Tim Longhurst's Blog

Getting the Big Picture – top lists/research at your fingertips

August 13th, 2008 · 2 Comments

Getting the big picture on global trends has long been an interest of mine. Over time, I’ve collected resources that help me get a sense of the directions in which the world is shifting, and the way things are today.

Recently I was thinking about the research I would like at my fingertips, but don’t yet have. I’ve included in this post both the resources I’ve found useful, along with the resources I wish I had… You’ll see what’s missing – there’s no link if I don’t have the research/resource. Let me know what you think is missing, too!

There are a whole bunch of indexes out there that attempt to rank/compare countries. None are perfect, but they can help add to our understanding – but only if we know of their existence!

If you find the resources here helpful, please let me know in the comments, as if people find it useful I will endeavor to update this post with new info/research as I find it.

I know that’s strictly speaking more the role of a wiki or other knowledge management tool, but first I want to see if enough people have opinions/ideas about the data I’ve gathered before I spend time creating a community around this kind of information.

Business – Largest corporations – Fortune Global 500 – Size by Revenue
Business – World’s largest shopping malls – Forbes magazine article
Business – World’s largest banks – Euromoney
Business – Global Competitiveness – World Economic Forum research
Business – Fastest growing corporations – Fortune Global 500 Fastest Growing,
Business – Most profitable Corporations – Fortune Global 500 Most Profitable
Business – Largest selling consumer goods –
Business – Biggest media spenders –

Environment – Most/Least polluting nations –
Environment – Most endangered species –
Environment – Most/Least polluted countries –
Environment – Most/Least polluted cities –

Finance – Largest economies –

Geography – Population Density – InfoPlease (quoting CIA World Factbook)

Media (Traditional) – Largest traditional media corporations – The Nation
Media (New) – Largest new media businesses –

Politics – Mass exodus – countries people are fleeing –
Politics – Mass admittance – countries people are fleeing to – Politics – Largest nations – by population – InfoPlease (quoting CIA World Factbook)Geography – Population Density – InfoPlease (quoting CIA World Factbook)
Politics – Largest nations – by per capita wealth – InfoPlease (quoting CIA World Factbook)
Politics – Largest cities
Politics – Largest international agencies
Politics – Nation size by area – InfoPlease (quoting CIA World Factbook)
Politics – Non-Government Organisations (NGO’s) – by subscribers/members
Politics – Non-Government Organisations (NGO’s) – by financing
Politics – Countries hosting refugees – Infoplease
Politics – Main sources of refugees – Infoplease
Politics – Internally Displaced persons – Infoplease
Politics – Armed Conflicts – Recently Suspended – Infoplease
Politics – Ongoing Armed Conflicts – Ongoing – Infoplease
Politics – Countries with Nuclear Weapons Capability – Infoplease
Politics – Largest Military Expenditures – InfopleasePolitics – Arms Sales to Developing Nations – Infoplease
Politics – Most/Least corrupt – Global Integrity Index, Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index
Politics – Most/Least stable – Global Peace Index
Politics – Biggest donors/recipients of foreign aid – BBC (Graph)

Social – Highest/Lowest Literacy – InfoPlease (quoting CIA World Factbook)
Social – Highest/Lowest Infant Mortality rate – InfoPlease (quoting CIA World Factbook)
Social – Biggest threats facing humanity –
Social – Happiest nations – Wikipedia
Social – Faiths / Religions (ranked by followers) –
Social – Faiths / Religions (ranked by wealth) –
Social – Most recognised brands Interbrand/BusinessWeek
Social – Largest employers –
Social – Global top ten jobs –
Social – Most peaceful – Global Peace Index

Technology – Highest/Lowest rate of mobile phone usage –
Technology – Highest/Lowest rate of internet usage –
Technology – Largest data breaches – Boing Boing

Transparency – Global Integrity Index – Global Integrity


Also worth checking out…
Time Magazine’s Top Ten Lists for 2007 (most recent to date)
Watch Mojo’s Top Ten Lists – Great resource – watching out for ‘top tens’ published in US media and then documenting them.
Freedom of the press – Worldwide Press Freedom Index
Journalists Killed in Conflict Committee to Protect Journalists
Risk of becoming a ‘failed state’ Failed States Index
Most and Least Livable Countries UN Human Development Index
Most expensive cities Infoplease
National Statistics Agencies – Infoplease

General world statistics – Infoplease

So what’s missing? Be sure to post your thoughts in the comments section!

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Category: Uncategorized

Modern China & Tsing Tao diplomacy on a Beijing street corner

August 9th, 2008 · 2 Comments

[caption id="attachment_412" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Mark helps his new Australian friends get a Taxi in Beijing"]Mark helps his new Australian friends get a Taxi in Beijing[/caption]

Do you “look Chinese”? Well, if Beijing’s taxi drivers don’t think so, you’ll find it much harder to hail a taxi than the locals.

Beijing taxi drivers avoid foreigners

I’ve heard various explanations – non-Mandarin speakers are difficult to understand, and apparently it causes a ‘loss of face’ for a taxi driver to admit that he/she doesn’t speak English. More likely, though, is that us non-Mandarin speakers are hard work – we sing Mandarin words repeatedly trying to find the right tone, and we often don’t know where we’re going, or at least, how to pronounce where we’re going in Chinese

Attempting to hail a post-dinner cab with a few Australian friends, the “Don’t look Chinese? I don’t drive people who don’t look Chinese” taxi policy appeared to be in full swing. As the minutes (and empty cabs) passed us by, our frustration was noted by a local (read: Chinese) man who introduced himself as Mark. He offered to help us hail taxis, and soon we were in business.

Let’s have a beer with Mark

As our group numbers diminished, it became obvious that Mark – a young, Chinese student with perfect English, was actually a great find, and it would be a shame to speed off in a taxi away from our new local friend. “Hey Mark,” I enthused, “How about we go and have a beer?”. For whatever reason, Mark didn’t feel comfortable going to a bar with us, but he advised us he would buy beers and bring them back to our corner.

I’ve read that Beijing Chinese are famed for their generosity, and fights over the bill are common. When I insisted that Mark take my 10 quai ($1.50 – there would be change…) to buy the beers, an argument ensued, which I won, reasoning that transportation of said beers to the street corner was hospitality enough. Having my money in his shirt pocket, Mark offered his mobile phone as collateral – to be collected on his return. We dismissed his gesture and off he rode to get those beers. When he returned with three Tsing Tao ‘longnecks’ (I don’t know what the locals call them, that’s an Aussie term for ridiculously large beer) he gave me the 4 quai change, meaning the 3 beers cost just under a dollar, total.

Mark is enrolled in Japanese studies at university. He is working at a Japanese restaurant in a Western 5 star hotel, and speaks perfect English. He told us he learned English by singing Richard Marx songs and watching American movies, neither of which explained his slightly Danish accent.

I didn’t ask our host to sing a Richard Marx song, which upon reflection was either a gross oversight or a demonstration of good judgment on my part – I have little doubt Mark would have sung for us had we insisted.

The media in China and other topics foreigners like to raise

We talked politics for a while, with me asking about how Mark feels about the media in China. “In Australia, we have all sorts of media from all over the world… Journalists can report on what they like, but my feeling is that that isn’t the case in China – does that bother you?”. “To be frank,” Mark began sternly, “We like our media the way it is.” End of discussion, at least on that topic…

As we sat on the curb of the footpath, watching the midnight parade of a Beijing street pass us by. Over there, a man in his 40s sits, shirtless, trying to cool himself in the frustratingly warm breeze. Here, a family of a father, mother and small daughter meander past in their pajamas – perhaps they didn’t have air conditioning, and couldn’t sleep in the heat? Cyclists spin past with baskets laden with shopping. A man lobbing a large hessian bag full of plastic bottles reaches into the nearby bins to collect his bounty.

Although ‘media’ was clearly not on the agenda, Mark was still keen to talk politics, particularly about Mao and the various government decisions that have led to what Mark described as China’s growing prosperity. Chairman Mao’s picture is at the geographic heart of Beijing – looking down on Tienanmen Square from the Southern wall of the Forbidden City. It is interesting to hear someone born in 1987 speak of the Government with such enthusiasm and interest. It’s not common in Australia to hear 21-year-olds sing the Federal Government’s praises – or for them to even have an opinion.

Australia’s Prime Minister has a Chinese name… Luke Erwin

Speaking of the Australian government, I was curious as to whether Australia’s Mandarin-speaking Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, was the Chinese-household name Australians believe he is. Well, from my sample of one, yes he is. Turns out the Chinese have a name for Kevin – it sounds like Lu-ker-wen… Here’s me trying to learn the pronunciation:

Kevin Rudd in Mandarin

We talked for a while about life in Australia, and I talked about how the sky was blue almost every day. Clouds pass and it’s blue. I expressed to Mark my frustration that he and his Chinese compatriots didn’t enjoy clean, clear air like me and my friends in Australia. “The way I see it,” I began, “Almost everything I own is made in China: my clothes, my computer, my bike, my car. I get a lot of benefits from these things, but the costs of producing them – the environmental costs, are paid for by people in China. The pollution in the air, soil and water is from factories making things – in part – for me. I get the gain, China gets the pain. I don’t think that’s fair.” Mark listened, but he liked me talking about the pollution about as much as he liked me asking about the media, so that conversation didn’t go too far, either

I’ve traveled fairly widely, and I’ve talked politics with Canadians, Brits, Kiwi’s, Indians, Americans, French and Germans… All those nations are democracies… When we talk about the policies of our own governments, even though we have a stake in our governments through the voting/lobbying processes, I’ve never experienced the kind of ownership/responsibility/defensiveness displayed by our host.

We actually talked and joked about lots of topics, but I’ve chosen to focus on the ‘diplomatic talks’ feeling of the conversation, because I’ve read an article in today’s Herald that goes some way to explain my experience, and offers some interesting ideas about the rise of China.

In John Garnaut and Hamish Macdonald’s article, China’s Strong March, the journalists outline their perspective on China’s media and economy, and prospects for the future. The article explains that Mark’s enthusiasm for the government isn’t uncommon – according to the US-based Pew Research Centre quoted in the story, 86% of Chinese respondents believe their country is heading in the right direction, up from 48% in 2002. That figure is explained by describing the way the propaganda office in China has been using Western-style PR to manage perceptions in the Chinese people.

In what makes this my longest ever blog post, I have taken the most salient quotes from “China’s Strong March” and included them below. It’s worth reading the whole article, but here’s the brief version:

Propaganda/PR driving popular opinion

“[In 1989] Deng Xiaoping instructed the post-Tiananmen leaders to also make one crucial departure from the previous years of reform. From that moment they would place as much importance on propaganda as they did on the economy.”

“The party elevated its propaganda chief to the inner cabinet and extended his reach to each tier of government and every realm of public communication.”

“As the Communist Party moved beyond the ideals of revolution to the imperatives of staying in power. After the Soviet Bloc collapse, the public was educated on the perils of premature democracy. The news media were guided to incessantly show the chaos that followed the collapse of Soviet communism and ethnic bloodshed after the break-up of Yugoslavia.”

“China has rebuilt its propaganda apparatus with tools and methods based as much on Western public relations theory as Marxist-Leninist dogma, censorship and coercion. “In the 1960s people weren’t necessarily convinced, they were just terrorised into submission,” says [Anne-Marie Brady, an expert on Chinese politics at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand] who this year published a forensic account of China’s propaganda system, Marketing Dictatorship. “Now they stress management rather than control because they understand that persuasion is more effective than force.”

China’s PR in action

“[Within weeks of the Sechwan Earthquake] Sheng Si, Bu Li (Alive or Dead, Never Apart). The song, hastily composed by an official disaster committee in Beijing and sung by the martial arts movie star Jackie Chan, was broadcast nationwide. It was a sentiment that drowned out the anger from the bereaved parents of children killed in shoddy school buildings.”

It’s us vs. the world – the Chinese perspective

“Incidents such as the clash of Chinese and American military aircraft, the Tibetan riots, the Olympic torch relay and even the Sichuan earthquake were immediately framed in the nationalist narrative of a resurgent China defending itself against a hostile world.”

The Olympics

-China’s tense determination to host a “successful” Olympics and its clinical campaign to top the gold medal tally are part of the new narrative about redressing past humiliation. “We have to have a good Olympics,” said the Vice-Premier, Wang Qishan, when he was mayor of Beijing last year. “Otherwise not only will our generation lose face but also our ancestors.”

China’s booming economy

“So where is China headed? Chinese officials don’t like talking about how big their country’s going to be – the world is wary enough already about “China Rising” – but the Chinese economy looks set to power on much as it has for three decades, at a time when the West appears set for a few tough years. Geo-political power will shift accordingly.”

“The West has no direct lever to force China to change domestic policies. It could close its wallets today and China would hardly notice. China, on the other hand, has become the single biggest lender to the US Government, as Beijing works out what to do with the $US2 billion ($2.2 billion) in foreign exchange reserves it accumulates each day… If China pulled those investments, American and world interest rates would soar and the financial crisis would become a global catastrophe… Thankfully, that’s not going to happen. To analysts such as Richard Rigby – the director of the Australian National University’s China Institute, a former senior China analyst at the Office of National Assessments and a former consul-general in Shanghai – it’s a financial version of the Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine that kept the nuclear superpowers, the US and the Soviet Union, at arms’ length for so long.”

Taiwan as a tipping point

“If there’s a “tipping point” to worry about, it’s when China’s military feels it can control the seas around Taiwan for the five days or so before the US can send massive reinforcements. At this point the Chinese leaders – aware American public opinion cares little for Taiwan’s fate – might expect Washington to rethink, and US allies such as Japan and Australia to waver. A report to the US Congress in April said this “anti-access” capability could be reached as early as 2010.

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Category: Communication and connection

Vintage mobile handsets ought to be a point of pride

July 24th, 2008 · No Comments

Futurist Mark Pesce sent out a tweet today: “ZOMG, mobile handset sales are falling in Australia!!! That’s unprecedented.”.

My instant reaction was, “Good – so they should be falling. Doesn’t pretty much everyone in Australia have a phone by now?!”.

Considering Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff, we ought to be proud of ourselves for not upgrading our mobile handsets every two years as the mobile phone carriers are only too happy to help us with!

It seems to me that having an older handset ought to be a point of pride. The older the better, I say. Got a ten year old phone? Good for you! Five years? Not bad… Keep going! Cellphone manufacturers ought to receive accolades for developing the products with the longest life-span, counter-acting decades of corporate design teams focused on planned-obsolescence.

I can already see banners on people’s websites advertising the age of their phones as a point of pride. You can easily find out the approximate date of manufacture at this website. Mine’s from late 2006, so it’s got a way to go, yet… What do you think?

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Category: Our living planet

The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard

July 24th, 2008 · 2 Comments

[caption id="attachment_348" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Story of Stuff logo"]Story of Stuff logo[/caption]

The Story of Stuff is a simple, effective video that explains the ‘top-line’ messages that everyone ought know about where the ‘stuff’ we buy comes from and ultimately where it ends up.

Produced by Free Range Studios (of ‘The Meatrix‘ fame) the video is a perfect example of using new media in an engaging way to tell an important story.

It takes twenty minutes, but it’s worth it so if you have the time, go and watch it now.

The video features Annie Leonard breaking down the ‘materials economy’ the journey products take from extraction; to production; to distribution; to consumption; and finally disposal.

Annie points out that the system is bumping up against all sorts of limits… limits of resources, ethical limits of how we treat people, animals and the environment and limits to how hard we can push the environment before it pushes back.

Easily one of the best environmental education videos I’ve ever seen and I have Ian Lyons to thank for the link!

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Category: Change Agency

John Doerr at TED – Seeking salvation & profit in greentech

May 19th, 2008 · No Comments

John Doerr’s presentation at TED highlighted several responses to climate change worth knowing about. He made it to the platform in part because he has been instrumental in his business investing $200 million in what he calls “greentech”.

Before I go on to my notes, here are a few resources introducing Doerr (most noted for his involvement in the financing of startups including Google & Amazon) and KPCB, the business in which he is a partner:
John Doerr on Wikipedia
John Doerr on KPCB
KPCB on their Greentech investments

The two standout case studies introduced in Doerr’s Greentech presentation were Walmart’s greenhouse targets and Brazil’s experience with ethanol and the power of policy.

Greening Walmart

Walmart’s CEO, Lee Scott, is said to belive that “Green is the next big thing” and made commitments to reduce CO2 emissions by 20% in existing stores and 30% in new stores within 7 years.

Walmart is the largest private employer in the US and the largest private user of electricity. If Walmart were a country, they’d be China’s sixth largest trading partner. Their business involves 60 000 suppliers and 125 million customers in the United States.

So far, examples of Walmart’s three major drains on energy are lighting; heating & air conditioning; and refrigeration. So Walmart has made simple decisions including: painting roofs white to deflect sunlight; install skylights to take advantage of natural light; install doors on refrigerators to insulate food – the fridges are illuminated by LED lights.

Now of course there’s a strong case to be made that considering the amount of disposable crap Walmart sells everyday (watch the Story of Stuff for more) they haven’t exactly turned into an eco-store, but it’s a good case study when such a huge business is making headway in this area. For a full critique of Walmart, check out the movie, Walmart: the high cost of low prices.

Brazil’s move toward ethanol

Jose Goldenberg is described by Doerr as the “father of the Ethanol revolution”. In Brazil it has been mandated that every gas station carry ethanol. It has also been mandated that cars be manufactured to accept flexfuel. Brazil now has 29 000 ethanol pumps (compared with 700 in the US) and in three years the new car fleet has grown from 4% flexfuel to 85% (the US is lagging at 5%). 40% of gasoline in Brazil has been replaced with Ethanol, resulting in an overall 10% CO2 reduction for Brazil.

There are big questions about the role ethanol is playing in the increasing costs of food. By turning food crops into cash crops, we are seeing food prices increase, which is having the biggest impact on the world’s poorest people. This from the Earth Policy Institute:

“A University of Illinois economics team calculates that with oil at $50 a barrel, it is profitable—with the ethanol subsidy of 51¢ a gallon (equal to $1.43 per bushel of corn)—to convert corn into ethanol as long as the price is below $4 a bushel. But with oil at $100 a barrel, distillers can pay more than $7 a bushel for corn and still break even. If oil climbs to $140, distillers can pay $10 a bushel for corn—double the early 2008 price of $5 per bushel.”

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Category: Our living planet