabasco sauce as a popcorn topping
cold Vietnamese style coffee
gouda cheese
Asian pears
Korean food
shrimp chips
select Japanese food and saki
portabella and shittake mushrooms
almond butter
salt bagels
expresso drinks
almond syrup
chocolate covered expresso beans
NutraSweet (r)
brewer's yeast as a popcorn topping
powdered cheese as a popcorn topping
artisan breads other than baguettes
olive oil in lieu of butter on bread
mole sauce
frozen custard
buffalo wings
beef on weck
crab cakes
mahi mahi
tuna not in a can
frog legs

Since Moving To Colorado
Rocky Mountain Oysters
pomogranate juice (as oppose to seeds)
breakfast burritos
spiced cheeses (e.g. Pepper Jack)
wasabi bites
California style burritos an Burrito bowls (e.g. Chipotle, Qdoba)
Gorditas (possibly invented by Taco Bell)
whole wheat tortillas
white pizza
cocktails (i.e. mixed alcoholic drinks other than beer or wine or grog or sangria)
fish tacos
flavored sparkling waters
Andouille chicken sausages
moist non-shredded mozzarella cheese
white cheddar cheese
focaccia bread
agave nectar
chai tea
white tea
Thai food
soba noodles
soy milk
almond milk
nutritional yeast flakes
honeycrisp apples
Smart Balance (r) and similar butter substitutes
"ancient grains" (e.g. spelt, amaranth, quinoa, chia, eikhorn wheat, durum wheat, emmer wheat)
high percent cocoa gourmet chocolate
spicy pepper mocha
steak served Brazilian style
Vietnamese food
Mongolian style BBQ
Ethiopian food
vege straws
gourmet donuts (i.e. donuts with elaborate toppings in the style of Voodoo Doughnuts)
Greek yogurt
protein powder
turmeric drinks
cookie butter
tangerine juice
blood oranges
truffle oil
coconut butter
ostrich meat
shrubs (i.e. mixed drinks including vinegar as an ingredient)

Other food trends
There were also other trends in food that didn't have momentum until much later in my life.

"Natural foods" was something that I was aware of even as a child, and that my parents were aware of early on, as were reductions in sugar and fat in diets and vegetarian diets.

But, "organic", "gluten free", "GMO-free", "low carb" and vegan diets were very uncommon.  Nobody knew about nut allergies as something that ordinary people needed to be concerned about for others, if not themselves, either.

Eating local was something one did out of economic necessity, rather than moral commitment.