Mixing it up in the French Government – Model of diversity?

In a democratic sense, the Government is the representation of the people.  As such, you might expect the notion of “fair” representation to be more heralded by the latest Sarkozy government, ushered in the last week of June 2009.  The new cabinet, under the loyal PM François Fillon, announced on June 25, covering the 38 ministries, contains 8 new people and the mélange is rather interesting.  If it is still not fully representative from a socio-demographic standpoint, the latest Sarkozy cabinet covers a wide spectrum of races, age, sex and ideology.

Fillon IV, New Sarkozy Government at Elysees Palace
Sarkozy’s Shuffle:  Fillon IV – The new government

25 men and 13 women (of which just 4 are full portfolio ministers, down from 7 full ministers in the prior cabinet, while 9 are junior ministers).  13/38 = 32%

In terms of age distribution, 5 ministers are under 40 years old, 12 are over 60.

There are a handful of “French liberals” aka capitalists or just “conservatives” (P Lellouche, H de Raincourt, H Novelli, D Bussereau, H Falco), another handful of centrists (H Morin, M Mercier, V Létard, C Blanc & AM Idrac) and yet another handful that could be said to sway more toward the “left” (Hirsch, Kouchner, Eric Besson, Frédéric Mitterrand et JM Bockel).

There are 4 ministers that represent “diversity” and all four are women.  Insofar as France, following in Norway’s footsteps, has imposed a quota of 40% of women on executive and advisory boards (of state and publicly traded companies) by 2015 (20% by 2011), this Sarkozy government is well on track, if perhaps a little light among the full portfolio ministers.

I was particularly interested by the preliminary words used by President Sarkozy to his assembled team (I transliterate): “ Don’t speak too quickly to the journalists, until you have a good grasp of your subject.  Show solidarity with your fellow cabinet ministers, don’t transgress on each other’s territory (aka don’t step on each other’s toes), and don’t forget that you are NOT in your position just to recycle dossiers that have been prepared for you by your administration.”  (note the double negative).

In these lines, one can read many things.  Communication is absolutely key to success.   Be master of your destiny by gaining knowledge (and I might have added more field work).  And, providing Sarkozy defines carefully enough the said territories, then it will be possible not to interfere with one another’s work.  That said, with such a diverse population in his cabinet, one could also expect to have diverse interpretations.  And that is the benefit and the difficulty of diversity.  Let us see how Sarkozy and PM François Fillon manage. 

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

Worldometer

Check out Worldometers, a live feed that supposedly tabulates as it happens a whole slew of events and activities in the world, including a host of ecological stats on food, water, energy as well as numerous health issues. I was passed this link by François (merci) and literally spent minutes glued to the numbers ticking over. When you observe the number of deaths or births happening as you watch, you tend to feel a little like you are participating. Yesterday, the 23rd January, was a special day because my sister in Guam delivered a 5kg son to the world. BRAVA biggrin and welcome Nathaniel Broderick. Meanwhile, today, it is our son’s birthday… another year ticks by. Happy Birthday Oscar! razz

Regarding Worldometers, it “is managed by a team of developers and researchers with the goal of making world statistics available in a thought-provoking and time relevant format to a wide audience around the world.” As my friend Jean-Marc reinforced in a recent brilliant presentation this week: check the green and blue lines (in the google search) and [especially for any www information] check your source. Worldometers’ site presents its sources as the most reliable out there. These include UN, WHO, etc. and certainly, without double-checking, that seems official enough.

Worldometers starts with a stat du mois, this month it is toxic chemicals released by industries worldwide into our air, land, and water this year (tons).

Other categories include Education and Media, Government & Economics… And among the list of numbers you can watch ticking over, there are the “cumulative hours waited for web pages to download this year” (which surely is a misleading number because it will have difficulty to account for the geometric surge in high speed lines). But otherwise, the site is appropriately thought provoking.

Others who have blogged on Worldometers include Vicar in Yeovil, Saravanan in Singapore, Prathiba in Chennai India, the Gaol House Blog (UK)… Certainly garnering worldwide readership!

Norway quota for women on corporate boards

A bold decision

I read with interest about Norway’s legislated quota for women’s presence on publicly traded private limited liability (“ASA”) corporate boards. The improvements in equality on boards in Norway were not coming fast enough*, so, in 2005, the government put in place a minimum quota of 40% of women on every ASA corporate board by the end of 2007, with consequences if not met. In the last six months of 2007, it is estimated that 400 additional women were voted onto corporate boards, making Norway by far and away the country with the highest representation of women on boards. Quoting from GlobeWomen.org, “In its 2007 study, Women Directors in the Fortune Global 200 Companies’ released in Berlin at the June Global Summit of Women, Corporate Women Directors International reported that only 11.2% of corporate board seats are held by women in the 200 largest companies in the world.” The successful implementation of the Norwegian law has been observed by many other countries (including Canada, Spain) seeking similar diversity. I note that Sweden apparently balked on a similar quota initiative five years ago.

A 40% target

Having been set the objective of 40% female representation on boards, the targeted Norwegian companies are now on average at 37%, at parity with the 37% of their women parliamentarians, although below the true parity achieved in PM Jens Stoltenberg’s current cabinet (8/16)**. The very least one can say is that the Norwegians are putting their money with their mouthes are…and with great courage. I was able to find, for example, many sites with stats on gender equality (including this one at Statistics Norway).

I was intrigued by a blogger’s following explanation for the strong presence of women in Norwegian society:

usini wrote (find in the comments section): “I think that one has to be very careful not to generalise from the particular. Women in Norway always had quite a strong position politically, because, so I believe, of the economy being based on fishing and sea-faring which meant that a lot of men were absent when decisions had to be made. Thus a solution which is suitable for them may not necessarily apply to other cultures.”

One of the items to watch closely in the near future will be how the Government deals with non-compliant companies. This Guardian article identifies the scope of the problem with 111 yet to comply and 5 companies that still have zero women on their boards. Clearly, closing down those companies will be an explosive solution. The second evolution to watch carefully is how the board members are re-elected… When/if a woman leaves a board, will she systematically have to be replaced by another woman?

Sensitive topic

This quota law was naturally a topic of great sensitivity. Quotas are a generally reviled policy. And most of the commentary I have read on this particular policy are predictably unfavorable. Certainly the ambition of going from 6% to 40% was enormous, if also artificial, over such a short period of time. As much as some Norwegian unions might have been delighted by the quota, most of the private sector was up in arms and there is probably continuing concern that foreign companies will look less favorably at installing in Norway. As reported by the Centre for Corporate Diversity, there was also concern that some of the 500 concerned companies would change their ASA status to avoid this law. That particular concern has proved unwarranted. Meanwhile, even the Norwegian Gender blog, authored by Ragnhild Sohlberg, has put up reservations as to the success and/or desirability of a quota system. Susan Gunelius at Women on Business also issued reservations against quotas. In any event, finding qualified talent in those numbers over such a short time frame does not appear healthy–and one has to imagine some negative fallout in the first few years. Nonetheless, I applaud the courage of their convictions.

In many ways, the trick for the Norwegians will now be to validate the new status to show that corporate performance is at least as good as in the past (if not better) in order to encourage other companies (such as Luxottica, which has committed to 30% of women in management positions) if not other governments, to follow suit. Proving that the performance has otherwise been altered by a higher presence of women will ultimately fall to the numbers and bottom line. The question is whether the benchmarks and interpretation of those numbers will be clear.

Looking at the global playing field, it is interesting to note how a smaller country can become, in a certain fashion, the experimental laboratory for other bigger countries. Not that the context in any country can perfectly translate for other countries, but this policy and its successful implementation could surely give rise to new initiatives in other countries. Its failure would only reinforce the “I told you so” against quotas. In the same vein of looking at “small” country initiatives, I am tracking Norway’s actions on the ecological front (including this Green Prison initiative in a prior post) where they are pioneers as well. The least one can say is that they are attempting to bring about change. And since the end is desirable…to what extent does that justify the means? Any thoughts?

Other blogs on this topic:

Yvonne Roberts speaks out in favor on Guardian Unlimited. The comments are quite heated.
Ibibo Blogs – One blog supporting the notion that Quota works…
Fresh Inc. — 40% of business school students in Norway are women.
NYT Article from Jan 2006 — Women more reasonably represented in politics & media…
Mises Blog – The Ludwig von Mises Institute is the research and educational center of classical liberalism, libertarian political theory, and the Austrian School of economics. Even this post inspired a lot of debased, inflammatory comments (from 2005)…
Reinvention Inc... where I picked up the story about Spain following Norway’s example (not on the imposition of a quota, but an incentive to have higher female representation. In 2006, Spain had under 4% female representation on corporate boards.
CareerDiva – with a balanced comment section to date (just 5 comments).

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* The initial request from the Norwegian government was made in 2002, with a non-binding law established in 2003. In the following three years, the percent of women present on boards rose from a poor 6% to an ‘average’ 11%. I read a 2003 article from Time magazine on the topic… makes for good recent retrospective information.

** I found a blog posting on Writes Like She Talks, referring to a Huffington Post posting from 2006 that discusses the representation of women in politics across the world, where the USA ranked 67th. Write Like She Talks has an updated blog site now, here.

Motorcycle Helmet Day: Visit to Hanoi Vietnam – Part 3

Hanoi Vietnam Motorcyclists Without Helmets StillVisit to Hanoi Vietnam – Part 3 of a 3-part recount…Today is December 15th, an important day for motorcyclists in Vietnam:

Based on a personal survey, I would say that, up until a week ago (when I left), less than 5% of the scooter riders were wearing a helmet. With the photo to the left taken a week ago, you can see for yourselves [note the mobile “tea time”]. By itself, the absence of helmets is a statement on the value of life. During my stay, I witnessed five accidents where a scooter rider was sprawled out on the ground motionless. Every year there are reported to be 15,000 deaths on the road, with 80% due to cerebral damage. The ironic thing is that, today, December 15th, a new law is going into place in Vietnam to make wearing the helmet obligatory. There were several large Soviet-style posters dotted around town announcing the new legislation (right). With less than a week to go, when I was in Hanoi, I did not see people lining up Hanoi Vietnamto buy the helmets in the stores. I can only imagine the process of implementing the helmet law will take a good long time before (a) the police manage to pass along the message sufficiently, (b) the people find the resources to purchase the helmets and (c) the habits change such that no more than 3 people ride together (it is much harder, even more dangerous, to group ride if everyone were wearing a helmet).

Scooters are parked chock-a-block on the sidewalks. Some are even parked inside the shops. I saw one house with a car parked in the ground floor living room. Scooters are part of the daily life and represent, it seems for the majority, the way of life. Families, friends, colleagues, baggage, goods, livestock… You will find all grouped onto the the scooters. The record I saw was 6 adults (young kids) who clambered on together (although it was difficult for them to get started). I was simply fascinated by this way of life. You just about saw any combination. Parents with their two kids; sometimes an infant carried by the mother behind the husband. Many were fortunately wearing a mouth protection, of course, to avoid inhaling the ghastly pollution.

Anyway, in honor of the December 15th law, this post is to encourage ALL motorcyclists to wear helmets, wherever ye may be!

Meanwhile, among I have just a couple of final observations to share with you. As much as the messages may still controlled by the government, the young population is clearly getting plugged in to the outside world, despite the filters. The internet cafes (left) were systematically crammed with eager surfers.

And I save for last the merchandising magic of the jeans stores (photo right). The mannequins are placed in the street and ALL of them are turned around so that you can evaluate “properly” the way the jeans fall. Quite an astute marketing ploy, no? In this photo, I also half captured a live mannequin-slash-shopper.

And, finally, a quick blogroll of other interesting blogs of people commenting on Hanoi:

Lockportions from NY
Sri Kebatat Photo Blog
Peter – A life in Hanoi
And, Web Censorship in Vietnam from Global Voices Online

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.

Norway – Greening of the prison

Following my last post, (How Green Are You?), on the topic of being green, going to have to give a plug for our Norwegian friends, whose government have decided to render Bastoey, one of its low security prisons, “ecologically friendly.” The 115 inmates get an education on values such as respect of one another and the environment. Inmates play a role in the daily operations; the prison produces most of its own food, recycles, etc. Got to love it.

Others writing on the topic:

China: Do you see 2020?: Financial Ascent vs Demographic Descent

Last night, at the MSG (not-in-my-salad) Arena, there was a curious heavyweight boxing match between two Chinamen. One, in the gold shorts, was the China of Optimism (CO). In the other corner, wearing satin red shorts, was the China of Porcelain Doubt (aka PCDo). The bout was about to enter into its 10th round when I curled up and went to sleep. It is probably going to go on for a while further. In fact, the match may just as easily step outside the ring and resound throughout our global arena. In any event, here were some of the highlights of the match.

In the first rounds, CO was all over PCDo. Some ringing hits to the upper body as well as inside on the chin(a):

* In China, as evidence that access to the stock market is truly democratizing, there are on average 200,000 new brokerage accounts opened each day. In 2005, there were just 2 million opened all year.

* In May 2007, the Chinese government plopped down $3B for 10% of the Blackstone Group.

* US trade deficit with China hit $232B in 2006 up from $50B in 1997.

* China will overtake the US in number of Internet users in 2009: “There are now an estimated 137 million Internet users in China, and that number has been growing by 18 percent since 2004 until it picked up even more steam in 2006, going up to 23 percent. The United States has 165 million Internet users, according to Pew, with 25 million of those users being aged 12-17. At the current rate of growth in China, the number of Chinese web surfers will surpass the number of American users some time in 2009, and it will continue to rise sharply afterward. With more than half of Americans already online, China’s growth over the next 10 years will easily dwarf that of the United States.” — Jeremy Reimer . As my friend Mitch reminded me from Singapore yesterday, one of the interesting facets of the Chinese internet boom is the censorship of Beijing and the permeability of the Great Chinese Firewall (see BusinessWeek article).

But, PCDo was not to be outdone, storming back with some profound counterattacks for the remainder of the evening. Even though PCDo is slightly chubby around the midrift, his age and world-famed wisdom pulled its weight.

* There is much to say about the Chinese demographics, notably that the total population will spiral up to a peak of 1.5 billion people by 2030. More important is the composition of that 1.5B population. By 2040, the UN projects that the elderly (60+) share of the population will jump from 12.8% (or 174 million according to a document issued by the China National Committee on Aging in 2006 to 28 percent, a larger elder share than it projects for the United States. By 2040, assuming current demographic trends continue, the Chinese elderly will number nearly 400 million–more than the total current population of France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom combined.** When you compare the span of time and the rate of increase of elderly in China to the West — whose elderly share rose from 10% in the 1930s to an anticipated 25% a hundred years later — one has to assume that such a meteoric change will have rude consequences in the social climate and economic dynamics. Courtesy of FuturePundit.

* Currently, the Chinese Fertility Rate is 1.82 births per woman. In 2001, the average was estimated at 1.98 in rural areas and 1.22 in urban areas. (Hamayoun Kahn study). See right: the People’s Republic of China’s Fertility Rate 1949-1999 as estimated by the US Census Bureau graph.

* The UN projects that the size of China’s working age population, on whose shoulders will be the burden of creating wealth and taking care of the burgeoning elderly class, will peak in 2015. The rate of decline after that point will depend on future fertility rates. If the fertility rate remains constant (an optimistic viewpoint for some), the population of the working-age Chinese will drop a staggering 18% between 2005 and 2050. And, it could be considerably worse than that as well if the fertility rate declines. The risks would point to wage inflation due to a lack of workforce supply.

* Considering the socio-economic pressure, just 25 percent of China’s total workforce, urban and rural, have any pension provision at all.

* Bare Branches offers some statistics on the ratio of boys to girls. “In China, the official ratio is 117 boys born for every 100 girls, but the reality is probably 120 or more. In India, the official birth sex ratio is 111-114 boys per 100 girls, but spot checks show ratios of up to 156 boys per 100 girls in some locales [around New Delhi, for example]. For comparison, normal birth sex ratios are 105-107 boys born per 100 girls.” (Still debated in biologist circles, human beings apparently naturally create more boys than girls.) Courtesy of IHT article published in 2004. The disarming prospect of an overstretched economy, insufficient funding for retirement, fewer children (and fewer still women) to take care of the eldery — China’s main instrument of retirement — as well as the fact that the future wave of elderly will not have reached affluence (unlike today’s baby boomers), is bound to be a very heavy strain.

CO put in some good later rounds, however, reminding us that education is as gold as discipline.

* Higher education is on a fast track in China with 12 percent of senior high school graduates entering universities and colleges for further study in 2001, compared with 3.4 percent in 1990. There are now more than 4 million students at college or university in China, with an estimated half million Chinese students at higher education abroad.

* China provides universal health care. However, clearly, there are substantial cracks in the system, as witnessed by the Avian Flu issue, Hepatitis B (affecting est. 10% of the population), widespread smoking and escalating HIV/AIDS.

* Percentage of Chinese living in poverty has dropped from 73% in 1990 to 32% in 2003.

* China’s economy has averaged over 9% annual growth since 1978.

There it was, the end of the 9th round. Most people were still looking for CO to cruise to victory. The panel of famous international judges, including Hugo Capex, Harold Persons and Sly Dettor
, were wringing their hands and shaking their heads. The arena was a buzz with chat. I know it seems odd, but zzzzzzzhangzu, I started to snore. So, I let you commentate the next rounds as I zzzzzzzzzzinzhua away at night.

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I approached this particular post as if I were a universal (not exactly university) student starting out on a research paper. Aside from the content of this post — on which I freely invite comment — I am fascinated at how different is the process of research in today’s world compared to our traditional methods back when… Where appropriate, I have given a link rather than outright citation of credit. Not exactly scientific, but part of the web 2.0 of dealing with multiple sources. This post is not intended to be a definitive study, but a collection of some miscellaneous facts about China that lead me to be confused about the future, more than make me more entrenched. No doubt there is a silver lining or black cloud behind any number. And the above “match-up” limits itself to internal issues. Jokers in the future will include developments in Korea, Japan, as well as the role China takes on internationally once it has the measure of the world.
_________________________________________________________________

** Richard Jackson and Neil Howe, The Graying of the Middle Kingdom, Report published by Center for Strategic & International Studies, April 2004, p.2.

When politics, branding and entertainment merge…

We are in the midst of a number of important changeovers in governments around the world. My home country, France, has not only changed government, but seems to be giving France a JFK-esque-1st-100-days-run-for-your-money changeover. Sarkozy is giving true meaning to “Ensemble Tout Devient Possible.” And, by ravaging the Socialist Party with nominations in his government, Sarkozy is going a whole new power to the word Ensemble (together). During the French elections, campaign websites were a must, political platform comparison sites were the rage (see prior blog), and blogs were in full action, Sarkozy Campaign (not continued since election) and even for the Ecolo Dominique Voynet, among others, were on line. Of course, campaigning must be virtual and ‘brick & mortar’. As my friend Eric says, the Sarkozy brand even took up the democratic jogging. All in all, branding and the place of new technologies was at a new level in the 2007 Presidential Elections.

In the UK, after elections in Scotland, Ireland and Wales earlier in the year, Blair handed over to Brown without much real fanfare. While England can theoretically wait until 2010, it would seem likely that Brown will call for an earlier General Election. We’ll see then how much Brown will play with his image, touch new technologies and revolutionize the election process.

Looking ahead now, elections will be spawning like tadpoles. Many of them will be very important for geo-politics. In the next month alone, we will be seeing elections in India (Presidential this week), Kazakhstan (parliamentary), Turkey (parliamentary this weekend); then in Jamaica as well as 5 countries in Africa (Cameroon, Mali, Congo, Sierra Leone…). In the fall, there is Switzerland, Ukraine, Vietnam, Australia and Argentina (not many in the Middle East!). But, the BIGGIE, of course, is 2008 in the US. And the jockeying is well under way.

If the preliminaries are any indication, the amount of novelty in communications may well prove revolutionary as well. I have recently fallen upon the viral campaign by Hillary Clinton. See Hillary Clinton Viral Video, a Sopranos parody based on the Series Finale….It is a little rough, but the amateur feel is not disagreeable as, too slick could send the wrong message. I applaud the originality of her e-campaign chief. If Ms Clinton continues in this direction, she will certainly set the stage for a new kind of campaign and, by starting now, she will create a deep rooted buzz as well ramp up the learning curve in the run-up. John Edwards, aside from his notoriously expensive crop, is a regular on www.twiter.com. Meanwhile, the main content provider is, of course, the internet community itself. Just search youtube and any one of the major candidates; one highlight: the 1984 takeoff, a mash-up video inspired by Apple, which was apparently done by a disenchanted ex-Obama staff member. For the most part, youtube projects the bad side of the candidates. But, I believe that could change for candidates knowing how to play in that arena. It will mean have exceptional communications skills – applied to a whole new media compared with 2004. In Turkey, because of the restrained access on television, the campaign seems to have become half in the streets, half on youtube, where (according to Europe 1 radio) there are a combined 7,000 videos posted for the two main parties. All in all, these types of messages give new meaning to branding, entertainment and politics. New technologies will definitely play a very strong role in USA ’08 Presidential Elections. Who can compete as effectively with Hillary? It should be enthralling. And, to some extent, it will be more about brains than brawn, because quick amateur videos are very democratic and, moreover, tend to be better received than slick, professional ads.

What’s a Finance Minister?

As much as we might spend time defining the role of the different functions in a company (what is the title? whose responsibility is what? what are the measurable objectives?…), an article in Le Figaro on 21 May presented the conundrum of the definition of the role of the “Finance” Ministers of the G8. Whereas competitive companies may not liberally share this information, governments are obliged to understand each other’s structures & responsibilities. The article, entitled “Les droles d’avatars du ministere des Finances,” explains that in the US, the Treasury Secretary [Paulson] is responsible for the management of the economy, including taxes, financial regulation and the USD. However, he is not responsible for the Federal budget, international commerce, industry… In Japan, meanwhile, the Finance Minister [Omi] is responsible for public finances and the Yen. The role of overseeing the economic strategy falls to the man in charge of the Minister of the Economy, Commerce and Industry [Amari], who is widely seen as the man who rebooted the Japanese economy over the last five years. In the UK, the title is “Chancellor of the Exchequer,” again another angle. One can imagine the complication of deciding who to send to which international meeeting – an affair of State. In any event, the separation in France of the roles under Jean-Louis Borloo, the new Minister of Finance, Economy & Employment–whereby one side handles the creation of wealth and the other handles the wealth distribution and obligatory withholdings–seems quite sensible. In any event, it sort of follows a capitalist (“liberal”)-to-socialist split.

I was curious to see what Breton (outgoing) said to Borloo. During the transfer of power, the former Minister for Finance warned his successor that, with the change in responsibilities, he was going to have to comment on the figures of the French economy, “an exercise which is not always simple, which requires a little tact, much of modesty and humility”.