mm193: Fuel without oil, or corn

November 13, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

It’s been an ongoing theme (here, here and here) at Left-Handed Complement: the pandering, wrong-headed concentration on corn derived ethanol as the U.S. main alternative to Saudi (and Nigerian, Gulf of Mexico and North Slope) petroleum to fuel our transportation system.

This past weekend, the NYTimes featured a fascinating look at non-corn alternatives to powering our SUVs.

biomassethanol

For years, scientists have known that the building blocks in plant matter — not just corn kernels, but also corn stalks, wood chips, straw and even some household garbage — constituted an immense potential resource that could, in theory, help fill the gasoline tanks of America’s cars and trucks.

Mostly, they have focused on biology as a way to do it, tinkering with bacteria or fungi that could digest the plant material, known as biomass, and extract sugar that could be fermented into ethanol. But now, nipping at the heels of various companies using biological methods, is a new group of entrepreneurs, including Mr. Mandich, who favor chemistry.

The conceptual problem with ethanol from corn has always rested in the strong suspicion that the energy required to process corn to burn in one’s automobile exceeds the yield of energy so created.

Ethanol from corn is a political hot button, especially for all of the presidential campaigners prostrating themselves before Iowa’s farmers — isn’t it high time to divest this country from its inappropriate emphasis on Iowa and New Hampshire in the primary process?

You don’t see Georgia influencing election trends, and yet:

In Georgia alone, enough waste wood is available to make two billion gallons of ethanol a year, Mr. Mandich said. If all that material could be captured and converted to fuel, it could replace about 1 percent of the nation’s gasoline consumption.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Fuel Without the Fossil – New York Times

Obviously, there are some very bright people working hard at solutions, made increasingly economically attractive as the baseline of comparison to petroleum-based fuels persists in climbing inexorably toward $4/gallon.

And, corn-based or not, it looks like ethanol is going to be the end result of all of this chemical creativity, since it’s ethanol that has the Congressionally mandated tax credit.

MUDGE used to believe that the fuel cell guys had the answer, but what with the way the real world works, I can’t see corner hydrogen pumps popping up in many neighborhoods in my lifetime. So chemically derived ethanol will have to do.

Good to see U.S. innovation persists. Like the current IBM advertisements proclaim, it’s easy to say, and so very much more difficult to actually do.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm192: Women at work: A level playing field at last?

November 12, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

We’re still playing catch up with a bulging ideas folder here at L-HC. A recent NYTimes column updates us on the ever-intriguing topic: women in corporate America.

One might ask: why are we still confounded by this? After all, U.S. women began to flood the workplace after the economic shocks of the 1970’s put single income families on the endangered species list. Why would a fact of work life for more than 30 years be cause for comment?

nytimes

By LISA BELKIN  | November 1, 2007 | Life’s Work

DON’T get angry. But do take charge. Be nice. But not too nice. Speak up. But don’t seem like you talk too much. Never, ever dress sexy. Make sure to inspire your colleagues — unless you work in Norway, in which case, focus on delegating instead.

Writing about life and work means receiving a steady stream of research on how women in the workplace are viewed differently from men. These are academic and professional studies, not whimsical online polls, and each time I read one I feel deflated. What are women supposed to do with this information? Transform overnight? And if so, into what? How are we supposed to be assertive, but not, at the same time?

“It’s enough to make you dizzy,” said Ilene H. Lang, the president of Catalyst, an organization that studies women in the workplace. “Women are dizzy, men are dizzy, and we still don’t have a simple straightforward answer as to why there just aren’t enough women in positions of leadership.”

Catalyst’s research is often an exploration of why, 30 years after women entered the work force in large numbers, the default mental image of a leader is still male. Most recent is the report titled “Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don’t,” which surveyed 1,231 senior executives from the United States and Europe. It found that women who act in ways that are consistent with gender stereotypes — defined as focusing “on work relationships” and expressing “concern for other people’s perspectives” — are considered less competent. But if they act in ways that are seen as more “male” — like “act assertively, focus on work task, display ambition” — they are seen as “too tough” and “unfeminine.”

Women can’t win.

So, take a look at the balance of this well written story, and then come back for MUDGE‘s take.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The Feminine Critique – New York Times

Of course, MUDGE has a story. It’s what blogging is all about, isn’t it? Storytelling?

Some years ago, at an agonizing time in my work life (too much agony because of not much work), to get some cash flow, meager as it was, I took a job as a temporary secretary, a temp.

My first position in this role was one that lasted several cash-flow beneficial months, as an assistant to the VP of training for a mid-size public company.

Interesting role reversal, this, as she and I both had some adjusting to do. Here I was, perhaps five to eight years older, a guy in a position usually filled by a woman. Here she was, a high flying corporate vice president, probably the first women to fill that role at her very traditional organization.

So, to thicken the broth a bit, imagine one of my regular duties, when not keying revisions to PowerPoint training courses on diversity. I was keying revisions to my employer’s Ph.D. dissertation.

The topic: why women in the corporate life find it so challenging.

Did a lot of typing, so I ended up doing a lot of reading. Her thesis: the language of corporate life is male, and so, just to learn the job, just to advance beyond entry level, women need to learn an entirely new language. To act in a way totally foreign to how girls grow up in this country.

So, let’s assume that some times have changed since 1995. That today’s young women entering the workplace have played team sports in greater numbers than their predecessors ever did. Girls in school are not only playing sports, but are excelling in technical courses and the sciences.

It’s a different world than 12 years ago, and maybe it was different then also. My boss’s career melted down very suddenly for reasons that the drones (and this particular drone was back in the temp agency’s pool in mere hours) weren’t made privy to.

Who knows, it could have been political. Who knows, perhaps her boss decided that having her secretary work on her school work during office hours on the office clock was inappropriate. Who knows, maybe she never was able to successfully defend her dissertation; obsolete before she finished.

What MUDGE does know is that for a great many of the intervening years from then to now, he has very cheerfully worked for several different women. Different from men he’s reported to over the years, but not in substantive ways. The foreign language has apparently been learned, at least in the parts of the world MUDGE occupies during his work day.

Maybe sometime in the next few years even MUDGE‘s stolid employer will welcome its first female CEO. Ability won’t be the issue; toughness, quick thinking, the ability to effortlessly work 20 hour days, and a respectable golf game might be.

I’ve worked for good men, and the very scum of the earth. I’ve worked for highly competent leaders, some of whom were women, and some highly competent women in their field who were still learning how to be leaders. They’ll learn.

It’s all good. Beats the temp pool by a mile. By the way, I’ve long been convinced that temp is the natural contraction for contempt.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm190: U.S. Health Care – Excuses, not facts

November 11, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Access to affordable health care. Five words. Easy to write. Rolls off the keyboard fluidly even. Simple phrase; political cesspool. Can universal access to affordable health care ever happen in the U.S.?

Paul Krugman, the economist whose columns appear in the Opinion section of the NYTimes, this week reminds us that the failings of our health care system are manifest: we spend more, but get less – fewer covered and lower life expectancy than in any other western economy.

Moreover, the usual suspects (our lifestyle) and the usual bugbears (socialized medicine!) are distortions and outright lies.

krugman

By PAUL KRUGMAN | Published: November 9, 2007

The United States spends far more on health care per person than any other nation. Yet we have lower life expectancy than most other rich countries. Furthermore, every other advanced country provides all its citizens with health insurance; only in America is a large fraction of the population uninsured or underinsured.

For those fortunate enough to have health insurance, premiums keep rising, and employers are beginning to push employees to pay more of the freight, or even to start to pay additional for their lifestyle choices.

For example, several cases have hit the news recently where employers have fired, or failed to hire, otherwise qualified people who are smokers.

Aside from the disturbing privacy concerns, the entire concept of group insurance (where the large numbers of average members in good health balances those few with greater needs) is at risk here.

But, as Krugman tells us, what apologists and politicians like Rudy Giuliani have done is blanket us with excuses, not solutions, and inaccurate and downright wrong excuses at that.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Health Care Excuses – New York Times

As a reluctantly, increasingly active consumer of the U.S. healthcare system, one of the luckiest ones covered through a plan 80% subsidized by my employer, I take for granted that I see medical professionals regularly, for the cost of a nominal co-pay up to that 20%. For what is spent, my experience should be the rule and not exceptional.

Armed with Paul Krugman’s excuse-busters, let’s all work to shed light to undo all of the misinformation out there on this subject.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm187: Blogging — NSFW? | 1 of 2

November 7, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

From the first, hesitant attempts at this newfangled hobby-thing called blogging, MUDGE has been very concerned about how any employee’s blog would be received by his specific employer.

We’ve tried to err on the side of… circumspection. Thus, the pseudonym, both for this writer, and for the occasional references to that employer in basically general, not to speak of generic terms: HCA, the Heart of Corporate America.

There’s bad and good to pseudonomity [did we just coin a new term? or just misspell an old one?].

The bad: as MUDGE, I lack a certain amount of credibility, especially when I write on the topic of web conferencing, one that I would like to be perceived as owning some expertise.

The good: as of this writing, I still have a job at HCA.

Which brings us to the cautionary tale of John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods. You might remember the story: during a turbulent acquisition of Whole Foods competitor Wild Oats, Mackey was exposed as having blogged anonymously, denigrating Wild Oats management and talking up his own company’s stock.

So one guesses that Mackey violated protocol: one supposes that it’s okay to do the above as a third party, unaffiliated with either entity, but it’s entirely too self-serving to do so when one is the CEO of one of the principals in the transaction.

And of course, Mackey violated the first rule of miscreancy [did we just coin a new term? or just misspell an old one?]: don’t get caught.

computerworld

Whole Foods to restrict online postings by execs after CEO brouhaha

They’re not supposed to post to blogs, message boards and other forums without approval

Heather Havenstein

November 07, 2007 (Computerworld) — After its CEO got caught bashing competitors and talking up his company’s stock in anonymous Internet forum posts, Whole Foods Market Inc. late last week changed its corporate conduct policy to ban company leaders from posting anything online about the company.

John Mackey, chairman and CEO of Whole Foods, came under fire in July after eight years of anonymous posts on Yahoo bulletin boards were cited by the Federal Trade Commission in a lawsuit against the company. The lawsuit, filed in June, sought to prevent Whole Foods from acquiring competitor Wild Oats Markets Inc. because the FTC contended that the deal would be anticompetitive.

And so we get to the heart of the matter: is there a place for blogging about a specific corporation? Is it appropriate for employees of that corporation to blog about it?

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Whole Foods to restrict online postings by execs after CEO brouhaha

Some companies think not, at least Whole Foods’ board thinks that its top employees should refrain.

Some companies aren’t so skittish (of course, their CEOs have not gotten caught!). We’ll explore this issue further next time.

BTW, for those not tuned in to the latest in blogosphere shortcuts: NSFW — not suitable for work. Usually used in the context of articles or blog posts containing what might be construed as racy photographs of young women.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


WcW009: A Marathon for the Tsar

October 18, 2007

wcw1

Web Conferencing Week

Despite MUDGE‘s status as Tsar of All the Electronic Meetings, sometimes he has to work his royal butt off.

Today was such a day. Let’s take a look at the after-action report provided to his team:

The executive VP of HR (reports directly to the CEO of HCA [Heart of Corporate America, MUDGE‘s employer and thus not its real name]) conducted the third of his global all HR staff videoconferences (the first two were Ireland,  October 2006, and Argentina last March) from Singapore.

These ambitious meetings included videoconference feeds to major sites, and Sametime web conferences for sites where video was unavailable, and even for those sites where video was available outside the largest venues, Sametime furnished the presentations, which were never placed on camera.

The first of two sessions, the live one, was conducted from conference space in Singapore by the VP HR and some regional colleagues, and began at 4:00pm local time. Tech call was 3:00pm, which translated to 2:00am this morning for your Sametime moderator.

Since the video feed didn’t have slides to cue from, and we were in our home office, we arranged with the event producer to have her on the phone cuing us with a signal for the next slide. We had been furnished a now obsolete script, which apparently had been much modified since last Friday when she emailed it to us just before stepping onto a plane to wing her and the crew 22 hours to Singapore.

We were simultaneously monitoring the audio conference, to be sure that the Sametime audience could hear the speakers and this extra step proved important, as the telephone conference people needed to be told to use the feed from the video conferencing bridge (somewhere in the U.S., I believe); getting this straight delayed the beginning of the conference by a few minutes.

So we spent the meeting with one headset (connected to my home land line) listening to the speakers from half a world away in the audio conference, and my Blackberry’s Bluetooth headset in the other ear getting next slide cues from the producer, and later, relaying some questions received from the remote audience via Sametime’s Public Chat to the representative of HR Public Affairs who was coordinating in Singapore and who read out the questions to the speakers.

The only disappointment to an otherwise successful meeting (and it was completely successful as far as the client is concerned) was due to the heavily graphic-intensive nature of the latter part of the presentation, which consisted of about 34 high resolution picture postcards of Singapore, as a backdrop to an interview between an HR executive and a local client. Because of those graphics, and the fact that the connections were in Europe and especially many sites in Asia, response to Next Page signals was delayed by up to two minutes, instead of the 23 seconds allocated. Because these were generic photographs, not much was missed when so many slides needed to be skipped due to the delays.

Among the 38 Sametime connections were participants in the UK, Taiwan, the Philippines, a couple of sites in Japan, Egypt, China, Germany, Hong Kong, Seoul, our home county, Norway, Ireland, Madrid, Hungary, Bangkok, India, Italy, France, and the Netherlands, among others. Some of these were large videoconference and ordinary non-video conference rooms with many participants, watching the video and/or the slides via our web conferencing feed.

There was serious talk earlier this year (I even had an itinerary sent me by Corporate Travel) of sending me with the crew to Singapore, as it was believed that the technical challenges required a Sametime expert on site. I admit that I was intrigued by the possibility of seeing an exotic locale on HR’s dime, but also was affronted: Sametime is a tool meant to reduce travel expenses — what kind of example would be set if they sent the Tsar himself across 13 time zones and put him up for five, five-star hotel nights for two 1-1/4 hour meetings?

The fact that cooler heads prevailed, and kept me in the U.S. turned out for the best, as the first communication from the event producer at about 2amCDT (yes, 2am — a very groggy Tsar indeed took her call) was to let me know that she could not get a consistent Internet connection from the meeting room, and was never able to connect to Sametime from there. Imagine the frustration if the person tasked with moderating the Sametime meeting couldn’t get a connection!

The 10amCDT meeting, for which your correspondent was in place for a technical check by 7:30am, was a rebroadcast of the earlier meeting for the U.S., Canada and Latin America. It was also a complex meeting, as it consisted of the recorded videoconference that had ended less than 6 hours earlier packaged and sent electronically to the video conference bridge, for forwarding, plus a live video feed from the meeting center in Singapore for questions from that second meeting.

The recorded and live video was received in AP6D Cafeteria, and several other sites in the U.S. (California and Ohio) and again Sametime provided the slides for the video (outside the main venue) and for people connecting from their desks or conference rooms without video. the video conference bridge also fed the Sametime audio conference.

Although this meeting was technically complex, again with the event producer (now the shoe was on the other foot, with this second meeting beginning at 11pm in Singapore) cuing the slides for the main venue to a graphics technician, and yours truly controlling Sametime to follow those visual cues, it all went quite smoothly, and the heavily graphic slides had no difficulty advancing on time, apparently due to the more robust network connections in the Western Hemisphere.

Great credit goes to the very able technical people on site here: Larry the enterprise videoconference expert; Steve , working the presentations; and especially the highly competent and extraordinarily calm (in the face of today’s countless last minute bombshells) audio technician, Eric. Thanks guys!

There were 79 connections to this second meeting, from Colombia, Mexico City, Venezuela, several sites in California, Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona, Texas, Illinois, Puerto Rico, Peru, Ecuador, Massachusetts, Quebec and Ontario in Canada, and New Jersey, among others.

Fascinating what’s happening to the heart of corporate America. It’s globalizing with a speed that might cause whiplash. Look at the above lists of meeting participation for both sessions.

Indeed, saw a quote in Business Week at lunch today (sorry, too tired to root it out guys) where the CEO of Intel wondered whether his company could really be called an American one any more. Wow!

The really good news: this meeting wouldn’t have worked at all without Sametime providing the presentation slides, which it did for every video conference room except the originator in Singapore (for the first meeting) and the local meeting venue (for the second). And the presentation, with its heavy graphics, wouldn’t have been successful without using the Sametime Whiteboard, although for the earlier Asia/Europe meeting I believe that network connectivity in Asian sites limited performance.

A wise developer from IBM Lotus, Sametime’s vendor, once characterized his product as the world’s best network sniffer. In other words, if there’s even one narrow bandwidth connection in one’s meeting, Sametime will react in an attention-getting fashion, as it waits (and waits and waits) for handshake signals from each node in the call, as it sends out its graphic content.

But, all in all, the day’s two high profile meetings (sort of career limiting to disappoint the top executive in HR!) went well; the web conferencing infrastructure, so ably maintained by MUDGE‘s overtaxed coworkers, behaved itself. Sigh of relief!

Later the same day (this day! It will be shortly before 9pm when this gets posted, on this day that began for MUDGE with a cell phone alarm beeping at 1:40am) we spent considerable time writing the above report to the team, and then met a commitment to teach a 90-minute class on web conferencing.

The class had been scheduled several months in advance, in the expectation that the Singapore adventure would occur next week; a corporate bigwig changed his mind — what a shock! — but I didn’t feel I could reschedule a class that people had been registered for for many weeks.

The class, one of three taught this week (average is 8-10 per month) was conducted for five students (via a web conference, of course) two of whom were connecting from home offices in Washington state and Florida. Ah, the power of collaborative tools!

A marathon for the Tsar, indeed. But even a curmudgeon can earn himself a smile, if not other royal trappings, for jobs well done.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm166: Economic Miscellanea

October 10, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

shortattention_thumb2_thumb2

Short attention span blogging: Item 1:

Three totally different, but intriguing takes on financial and economics news found over the past few days caught our interest.

The first from an interesting business blog long since added to our blogroll, The Cenek Report.

cenekreport

A Modern Parable

Tuesday, June 12, 2007 at 08:16PM
Robert Cenek

A Japanese company ( Toyota ) and an American company (General Motors) decided to have a canoe race on the Missouri River.  Both teams practiced long and hard to reach their peak performance before the race.  On the big day, the Japanese won by a mile.

The Americans, very discouraged and depressed, decided to investigate the reason for the crushing defeat.  A management team composed of senior management was formed to investigate and recommend appropriate action. Their conclusion:  The Japanese had 8 people rowing and 1 person steering, while the American team had 8 people steering and 1 person rowing.

The lesson is short, but telling, and I dare not quote more of it than I have, so please read it for yourself.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The Cenek Report – Journal

MUDGE wants to support the U.S. automobile industry. Instead, for many years, his family has supported U.S. automobile workers, as well as Japanese automobile workers, as he and his loved ones haven’t found a suitable Big 3 product for more than 20 years, yet we certainly haven’t stopped buying cars. Just Big 3 cars.

The ongoing arguments in the MUDGE family aren’t Ford vs. Chevy vs. Dodge, it’s Honda vs. Toyota, and throughout the MUDGE and MUDGElet families, a pretty even split between the two maintains.

Short attention span blogging: Item 2:

From Slate, the always approachable and most readable Daniel Gross writes about an increasingly pervasive trend:

slate

How Wal-Mart and the government are killing the incandescent light bulb.

By Daniel Gross
Posted Saturday, Oct. 6, 2007, at 6:53 AM ET

Light bulb. Click image to expand.Is the incandescent light bulb on its way out?

Compact fluorescent bulbs cost more than regular incandescent bulbs. But according to the U.S. Department of Energy, they last up to 10 times longer, use about one-fourth the energy, and produce 90 percent less heat. Over its life span of four and a half years, a CFL more than repays its higher cost in energy savings: $62.95 per light bulb. Oh, and they’re good for the planet, since they produce fewer emissions. But while they’ve grown in popularity, CFLs have yet to emerge as a household staple, in part because consumers can’t see beyond the shock of the sticker price to the long-term savings. “When you buy a compact fluorescent bulb at the cash register, you experience the higher cost vividly and all at once,” says Robert Frank, a Cornell economist and author of The Economic Naturalist. “But when your electric bill goes down as a result, the savings are not as evident.” Consumers routinely make such short-term economically irrational decisions.

As it aims to vanquish Thomas Edison’s filament bulb—and save the Earth—the CFL is running into the brick wall of human nature. But the CFL is getting a lift from two of the globe’s most powerful forces: image-conscious Western governments and Wal-Mart.

MUDGE remembers the days, now long past, and in the same classification of even earlier cultural artifacts as twice daily (and once on Sunday!) home postal deliveries (it’s true, but not since the ’50s in Chicago), when light bulbs were free, provided by your friendly electric company (“Little Bill”).

You went to some unlikely place (our local bank I think I remember) and traded a copy of that month’s electric bill for 10 bulbs. One only purchased bulbs, at the ma and pa hardware store or maybe an Ace or True Value store, when something unusual was necessary, like a 4-foot long fluorescent tube for a kitchen or garage.

So the first displacement occurred when everyday bulbs needed to be purchased, as the electric monopoly’s free bulb policy went the way of 29¢/gallon ethyl.

And now, the newest displacement, when instead of the familiar globular bulbs, the odd, curly CFLs, so much more  expensive, and still not providing quite white illumination, seem to be the purchase of choice when replacing lighting.

OF course, bleeding edge as always (ha!), we’ve been replacing incandescents with CFLs here in MUDGEland for many years.

We will never go vegan (don’t get me started!); we recycle but haven’t graduated to reusable grocery bags*; and sorry, the economics of hybrid cars just don’t compute for this family. But compact fluorescent lighting — we’re there (but never, ever to be purchased at Wal-Mart!).

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

How Wal-Mart and the government are killing the incandescent light bulb. – By Daniel Gross – Slate Magazine

And did you catch the WIWICWLT moment?

It takes more than one market force to change a light bulb.

Short attention span blogging: Item 3:

Finally this, from Paul Krugman of the NYTimes, unshackled from the newly abandoned pay per view policy, and whose blog has also recently joined the L-HC blogroll.

Here, he illuminates yet another instance of the distorting spin that the perfidious administration of George III has used when announcing economic statistics.

nytimes

Pathetic — Paul Krugman — The Conscience of a Liberal

The new White House “fact sheet” on the economy declares that job growth since August 2003 is the “longest continuous months of job growth on record.”

That’s literally true – the Bureau of Labor Statistics data from the great jobs boom of the 1990s do show a couple of scattered months of job decline, although these are probably statistical blips. But by any reasonable standard, job growth in the Bush years has fallen way short of growth in the Clinton years.

All the data are available at the BLS web site.

Over the whole of the Clinton administration, the economy added 22.7 million jobs – 237,000 per month.

Over the whole of the Bush administration to date, the economy added only 5.8 million jobs – 72,000 per month.

Pathetic – Paul Krugman – Op-Ed Columnist – New York Times Blog

One no longer is surprised, or even disappointed. Just incrementally more angry.

January 20, 2009

Bush’s last day

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

*Non-commercial Note!: the link to greensak.com used above is for the convenience of faithful reader and represents no commercial relationship whatsoever. Left-Handed Complement should be so fortunate as to ever collect remuneration of any kind for this endeavor. I can link, so I link. It’s technology. It’s cool. Deal with it.


WcW008: Death by PowerPoint

October 7, 2007

wcw1

Web Conferencing Week

Befitting MUDGE‘s status as Tsar of All the Electronic Meetings, we encounter more PowerPoint presentations than anybody should ever inflict on any one person.

As a principal dialog of the language of business-speak, PowerPoint is ubiquitous in corporate America, not excepting the HCA where MUDGE plies his trade.

Ubiquitous, adjective, being present everywhere at once

Ubiquitous does not mean preferable in every circumstance, of course, but don’t tell that to the minions.

During the course of browsing a couple of days ago, found this short video.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Don McMillan is a very funny man.

Nothing else to say, except: eschew PowerPoint!

Eschew, verb, Avoid and stay away from deliberately; stay clear of

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,


mm136: China – Two interesting aspects

September 10, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

China is always in the news. Two stories from the past few days illuminate why in some interesting ways.

First, from the LA Times, a look at how we have become victim’s of our unlimited appetite for everyday low prices.

latimes

Analysts expect prices in the U.S. to creep up as safety standards are reevaluated. Buyers and retailers may share the impact.

By Don Lee and Abigail Goldman
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
September 9, 2007

SHANGHAI — Get ready for a new Chinese export: higher prices.

For years, American consumers have enjoyed falling prices for goods made in China thanks to relentless cost cutting by retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target.

But the spate of product recalls in recent months — Mattel announced another last week — has exposed deep fault lines in Chinese manufacturing. Manufacturers and analysts say some of the quality breakdowns are a result of financially strapped factories substituting materials or taking other shortcuts to cover higher operating costs.

Now, retailers that had largely dismissed Chinese suppliers’ complaints about the soaring cost of wages, energy and raw materials are preparing to pay manufacturers more to ensure better quality. By doing so, they hope to prevent recalls that hurt their bottom lines and reputations. But those added costs — on a host of items that include toys and frozen fish — mean either lower profits for retailers or higher prices for consumers.

“For American consumers, this big China sale over the last 20 years is over,” said Andy Xie, former Asia economist for Morgan Stanley, who works independently in Shanghai. “China’s cost is going up. They need to get used to it.”

The low hanging fruit of lowest prices for decent quality has run into a rising standard of living in China, and the results have been ugly.

The bulk of the world’s toys are made in southeastern China, where wages have shot up in the last couple of years amid greater competition for workers and increases in minimum wages and living costs. Booming demand has pushed up commodity prices. The appreciation of the Chinese yuan, up 9% against the dollar in the last two years, also has hurt some factories, as they are paid in dollars.

Follow the link to the rest of the story, reported from Shanghai.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Los Angeles Times: Fixing Chinese goods will be costly

So, what with rising wages, increases in commodity prices, the unexpected new costs of safety inspections, prices for toys, tilapia, luggage, and an entire big box store full of consumer necessities (and not so) will go up.

So, now let’s turn to the other side of the consumer equation, courtesy of the always perceptive Daniel Gross of Slate.

slate

Pundits bemoan our trade deficit with China. But those container ships aren’t heading home empty.

By Daniel Gross
Posted Saturday, Sept. 8, 2007, at 7:59 AM ET

Economists make a big deal out of all the junk we import from China: tainted pet food, lead-laced toys, and enough cheap plastic tchotchkes to load up a landfill the size of Montana. And American industries are clearly being drenched by the rising tide of Chinese imports, which totaled $288 billion in 2006. But as imports from China loudly rise, American exports to China are quietly rising at an even more rapid pace. Would it surprise you to learn that a lot of those exports are … junk?

In an act of macroeconomic karma, materials thrown out by Americans—broken-down auto bodies, old screws and nails, paper—accounted for $6.7 billion in exports to China in 2006, second only to aerospace products. Junkyards may conjure up images of Fred Sanford’s ratty collection of castoffs. But these days, scrap dealers are part of a $65 billion industry that employs 50,000 people, who together constitute a significant arc of a virtuous circle. The demand of China’s factory bosses for junk—which they recycle to make all the junk Americans buy from China—creates jobs, tamps down the growth of the trade deficit, and might help save the planet.

Exports to China second only to aerospace products? Junk?

And this is a good story for all of you greens out there (MUDGE is always happy to assist his environmentally sensitive fellow citizens. Feel free to use yesterday’s post to wrap fish.):

The booming China trade isn’t simply good news for shareholders of Metal Management, whose stock is up 67 percent in the past year. It’s good news for tree-huggers. Every scrap of scrap put on a slow boat to China is one less scrap that winds up in a landfill or an incinerator. Asia’s insatiable demand for scrap has boosted prices, thus encouraging companies to suck more reusable junk out of garbage piles.

An interesting twist, eh? The imbalance is less so. That’s always good news.

Take a look:

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The junk we send to China. – By Daniel Gross – Slate Magazine

A couple of things about this story are intriguing.

1) The story refers to corrugated paper, a key element of MUDGE‘s once family business. $130 ton for scrap corrugated boxes (the brown shipping containers everything wears to market) is an astounding price.

2) The idea of sending scrap overseas resonates in a slightly unpleasant way with us ancient curmudgeons. MUDGE was born after WWII (believe it or not!), but the lessons of that conflict were fresh.

In the years before Pearl Harbor projected the U.S. belatedly into a conflict that had started up in Asia in the early Thirties, scrap iron and steel in massive quantities made its way across the Pacific to, wait for it, Japan.

It was a bitter realization that many of those junked Model T’s and scrapped steam heating radiators were sent back to our combatants as Japanese aircraft and ships and bombs.

Is it too paranoid to make an association with cheerfully sending our scrap to a rapidly arming and increasingly assertive about its global destiny China?

So, two interesting China stories, one from each container port.

And did you catch the punch line from the LA Times piece?

Meanwhile, Skyway is gearing up to open a factory this fall in Vietnam, where wages are lower.

“I think the consumer will not accept the full impact of price increases from China,” Wilhoit said. “We’re going to have to do things differently, like Vietnam, to get the same quality stuff on the shelf and make money.”

The mind boggles.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE