Let the Evidence Decide if the Mapinguary is Myth or Real

 

   A statue of the mapinguary in Rio Branco, Brazil.  Source of the photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. 

 

RIO BRANCO, Brazil — Perhaps it is nothing more than a legend, as skeptics say. Or maybe it is real, as those who claim to have seen it avow. But the mere mention of the mapinguary, the giant slothlike monster of the Amazon, is enough to send shivers down the spines of almost all who dwell in the world’s largest rain forest.

The folklore here is full of tales of encounters with the creature, and nearly every Indian tribe in the Amazon, including those that have had no contact with one another, have a word for the mapinguary (pronounced ma-ping-wahr-EE). The name is usually translated as “the roaring animal” or “the fetid beast.”

. . .  

The giant ground sloth, Megatherium, was once one of the largest mammals to walk the earth, bigger than a modern elephant. Fossil evidence is abundant and widespread, found as far south as Chile and as far north as Florida. But the trail stops cold thousands of years ago.

“When you travel in the Amazon, you are constantly hearing about this animal, especially when you are in contact with indigenous peoples,” said Peter Toledo, an expert on sloths at the Goeldi Institute. “But convincing scientific proof, in the form of even vestiges of bones, blood or excrement, is always lacking.”

Glenn Shepard Jr., an American ethnobiologist and anthropologist based in Manaus, said he was among the skeptics until 1997, when he was doing research about local wildlife among the Machiguenga people of the far western Amazon, in Peru. Tribal members all mentioned a fearsome slothlike creature that inhabited a hilly, forested area in their territory.

Dr. Shepard said “the clincher that really blew me away” came when a member of the tribe remarked matter of factly that he had also seen a mapinguary at the natural history museum in Lima. Dr. Shepard checked; the museum has a diorama with a model of the giant prehistoric ground sloth.

“At the very least, what we have here is an ancient remembrance of a giant sloth, like those found in Chile recently, that humans have come into contact with,” he said. “Let me put it this way: Just because we know that mermaids and sirens are myths doesn’t mean that manatees don’t exist.”

Even so, the mystery of the mapinguary is likely to continue, as is the search.

“There’s still an awful lot of room out there for a large sloth to be roaming around,” Dr. Shepard said.

 

For the full story, see: 

LARRY ROHTER.  "A Huge Amazon Monster Is Only a Myth. Or Is It?"  The New York Times, Section 1  (Sun., July 8, 2007):  3. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

Some scientists believe that the mapinguary may be based on actual sightings of a real creature related to the Megarium, two of whom are depicted above.  Source of the photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above. 

RioBrancoAmazonMap.jpg   Source of the map:  online version of the NYT article cited above. 

 

Strong Global Support for Free Markets

 

FreeMarketsPositiveViewTable.gif   Source of table:  "World Publics Welcome Global Trade — But Not Immigration." Pew Global Attitudes Project, a project of the PewResearchCenter. Released: 10.04.07 dowloaded from: http://pewglobal.org/reports/display.php?ReportID=258

 

(p. A10) WASHINGTON, Oct. 4 — Buoyed and battered by globalization, people around the world strongly view international trade as a good thing but harbor growing concerns about its side effects: threats to their cultures, damage to the environment and the challenges posed by immigration, a new survey indicates.

In the Pew Global Attitudes Project survey of people in 46 countries and the Palestinian territories, large majorities everywhere said that trade was a good thing. In countries like Argentina, which recently experienced trade-based growth, the attitude toward trade has become more positive.

But support for trade has decreased in recent years in advanced Western countries, including Germany, Britain, France and Italy — and most sharply in the United States. The number of Americans saying trade is good for the country has dropped by 19 percentage points since 2002, to 59 percent.

“G.D.P. growth hasn’t been as dramatic in these places as in Latin America or Eastern Europe,” said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, referring to gross domestic product, the total value of the goods and services produced in a country. “But worldwide, even though some people are rich and some are poor, support for the basic tenet of capitalism is pretty strong.”

 

For the full story, see: 

BRIAN KNOWLTON. "Globalization, According to the World, Is a Good Thing. Sort Of."  The New York Times   (Fri., October 5, 2007):  A10. 

 

For Better Jobs, Immigrants Voluntarily Line Up to Learn English


          In Mount Vernon, New York, Maria de Oliveira (center) waited three months for an opening in this English class.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

In the United States, other things equal, those who speak English earn more than those who do not.  So there is a substantial incentive for immigrants to learn English, even in the absence of the much-debated proposed laws to mandate English in various ways.  Consider the evidence in the article excerpted below: 

 

(p. A1)  MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. — Two weeks after she moved here from her native Brazil, Maria de Oliveira signed up for free English classes at a squat storefront in this working-class suburb, figuring that with an associate’s degree and three years as an administrative assistant, she could find a good job in America so long as she spoke the language.

The woman who runs the classes at Mount Vernon’s Workforce and Career Preparation Center added Ms. Oliveira’s name to her pink binder, at the bottom of a 90-person waiting list that stretched across seven pages. That was in October. Ms. Oliveira, 26, finally got a seat in the class on Jan. 16.

“I keep wondering how much more I’d know if I hadn’t had to wait so long,” she said in Portuguese.

. . .

Luis Sanchez, 47, a Peruvian truck driver for a beer distributor in New Brunswick, has been in this country (p. C14) 10 years — and on the waiting list for English classes in Perth Amboy five months. “You live from day to day, waiting to get the call that you can come to class,” Mr. Sanchez said in Spanish, explaining that he knew a little English but wanted to improve his writing skills so he could apply for better jobs. “I keep on waiting.”

. . .

In Newburgh, N.Y., an Orange County town where one in five of the 29,000 residents are immigrants, Blanca Saravia has amassed an impressive portfolio of odd jobs since arriving from Honduras in 2004: gas station attendant, office janitor, cook’s helper, and, for the last 14 months, packager at a local nail-polish factory. Speaking in her native Spanish, Ms. Saravia said that she has been able to get by with co-workers’ translating, but that “when the boss gives orders, I don’t understand.”

. . .

. . .   Ahmed Al Saidi, 49, who works at a gas station and moved from Yemen in 1994, said in halting English that he wants to learn the language “for better work and to talk to people when I go to the store.”

Ms. Oliveira, the immigrant from Brazil, said she still knows too little English to venture into the marketplace; her husband, who is American born and supports the couple financially, encouraged her to enroll in the classes, held five mornings a week.

“I hope that when I’m speaking a little better, I’ll be able to find a job where I can use the English I learned here and the skills I have from back home,” she said in Portuguese. “When I was on the waiting list, there were times I thought this time would never come.” 

 

For the full story, see: 

FERNANDA SANTOS.  "Demand for English Lessons Outstrips Supply."  The New York Times  (Tues., February 27, 2007):  A1 & C14.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

  Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.


Better than Socialism, but Not Free Market Enough: More on Why Africa is Poor

 

     Voters in line to vote for President in Senegal on 2/25/07.   Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

My old Wabash professor Ben Rogge used to say that rulers liked to build pyramids to proclaim their glory.  He mentioned the Egyptian pyramids, and he mentioned the whole government-created capital city of "Brasilia" in Brazil. 

When rulers in a poor country invest a lot of tax money in infrastructure, such as roads, how much of that is due to their belief in mistaken economic theories, and how much to their wanting to build their own version of the pyramids? 

In either case, at least it can be said that the people probably benefit more from their taxes being used to build roads, than from their taxes being used to build pyramids.  At least the roads can be complementary to transporting goods, and to the mobility of labor. 

But the people would benefit even more if they could keep the tax money to use for their own purposes.

 

(p. A3) DAKAR, Senegal, Feb. 25 — Moudou Gueye was confident that Senegal’s presidential election on Sunday would turn around his fortunes, at least in the short term.

Seven years ago he voted for Abdoulaye Wade, a rabble-rousing professor who, after decades in opposition to Socialist Party rule, sailed into office buoyed by the votes of frustrated young people like Mr. Gueye, who is now 32. They hoped that Mr. Wade, a free-market liberal, would transform this impoverished nation’s economy, which had been stunted by generations of ineffective central planning.

. . .

. . .   Senegal has had relatively robust economic growth that has hovered at around 5 percent over several years (it was lower last year, owing in part to high fuel prices, according to government officials), compared with the 1 percent achieved during much of the Socialist era, and dozens of huge public works projects.

While in some ways the country is better off, economic growth and a building binge have not produced large numbers of jobs in a country struggling to make the transition from an agrarian society based largely on peanut farming to one that harnesses the wealth of a global economy.

. . .

Countering criticism that Mr. Wade is too old to serve another term — his official age is given as 80, but many people suspect he is older — his daughter, Sindiély, who has worked as a special assistant to the president, said he was as sharp and agile as ever.

“It is not a question of age,” Ms. Wade said as she waited to cast her vote in downtown Dakar. “It is a question of dynamism and ideas and what you have planned for your country.”

Along Dakar’s seaside roadway, young men marveled at the cars whizzing below a brand-new overpass, one of Mr. Wade’s long-anticipated public works projects.

Pap Ndiaye, an 18-year-old street vendor who sells baby clothes to people stalled in traffic, said the newly completed road was a sign that the country was moving in the right direction.

“Wade has done a lot for this country,” Mr. Ndiaye said. “Our hope is that he will stay and finish his work.”

Less than a mile away, the road abruptly ends with a bright yellow sign that says “déviation,” or detour. With a hard turn to the right, drivers pour off the broad new highway, and back into the tangled, chaotic streets of one of Dakar’s oldest and poorest neighborhoods.

 

For the full story, see: 

LYDIA POLGREEN.  "Senegalese Vote Hinges on Views of Economic Growth."  The New York Times  (Mon., February 26, 2007):  A3.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

Government Corn Subsidies Are Inefficient

 

(p. 19) That the United States is using corn, among the more expensive crops to grow and harvest, to help meet the country’s fuel needs is a testament to the politics underlying ethanol’s 30-year rise to prominence.  Brazilian farmers produce ethanol from sugar at a cost roughly 30 percent less.

But in America’s farm belt, politicians have backed the ethanol movement as a way to promote the use of corn, the nation’s most plentiful and heavily subsidized crop.  Those generous government subsidies have kept corn prices artificially low — at about $2 a bushel — and encouraged flat-out production by farmers, leading to large surpluses symbolized by golden corn piles towering next to grain silos in Iowa and Illinois.

 

For the full story, see:

ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO.  "THE ENERGY CHALLENGE: A Modern Gold Rush; For Good or Ill, Boom in Ethanol Reshapes Economy of Heartland." The New York Times, Section 1 (Sunday, June 25, 2006): 1 & 19.

 

Doha Tariff Cuts Would Save Global Economy About $100 Billion; France Objects

 

FoodExportsAndTariffs.gif  Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

(p. A1)  The so-called Doha round of talks, which began in 2001, were designed to boost developing nations; among other things, they want lower barriers to their agricultural exports.  France has vowed to veto any deal that doesn’t protect its farmers.  A pivotal missed deadline April 30 has led to predictions the talks could die by summer if countries including France don’t change their stance.

The standoff shows how cultural and emotional factors can combine with politics to stifle free-trade goals that most economists believe would provide a net benefit to the world.  The tariff cuts envisioned by Doha would not only help developing countries sell their minerals and food products, but would also lower barriers to the industrialized world’s exports of goods and services.  The World Bank calculates that Doha would boost the global economy by around $100 billion.

Overall, France itself likely would be a major economic gainer from a global (p. A10) deal.  Though it’s the world’s second-largest agriculture exporter after the U.S., farming accounts for just 2.5% of the French economy.  World-class manufacturing and service companies, such as car maker Renault SA and insurer AXA SA, are larger engines of the French economy.  France could gain more income than it would lose in opening its agricultural markets to budding farm superpowers like Brazil.

Even in agriculture, France can be a formidable competitor, notably in products such as wine and cheese.  Its brand is well-known the world over.  And its farms are increasingly home to capital-intensive agribusiness companies, not just small family producers.  Most of the $11.5 billion in European Union subsidies that France receives each year goes to the largest, most commercially viable farms.

WTO chief Pascal Lamy, a Frenchman, says he doesn’t understand France’s position.  "As an efficient farm producer, the strategy should be to reduce subsidies and prices, because others won’t be able to compete with you," he said in a recent interview.

. . .

The French rural tradition, however, is changing.  Between 1993 and 2004, the number of arable farms fell by nearly a third.  Wide swaths of neglected land are now home to unsightly scrub, and the farms people see as they drive down France’s immaculate highways are often parts of major business enterprises.  Oxfam says as much as 60% of subsidies went to the richest 15% of French farmers in 2004, the latest figures available.

Oxfam believes the EU’s tariffs and farm subsidies, which total over €40 billion annually, are harmful to the world’s poorest countries.  High customs duties keep products from poor nations out of the wealthy EU market.  At the same time, EU farmers overproduction is dumped cheaply abroad, driving down global prices and harming farmers in the developing world.

 

For the full story, see:

SCOTT MILLER.  "Food Fight; French Resistance To Trade Accord Has Cultural Roots; WTO Talks Promise Benefits But Farmers Retain Hold On the Nation’s Stomach; ‘Politicians Are Frightened’."  The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., May 16, 2006):  A1 & A10.

 

Taxpayer Pays $120 to Displace a Barrel of Oil With Ethanol

 

John Deutch served as Undersecretary of Energy under President Jimmy Carter.  He also served in the Clinton administration, and is now an MIT chemistry professor.  In the selection below, he explains why corn-based ethanol in the United States, is not an efficient way to produce energy.  In a later section of his commentary, he is more positive about the economics of producing ethanol from switch grass.  (The main difference, he says, is that switch grass can be cultivated using much less petroleum than is used for corn.) 

 

Today, we use corn to produce ethanol in an automobile fuel known as "gasohol" — 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline.  Generous federal and state subsidies, largely in the form of exemption from gasoline taxes for gasohol, explain the growth of its use; in 2005, over four billion gallons of ethanol were used in gasohol out of a total gasoline pool of 120 billion gallons.  Politicians from corn-states and other proponents of renewable energy support this federal subsidy, but most energy experts believe using corn to make ethanol is not effective in the long run because the net amount of oil saved by gasohol use is minimal.

In the U.S., cultivation of corn is highly energy-intensive and a significant amount of oil and natural gas is used in growing, fertilizing and harvesting it.  Moreover, there is a substantial energy requirement — much of it supplied by diesel or natural gas — for the fermentation and distillation process that converts corn to ethanol.  These petroleum inputs must be subtracted when calculating the net amount of oil that is displaced by the use of ethanol in gasohol. While there is some quarreling among experts, it is clear that it takes two-thirds of a gallon of oil to make a gallon equivalent of ethanol from corn.  Thus one gallon of ethanol used in gasohol displaces perhaps one-third of a gallon of oil or less.

A federal tax credit of 10 cents per gallon on gasohol, therefore, costs the taxpayer a hefty $120 per barrel of oil displaced cost.  Surely it is worthwhile to look for cheaper ways to eliminate oil.

The economics are not the same in other countries.  Brazil is a well-known example, where sugarcane grows in the tropical climate and conventional fermentation and distillation readily yields ethanol.  Ethanol is said to provide 40% of automobile fuel in Brazil and compete with gasoline without government subsidy.  Depending on the future world price of sugar and the lessening of trade restrictions on both sugar and sugar-derived ethanol, Brazil could become a net exporter of this biofuel.

 

For the full commentary, see:

JOHN DEUTCH.  "Biomass Movement."  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., May 10, 2006):  A18.