Archive for the ‘International’ Category

Gangnam Style, Global Citizenship, and the (Secretary) General

Friday, January 18th, 2013

As Stanford students, we have been charged – by the Stanfords themselves in the Founding Grant – with the responsibility of “promot[ing] the public welfare by exercising an influence in behalf of humanity and civilization.”  The words that Leland and Jane wrote down over 120 years ago in honor of their late son still ring true today, for fuzzies and techies alike.  Whether you are applying for a visa to study abroad or someday praying for favorable trade relations so that you can expose your product to a new market, international relations matter.  So if you’re curious about IR or just wondering why there were police dogs outside of Dink yesterday, read on.

Today, the UN has 193 member nations.

Crash Course: Meet the U.N.

Founded in 1945, the United Nations was born out of the need to address global hostility post-World War II and the League of Nations’ failed attempt at creating an international body that could effectively address international issues.  Despite starting afresh, the formation of an international regulating body still did not sit well with some countries, and after the Soviet Union turned about-face on first Secretary General Trygve Lie due to the UN’s role in the Korean War, the UN was almost doomed to the same fate as the League of Nations.

Like a boss.

Fortunately, Lie’s fellow-Scandinavian successor, Dag Hammarskjöld, strove to prevent the UN from disappearing altogether.  However, the UN has had its share of drama, from the Soviet Union’s desire to create a troika to replace the Secretary General to the Annan family’s Oil-for-Food scandal.

Despite the issues that have arisen, the United Nations remains the predominant world body persistently working to maintain peace between nations and provide aid to those who are hungry, oppressed, illiterate, and ill, deploying approximately 120,000 peacekeepers from over 110 countries and feeding over 90 million people a day.  In the words of current Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, “we [- the UN -] deliver more humanitarian aid than anyone.”

BMOC: Ban himself

The man with a plan

This Thursday afternoon, Ban Ki-moon came to address the Stanford community and discuss the role of the UN in our rapidly transitioning world.  Expressing his excitement at being able to speak on campus, Ki-moon joked that “Stanford has subtly made its mark on the world…… and that is just your football team.”  But beyond voicing his appreciation for California and joking that after a trip to America as a teen, he “was the 1950s equivalent of PSY” because he was so popular when he got home, Ban Ki-moon emphasized a need for American citizens to help address the profound global change that our world is facing today.  To make his point clear, Ki-moon elucidated three primary ways to navigate our changing world – his points are as follows.

1) Sustainable Development

First, Ki-moon urged individuals to be more conscious of their consumption of Earth’s resources, as “there can be no plan B… because there is no planet B.”  Asserting that “we cannot drill or mine our way to prosperity,” Ki-moon explained his goal for 2030: that everyone in the world will have electricity, solving a current dearth of energy for 1.4 million individuals.  His environmental stance reflects current initiatives at Stanford that you can get involved in, from the Stanford Solar Car project to the Green Living Council.  As Ki-moon said himself, “I know you understand – after all, Stanford’s mascot is a tree.”

2) “Dignity and Democracy”

Focusing on civil unrest in Syria and Mali, the Secretary General illuminated the main concerns for addressing international conflict, including funds, access, and political divisions.  He wants to provide certainty to young people who have uncertain futures, and uphold the human rights of those who can’t defend themselves.

3) Women and Young People

Similarly, Ki-moon argued that women and young people are the “most under-utilized resource” in today’s world.  He called for “more women in the Cabinet, more women in the Parliament, and more women in the boardrooms,” and is proud that South Korea has its first female president(-elect).  Because “half the world is under 25 years of age,” Ki-moon has appointed a special envoy on youth, who will hopefully be a proponent for children and young adults around the world.

“We Are the World”

In sum, Ban Ki-moon discussed a variety of pressing issues that he and his peers in the UN need our help to address.  It is in this vein that Ki-moon wrapped up his talk; rather than talking about how the youth are the future, he argues that it is time to recognize that young people “have already taken their leadership role today.”

So, Stanford students, let’s take Ki-moon’s advice.  Now, more than ever, it is our responsibility to recognize the importance of international cooperation and impartiality.  It is time to be global citizens.

A climate change study that doesn’t end in tears

Friday, January 18th, 2013

Corals from the Ofu Lagoon, American Samoa

As an Earth Systems major, I can say it’s sometimes difficult to stay positive about my choice of field because there are so many urgent and intricate problems woven into the daily fabric of life–and in order to learn how to solve them, you have to appreciate how intricate and difficult to undo they really are.  So it’s nice when conservation research pays off, especially for animals in as dire straits as corals are.

Awesome Stanford professor Stephen Palumbi–who among other accomplishments has used molecular genetics to track the incidence of marine mammal meat in canned tuna and formed a band called ‘Flagella’–has found a key difference in the genomics of heat-resistant corals from the waters of American Samoa that might be used in genetic therapy for corals worldwide, potentially saving coral reefs from the worst effects of global warming.  When water temperatures rise above a certain extent, corals get stressed and their photosynthetic partners, zooxanthellae, are expelled from the tissue of the coral, leaving it hard-pressed to manufacture enough carbohydrates without the ability to make sugars from sunlight.    Palumbi and other researchers discovered in their warm-water corals that 60 heat stress genes were activated whether or not the corals were subjected to excessive heat.  If this pattern could be transferred to cooler-water corals, it could potentially avert cases of coral bleaching from extreme heat.

This treatment, if applied, doesn’t solve all the problems coral reefs are facing in the future, of course.  Corals will still have to contend with the rising acidity in the world’s oceans due to the excessive deposition of carbon dioxide from our increasingly CO2-filled atmosphere–an acidity change that makes it harder for corals to build skeletons, because waters become less saturated with calcium carbonate.  Runaway algae growth is also a possibility and a threat, and more frequent and violent tropical storms are predicted in future years, which could be a huge challenge for coral communities to withstand.  However, finding ways to combat heat stress is a necessary first step (we are committed to further global warming, we might be able to stave off the worst ocean acidification), and Palumbi and his team have unlocked a very important discovery.

The 2012 Election’s Biggest Loser: Planet Earth

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

“Hey, don’t I get a vote?”

This election may be the biggest rip-off of America’s democracy in recent memory.

Sure, we have choices between blue and red. Our candidates claim to offer stark ideological differences and visions for our country. Vast swaths of Americans will enthusiastically pick their man and hope for the best, and many others will swallow their disappointment and opt for the lesser evil.

But let’s be clear: when it comes to Planet Earth, our only home, we have a patently false choice.

While both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have advocated sustainable forms of energy, neither has mapped out a legitimate approach to living in a world with finite resources. In all three presidential debates, there was no mention of climate change. From a foreign policy standpoint, there was no appreciation that America’s shining example of consumption and wealth has motivated the rest of the world to try to live like us, and that our planet cannot support such habits indefinitely.

This omission points to a serious failure by our various communities of knowledge to convey to one another the gravity of our circumstances in language that each side can understand. I use the term “failure” because these presidential candidates are supposed to represent the grand sum of our country and culture to the rest of our world; that is the definition of leadership. Although both men are politicians and therefore have to evade the hard questions and sell empty promises as part of their campaigns, they are still faced with an enormously difficult job, and based on our democratic process, they are supposed to be the most qualified candidates we have.

(more…)

You Know You’re in Turkey When…

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

(An American of Turkish heritage in Turkey)

By: Peri Unver

*These observations are not generalizations but merely my own personal ones that I have made this summer.

1.  You take your life into your hands whenever you’re in a car as drivers think the middle of the
road is the way to go.  Also, it’s not a complete day until you’ve been honked at least forty times.

2.  You are greeted first by a hello, how are you, kiss on both cheeks, and a comment on how much
weight you’ve gained.

3.  You can fist-pump to the break-up songs.  At first, it’s hard to tell that the song is telling someone off and it’s unsettling to then hear “Shake your booty on the floor now” (inevitably in the remix).

4.  People on the street are gladly willing to help direct you someplace or help you get out of a
sticky parking situation.  However, smiling (especially in the grocery store) is seen as a sign of weakness.

5.  The food is mouth-watering good everywhere and hole-in-the-wall, home-food places are best
(as in New York).  Places to eat are so clean that even in the food court in the mall there are fresh, open salad bars and buffets.

6.  The color of the ocean simply cannot be replicated and it is easy to see why the name is
turquoise, or “Turkish blue.”  It is easy to scoff (especially when you’re from California) at those with surf boards asthere are no waves in Turkey.

7.  The understanding of making a line at a bank or another established location is a circle.

8.  The price of everything, from clothing to food, is negotiable.

9.  It is a prerequisite that you must be able to sing and dance in order to become a Turkish
citizen.  You must also know the lyrics to Turkish songs as questions about that are always asked on game shows.

10.  In almost anyTurkish home you enter someone will be able to read your fortune from Turkish
coffee grinds (“fal”).

11.  The concept of personal space is a foreign one in Turkey. Wherever you are, someone might be virtually sitting in your lap and not even notice it.

12.  When you are going to watch a show at night settle in because you’ll be there for the long
haul, at least three to four hours.  When asked if the show is still on the answer will always be yes.  (It’s no wonder when on the Turkish version of Wheel of Fortune one of the slots is “tell a secret” and song and dance breaks are taken frequently.)  Also, during commercial breaks, you can indeed make a sandwich, take a shower, visit a neighbor, and still be in time for the next portion of the show.

13.  The relatively new law (2005) requiring accessibility for people with disabilities unfortunately falls short, as I personally witnessed this summer as I used a wheelchair.  Almost everywhere is not
accessible and the ramps are of varying widths and scarily, angles.  (Places from the movie theater and even an orthopedist’s office have a hill of steps and no lifts, ramps, or even handrails.)

Even with all of its quirks, it is a beautiful country to visit with much history, nice people, and amazing food.  So hos geldiniz (welcome) to Turkiye!

Berlin, du bist so wunderbar: Adventures of a Stanford Ex-Pat

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

I'm skeptical that any amount of context will ever make this make sense.

The man in the gigantic skirt spat half-chewed potato chunks at the audience, then flung the remnants across the stage.  Later in the production, he donned a soggy octopus suit and cried in a corner in the fetal position.  My first thought was “wow, German theater is weird.”  My second: “wow, Stanford’s paying for this!”

This experience, bizarre as it seems, pretty well summarizes my Berlin experience: weird, wild, and wonderful.  Berlin is an evolving city bursting with opportunity and excitement, and in this post I’ll explain why Berlin is truly wunderbar.

WEIRD:  the differences between Berlin and ‘Mericuh

  • Public transit is clean, efficient, effective, and almost always on time.  Like Adam mentioned, living in such a huge city has me redefining “far,” and I’m grateful to have a system that so seamlessly supports my spontaneous wanderings.  The route-planning website can’t be beat, and the quiet S-Bahn (for “Strassebahn,” or street train) and U-Bahn (for “Unterbahn,” or underground train) make it easy to do homework on the go.
  • Oh, and it's, like, beautiful here, too.

    Food is cheap.  Especially so at grocery stores when you DIY meals, but even for grab-and-go and restaurants, delicious eats can be acquired without straining your budget.  The typical rate for fresh ice cream is a mere 1 Euro a scoop, and Berlin (land of chocoholics like myself) has chocolate everywhere!  There are two chocolate company headquarters here (Fassbender u. Rausch and Ritter Sport) within two blocks of one another in the city center.  Most grocery stores have at least one chocolate aisle.

  • Sound levels differ greatly.  Excepting small children, even drunkenly carousing Germans on weekends speak at a max volume of the American “indoor voice.”
  • Punctuality:  if you’re there two minutes in advance, you’re already late.  I’ve learned the hard way – I missed the whole first half of a ballet because I arrived at the stroke of seven.  The trick I’ve learned is to always have a book or homework on you, and just plan on arriving early and killing some time.
  • So many coins!  With 2 Euro coins, you can buy significant things – meals, even – with just pocket change.  It’s really efficient, and I prefer chunks of change to crumbly $1 bills.

WILD:  observations both under- and above-ground (more…)

Redefining “Far”

Thursday, April 26th, 2012
Tokyo Subway

Attendants cramming people onto a Tokyo Subway (courtesy of Google). It's not as bad in Kyoto, but it gives you an idea of Japanese commuting life.

I thought I knew what the word meant; after all, I lived in Slavianskii Dom for the last two quarters. At the mention of Slav, people either smile because they like how far away it is, recoil because they hate how far away it is, or stare blankly because it’s so far away they’ve never heard of it.

But let’s take a second to consider just how far Slav really is. At the end of the Row, Slav indeed defines just how far away you can live while still remaining on campus. For me last quarter, “far” meant a hazardous, full-speed bike ride down the Row, through White Plaza, around the Circle of Death, left at the top of the Quad, right at the Bio building, and a final stop at Mudd Chemistry. Whew. If I successfully ran all the stop signs, ignored all the tabling student groups, escaped the Circle of Death with my life, navigated my way around the Marguerite buses by the Oval, and found a parking spot amid the throng of Chem 31B students, I could cut my travel time down to…7 minutes. If I felt lazy on the uphill ride home: 15 minutes. 15 minutes defines Stanford’s conception of distance. It used to define mine.

Coming to Kyoto on Stanford’s BOSP program four weeks ago rewrote my definition. No longer can I just roll out of bed, grab a quick bite to eat, and fly out the door a few minutes before class. I commute now. On every school day (and on most weekends), I wake up at 7:00 AM, eat breakfast with my host family, and leave the house at around 8. I bike for 15 minutes down a large hill to the nearest subway station, board and ride for another 15 minutes, then change trains and arrive at the school 10 minutes later. Including change times, the whole trip takes me around 45 minutes, triple the time it takes me to lackadaisically pedal across Stanford campus. The return trip takes longer. That hill I mentioned? It’s a single lane with no bike lanes or sidewalks, so cars, bikes, and pedestrians all battle for supremacy.

Do I have it bad? Not really. Some people on the program come from as far as Osaka, at least an hour’s train ride away. And this type of commute is routine for most Japanese college students: I recently talked with a girl who commutes for a total of 4 hours every day. That’s the equivalent of a 20-unit course load. Inconceivable!

What lessons can we Stanford students take from this commuting lifestyle?

– Taking more time to get to class can be enjoyable if we let it. Instead of dangerously racing against the clock, leave your dorm a couple of minutes earlier. Enjoy the sunshine. Listen to music (with only one earbud, of course). Observe people; Stanford students are fantastically interesting. Or take a few minutes more to walk to class, simply for the change of pace. You’ll see campus in a whole new light.

Yamashina, Kyoto, Japan

Sakura trees on the way to school. Walking instead of biking offers some great photo ops.

– Use public transportation; for those without cars, this opens up a whole world outside of Stanford. Ride the Marguerite (for free!) to get into Palo Alto for some delicious food or a quiet cafe for studying. Or take the CalTrain and get into San Francisco more! It’s an underutilized service that takes at most an hour and can get you directly to one of America’s greatest cultural centers.

– Most dorms on campus are really only separated by a 5-minute bike ride (or a 15 minute walk). In the grand scheme of things, that’s not so far. So when you’re looking to draw next year, add more weight to the community and amenities and less to the location.

Most people talk about how large Stanford’s campus is. But it doesn’t seem big at all anymore. Of all the things I miss about Stanford, the last thing I expected to miss was just how close and connected we all are.

CIA recruiting on campus today

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Are you interested in an exciting career committing war crimes?

Central Intelligence Agency

 If you have marketable skills in:

Or providing assistance in any form for an organization actively engaging in the above activities, then the Central Intelligence Agency has plenty of opportunities for you! The CIA has a long history of successful collaboration with Nazis and other top war criminals. And it’s one of the hottest start-up incubators for terrorist groups; training, funding, and arming some of the most well-known terrorists and war criminals in the world. If you want an exciting career disrupting peace and prosperity around the world–and finance isn’t your thing–you can make a real impact at the CIA, literally!

Wednesday at noon, the CDC will be gracefully hosting an information session to learn about job and internship opportunities for students at the CIA. (But be careful, there may be some protesters trying to disrupt the event…)

Be Thoughtful About KONY 2012

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

Joseph Kony, an African warlord leading the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), has become an international sensation thanks to Invisible Children, a group of human rights activists. They been able to successfully wield social media to make people care about their cause. Kony is now famous because the world wants his arrest and prosecution for his “crimes against humanity.”

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube DirektKony 2012

I watched the KONY 2012 video. I clapped at moments of triumph for people in Uganda and didn’t allow myself to hide my eyes at the images of mutilation or abduction. Even though I’m the last person to follow major trends, considering the gravity of the idea and the sheer number of people attempting to share it through Twitter and Facebook, I understood  that it is something that I shouldn’t ignore.

After finally seeing the video for myself I learned a few things:

  1. Everything about the video was created to appeal to the youth of developed nations. There were cute kids, horror, and a mission deeply seated in social media and activism. Anyone watching that video can help by sharing it.
  2. This is a 9 year old problem, with circumstances that may or may have changed since the video was produced.
  3. There was both the Mumford & Sons and dubstep in the same video. And it worked. Both reflect the way the filmmaker appealed to the culture Gen Y knows and loves. It made it seem like the video wasn’t coming from a major stuffy organization, or a ragtag group of freedom fighters – it came from one of us. Or, at least, it was meant to feel that way. (more…)

#FreeFadi

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Have you ever met someone on campus that you were positive would change the world?

For myself and many others, Fadi Quran, Stanford ’10, is that person. He is an empathetic soul with a passionate and powerful voice and a very real commitment to justice. He’s also got a great sense of humor- he once made me laugh so hard that milk came out of my nose!

Which is why it’s especially hard to watch the following video of Fadi being pepper-sprayed, beaten, and arrested by Israeli police during a non-violent protest in Hebron on Friday:

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Direkt

The Stanford Daily and The Atlantic have reported that Fadi was being detained in an Israeli prison in Moscowbya awaiting a hearing.  At the hearing Monday morning, the judge decided not to release him; instead, Fadi was moved to a prison in Ofer for another hearing the next day.

At Stanford, Fadi was an active promoter and participant of campus dialogue about Israel and Palestine.  Since graduating, he has been a part of other non-violent activism such as the Freedom Riders (modeled after those of the US Civil Rights movement), in which he and five other Palestinians rode buses to demand the right to travel freely. The protest in Hebron which he took part in called for Shuhadda Street, a street in West Bank closed to Palestinians, to be reopened.

The petition for Fadi’s release currently has over 2100 signatures (including Noam Chomsky’s and several Stanford professors), and the Stanford Daily has had consistent coverage, but we need to do more. Check out www.freefadi.org, sign the petition, tweet #FreeFadi, share on Facebook and in person— spread the word.

I know that people see the words Israel or Palestine and decide that this is a political debate which will upset people… something so complicated that they shouldn’t even bother. But this is not about politics, it is not an attack, and it is not complicated.  This is about a friend, a member of the Stanford community, an American citizen, a human being peacefully and non-violently standing up for what he believes in and being beaten and detained for it. In the words of one of Fadi’s own heroes and role models, Martin Luther King Jr., “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” Fadi’s detention is an injustice that stands in the way of true and lasting peace. Do something about it: join the coalition for his release.

Before Traveling, Check for Manifestação

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

This quarter, I am studying abroad in Madrid.  We only have class Mon-Thurs, so the majority of us use our time over the weekends to travel, myself included.  This past weekend, I decided to travel to Lisbon with some friends.  It is a beautiful city with great food (I highly recommend it), and its friendly people and low prices, at least in comparison to Madrid, quickly won our group over.  We had a jam-packed schedule, as we were only in Lisbon from Thursday afternoon to Saturday afternoon.  As Saturday winded to a close and we were walking to our hostel to get our bags and head to the airport, our group gave ourselves a solid pat on the back.  In a mere 3 days, we had seen all that we set out to see, ate some fantastic food, and met some incredible people.  We had planned so well…. or so we thought.

As we were walking to our hostel, we noticed a fair amount of people in the streets, a pleasant contrast to the relative emptiness of Madrid’s streets on the weekend, and in particular, a small group of protesters in Terreiro do Paço square.  We figured this was normal, especially since the Portuguese economy is not doing any better than the Spanish economy (to learn about that, go read some of George’s old posts).  In fact, Lisbon’s walls and streets are filled with graffiti and posters, proclaiming things like, “Money is taken from the poor and given to the bankers.  More hours.  Less pay.  Less life!”

As we exited the hostel and got ready to head to Terreiro do Paço square, a hub for buses and the nearest bus stop for the bus to the airport, we realized that there were an increasing number of people in the street…and an increased police presence.  In fact, Terreiro do Paço square had been blocked off by the police and streets were being closed for the incoming masses of protesters.

What we expected to see (image from Wikipedia)

What we actually saw (image from Reuters)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were in the middle of a manifestação, or protest. Not prepared for the chaos about to ensue, we figured we would head to the closest square, where we hopefully could catch a bus or take the train or metro to the airport.

Image from the International Business Times

Rolling suitcases in hand, we ran through the crowded streets in the opposite direction of the march of protesters that was headed from the outskirts to Terreiro do Paço square.  All ages of people were in the streets, shouting, holding signs.  Some wore masks, impersonating Guy Fawkes, who has become a symbol of anti-greed.

The manifestação had been called by the CGPT, or Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores Portugueses, to protest the austerity measures that had been taken on by the Portuguese government last May in exchange for a 78 billion dollar loan from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.  These austerity measures included an increase in sales taxes and increase in public transportation fares, and salary reductions.  More controversially, the government has lengthened workday hours without additional compensation, cut holidays,  and reduced compensations for fired workers.  Since these measures, the economy has only worsened, with employment hitting around 13%.  (more…)

When Europe Hits a Windmill: The Euro Crisis from Spain (Part II)

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

The victory rally of Spain's opposition party, Partido Popular (PP), on November 20 in Madrid. Spaniards gave the PP an absolute parliamentary majority in a referendum on the dire state of the country's economy. (Photo credit: Jonathan York.)

“Es la crisis.”

Amongst young Spaniards, these three words have become a refrain almost as common as “¿Qué tal estás?”. They often use them jokingly, such as an excuse not to do a homework assignment or complete a household chore. However, when deciding not to shop, go out to a restaurant or club, or travel, the phrase comes up again, and the reason is darker: they simply do not have the money.

As these young people graduate, almost half of them have no way to earn that money, thanks to the lack of jobs available. If they are particularly smart and/or well-connected, they often leave and work in other countries, participating in the largest emigration wave to hit Spain since the 1960s. The others have little choice but to scrape together what they can, live with their parents, and wait for the economy to improve. They will need to wait a while. Spain’s rigid, service-based economy cannot shift to a new growth model overnight, or even in a few years.

It is one thing to examine a financial crisis as troubling as Europe’s using the news, the pundits, the data, and the precedents. It is another to be in Spain and observe its consequences. Although Spain remains an enchanting place in which to study and travel, the past two years have profoundly shaken the country’s psyche and identity. The new Spain that has emerged is the one that I will attempt to convey in this post.

What does a country with a 22.6% unemployment rate look like?

Spain hardly looks like a country experiencing hard times. Parts of it are run-down, to be sure, but Spanish cities are generally well kept and full of green spaces. The main thoroughfares of Madrid are even cleaned off with hoses every night; I found out about this when I nearly got sprayed by one walking home from the bars. Madrid’s metro and bus system are easy to use and efficient, with none of the filth and rudeness you might encounter on the NYC subway. (more…)

When Europe Hits a Windmill: The Euro Crisis from Spain (Part I)

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Spain's flag together with the flags of Andalucía and the European Union. The family of European nations is facing the biggest challenge to its existence since World War II.

Recently I went to get some churros con chocolate with a friend studying at Universidad Complutense. He is an educated guy, very sharp, a real “pícaro” who does not hesitate to poke fun at something he finds ridiculous. We began to talk politics, specifically Europe’s sovereign debt crisis, and at one point I noted with amazement and some sympathy that the Germans would be inevitably responsible for bailing out the rest of Europe. My friend looked at me squarely in the eye and said, “They tried to conquer Europe twice in less than a century, without mercy, and left us with Franco. Que se jodan.

You do not have to agree with my friend to see his point. Europe is in serious trouble, and though the Spaniards continue to party until the sun rises, they are increasingly angry and disillusioned. After having experienced one of the great economic miracles of the twentieth century, Spain’s future looks decidedly grim. The Spanish youth will likely suffer a lower quality of life than that of their parents, and so far there appears to be little they can do about it.

In this post, I will attempt to explain Europe’s economic situation, tying in Spain where relevant. A follow-up post will elaborate on Spain’s current circumstances, focusing on what I have been able to observe in person.

The Debt Contagion – Too Little, Too Late

Why is Europe’s economic crisis so scary? The European Union (EU) is the world’s largest economy, with approximately 308 million people. If it goes bust and the 17-nation euro zone dissolves, an economic tsunami would hit the U.S. and the rest of the world. Stocks markets would tank, people’s savings would disappear, banks would stop lending and likely suffer a run on their accounts, and political chaos would follow.

This sounds like a drastic, impossible scenario, until you look at the numbers. Europe’s biggest debtors are facing unprecedented yields on their sovereign debt, with both Italy and Spain above 6% on ten-year bonds. Such levels necessitated European-sponsored bailouts in Ireland and Portugal over the past year. But Italy is the world’s eighth largest economy and third largest bond market. It is too big to be “bailed out.” Without investors buying its bonds, Italy’s government will simply run out of money and default on its debts. The EU’s situation is so tenuous that any number of events, from the failure of a big bank (read: France, whose banks are heavily exposed to Greek debt) to the collapse of a government to more unsuccessful bond auctions could cause its demise. Then there are the political pressures, which are already reaching a boiling point. Both Greece’s and Italy’s governments succumbed to the crisis this fall, and Spanish voters just gave Spain’s conservative opposition party, Partido Popular, an enormous victory on November 20. (more…)

Cardinal Pride Around the World

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

While those of us on the Farm prepare for Big Game, Stanford students and alumni around the world have been psyching up and showing spirit in scenic places.  Here’s a brief photo tour showcasing the universal nature of Stanford love.  Click the pics to see higher-res versions, and see if you can spot your friends abroad!

GO CARDINAL!!!

Stanford in Berlin poses in front of the historic Brandenburg Gate. (Photo cred.: Kerry Kraemer.)

Stanford in Australia soaks up the sun... and the Stanford spirit!!

¡Ay, caramba! Stanford in Chile gets psyched for Big Game from afar. (Photo cred.: Austin Wianecki.)

On tour in Afghanistan, former Cardinal gymnast Chris Harper and wrestler Kyle Pubols show some Cardinal love.

Stanford junior Sarah DiRado shows her spirit at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Seville, Spain

The students in Oxford em*body* Stanford spirit! (Photo cred.: Jack Duane)

Stanford students storm the Guggenheim to show off their school pride. (Photo cred.: Jonathan York)

Have a photo I missed?  Email me at kbohl (at) stanford.edu, and I’ll add yours to this gallery!  Beat Cal!!

Crash Course: Kofi Annan (visiting next week!)

Saturday, November 5th, 2011

Come see Annan speak in MemAud next Thursday!

Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General, will be visiting Stanford next Thursday.  MemAud doors open at 11:15 AM for people with tickets, and stand-bys will be admitted at 11:45 AM. The organizers expect to let in a significant number of stand-bys, but students are encouraged to arrive early to ensure themselves a place at the talk.

Akin to the Dalai Lama’s visit last fall, I think it’s helpful to have background on our VIP speakers before they arrive.  Here’s a crash course on Kofi Annan so you can make the most of his visit and various talks next week.

What’s in a name?

The post of “Secretary General” was established in 1946 with the selection of Trygve Lie of Norway.  FDR initially hoped that the Secretary-General could serve as a “world moderator,” though the UN Charter less excitingly specified the post as the organization’s “chief administrative officer.”  Since that date, the position has been afforded varying levels of authority and controversy.  Secretaries General tend to be diplomats with “little prior fame,” selected from relatively neutral nations around the world.  Perhaps the most effective and famous Secretary General was Dag Hammarskjöld, a Swedish diplomat whose policy of “quiet diplomacy” resolved crises amid the height of the Cold War during his tenure from 1953 to 1961.  Including Ban Ki-Moon, there have been 8 Secretaries General to date.

Annan’s Ascent

Kofi Annan (Annan rhymes with “cannon” in English) was born in Ghana in 1938, the grandson of a tribal chief of his region.  His secondary education spanned locations as diverse as Ghana, Minnesota, Switzerland, and Cambridge, where he studied at the prestigious Sloan School of Management at MIT.  Annan is fluent in English and French, as well as a variety of African languages and dialects.

Prior to his role as Secretary General, Annan began his international career as a budget officer for the World Health Organization.  He began work for the UN in the 1980s, serving in various roles until his appointment to the Secretariat in 1996.  He directed UN Peacekeeping Operations from 1993 through 1996.  In this role, Annan has been accused of a failure to prevent and react appropriately to the 1994 Rwandan genocide which resulted in the death of an estimated 800,000 people.  Annan has since admitted that he “could have and should have done more to sound the alarm and rally support.”

According to his own Facebook page, “Kofi Annan seeks to provide inspirational and catalytic leadership on critical global issues, particularly preserving and building peace and facilitating more equitable sharing of the benefits of globalisation, by promoting poverty alleviation, good governance, human rights and the rule of law.”

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Women’s World Cup Final

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

Americans have come to expect superiority in all sports. We have the best basketball, baseball, and football teams in the world. We have 2,549 Olympic medals, more than any country. We have even produced the most Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest winners. Why can’t we produce the best soccer players?

Actually, we can. The US Women’s National Team has made a comeback at this year’s Women’s World Cup, overturning deficits in games as well as the downward trend since we last won a World Cup in 1999. In fact, the USWNT is the joint most successful women’s team with two titles, tied with Germany who won both titles since 1999. We are the only team to make it to at least the semifinals in every tournament so far, and this year we’re in the finals again, contesting for a record breaking third World Cup.

Each star on top of the logo represents a World Cup victory. Three would nicely match the existing three in the logo.

Some might scoff at the importance of superiority in soccer, whether men’s or women’s, but Americans should take special pride in the fact that we have one of the best women’s teams in the world, even while we don’t have the best men’s team. The success of our women’s program is a testament to gender equality and opportunity for all athletes in the US. Consider that a country that values soccer as much as Italy didn’t even qualify their women’s national team for the Women’s World Cup. The USWNT defeated the best footballing country in the world, Brazil, in the quarterfinals of the competition this year. Our fantastic team is built not so much on a strong soccer culture in the US, but on decades of promoting female athletes, including great funding for our women’s program compared to other countries. In fact, it is the success of our women’s team that could very well continue the development of a strong soccer culture in the US.

Kelley O'Hara representing Stanford on the national team.

If this isn’t enough to get you excited about the USWNT, consider that three players of the twenty on the World Cup squad are Stanford graduates: Nicole Barnhart ’04, Rachel Buehler ’07, Kelley O’Hara ’09. No other school has as many on the team.

The USWNT faces Japan in the final tomorrow, Sunday July 17th, at 11:45 Pacific time. The USWNT has never lost to Japan in any of their 25 meetings. What a perfect chance to watch the US dominate at yet another sporting event. Go USA!