When collaboration goes wrong – Why the power of your network is vital

In today’s connected world, we have had to learn to find ways to break down silos, to work in networks and to collaborate with others. I believe that the power of your network is keenly related to your ability to survive.  It is a key part of the so-called “web 2.0” world.  Most companies struggle with this because it requires two fundamental shifts:

  • getting internal teams to work together
  • listening to customers

I have long felt that you are as strong as your network, the people you know and the people with whom you are associated. In some countries such as Japan, China or Korea, in order to do business, companies typically need to create partnerships or joint ventures with local players, and it’s not always obvious with whom to partner.

The power of your network in the CLOUD

On my most recent trip to Australia, I flew to Melbourne via Guangzhou.  I am a frequent flyer on Air France, part of the SkyTeam alliance, and for the leg from Guangzhou to Melbourne, flew on China Southern Airlines (CZ – corrected 27 Sept 2013 thanks to Olivier’s comment!).  CZ is one of the 19 partner airlines of SkyTeam.  As such, I assumed that CZ would be of similar quality to AF.  It turns out, from what I understand, that CZ is the largest, but third best airline in China, and a far cry from the AF standards.  Granted, this is from an experience on just two flights (same route), but if CZ is a large organization, boasting the largest fleet and network of routes within China, it is not on par with Air France.  I note, meanwhile, that SkyTeam also has three other Chinese partners.

Skyteam brands, Minter Dialogue

INCONSISTENT MESSAGING

Aside from the fact that the “SkyTeam” pre-roll advertisement on the inflight entertainment directly contradicted my experience boarding (priority boarding was closer to a mass rugby scrum), there were some major disappointments in the level of service on board.  The staff was well meaning, but the caliber of service in business class was substantially weak.

QUALITY IN THE DETAILS

For starters (literally), the appetizer was a rather poor excuse for a starter.  I think the term would be closer to an unappetizer.   Presentation, quantity and choice were below standard.  See for yourself.

China Southern Air Appetizer, Minter Dialogue

THE IMPORTANCE OF WRITING

The menu was handed out before take-off.  The CZ process requires that I pre-order my meal before take-off.  The English language version featured a little storytelling.  Aside from the rather primitive story and incompatibility with the meal I was served, I noticed a couple of grammatical errors in the menu.  Can you find them?

China Southern Air menu, Minter Dialogue

I cannot reveal to you the discomfort of the Business Class seat (barely the equivalent of Economy Premium in Air France, with a 3-tier seat that provided an incline of under 120 degrees). It measured just 48cm in width.  Meanwhile, the inflight entertainment system was broken.  Symptomatic of the situation, the “remote” was rather beaten up (see below).  And the choice of films was reminiscent of TV in 1970s with a selection of around 15 English language movies.

Power of your network - China Southern Air Hand Remote, Minter Dialogue

The moral of the story

You are your network.  CZ is clearly pulling down the Sky Team partnership.  In a flat world, companies need a strong coalition to cover the four corners.  I wonder how Sky Team came to the conclusion that they should ink a deal with CZ.  Perhaps they underestimated the need to have partners, thinking that they were able to manage themselves.  Perhaps they were slow to recognize the legitimate interest in BRIC “third world” countries.  Perhaps they were too late to sign up the better alternatives?

China Southern Airline’s motto is “Fly like the first time.”  Clearly, they have forgotten to cater to those who have flown before!  In their trailer, they gently wax: Whichever you trip you take, preparing is like child’s play, featuring kids running around in a backyard.  They even feature a gratuitous Labrador dog in their trailer.  All rather puzzling and unrelated to the business in which they are operating.

As part of the SkyTeam network, there are 520 member business class lounges around the world… I had no major quibbles about the CZ lounge in Guangzhou, but on my return leg, I had to make do with the AF side of the lounge and there were no quiet and/or comfortable seats.  I was disappointed that there was no access to the CZ side!  Here again for SkyTeam members, one expects consistency in quality throughout the network, otherwise, it degrades the value of belonging to the network.

Power of your network

In any event, the formation of Sky Team, is an excellent demonstration of how and why it is critical to choose the right partners and to form strong partnerships.

I know there are many horror stories in travel.  This was far from a horrible experience.  Here, I wanted to illustrate the power of your network, rather than just berate CZ.  The staff on board were indeed well intentioned (and I send a special wing tip to the Purser, Ms Lin, on my return journey).

The Greying of the World – Enough to make you go grey!

Not that it is supposed to be ironic, but below is a grey newspaper clipping with dark grey text, shaded columns and a light grey contour on a white background… Lots of nuances in those greys! Take a look at the graphic below, which is taken from the Herald Tribune of October 16, 2010 (source is the UN Population Division, assuming medium fertility in each of the countries).  It is perhaps a concept with which we are all familiar; but, a picture can tell a thousand words, literally. Continue reading

State of the Spam Business: Spam Pollution

State of the Spam Business

How many legitimate (non junk or spam) emails do you receive in your inbox?

Stop Spam Sign

It may come as a surprise to you that only 3% of the world’s supply of emails are legitimate, at least that’s what a recent Microsoft survey says. On a personal level, I know that I have a spam-to-legit ratio that is more like 1:6, aided by (a) the never ending screening and hunting down of phoney addresses and cyber pirates by the various governing bodies; (b) the individual mail filters (I use hotmail mostly) which appear to direct with about 80% accuracy true junk into the junk folder; and (c) my attempting not to leave my email address in public spaces that are too easy for email bots to trawl and discover. In any event, in a recent BBC article regarding a recent Microsoft security report, “[m]ore than 97% of all e-mails sent over the net are unwanted… The e-mails are dominated by spam adverts for drugs [nearly 50%], and general product pitches and often have malicious attachments.” Other industry reports have the volume of junk mail somewhere between 75% and 90%, so this latest number takes the morass of spam to even higher levels.

A second source for spam information is the monthly Symantec State of Spam report (PDF – April 2009). According to the Symantec report, in March, the spam coming from the US accounted for 28% of the world’s supply (up from 25% in February and 23% in January). Coming in second, Brazil accounts for 9%, while India at 3rd fell back to 4%. South Korea leads the Far Eastern countries at 4%, ahead of Turkey, Russia and China (all 3%). Below is the chart courtesy of Symantec. Latin America is responsible for a quite surprising 15% of the total. As far as I was concerned, it seems that half of my spam relates to winning the jackpot and inheriting some African fortune, so I was surprised not find Nigeria up in there in the top 10.

Top Countries sending Spam

“The [Microsoft] report found that the global ratio of infected machines was 8.6 for every 1,000 uninfected machines.” I would suspect that Mac gets a less than market share representation…fortunately for us Mac users.

The only good news, if you read on in the BBC report, is that malicious software (aka malware) must increasingly be adapted country to country (see world map of malware levels), which diminishes the odds of an Armageddon style worldwide malware. The article states, “[a]s the malware ecosystem becomes more reliant on social engineering, threats worldwide have become more dependent on language and cultural factors,” [the Microsoft study] reported. In China, several malicious web browser modifiers are common, while in Brazil, malware that targets users of online banks is more widespread.”

In terms of where the malicious software is most prevalent, “the [Microsoft] report, which looked at online activity during the second half of 2008, also pinpoints…[that] Russia and Brazil top the global chart of infections, followed by Turkey and Serbia and Montenegro.”

On another level, from a report out in March 2009, I read about how much spam is said to pollute our world… A Carbon Footprint study from McAfee says that spam generates greenhouse gas (GHG — aka Carbon Dioxide or CO2) equivalent to 3.1 million passenger cars. This report says that “the energy [33 billion KWh] consumed in transmitting and deleting spam is equivalent to the electricity used in 2.4 million U.S. homes.” I love the notion of the life cycle of spam! If you want to download the McAfee PDF report, do so here. Another feature in the McAfee report is the estimated loss in productivity caused by spam: “If you have 1,000 workers earning $30 per hour, your company will suffer $182,500 per year in lost productivity.” It is very crafty to propose an ROI on their anti-spam software.

In any event, as I indicated in a prior post TV5 from Québec, Canada, there are also the unwanted communications from companies where you can no longer unsubscribe to their newsletters, as is the case with TV5. Another one on my can’t-get-rid-of-them list is www.seek-blog.com.  No way to unsubscribe.  I suspect such mail should be considered spam along with the other 97%! On the other end of the scale, kudos to Nick @ NickOnWine for sending out regular subscriber updates.

Like mosquitoes, I can think of absolutely nothing beneficial from spam. After the ERACE ‘EM Campaign (the Eternal Radical and Complete Extermination of Every Mosquito), comes the EAT SPAM Campaign, Eradicate All Toxic Spam. Sign up here!

Obamania Worldwide – The Dreams & The Reality

OBAMANIA & OTHER REFLECTIONS ON A SUNDAY MORNING

Barack & Michelle ObamaThe effect of the Obama victory overseas has been impressive. Much like the initial outpouring after September 11th, 2001, since November 5th, 2008, I have come across a newfound sense of support for the US from many different corners of the world, and the support is quite similar in intensity. For most foreigners with whom I speak, the sentiment goes along the lines: You, Americans (at least on the coasts), faced with the biggest worldwide economic crisis in a century, 2 long unfinished wars, an Osama Bin Laden still on the lam, the prospect of ecological disasters and the risk of more voter scandals (untested new urns), overcame the urge for a recidivist reactionary vote, to adopt and hail its base values by electing Obama.

What is driving this support around the world for Obama? In part, I detect an enormous feeling of hope, like the release of a good dream.Dream He represents hope that change is truly going to come. What is said can be done. That diversity is not just a buzz word. I also detect that many are putting their hopes on the shoulders of Americans to rebolster the world, a world that is increasingly rocky. Beyond the economic crisis and environmental concerns, the Western world is worried by the deeper, structural issues including the rise of China, the Russian renaissance, the continuing splintering of nationalities and ethnicities as well as the omen of global terrorism. I don’t mean to have visions of grandeur for the Americans, but we all need to dream and many people seem to have tied up their dreams with Obamania. Aside from the 66.7 million American voters, Muslim communities around the world, the African community (well beyond Kenya), even a town in Japan have identified or associated themselves with Obama. And in the “If the World Could Vote” site, 87.3% of the nearly 900,000 people (up from the 49,000 I wrote about in my September post) casting their online selection for Obama.

Few would doubt that Obama’s plate is eminently full. As a black Parisian radiologist, Maxim, said to me, “it is a poisoned gift.”

For Obama and the Americans, all the real work is now ahead and it will be important to observe (a) the level and effectiveness in the bipartisanship — I have been positively impressed by the effect of President Sarkozy had in bringing in several valuable Socialists into his government; and (b) how Obama manages against the oh-so-high expectations. If the Democratic party were to get a filibuster-proof 60 seats in the Senate (3 seats still undecided) and with the strong House representation (between 255-259 seats), there is a chance that Obama will be able to put through a good portion of his vision. But, what happens systematically — it seems no matter the president, the party or the country — is that there is a boomerang effect some 12-18 months after induction into office. The dissatisfied electorate then “punishes” the standing leader, curbs his or her power and the result is a near lame-duck experience for the remaining years. I have started to think that this is just a natural cycle in democracy. More likely than not, an external and/or unexpected event will likely occur that will unbalance the apple cart and, whether or not his policies have had time to work, will have a material impact on his presidency. It does seem ironic that an unexpected event will be likely. But, this, too, seems to be a part of the natural cycle.

Four More Reflections

As I ponder this Sunday morning, there are four more things I would like to say about the past couple of weeks.

China Flag1/ Don’t you find it symbolic that the Chinese bailout plan at $586B is just below the US one in size ($700B)? Although, compared to its GDP (China’s is estimated at US$3-4 trillion versus $14 trillion for the US), the Chinese effort is far more seismic. You get the feeling that the turning point is around the corner. The burgeoning question for me is how will we, Americans, manage to alter our mania for consumption, so much a fibre of today’s US society?


Speed Limit = 50 mph 2/ Forty’s are in. Obama, at 47 years old, joins a healthy stable of “forty-something” leaders. Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili is the youngest I could find at 41 years old. Russia’s President Dmitri Medvedev and Sweden’s PM Fredrik Reinfeldt are 43. Ukraine’s Yulia Tymoshenko, Ireland’s Brian Cohen and Spain’s Jose Luis Zapatero are 48. Canada’s Stephen Harper is 49. I am sure that I have missed out a few others — but these are all (with the exception of Harper) leaders born in the 1960s. [Note, among other notables, that Sarkozy (53), Merkel (54), and Putin (56) are, with the majority of other leaders, in their 50s.]

3/ Seeing that Obama is a Web 2.0 President-elect (he has his own Twitter, MyBarackObama blog, YouTube, etc), how far can he be a Sustainable Development-President as well? See here for a prior post on the relatedness of web 2.0 and sustainable development. Certainly, this article by Thomas Claburn at InformationWeek
would seem to back up the possible correlation. ADDED 22 NOVEMBER: I was turned on to this NY Times article, “Generation O get its hopes up” (Nov 7) after publishing this post. Obama communicated in a way that “spoke” to people. As the article writes, “Government under Mr. Obama, they believe, would value personal disclosure and transparency in the mode of social-networking sites. Teamwork would be in fashion, along with a strict meritocracy.”

4/ Did you realize that within two days of each other, Obama won the US Presidency, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga won the Paris Masters 2008 and was crowned #1 for France, while Lewis Hamilton became the youngest ever Formula 1 Champion? As both Hamilton and Tsonga are 23 1/2 years old, Obama at 47 is exactly double their age. And all three of them are métise (specifically a black father and a white mother). Rather remarkable, no?

Your thoughts?

Beijing Olympics 2008 Medals Recap with Per Population Analysis

Beijing 2008 OlympicsThe Beijing 2008 Olympics have come to an end today Sunday, August 24th. It is hard to imagine that 303 events are crammed into the past 15 days. The kick-off and finale were works of art (if well ‘orchestrated’ in the most generous of terms). And, true to form, China hauled in the largest number of gold medals (51), followed by the USA (36), unaccustomed to playing second fiddle. Aside from chronicling the winning countries in this post, I have chosen to analyse the results according to population. There are many striking facts to these results — the best of which I will attempt to highlight.

Herewith the Top 20 winners, ranked by number of golds. The standout performance after the Chinese clearly belongs to Great Britain with 19 golds.

Olympics 2008 Beijing Medals Table
I choose a second table below to demonstrate the number of medals won per population member (a medal per pop measurement). In the below chart, I have taken the Top 30 (this time), ranked by the most medals from the smallest pool of people. The chart shows the total number of medals won (2nd column), the ranking according to the total number of medals G/S/B (3rd col), followed by the percentage of golds won out of the country’s total medals. Finally, I cite the country’s 2008 population (according to the US Census Bureau). In the last column, you have the population divided by the number of medals, showing — by some way of voodoo statistics — the pool of people that ‘created’ the winners. The Bahamas (2 medals) take the honours here with 1 medal per 153,000 citizens, followed by the miraculous Usain Bolt’s Jamaica (11 medals) and then Iceland (1 medal) taking the bronze place (considering its tiny population). Slovenia, Australia (6th place overall in the total medals haul as well) and New Zealand round out the top 6. Of the top medal scorers in the table above, GB scrapes in at 26th with 1 medal per 1.3 million citizens.

2008 Olympics Medals per Pop
For the record, under this calculation, China landed 68th (13.3mm/pop), the US came in 45th (2.8mm/pop), Russia was 37th (2.0mm/pop). India was plum last of the medal winners with 383 million per pop.

And, for another viewpoint, the non-medalling countries with the largest population (a sort of hall of shame, if it weren’t for the political and social strife):

Pakistan 172 million (6th largest)
Bangladesh 153 million (7th)
Philippines 96 million (12th)
Congo Kinshasa 66 million (18th)
Burma 48 million (26th)

And among the major upsets that I observed from a US standpoint anyway, the US getting only a bronze in baseball and having both the US men and women failing to qualify for the 4x100m. There were many others certainly. However, aside from having a war begin and end within the timeframe of the Olympics (with Russia’s invading Georgia’s [30 medals] South Ossetia and Abkhazia) and China’s internal silencing and manipulated PR campaign, the largest other surprise that I can come up with is the low level of doping scandals. Lo siento Rafa, but Nadal escaped again… along with surely many hundred’s of others.

All in all, a fairly vivid affair. And, for the foreign companies that invested in advertising to the Chinese, presumably a winning gamble. Your thoughts?

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly Educational Systems

Great or Worst Teachers NYCThe Good, The Bad & The Ugly Teachers – How to get rid of the bad apples?

As much as I would love to continue praising the great teachers in my life, it occurs to me that many countries feel that their educational systems are in dire straits. With my Franco – Anglo – American educational upbringing, I want to look at each of the three systems I know best. Each has its strengths: US = positive reinforcement, extra-curriculars & universities; UK = all rounded academics & sports; FR = academics. However, they each have serious failings and somewhat similar challenges. These can be resumed as: low motivation and accountability among the teachers (no merit pay and no punishment for underperformance), staffing issues (over-staffed in France, under- in the US), and an increasingly stretched family situation.

Accountability Issues.

For starters, I return to the story of being able to judge and bring true accountability to teachers. In France, note2be [see prior post en français], a sensible student-grades-teacher site, was closed down despite the very widely known failings of the French educational system. In the US, similar sites have been in existence with great success (e.g. Rate my professors), but that hasn’t cured the US of its huge educational challenges. Per this banner [upper left] at Times Square in NYC, the Teachers’ Union in the States is so strong that the worst teachers can’t get fired. You can, meanwhile, vote for your worst teachers at TeachersUnionExposed. In a novel competition, the 10 worst teachers will be paid $10,000 to “get out.” The site explains how difficult it is to unload bad teachers:

“In 2003, one Los Angeles union representative said: ‘If I’m representing them, it’s impossible to get them out. It’s impossible. Unless they commit a lewd act.’ Between 1995 and 2005, only 112 Los Angeles tenured teachers faced termination — eleven per year — out of 43,000. And that’s in a school district whose 2003 graduation rate was just 51 percent.”

In the UK, the situation is similar in some regards. Referring to a May 5, 2008 The Daily Telegraph article, entitled ‘Bad teachers letting down children’, the General Teaching Council of England issued a report at the beginning of May saying that as many as “24,000 poor teachers may work in the state system” as school heads essentially relocate underperforming teachers to other schools rather than “dealing” with the problem. Since 2000, the report details that just 46 out of 500,000 teachers have been reported for incompetence.

Merit Pay & Staffing Issues.

On the one hand, the lack of accountability and appropriate measures being taken is an absolute shame. Schools, like governments and even hospitals, can do with a healthy measure of good business practices. On the other hand, these “social” necessities [health, school] continue to struggle with adequate finances. Teachers and nurses both provide enormously important functions in our society. And both require substantial training and education. The lack of “good” pay is certainly not motivating. However, this is not an excuse not to find ways to measure performance and hold them accountable. Unlike nurses (where it is difficult to find statistical measurements), teachers can be graded by the objective evaluations of their students. But, just like bad teachers should be dealt with, good teachers should be recognized — given their just due. And merit pay should be encouraged. However, merit pay is systematically rejected by the Unions.

The state of teaching today in the US–with its low pay, lack of accountability and “hyper” Gen Y student body–leads, not surprisingly, to a lack of teachers–much less, good teachers–coming into the profession. From Teachers Union Fact, “[a]ccording to NEA researchers, 41 states [in the US] are currently experiencing a shortage of math teachers. Forty-three have shortages of science and special education teachers.”

Who is Responsible?

For England, newly elected mayor of London, Boris Johnson met with NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg (Daily Telegraph article) and Boris is apparently considering taking direct control of Education (getting rid of the Board of Education). He will have his work cut out for him. But, I am afraid that the US (or NYC) has no solid answers (see comparative report against OECD countries). Certainly, the numbers in the US are not encouraging, with the perilously high dropout rates–if one can get a reliable figure [see here from the National Bureau of Economic Resources how the range of US high school graduates ranges from 66-88%]. The illiteracy and, in general, low levels of Maths and English are an embarrassment for the US. Surely, education is one of the biggest structural problems facing the US — one that involves the ability to accommodate the influx of immigrants as well as the less fortunate neighbourhoods. While the US boasts a good number of “top students,” I would have to believe that a large number of those students are children of immigrants from countries where academics are valued (i.e. China, Korea, India…); and that Middle America and below are seriously underperforming. For the US to maintain its position in the world, it will absolutely need both a high flying top end and a better-than-average average.

Finally, there is the family situation.

Split families. Dual-working parents. Too much television and/or internet. New “illnesses” such as ADD. Differing notions of discipline. SMS lingo and emoticons. There is, in all these challenges, an evolving dispensing of responsibility by the family. “It’s not my job to teach my children,” one can sometimes hear. And, truth be told, when parents are called upon to oversee 2 to 3 hours of homework per night for 10 year olds, that is a sign of system overload and just not feasible for full-time working parents. Parents are not necessarily perfect pedagogues–especially because of the emotional nature of parent-child relations. And, if a parent’s time is split between hard work and hard homework, where is the time for the “other stuff?” Parents must learn to work better with the schools. Parents need to get aligned with the school’s teachers. And, if possible, they ought to be involved with the school. But, sadly, the complicity is too often missing.

The solutions?

Teaching is a magnificent profession when it is fully embraced. And, while the pay can surely improve, apparently, a teacher (at a day school) will be actually teaching students less than half the number of days in a year. The potential quality of life is virtually unique. However, motivation remains terribly low on balance. My feeling is that the educational systems need to have the best elements of a private enterprise (meritocracy…); but, these must be subscribed within a long-term view that a government must impose. Part of the challenge of changing an educational system is the precarious nature of swinging wildly from one curriculum to another or from one practice to another, in the process destabilizing the teachers AND distancing the parents from the ability to participate (when they do) in the complementary education. Parents have a substantial role to play which for many, in today’s economically stressed times, is difficult to fulfill. Yet, having chosen to be a parent, they must take responsibility for their choice.

And What To Do As A Parent?

Despite the invasive presence of computers and televisions, as I heard Luc Ferry (contemporary French philosopher) recently say, give love to your children and stress the value of the great classics (books, movies…whichever classics you may choose with passion). These are timeless values that give grounding and learnings for life. For, education to be “successful,” it must be a complete concept. It needs to cover the academics, but also needs to have sentimental value. Both parents and schools have their responsibility. Stop the blame game and work together.

International Mix.

If I had an educational cocktail to suggest, it would be the academic intensity of the Asian culture, the extra-curriculars of the American system, the rigour of the French academics and the playing fields of English schools. Unfortunately I don’t know enough about the German system to comment although I hear many good things. If you know of positive elements of other educational systems, don’t hesitate to chime in!

Background reading/viewing for this post:

* Two Million Minutes – a film comparing the education of 6 students in China, India & US (trailer on YouTube – where I picked up this comment from kesjalyn: “i go to the #1 high school in america (as ranked by US News and World Report)and i’m really lazy, i never work more than two or three hours a night, and i still get good grades. so our schools definitely do not expect enough of students.” [note that US NWR got the capital treatment!)
* Nature.com, Making the Grade, May 2008
* Christian Science Monitor – World’s schools teach U.S. a lesson
* Education Watch international – Validation of Rate My Professors

China steps up efforts on Ecology

Not a Plastic BagChina bans free bags! In a second post (“Getting rid of Plastic Bags” May 2007) on the topic, I read in the Herald Tribune with a mixture of satisfaction and curiosity about China’s intended policy to ban the giving out of free plastic bags in shops (effective June 1 2008). What caught my eye in a Figaro article (Jan 10, 2008 Economie section) on the same subject, was that China evaluates its plastic bag consumption at (“at least”) 1.75 billion per year. With some rough maths, that means that each Chinese person uses less than 1 1/2 plastic bags per year. Either the Chinese are adept at reusing those flimsy bags China Going Green?(because they buy so little?), or that is a somewhat understated consumption number. Judging by this photo (from AFP) in Beijing, there may be room on the upside.

Per the site, Clean Green Bag, the USA uses 100 billion plastic bags in a year. For frame of reference via Inhabitat, “Australians currently use about 6 billion plastic bags a year, with an average use of about 16 bags per person per week.”

From another Inhabitat post, I garnered these facts: there are 4 to 5 trillion
non-degradable plastic bags used worldwide annually. 430,000 gallons of oil are needed to produce 100 million non-degradable plastic bags. And, from an MSNBC article, I quote the following “The Sierra Club estimated that if every one of New York City’s 8 million people used one less grocery bag per year, it would reduce waste by about 5 million pounds.”

It should be noted that the plastic bag ban in China goes into effect just before the Olympic Games in Beijing… Good timing!

If you want to do an “ecology” tour in China, that is also available… But don’t expect to visit their landfills or meet with the Ecology Minister… It’s more about a pleasant visit of the China wildlife and fauna.

Yet, for having banned plastic bags, there remains the question of the paper (as in from trees) bags. Action is needed on that front too. For the best solution, bring your own canvas bag (see here for Yahoo answer from NZ). And for more informative solution, read here via Clean Green Bag Alternatives.

The China ban is following in the footsteps of many countries or cities around the world, including Melbourne, Israel, Bangladesh, South Africa, Ireland and even 30 towns in Alaska. Last year, San Francisco went one step better than the levying of a fee for plastic bags by banning them altogether. In so doing, SF is setting the trend for the US. Read more here via TreeHugger.

For more viewing on the topic, check out the Plastic Bag exhibit that was staged in London. See here courtesy of Inhabitat. And here I found a great Green Glossary, from Green is Universal blog, courtesy of NBC.

Global Power Rankings China versus ROW

China Global Power RankingChina is making progress up the Global Power Ranking if you count market caps.

Chinese publicly traded companies are now dominating the top 10 list of biggest market capitalizations worldwide. This Figaro article of 30 October highlighted that 5 out of the top 10 largest market caps are Chinese, including world #2 PetroChina at $446 billion USD, behind the ExxonMobil at $511 billion. China Mobile is fourth at $398B.

There are 3 US companies in the top 10 (ExxonMobil, GE #3 at $413B and Microsoft #6 with 327B). Royal Dutch Shell and Gazprom (Russian with $253B) round out the top 10. In other words, there is only one [true] European country represented.

Of course, this is just a snapshot before a currency revaluation, a downward shift in oil prices [what?] or another Enron were to occur. Nonetheless, it speaks to the prospective valuation of future earnings.

Another interesting slice of the top 10 shows that 5 of the companies are in Petrol & Gas, 3 are financial institutions (including GE which is classified as diversified financials by Fortune, but go figure), and 1 each for computer software & telecom.

On another angle, and not to be forgotten is the size according to sales… The Fortune 500 is still widely dominated by US companies (162) with Japan (67) #2 and France at #3 (with 38), just ahead of Germany (37) and England (33). Six of the top 10 are US and the first Chinese company in the Fortune 500 is Sinopec at #23, albeit with the fifth highest sales growth. But, one can expect the composition of the top 100 to change dramatically over the course of just the next five years.

Of note, tracing back the data from Fortune 500, as limited merely to US companies, there are now 4 financial-related companies in the Fortune 500 top 10, as opposed to just one basically since 1955 (always the same company, GE which, naturally, couldn’t always be considered a financial company). Since 1955, there have been between 3 and 4 oil & gas companies year in and year out, with communications and computer (IBM) rounding out the top 10 historically.

For an interesting blog and further reading about the shifting balance of power, visit Global Power Europe. Plenty of commentary and numbers on the world balance and the need for a stronger, united Europe. I also enjoyed this post from America vs the World, a subjective listing of the International Power Rankings dating to last year ,but still pertinent. Last posting on the topic was August 2006. I loved the fact that the Football World Cup is included in the concept. Note to Gordon: time to update! Meanwhile, thanks to Gordon, I found this link to an IHT article referring to Paris’ perception of the US and the terminology of ‘hyper power.”‘

And for a thread that seems plentiful and dynamic, try the World Affairs Board, Whose Who… Power Ranking. An interesting point: can a super power be a power if a large portion of its population remains illiterate?

Rice: Climate change a problem

Was quite interested to see that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has openly stated that “climate change is a real problem.” A statement that has taken a long time to come.

At a meeting, held in DC, of the 16 most polluting countries, the BBC reports that Rice “challenged leaders to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels by moving toward energy sources that would reduce global warming – but without harming their economies.” This strikes me as good common sense — and fairly reiterates what is an appropriate approach to ecological issues.

The key issue seems to be over having voluntary over binding emission cuts. On the one hand making “obligatory” moves has caused a rift and a “with us or against us” sentiment (eg Kyoto) — setting the right objectives are fundamental in this case. On the other hand, if it is voluntary then it mean a more genuine effort (depending on the inevitable political machinations).

I feel that given the growing swell among consumers, there will be enough democratic pressure to push [democratic] governments to do what is necessary. The issue in these democratic countries will be to make sure the [green] voters can have their voice heard on this specific issue. And this, of course, does not resolve the issue for the less or non democratic countries. If both India and China are more in favor of voluntary cuts, that would be strong motivation to lean that way. A few more worldwide disasters caused by volatile climate changes will surely help to sharpen the collective mind and focus in the run up to the expiry of Kyoto (2012) and, hopefully, the creation of a new globally united front on the issue.

The good news is that fighting global climate change may at last become a bipartisan topic. The bad news is that Rice’s statements come a little late in the 8-year Bush reign to be fully genuine. President Bush will be addressing the conference tomorrow.

Interesting blog on the topic The Swamp.
Sandwalk and News As Gossip also started a thread based on Rice’s comments.

Here is the BBC report.

Google my rights – privacy beats piracy

In preparations for the CNIL (Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés) meeting 24 September, in Montréal, Google’s Keeper of the Data, Peter Fleischer, has been on the bandwagon for a worldwide protocol for the protection of private data on the net. Fleischer spoke, on 14 September, at a conference in Strasbourg, organised by UNESCO, on the subject of “Ethics and Human Rights in Today’s World of Information.” (Figaro article, “Google soigne son image de défenseur des libertés“). See BBC report.

Attempting to corral its competitors around this protocol, Google is on a mission with a vision, as leader, to curtail the tail (see Mitch Joel’s great post on the risks of the long tail). One can only imagine the internal wranglings at Yahoo and MSN centred around technological limitations. The bulk of the discussion is based around the longevity and selection of rather ‘delicate’ information, including name, addresses, bank details, photos… Google is proposing an 18 month lifespan — a substantial improvement over infinity, but enough to continue to render one nervous about ‘what’s out there.”

In addition, Google has evidently (it’s hard for me to check) already cut the lifespan of a cookie to two years, unless the user chooses to prolong. Previously, all Google cookies were programmed to live through 2038 (you must wonder how they came up with that year…50 years on?).

I was very curious about Fleischer’s remarks that Asia-Pacific has pioneered in this area. He mentions Australia and Vietnam. No mention of China. Clearly, if China is not on board, it would seem mildly dilutive for Google to search (dare I say googlise) for a worldwide solution.

Meanwhile, our blogs and comments will likely continue with their waggly tails. Writers looking for posterity have their ideal platform. Only challenge is whether they knew what they wanted. What we say or want today may not be true for the future. I can only imagine the potential carnage for future politicians whose acne-prone keyboard inspired one too many confessions.

Of course, 18 months for my bank details actually still seems like a long time to allow a hack or a pirate to play with my moolah.