Sunday, September 30, 2012

NeverSeconds school dinners blogger Martha Payne in Malawi

Most of the stories I've posted are where the initial intentions were good and the unintended consequences have not been so.  Here is a story where the original intention was to shame the local authority providing poor school meals. But the unintended consequences have been very positive indeed. Not only for the blogger's school meals but for African children as well.  

Well done, Martha!

From:   -

"School dinners blogger Martha Payne has arrived in Malawi to see how the money she raised for charity is being spent.

Martha Payne travelling to Malawi
                                          Martha took pictures of her meal on the flight to Malawi
The nine-year-old became an internet sensation after Argyll and Bute Council banned her from posting photos of her school meals on her NeverSeconds blog.
The ban was later overturned after a storm of protest.
Martha then asked for contributions to the charity Mary's Meals and has raised £114,000. Some of the money is funding a school kitchen in Malawi.
The Lochgilphead Primary School pupil began publishing photographs of her lunches on her website earlier this year.
She gives each meal a 'food-o-meter' and health rating, and counts the number of mouthfuls it takes her to eat it.
Donations on her website soared when the controversial ban on her photographing her lunches was imposed by the council then quickly lifted after a worldwide response to the story.
After she raised more than £100,000 for Mary's Meals, the charity announced it would build a school kitchen in Malawi in her honour.
Martha, and her family, have travelled to the country to see for themselves how her blog has changed the lives of others. Lirangwe Primary School in Blantyre has received £21,000 towards the Friends of NeverSeconds kitchen which will provide almost 2,000 children with nutritious meals every day for a year.
Writing on her blog before heading off, she said: "I have been talking to lots of people about going to Malawi. I'm talking a lot about it because I am excited about it.
"I can't wait to meet all the children. I have packed some footballs and wind up torches."
And the nine-year-old is still reviewing her lunches. She took photographs of her food on the flight to Blantyre and said she would be posting them to her blog."

Friday, September 21, 2012

Bond wars: Chinese advisor calls for Japanese bond dump

From China Daily Mail -

"China is actively considering “using its power as Japan’s biggest creditor with $230bn (£141bn) of bonds to “impose sanctions on Japan in the most effective manner” and bring Tokyo’s festering fiscal crisis to a head.” Meaning: dump Japan’s bonds en masse.
Should this stunning recommendation be enacted, not only would it be the first time in world history that insurmountable credit is used as a weapon of retaliation, it would mark a clear phase transition in the evolution of modern warfare: from outright military incursions, to FX wars, to trade wars, culminating with “bond wars” which could in the span of minutes cripple the entire Japanese fiscal house of cards still standing solely due to the myth that unserviceable debt can be pushed off into perpetuity.
Further complicating things is that Japan has no clear means of retaliation: it owns no Chinese bonds of its own it can dump as a containment measure. Instead, Japan is at best left with the threat of damages incurred on the Chinese economy should Japan be lost as a trading partner. It appears, however, that to China such a gambit is no longer a major concern:
Mr Jin said China can afford to sacrifice its “low-value-added” exports to Japan at a small cost. By contrast, Japan relies on Chinese demand to keep its economy afloat and stave off “irreversible” decline.
“It’s clear that China can deal a heavy blow to the Japanese economy without hurting itself too much,” he said. It is unclear whether he was speaking with the full backing of the Politburo or whether sales of Japanese debt would do much damage. The Bank of Japan could counter the move with bond purchases. Any weakening of the yen would be welcome.
Ironically, this terminal bond war escalation would also mean that Japan’s last ditch alternative is to threaten the US with dumping America’s bonds in turn if the US i) does not step up on behalf of Japan and ii) if Japan is forced to promptly convert debt from one denomination into another. The fallout effect would be most dramatic.
It is unclear if China will proceed with this “scorched bond” step: should this happen there is likely no turning back as it would force a market test of the entire developed world."
We hope this is merely 'sabre rattling'. Nobody knows how the Law of Unintended Consequnces will play out if China does carry out its threat: global economic meltdown, a new Sino-Japanese war which then draws in USA and Russia, followed by EU and North Korea; South Korea, Taiwan and then WW3, ???

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

China’s Bridge Collapse: Infrastructure Boom Raises Safety Questions

On Sunday, 47 people died in two traffic accidents, highlighting the danger of China's overcrowded and poorly maintained roads
Four trucks fell to the ground after a section of the Yangmingtan bridge collapsed in Harbin early Friday morning, killing three people and injuring five others on Yangmingtan Bridge in Harbin, China on Aug. 24 2012

Four vehicles fell after a section of the Yangmingtan Bridge in Harbin collapsed on Aug. 24, 2012, killing three people and injuring five others
China’s roads are notoriously dangerous. That point was reiterated Sunday as 47 people died in two traffic accidents, including 36 who were killed in Shaanxi province, when a sleeper bus rear-ended a tanker truck loaded with methanol, and another 11 who died in a collision in Sichuan province. The weekend’s road death toll was startling, but the collisions had a grim familiarity: loaded vehicles colliding on rural highways, apparently due to driver negligence, with horrible consequences. Indeed, Monday morning saw yet another crash between a van and a truck that killed at least nine. So perhaps it was understandable that much of the domestic media attention focused on an accident that had a comparatively small death toll but raised the specter of a growing concern on China’s roads: the parlous state of the infrastructure itself.
In the northeastern city of Harbin a bridge ramp collapsed on Friday, killing three and injuring five. The collapse was particularly shocking because the Yangmingtan Bridge was built at a cost of $300 million less than a year ago, raising questions about whether corners were cut in its construction. The bridge failure was blamed on overloaded trucks, but the government is now carrying out a more detailed investigation into the cause. Chinese newspaper editorials and online comments have called for answers as to why the bridge collapsed and who should take responsibility. Harbin officials were forced to deny claims that they couldn’t track down the contractors who built the bridge and said the names would be made public after an official investigation concluded.
The collapse is particularly worrisome because it follows several similar recent infrastructure failures. The Beijing News reports it was at least the seventh bridge to collapse in little over one year. That follows a building boom, driven in part by the economic-stimulus package launched in late 2008. More than a third of the $586 billion package was budgeted for infrastructure development. With a huge population and years of economic growth, China often seems to be bursting at the seams. Its roads, trains and subways are frequently overcrowded, and infrastructure development is sorely needed. The government says it plans to increase the nation’s highway system by 50% from 2 million km in 2008 to 3 million km in 2020. In places like the southern province of Guizhou, China’s poorest region, the stimulus helped the construction of the Baling River Bridge, which shortened the traverse of a river valley from an hour on winding roads to a matter of minutes. Around Beijing, mountain villages now enjoy smooth new highways linking them to the city center. But the Chinese capital’s infrastructure hasn’t aged gracefully. Heavy rainfall in July killed at least 77 people in Beijing — 11 of them drowned as their vehicles were trapped in flooded roadways. Sinkholes have sprouted around the city. Rural highways in the Fangshan district, which was hardest hit by flooding, and the Pinggu district, north of town, still have large sections missing a month after the deluge.
The sudden collapse of the Harbin bridge has raised questions about corruption and possible shortcuts taken in an effort to build so much so quickly. While the risk of crashes on China’s roads is numbingly constant, the fear of road collapses is a new and dramatic worry that likely outstrips the actual danger. “This is the national condition,” Li Chengpeng, a journalist and commentator, wrote on his blog on Monday. “I’ve seen a lot of people are now worried about their safety crossing bridges, wishing each one would have a Spider-Man underneath guarding it.” Similar questions were raised last year about China’s rapid expansion of its high-speed rail network after a crash near the city of Wenzhou killed 40. That accident was blamed on a lightning strike, but the safety of the system as a whole was called into question by the earlier dismissal of the Railway Minister Liu Zhijun for corruption.
The Law of Unintended Consequences strikes again. China spent billions on infrastructure projects after the 2008 global financial crisis to avert slowdown in China.  It seemed to have worked. But less than five years later the cracks (pun intended) are beginning to show in somewhat dramatic and dreadful ways.