Oct. 28th, 2015
- Alpha Sources notes that Eurozone economic sentiment is holding up.
- Centauri Dreams looks at SETI in the light of KIC 8462852.
- D-Brief notes predictions that Cassini could determine if Enceladus' ocean is active enough to support life.
- The Dragon's Gaze links to a video presentation examining how habitable planets around Alpha Centauri could be imaged.
- The Dragon's Tales has the latest on the Russian war in Syria.
- Geocurrents is impressed by this map of world religion, so finely and accurately detailed.
- Language Log notes the oddities of the promotion of China's next five-year plan.
- The Map Room is impressed by Martin Vargic's new book of maps.
- Personal Reflections' Jim Belshaw is touring Denmark and noticing the differences and similarities between that Nordic country and his native Australia.
- The Planetary Society Blog notes workshopping for the location of the first manned Mars landing.
- The Power and the Money notes that Cristina Kirchner might be setting up her successors to fail, so as to ensure her eventual re-election.
- Towleroad notes that Italy forced the removal of registries of same-sex marriages contracted outside of the country.
- Window on Eurasia talks to a Kaliningrad regionalist, notes Dagestanis are not being drafted in the proportions one would expect, and reports that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is out of control.
The Dragon's Tales linked to this Economist article suggesting China is on the verge of a 2008-style economic crash.
In most respects, double-digit growth is a relic of the past for China. In the third quarter the economy grew by just 6.9% year-on-year according to official data, and probably by a percentage point or two less in reality. Yet bank loans increased by 15.4% in the third quarter compared with the same period in 2014. Having released a torrent of credit to buoy the economy during the financial crisis, China was supposed to have started deleveraging by now. Instead, banks are continuing to pump debt into the economy, while the authorities, apparently worried about the damage a contraction in credit might do, coax them on.
Growth in credit has at least slowed in recent years. A broad measure is “total social financing” (TSF), which encompasses bank loans, corporate bonds and a range of shadowy loan-like products. TSF growth soared to 35% in 2009 when the government called on banks to open the taps and support the then-faltering economy. It has since decelerated: it rose by 13% in the third quarter from a year earlier. The problem, though, is that nominal GDP growth has fallen much lower, to 6.2%.
This means that China’s overall debt-to-GDP ratio is continuing its steady upward march (see chart). Debt was about 160% of annual output in 2007. Now, China’s debt ratio stands at more than 240%, or 161 trillion yuan ($25 trillion), according to calculations by The Economist. It has risen by nearly 50 percentage points over the past four years alone, with slowing growth only serving to magnify indebtedness.
A rapid increase in debt in a short space of time has historically been a good predictor of financial trouble, from Japan in the 1990s to southern Europe in the 2000s. But there is no level that automatically triggers crises. Since most of China’s debts are held within the government-controlled bits of its economy (state-owned firms are the biggest debtors and state-owned banks their biggest creditors), the country has the means to avoid an acute crisis. It can, in effect, roll over bad loans as they come due or abstain from calling them in. However, although that spares the economy short-term pain, it leaves it with a chronic ailment. Ever more credit is needed to sustain growth. Loans that should have gone to sprightly companies with promising new ideas go instead to corporate zombies.
Heesun Wee's CNBC feature, including video, looking at how the demand of Chinese consumers is playing an increasingly critical role for California farmers.
In an increasingly export driven market, California farmers are proving quite adaptable. And more of their decisions hinge on China and the growing role it's playing in shaping agriculture, water and food production in the American West.
"The overseas market is extremely important," says Jesus Ramos, a farmer who owns 140 acres of mostly citrus trees in Terra Bella in Tulare County. "That dictates whether you can keep a crop going or not."
Chinese housewives with more income covet select, imported U.S. food, but halfway around the world, back in California, some of the state's roughly 78,000 farms and ranches are producing more agricultural products that can require a lot of water to produce, scarce California water. There's frustration about how the U.S. is exporting water through agricultural products to China.
[. . .]
Born in Mexico, Ramos came to America as a young crew picker. During harvest, the work pace is furious. Pickers scurry up ladders with palm-sized clippers to cut oranges off stems. Nearly all oranges in the world are cut by hand this way. Snip, snip, snip. A landowner and grandfather now, Ramos fully grasps the gamble that is farming. "You can lose your life savings in just a couple of years."
Walking around one of his six ranches in August, blocks of citrus trees behind him, Ramos' young picking days seem simple compared to the global demands of modern farming. The water bill for one 10-acre ranch, for example, jumped to $33,000 in 2014 from $3,200 in 2013. His total water bill for all his ranches has soared to more than $200,000, compared to roughly $17,000 just a few years ago. Beyond managing water costs, an export-focused citrus crop can trigger food production changes mandated by overseas markets. China, for example, requires controlling and documenting the Fuller rose beetle as a condition of receiving imports there. While not a major threat, the beetle is common in Tulare County citrus.
Pest control? Check. Water costs? Check, check. Then Ramos worries about how his perfect round orbs of fruit will travel on shipping containers to key Asian markets, including South Korea and China. Skins that peel easily are preferred, but not so thin they'll get bruised and crushed during the weekslong transportation journey. "I prioritize firmer fruits that can withstand the shipping time," Ramos explained.
Bloomberg's Rudy Ruitenberg notes this one success of Italian exports.
Italy is set to reclaim its spot as the world’s biggest wine producer after output in the home of Chianti and Prosecco rebounded from last year, when rain spoiled part of the grape crop.
Italy’s winemakers will raise volume by 10 percent to 48.9 million hectoliters this year, equivalent to about 6.5 billion bottles, to overtake France, the International Organisation of Vine and Wine estimates. French wine output will increase 1.2 percent to 47.4 million hectoliters, according to data from the group, known by its acronym OIV.
Italian wine production, which dates back to pre-Roman times, was worth 4.55 billion euros ($5 billion) to producers last year, or 9.4 percent of the country’s total agricultural output, Eurostat data show. The volume of the 2014 vintage slumped 18 percent as wet weather caused fungal disease such as mildew and botrytis in Italy’s vineyards.
“Last year wasn’t a disaster, but we were overtaken,” Carla di Paola, Italy’s representative with the OIV, said in an interview in Paris. “Wine is part of our tradition, being number one is important.”
Growth in sparkling wine, such as prosecco, is boosting Italian production, di Paola said. While Italy reclaimed the rank that it held in 2012 and 2013 by volume, France remains bigger by value, particularly because of high-priced Champagne, she said.
Marco Chown Oved's Toronto Star article reminds me that I really do need to bring my crops in.
Overcoming their hesitance to get their shoes muddy and their hands dirty, young folks bend down to plant garlic cloves in long beds of dark, rich soil and compost.
It’s a scene of bucolic tranquility until a wailing siren blasts a periodic reminder that this farm isn’t in the countryside, but in the centre of one of North America’s largest cities.
On Tuesday, Ryerson University’s rooftop farm hosted tours as part of its first annual Harvest Festival, marking the end of its first full growing season only blocks from Yonge-Dundas Square.
Groups of curious students, staff and urban agriculture enthusiasts filed down straw-covered paths, between aluminum heating vents and under the looming turquoise facade of the condo-converted warehouse across the street.
They then headed to a reception serving gourmet dishes prepared by campus chefs with produce from the roof: celeriac leek soup with blue cheese mousse, winter squash tarts with candied borage flowers, blue potato croquettes with radish cream.
Thanks to Will Baird for notifying me about this important study, published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. The abstract is below.
The great “northern” cod (Gadus morhua) stock, formerly among the world’s largest and the icon for depletion and supposed nonrecovery of marine fishes, is making a major comeback after nearly two decades of attrition and fishery moratorium. Using acoustic-trawl surveys of the main prespawning and spawning components of the stock, we show that biomass has increased from tens of thousands of tonnes to >200 thousand tonnes within the last decade. The increase was signalled by massive schooling behaviour in late winter first observed in 2008 in the southern range of the stock (Bonavista Corridor) after an absence for 15 years, perhaps spurred by immigration. Increases in size composition and fish condition and apparent declines in mortality followed, leading to growth rates approaching 30% per annum. In the spring of 2015, large increases in cod abundance and size composition were observed for the first time since the moratorium in the more northerly spawning groups of this stock complex. The cod rebound has paralleled increases in the abundance of capelin (Mallotus villosus), whose abundance declined rapidly in the cold early 1990s but has recently increased during a period of warm ocean temperatures. With continued growth in the capelin stock and frugal management (low fishing mortality), this stock could rebuild, perhaps within less than a decade, to historical levels of sustainable yield. More generally, if this stock can recover, the potential exists for recovery of many other depleted stocks worldwide.
Bloomberg's Peter Coy describes the history of 36 East 57th Street, a brownstone in Manhattan with a long and storied history until it was torn down for condos.
Rising like a slim, silvery Lego tower, 432 Park Avenue will be the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere upon completion. Right next to it, until very recently, was a brownstone that was just 24 feet wide and five stories tall. The vacant, locked building, hidden behind scaffolding and stripped of ornamentation, with forlorn white curtains visible in the top-floor windows, was a vestige of an older New York. Now it's gone. It was torn down last spring by the owners of 432 Park Avenue for purposes that have not been made clear.
This is an obituary for 36 East 57th Street, although it's an incomplete one because most of the people who knew the building in its prime are gone now. In its day, the humble brownstone housed the New York outlet of couturier Christian Lacroix and may have been co-owned by a Hollywood kingpin. New York City records list 1930 as the year that 36 East 57th Street was built, but the records are probably wrong. By that year nobody was building short, narrow brownstones on the high-toned block between Park Avenue and Madison Avenue.
It's more likely that the building was erected in the 19th century, during the building boom that blanketed acres of Manhattan with the narrow, sandstone row houses known as brownstones. The 1879 edition of Bromley's Atlas of the City of New York was the first to show a townhouse with a stone facade at 36 East 57th Street, according to researchers at the New York Public Library Map Division. That's consistent with what Christopher Gray, a historian of New York City architecture, wrote in 1988 in the New York Times: "In 1877, a speculative developer, Duggin & Crossman, put up a row of brownstones at 32-50 East 57th Street." Gray wrote that the poet Emma Lazarus—"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses ..."—lived for a time at 32 East 57th Street. She died at age 38 in 1887.
The building pops up in the Commercial Record of 1919-20, listing among its occupants a Miss Rose Gruening, a Bradish J. Carroll, and one Frank B. Taggart, whose occupation is listed as vice-president at 60 Broadway in Lower Manhattan. By then, the block had begun its transition from residential to commercial. Wrote Gray:
"Gradually, the row became sandwiched between the giant Fuller Building (1929) at Madison Avenue and 460 Park Avenue (1954). As the last vestiges of the residential character of the 50's just east of Fifth Avenue began to disappear in the 1950's, the 57th Street row came to represent a sort of symbolic demilitarized zone between the midtown skyscrapers and the Upper East Side residential district."
Bloomberg Viewès Josh Rogin reports on the growing complexity and danger of the dispute over China's artificial islands in the South China Sea.
After months of internal debate, the White House permitted the Defense Department to sail one ship near a reef in the South China Sea that China claims. The Chinese reaction shows Beijing has no intention of backing down. Now the Obama administration is debating what to do next.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter confirmed on Tuesday that the Lassen, a U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer, traveled Monday within 12 miles of the Subi Reef, which was underwater until the Chinese government built it into an artificial island. Under questioning from the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carter said the U.S. has the right to operate near the Chinese structures. He expressed support for doing such a “freedom of navigation operation” again.
“What you read in the newspaper is accurate, but I don’t want to say when, whether or how we operate anywhere in the world,” he said. “These are operations that we should be conducting normally.”
Carter has publicly asserted U.S. access to these waters since his speech in May at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. Admiral Harry Harris, the head of Pacific Command, has advocated that right as well, within the administration. But other senior officials pushed to delay the sail-by, fearing it would provoke Beijing and hurt other areas of cooperation, U.S. officials told me.
The White House decision to move forward came after several meetings at the National Security Council Principal Committee level, where the timing was a sticking point. White House officials wanted to wait until after President Obama’s summit last month with Chinese President Xi Jinping, during which Xi said publicly that China did not intend to militarize the artificial islands. Secretary of State John Kerry argued for delaying the operation until after the Paris Climate Change conference, U.S. officials said. It ends in December.
Torontoist's David Hains wonders what John Tory is all about. What does he stand for, apart from not being Rob Ford?
When John Tory was elected one year ago today, there was a simple promise for his mayoralty: he would not be Rob Ford.
By that standard, he has succeeded. He has not embarrassed the city internationally, nor has he presided over historically significant incompetence. He goes to city events and announcements where attendees take him seriously, and acts as the city’s cheerleader-in-chief whether it’s the Pan Am Games or the Blue Jays playoff run.
Tory, with his background as a professional board member, is particularly well-suited for this part of the job. But there is another aspect of being mayor that should not be overshadowed by Rob Ford’s bad behaviour: the search for Toronto’s soul.
That is, what is the vision for the city, and what are the underlying principles and sensibilities that make that possible? One year later, how is John Tory doing at that more challenging job, the real standard to which we should hold the mayor?