Saturday, August 24, 2002

I so love the Guardian

McDonald's has been accused of extreme insensitivity after releasing a new sandwich called the "McAfrika" in Norway, one of the world's richest countries, at a time when 12 million people are facing starvation in southern Africa.

The launch of the new hamburger has infuriated the Norwegian equivalent of Christian Aid and the Norwegian Red Cross and generated a storm of bad publicity for the American fast-food giant.

The concoction of beef, cheese, tomatoes and salad in a pitta-style sandwich is said to be based upon an authentic African recipe and is being sold to Norwegian consumers for about £2.80.

This is one of the most absurd and patronising things I have heard recently. Does this mean that I should be outraged at any attempt to combine "African" and "food"? What on earth is wrong with using the word "Africa" to describe food cooked using something based on an African recipe? The only thing McDonald's are doing here are suggesting that African food might be good. There is a place called the "Kilamanjaro African Restaurant" just up the road from where I used to live in Sydney. Should I be morally outraged by this?

Thursday, August 22, 2002

Of course the United States on its foundation was essentially a compromise between the plantation States of the South and the evolved puritan society in the north, which eventually industrialised. Obviously these two cultures weren't entirely compatible and eventually went to war with one another. Then, after the Civil War, the United States went through a few decades of mass immigration, in which it received lots of people from non-English speaking Europe. Germans, Italians, Irish, eastern European jewry, etc. Eventually, around 1920 the US closed its borders to further mass immigration. The people of the immigrant wave melded into American society, and by the end of the second world war, they were the dominant American culture. The demographics of the country had changed, but it retained its core values. These are the people of The Brady Bunch and I Love Lucy. In the late 1960s, the gates opened again, and mass immigration started again. This time people came from different places: Latin America, India, China, but in fact a huge preponderance of places. We seem to be where the previous wave was in perhaps 1900. America's demographics are swirling around again, and eventually a new culture will come out. This is what the demographic trend of population growth is about. Inevitably a less European America is coming out of this. However, I don't see any reason why this new America will even lost the core values of the country. These withstood the last demographic change. As far as I can see., America will always have democracy and free speech.
There's a good piece in MIT Tech Review (great magazine by the way) on digital special effects in Hollywood. The point is that digital technology is taking over the complete postproduction process - editing, colour correcting etc - not just "special effects". This of course leads to the question as to whether any of the process should remain analogue. Certainly it is easier to film in digital, then edit and do your postproduction in digital at least. (The per cinema costs to project in digital for now are too high, but it is actually cheaper to do everything else in digital). However, the resolution isn't yet high enough. The 1920x1080 of the best film cameras isn't up to scratch compared to 35mm film (which is equivalent to a resolution of about 3500x2000). Until it is we are likely to still be using the hybrid digital/analogue techniques described in the article.
Interesting piece in the Economist, about how the United States is the word's demographic outlier. Conventional wisdom is that in rich countries birth rates are falling, populations stabilising and perhaps ultimately falling, and populations are aging. The truth though is that this is happening in Europe but not in America. America has more immigrants, who are more likely to have larger families than the native born, and this is part of the story, but as well as this the issue is that Americans are simply having more children than Europeans. America's population is ageing, but this is because people are living longer rather than having anything to do with the birth rate. We have had various predictions over the years that America's importance will decline compared to more populous parts of the world, but this seems to suggest that this will not necessarily be so. For one thing, it is going to become clear over the next 20 years that the Chinese have economically crippled themselves with their misguided one child policy. Japan is a demographic basket place. The future of India looks interesting. The future of places like Indonesia and the Philippines could also be interesting if they can run their countries in a coherent manner.

The great demographic timebomb is of course the Middle East, which is full of countries with rapidly increasing populations and little semblance of their people ever becoming educated enough to be economically productive. We should be really depressed about this. (Okay, a lot of us are really depressed about this).

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