Tag Archives: europe

Recommended book: 1491 The Americas Before Columbus

1491: The Americas Before Columbus1491: The Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While the book was not chock-full of shocking revelations as its publicity implies, it was a very amenable read on the state of the Americas before Columbus. The only really interesting thing for me was its explanation of the population collapse due to disease, something we’ve known but at least I didn’t quite fathom its scale.

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Maybe Mexico is indeed quite misunderstood

A couple of European colleagues joined me in my last business trip to Mexico and they seemed genuinely surprised by what they saw. It was not as unsafe as they were led to believe, the people were more ethnically varied than they expected, it was not as poor (even though of course they did see a cross-section of Mexican society from wealthy city denizens to farm hands in the hills) and the food was better than they thought.

Also at some point I spent some time with a group of Finnish gentlemen who had a lot of questions about the country, which I did my best to answer in the little time we had together (personal favourite: why do all houses have water tanks in the roof?).

Maybe the place is indeed quite misunderstood as I’ve been saying all these years.  I’m not saying it’s better or worse, it’s just not what people abroad without previous experience of the country think.

Cronicles of a European crisis

It’s been a tough 2011 for Europe and it’s going to get tougher. The role of Finland in this whole mess is deeply contested, and is a result of the changes in Parliament after the elections last spring.  I personally think Finnish politicians are too smug (see Halla-Aho’s Greece comments).  They treat other countries in the EU like a poor relation, but they seem to forget that Finland might be on the receiving end of EU aid sooner than we would like.  While the current budget deficit is quite manageable, Finland has the fastest-aging population in Europe.This will have a huge impact in social services and pensions, so I would hope for a return to traditional Finnish caution from the current brashness.

If I put my Mexican hat on, it is very ironic to see developed countries not following their own rules and recommendations for economic recovery (see cartoon in Spanish).  I guess the IMF’s medicine is too bitter when you try it yourself.

Below you can see some pictures I’ve taken that show the discontent from the general public in different parts of the continent.

Protests in Corinth.
Austerity protests in Athens
Traffic rerouted due to the austerity protests in Athens.
Strong opinion
Strong opinions in the London tube.
Somebody tell me how much they make with my money
Madrid. "Somebody tell me how much they make with my money" / "You should understand what they say".

Mexican Geography for Europeans

One of the challenges I’ve had in explaining the security situation in certain parts of Mexico to some of my friends and colleagues has simply been the fact that people don’t necessarily understand the size of the country.

Now, courtesy of ifitweremyhome.com, I found this excellent map superimposing Mexico on top of Europe to prove my point.  Just as people going to the beaches of Greece and Turkey didn’t need to worry about the Glasgow airport bombers, it makes little sense to worry about the security situation in the northern border if you’re going to the beaches of central and southern Mexico.  I certainly won’t, and I go there every year (If you need tips, I wrote a small guide some time ago).

That’s what drives me crazy sometimes about the international news coverage of the country.  I’m not telling you that there aren’t places that are screwed up, but using that brush for the whole place is misleading.

Recommended book: The Muslim discovery of Europe

I’ve always been interested in finding out “the other side of the story”. That was one of my main incentives in learning foreign languages, and the reason why I usually scan international newspapers.  As a recent project put me in constant contact with Turkey, I was able to pick up this book at Istanbul airport and was able to read it through.  While this blog gives a longer review of the book than I’d be willing to write here, the most interesting bit of the whole book was that for the peoples comprising Medieval Islam, Europe was an uninteresting barbaric fringe following an antiquated superseded religion, and so approached their contact with Europeans from a stand of perceived moral superiority.  Not unlike the way Europeans viewed the peoples of the New World in the 1500’s.

The book then gives a summary of how those attitudes changed with the faster European development of the Renaissance to a situation where while European technical, scientific & military expertise was sought after, cultural contact was still avoided.  300 years later, the situation is starting to change as can be seen in the TED talk below:

Disclaimer: I know Turkey is in general much less traditionalist than other Muslim countries. It is generally agreed that the push West was started by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, which was not covered in this book.

Singular singularity thoughts

After a very interesting presentation by Dr. José Luis Cordeiro of Singularity University, I was left with a few interesting ideas about the coming accelerating technological and social progress.

  • Genetic testing is becoming faster and cheaper.  In 3 years full sequencing will only cost 100 bucks and take 5 days, with a huge impact in ancestry and medicine (think about genetically-tailored preventive medicine). Imagine 23andme going mass market.
  • We will go back to the moon, especially now that it is found that there’s water.
  • World relationships are changing. For thousands of years the important body of water was the Mediterranean, and until recently the Atlantic.  We are now entering the age of the Pacific.
  • Robot rights are already under discussion in Korea and Europe.
  • Economic, telecommunications and energy source evolution is accelerating.
  • The death of death: The Methuselah Foundation.
  • Nano, bio, info and cognitive sciences are converging. Everything is information.
  • Marvin Minsky (MIT): “Will robots inherit the earth? Yes, but they will be us!”
  • Transhumanism as a possibility, not only a science fiction conjecture.

500 Euros & the mafia

Too much money: 500 Euro!

Recently read an article in a Mexican business magazine where they mention that the 500 euro bill is the darling of the Italian mafia.  The simple reason is that while transporting a million dollars in 100 dollar bills cash would need a portfolio or bag weighing up to 10 kg (as previously seen in Hollywood), a million dollars in 500 euro bills would be much more easily concealed and weigh less than 2 kg. No wonder they are starting to find these in seizures in Mexico, Costa Rica and Russia.

I mean, I have never seen even the 100 Euro bill being used normally in the street, much less the 200 or 500.  Given that the larger the denomination the larger the bill, 500 Euro are pretty much a purple papyrus 😛