Recycled newspapers – Bobo fantasy or true eco-tourism?

On our recent family holidays to Kerala, India, I was struck how several hotels used recycled newspapers. Specifically, I found recycled newspapers being used as bags (for example, for shoes), sanitary bags, envelopes and garbage inserts. The bags were carefully constructed and came with string handles. I can’t evaluate whether these items were playing to the Bobo fantasy* of being ecologically friendly or truly represent a way of saving the planet. In any event, I thought they were effective in their function and provided a nice change from the typical hotel amenities. I didn’t get too much black ink on my fingers either! Have you remarked these types of initiatives elsewhere?

Recycled newspapers India, Minter Dial, The Myndset digital marketing*Bobo = Bohemian Bourgeois

 

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

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

Comments and Thoughts after Visit to Dubai 2008

OUR VISIT TO DUBAI FOR FAMILY HOLIDAYS

Dubai - 20% of world's active cranesRarely does one get a chance to see a city in the making, especially if you have lived all your life in “old” Europe and/or the East Coast of America. For those in the Shanghai’s of the world, it is perhaps current currency. Dubai was my first such experience, where there are an enormous number of cranes constructing the city in front of your eyes. According to a number of sites (for one, see here), 20% of the world’s active cranes are in Dubai City. You wonder if or how all the empty spaces will be rented out at the promised exorbitant rates. But, you do get the feeling that Dubai is the new promised land…

Dubai - Camel, the desert and modern technologyFashioned with verve, ambition and purpose, Dubai is a fascinating place to visit. For such a lightly populated city, it has many surprises, especially in terms of its diverse architecture. Dubai is a hybrid of many cities. At times, you see can the Las Vegas inspiration (all along the road to Bab Al Shams you can see large detoured billboards representing the type of resort to be constructed by the Al Bawadi Group over the next 8 years). The project involves the building of 12 enormous themed tourist attractions (as in “Andalusia” photo to the right below, or Asia Asia, Europa, Musica, Americas, etc…) that speak to Dubai’s international appeal. Then there is the NYC feeling of the monster skyscrapers–albeit with Dubai - Andalusia Theme Attraction en route to Bab Al Shamsa greater density of interesting architecture–along Sheikh Zayed Road. Down at the Dubai Marina, you might as well be in Dubai - Modern Skyscraper with Arabic TouchMiami. That said, Dubai also has its own markings, including the Arabic finishing touches on many of the skyscrapers, and wonderfully decadent hotels lining the beach (numerous 7* locations, if not necessarily 7* in service, certainly in price). To make sure you aren’t in the West, you also have the painted camels (ex cows) dotted around the city and beach (see down below for one fine example).

The Dubai airport is an experience unto itself. The diversity of people lining up at immigration takes a page out of the United Nations yearbook. It would even have been proportionate representation except for the relative under-representation of the Chinese. The airport, which is open 24/7, is just bustling with activity. Its duty free stores are the most active in the world–the liquor stopover is elemental for all Dubai residents as it is impossible to buy liquor in town.

Our first port of call, after profiting from the “inside the airport” 88-room NH Hotel, was the delightful Bab Al Shams desert resort (part of the Jumeirah Group). Along the way, you go through the Desert Gates (pictured below).

Dubai - Desert Gate en route to Bab Al Shams
The authentic outside-in-the-desert dinner at the Al Hadheerah, replete with horse show, camel riding (photo on right) and a variety of dancers, was a lovely first ‘night out.’ You can also have your personalised henna painting or partake in a traditional Shisha. Altogether, we spent two fairly slothful days at Bab Al Shams, including a one-hour camel ride — a warning to those who don’t know: a camel’s girth is huge and for your legs, therefore, riding a camel can Dubai - Al Hadheerah Desert Restaurant Camel Showbe a tortuous experience. As I mentioned above, on the way to and from Bab Al Shams, you see at once the desert of the past and the Dubai of the future. With all the themed resorts along the road (due to be built between now and 2014 — see here for virtual vision of the future projects), Bab Al Shams desert resort will likely become some day Bab Al Shams downtown resort.

Moving to the city, we next stayed at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, where we had a lovely experience, benefitting from the splendid family activities available (especially the Wild Wadi 12-acre water park). The beach facilities and amenities, the multiple pools and ever-available buggy services were just perfect. We also enjoyed a very lively dinner at our friends Peter and Isabelle who live in Jumeirah 1 [thanks!].

The mega hotels in Dubai, dotted along the beach, are impressive. The standout architectural novelty, Burj Al Arab Hotel (below in the distance), comes complete with helicopter pad (cum tennis court) on the 25th (top) floor and a panoramic restaurant/bar on the other side that will cost you $500/pp on average for dinner. In typical extravagance, the hotel offers helicopter or Rolls Royce airport transfer for a ride that only takes 20 minutes (without traffic) or costs 40 Dirhams (c. 7€ or US$10)
by regular taxi.

Dubai - Medinat Jumeirah Hotel + Burj Al Arab
At Madinat Jumeirah, down the coast, is an Arabian-style sprawling complex with 3 different hotel environments (Mina A’Salam, Al Qasr and Dar Al Maysaf). There are nearly 600 rooms & suites, 29 summer houses and 7 royal villas (each with a private pool). And with each of the estimated 30 pools in the complex, there is a lifeguard (by law) through to 10pm. With guards sitting even at the private swimming pools, there is not much room for skinny dipping and it certainly is an intrusion on romance. We enjoyed a lovely abra ride around the Madinat creek, a visit to the “souk” (aka another big name mall) and dinner at an Arabic/Lebanese restaurant (one of 45 restaurants located in the Madinat complex).

Dubai - Painted Camels instead of CowsAside from the muezzin and ever present veiled women, you get a sense of the formalism in Dubai after reading the newspapers. When reporting on the country’s ruler, you can read on any one page of the Gulf News up to ten times the full moniker of “Vice-President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, his Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum” (which, once you have written it once, you can apparently reduce to Sheikh Mohammed for short). Of course, you will also see multiple references to Abu Dhabi President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, not to be confused with General Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. Sure makes one appreciate terms like Sarko and GW.

Burj Dubai Tower - Projection LookAmong the curious sights, you will see buses after 5pm in rush hour, packed with exhausted Indian construction workers, their heads bowed in sleep, leaning on the headrest of the seat in front. Earning a paltry 700Dhs per month for non-stop 12-hour gruelling days, they are at the low end of the totem pole (and are frequently treated as such by the locals). There are apparently 20,000 workers at the Dubai Burj Tower alone, working day and night. We were driven onto the construction site of the world’s highest building by our driver — unheard of access in western countries. But it is an impressive sight to see cranes functioning some 629 metres (today’s current height) up above you. The building’s completion date varied according to the person with whom you were speaking. And its final height has been kept under veil as well (some figures point to surpassing 800 metres– wikipedia says 818 m).

I have two astonishing mental images to share with you (not photographable). First, was one of a fully veiled woman driving an SUV with dark windows. The second was when a young (25-years-old) Emirati drove up beside me (seated in the taxi passenger seat) at around 60kmh and, burnishing a big smile, faked turning his SUV into the right flank of the taxi. Very pointed.

Deira Dubai by NightSpeaking of DTA taxis, which were nationalized in 1997, there are 12,000 of them in Dubai — apparently not enough for the peak hours and, because of the heavy traffic, invisible in downtown Deira (the other side of the Creek – night time photo to the left)… But, virtually all the taxi drivers were polite and service oriented.

As for taxi economics — a topic which continues to interest me (a hangover from «Freakonomics»?) –I found one willing driver, Mohammed, who revealed all. If a car (whether the driver is solo or partnered) earns Dhs12,000 in a 30-day month (i.e. the car must rack up Dhs400 every single day 7/7), the driver earns a 35% commission. With the metre feeding directly into HQ, every move of the taxi is recorded. All the petrol and insurance, etc., is taken care of. Therefore, a solo taxi driver can, if he makes the quota, earn Dhs4,200/month or about $650USD.

As usual, each “foreign worker” sends home any excess cash. And, of course, a majority of the Dubai residents are “foreign workers.”

There is a very clear cultural division (of labour) when it comes to the jobs. Here is what we discovered:
* The non-officer Police are from Yemen.
* The Taxi drivers are Pakistani (also heavy trucks) or Indian [all of the ones we had were from Kerala]; any female taxi drivers are Filipina.
* Personnel in the hotels are mostly Filipino and Sri Lankan.
* The technical jobs are also won by the Filipinos.
* You will find Bangladeshi as waiters.
* And, as for the Emirati–those that have to work–you will find them at the airport and as officers in the police force and army.

Dubai - A city with verve but still under construction
Dubai is a modern marvel (perhaps a lovemark unto itself!). In the image of the monumental Burj Dubai Tower, its future is inspiring, but not ensured. It sometimes feels like a house of cards — but, it has every chance of success based on the sense of service and its prime location in the world. I would be an even bigger fan if there was not always a latent feeling of oppression. Then again, you can get the same feeling, in different parts of town, in pretty much any city. It is a worthy visit — just don’t forget to budget for it.