Cardiovascular disease accounts for 40% of deaths in China.

The Chinese people have used salt to prepare and preserve food for thousands of years. But consuming lots of salt raises blood pressure, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease which is the cause for 40% of deaths in China. While salt intake in northern China has declined over the past four decades, which may be the result of the government’s efforts to increase salt awareness, salt intake in southern China has increased during that same period, which could be due to increased consumption of processed, restaurant and takeaway foods. These lifestyle differences coincide with the rapid growth of China’s mega cities and the increasing affluence of their populations which lets them eat out more.

The article recommends replacing regular salt with potassium salt. However, that has its own problems. Potassium consumed in excess may be harmful for some people. For example, many persons with kidney problems are unable to rid their bodies of excessive potassium, which could result in a deadly situation. The best solution is to go salt free.

American crocodiles, once nearing extinction, are thriving at nuclear recator

You heard right: American crocodiles, not alligators, are thriving at an unusual spot – the canals surrounding the South Florida Turkey Point nuclear plant. Turkey Point’s 168-mile (270 kilometers) of man-made canals serve as the home to several hundred crocodiles, where a team of specialists working for Florida Power&Light monitors and protects them from hunting and climate change.

Animated maps of countries contribution to total fossil fuel production

The company 911 Metallurgist has created animated maps showing which countries currently produce the most oil, coal, and natural gas. Very cool.
(See related blog entry here)

To create the interactive maps, we first researched what data was available on each fossil fuel. The goal was to find the most up to date and reliable data available. We selected our sources based on reliability. Countries release their data at different intervals, so to ensure accuracy we selected confirmed figures from reliable sources such as the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), among others.

The majority of our figures come from 2018 and 2017 and were the most up to date figures available from trusted sources.

Oh, and while we are at it: global energy demand grew yet again in 2018, by 2.3%, its fastest pace in ten years. 70% of that was provided by fossil fuel, and only 30% by renewables and nuclear. While the developed world is switching from coal to natural gas, the developing world sees coal as their savior. Just the growth in fossil fuel last year exceeded the growth in renewables over the same time period.

Is Michelle Obama Really the World’s Most Admired Person?

A recently published You.gov survey claims that Michelle Obama is the world’s most admired person. I don’t know how counting is done in the world of surveys but if you count only in how many countries Michelle Obama was the number one choice then the statement is not correct. Then the count is 23 No and 17 Yes (the survey says 41 countries were surveyed but the site only shows results for 40).

I suspect that the survey also took into account how often Michelle Obama was rated near the top, like in the top three. Then you end up with 5 second places and 4 third places for a total of 26 countries in her favor.

I did a quick analysis of the data available on the You.gov site and this is what I found.

17 countries chose Michelle Obama as number one. 14 of these countries are first world countries. 23 other countries chose local talent 16 times and foreign talent 7 times over Michelle Obama. Melania Trump beat Michelle Obama in Russia. Angelina Jolie is still the number one foreign choice.

What does this tell us? That 13 of the first world countries prefer Michelle Obama over local talent. Why is that? Are these countries really so intellectually bankrupt that they have no locals to be proud of? What does Michelle O. represent to these countries that makes her their number one choice? I suspect media exposure played a large role in their decision to make Michelle O. number one.

My conclusion is that Michelle Obama’s popularity is a limited first world phenomenon, nothing more. Certainly not global.

Introspection in the European Union

Two articles caught my attention today and both deal with the EU’s realization that it must pull up its socks and get real if it wants to be a player in the international game of thrones. To quote:

The EU’s foreign policy is inadequate to the task of keeping Europe safe in today’s world of great power politics and uncertainty.

Over the last five years, trust between Brussels and member states dwindled, and policy came to reflect the lowest common denominator of popular opinion.

The coming five years herald acute pressure on Europe, particularly as Russia, China, and the US undermine multilateral institutions and treat trade, finance data, and security guarantees as instruments of power rather than global public goods.

European countries are increasingly vulnerable to external pressure that prevents them from exercising their sovereignty.

This vulnerability threatens the European Union’s security, economic health, and diplomatic freedom of action, allowing other powers to impose their preferences on it.

Most fundamentally, the EU needs to learn to think like a geopolitical power. 

The EU’s common foreign and security policy was established under the Maastricht Treaty in 1993. 26 years later it is still learning how adopt a geopolitical mindset. Maybe its time for a European Security Council, as proposed by Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron. Even Africa has the African Union Peace and Security Council. Why should Europe lag behind?

The Increasing Security Focus in China’s Arctic Policy

There are concerns about China’s Arctic strategy internationally, and it is often perceived alongside Russian militarization of the Arctic as a dual threat to the established international order. In a recent report, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) names China as a threat to American interests in the Arctic, labeling it—together with Russia— a challenge “to the rules-based international order around the globe [causing] concern of similar infringement to the continued peaceful stability of the Arctic region”, drawing parallels to Chinese conduct in the South China Sea (SCS) and East China Sea (ECS).

China will soon start building a 30,000-tonne nuclear-powered ship described in the tender documents as an “experimental platform”. This follows the approach that the former Soviet Union took in its development of nuclear aircraft carriers. The Soviets had built five nuclear icebreakers before cutting steel in 1988 for their first nuclear carrier Ulyanovsk, which was never completed.

The European Unions’s Russian Disinformation Review

The flagship product of the EU vs Disinformation campaign, the Disinformation Review, was launched in November 2015. The Review brings you the latest news articles carrying key examples of how pro-Kremlin disinformation finds its way into the international information space, as well as news and analysis on the topic. The Review focuses on key messages carried in the media, which have been identified as providing a partial, distorted or false view or interpretation and spreading key pro-Kremlin messaging.

Some of the topics covered:

Infographic: Tracing Five Years of Pro-Kremlin Disinformation about MH17

The Journalists Who Exist Only on Paper: New Eastern Outlook, NEO, an English-language website, is a hardworking disinformation portal.

Operation Secondary Infektion: A far-reaching and sophisticated Russian disinformation operation, most likely deriving from Russian intelligence. The evidence suggests it ran for several years, with some content dating as far back as 2014.

It took 3 to 10 days for the Russian Internet Research Agency to increase polarization of the #BlackLivesMatter debate on Twitter, research by scholars from Oxford and Amsterdam universities shows.

Three Things You Should Know About RT and Sputnik

Samsung, Apple Exiting China for India, Vietnam

Samsung to close key assembly base in Guangdong, while Foxconn may cut production of iPhones. Samsung is said to be in the midst of shifting production to Vietnam and India. It opened arguably the world’s largest mobile phone manufacturing facility on the outskirts of New Delhi last year, with an annual output of 120 million units when fully operational. Zhengzhou, known as the “iPhone city”, is also grappling with falling exports and revenue. Foxconn already has sufficient capacity outside China to accommodate all production of Apple products at least for the US.

The dark side of the Caribbean

The Spanish daily El País and the Central American Internet journalism project El Faro have teamed up for a large-scale multi-part report on Mexico’s southernmost frontier, “the Latin American dividing line that is crossed by most people on a daily basis, as one of the most-crossed borders of the world.”

The coastal area shared by Mexico, Guatemala and Belize is one of the most porous and little-known regions in the southern America border. Via three feature articles – in Xcalak, a remote Mexican village that lives off the cocaine that washes up from the sea; in Blue Creek, the powerful economic engine of the Mennonites; and in Puerto Barrios, the dark Guatemalan port in the Atlantic – this special report describes the enigmatic reality that exists just a stone’s throw from some of the biggest tourist attractions in the world.

Democracy: first Ukraine, then Russia?

Interview with Boris Akunin, whose pen name is Grigori Chkhartishvili, and is Russia’s best-known writer of detective and historical fiction. He is also a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Akunin spoke out in 2014 against the annexation of Crimea, and has lived in self-imposed exile since. Here are some excerpts.

Leave Russia to its own destiny. It is a country which needs to grow up, to make some difficult choices by itself. What the West can do and, I think, should do is to help Ukraine, a new country, a young democracy, still unstable and very vulnerable. If democracy in Ukraine wins, it would be a huge boost to the democratic movement in Russia. For us Ukraine is a sort of alternative Russia—only without the burden of imperialist nostalgia and free to elect its leaders. But it is a poor and disorganized country. Russians look at this and tell themselves: democracy is no good. To put it very simply: if Ukrainians under democracy start to live better than Russians, Russia will turn in that direction too. So help us by helping them…. (Russia is) still is a hyper-centralized system where all important decisions are made at the center. Such a system is chemically incompatible with democracy.

I think that democracy has reached a certain level and cannot go further. Like a giraffe who grew up and reached the ceiling with its head. Now is the time to break into the next stage. New forms and new words have to be discovered. The main threat to Western democracy today, I think, is the inability of the intellectual elite to communicate adequately with the electorate. Mass media, public intellectuals, liberal politicians have become too arrogant, too stuck within their own milieu.

Is there a difference between hikikomori and shut-ins?

Hikikomori is a Japanese term that describes people who stay holed up in their homes, or even just their bedrooms, isolated from everyone except their family, for many months or years. The condition was first described in Japan, but cases have since been reported in countries as far apart as Oman, Indian, the US and Brazil.

Now, where I come from these (unfortunate?) people are called shut-ins or a “recluse; a person who abnormally avoids any social contact by staying indoors most of the time” as in “an example of a shut in is an elderly lady who hasn’t left her house for a month because she is afraid to see people.”

In 1998, Carnegie Mellon researchers warned that the internet could make us into hermits. They released a study monitoring the social behavior of 169 people making their first forays online. The web-surfers started talking less with family and friends, and grew more isolated and depressed.

Is calling these people hikikomori instead of shut-ins just pop-culture-induced orientalism or is there really a difference between the two conditions?

I am reminded of an refreshing article by Amy Olberding, a presidential professor of philosophy at the University of Oklahoma, with the title: “Tidying up is not joyful but another misuse of Eastern ideas.” She describes the susceptibility of Americans to plain good sense if it can but be infused with a quasi-mystical ‘oriental’ aura. She cites Kondo mania, from the “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” show on Netflix, as a typical example of this affliction. Folding clothes as an organisational strategy is boring. But folding clothes as a mystically infused plan of life is alluring.

The professor goes on to explain how the words of Confucius and Sun Tzu have been leveraged into self-help advice on all kinds of subjects, from coaching your kid’s football team to improving your marriage. Wisdom from the ‘East’ has long been marketed to Westerners hoping to escape their existential maladies by seeking what is exotic, what promises to be more meaningful than what they have or can find locally.

The same goes for the “tiny house movement”, which used to be called living in trailers, and self driving cars, which used to be called taxis.

Indonesian women suffering epidemic of domestic violence

The concept of marital rape is one that is unfamiliar to many Indonesians, with some conservative activists and politicians even arguing against a bill seeking to provide greater protections to victims of the crime on the basis that it was not compatible with traditional norms. Marital rape is not illegal under Indonesia’s Criminal Code but it is criminalized by the Domestic Violence Protection Act. However, marital rape carries a higher burden of proof and a lower maximum punishment than rape outside of marriage.

Marital rape is not being prosecuted enough, campaigners say. Data from the national commission on violence against women in 2018 showed the highest number of cases of violence against women occurred within households, with a rising trend of marital rape, in part, the commission believes, because more women are coming forward.

Indonesia contains the world’s largest Muslim population and in recent years the country’s Muslim majority has embraced more overt signs of religiosity and shifted toward Arab-style devotion. Most of all, a puritanical Salafist interpretation of Islam, which draws inspiration from the age of the Prophet Muhammad, is attracting followers in Indonesia. Wahhabism, imported from and fostered by Saudi Arabia, draws converts into government prayer halls. Wahhabism promotes pervasive gender discrimination and lack of equal rights that affect most aspects of women’s lives.

One wonders if there is a link between the increase in Wahhabism and the increase in domestic violence towards women. If so, Indonesia has a long way to go to fix this crisis.

Women dream about sex!

The Germans have found the real reason so many women are dreaming about sex. Women aged between 16 and 30 have erotic dreams most frequently — 22.1 per cent of all their dreams, similar to their male counterparts, and triple the amount of their grandmothers’ generation. Today’s young women feel entirely comfortable admitting having sexy dreams — whether to themselves or other people — which helps with remembering them in the first place.

The rather lengthy article explores other aspects of sexual dreams. For instance, unlike in their everyday lives, women’s erotic dreams haven’t been influenced by social media, where physical perfection is so prized. Finally, the article reveals the secrets of three women and their erotic dreams.

Women have always dreamed about sex, but apparently now more so than ever. More power to them!

How to wash your underwear and wipe your bottom

The media is never short on articles on how to do this or that. The British paper The Daily Record cites the “Hygiene Doctor“, a Dr. Lisa Ackerley, as saying that you should wash your undies above 60°C (140°F) to kill all those pesky fecal bacteria and don’t wash your tea towels in the same load. The doctor also has a pleasant looking blog with all kinds of useful hygiene tips.

The Daily Record article also mentions a brief survey conducted by the Tap Warehouse, a British plumbing store, titled British Bathroom Secrets. The survey not only reveals that 1 in 3 British women wipe their bottoms the wrong way, potentially exposing themselves to urinary tract infections, but that the 63% of women who don’t wee in the shower are missing a chance to build strong pelvic floor muscles. Strong pelvic muscles can lead to more sensations and orgasms during sex, the survey claims. I will take their word for it.

500 Trillion Gallons of Water Needed

UNESCO reports that the freshwater shortfall worldwide will rise to 500 trillion gallons per year by 2025. The World Economic Forum says that shortage of fresh water may be the primary global threat in the next decade. What to do? Why, build 1,500 nuclear-powered desalination plants, of course, and the new fleet of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs) are ideal as they produce both thermal energy and electrical energy without producing greenhouse gases. Today, only 15 out of the thousands of desalination plants operating today worldwide are powered by nuclear. And did you know that all nuclear-powered naval vessels routinely use nuclear energy to desalinate seawater? So why aren’t we building the 1,500 nuclear-powered desalination plants? Lets make use of all those melting icebergs by turning them into fresh glasses of water.

Sobering Up: Booze-Free Social Spaces

The healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente has an article on the national trend of boozeless bars and the nonalcoholic beverage movement in general. It describes a bar in Austin, Texas, called “Sans Bar” which draws a largely female crowd all along the sobriety spectrum, from those in recovery to the “sober curious.” People gather for hours to sip handmade mocktails, talk, dance and listen to speakers and sober musicians.

I applaud this effort, and not only because I lost a close relative to alcoholism. I see this as the faint beginning of America’s return to civility. America is a country founded on ideas. Its time for new ideas in socializing.

France: Babies Born Without Arms

In rural areas of France several babies were born without arms. So far 9 babies have been found to be afflicted with this disability but the search for others continues. For now, the cause is being described as “congenital” but baby boomers remember the Thalidomide crisis nearly 60 years ago during which over 10,000 children were born with a range of severe and debilitating malformations. The cause of the present deformations is unknown and may never be discovered, which is very unsettling for the parents, to say the least. Let us hope that this is either a singular event or that the French authorities find out what caused this tragedy.