Global Attitudes Towards America and China

Edit: I apologize in advance for the disjointed nature of this post. It was originally supposed to be about the U.S., but during my research I found interesting material on China as well, which I felt made sense to include given that country’s rise. I figure the data and infographics would be worth sharing anyway.

World powers tend to be polarizing among the global community, and the United States is certainly no exception, especially in light of recent events: aside from the lingering anti-Americanism that arose in response to the invasion of Iraq a decade ago, controversial policies such as drone strikes and foreign spying have incited further disapproval and hostility.

Add to the mix well-publicized domestic problems , such as an increasingly dysfunctional political system and sclerotic economy,  and the U.S. seems a lot less appealing as both an international player and a national role model — indeed, even many Americans themselves appear to concede this point.

So how has America fared abroad given its apparent decline in fortune and moral credibility? And what of China, a country whose growing wealth, rapid development, and subsequent global clout seem to make it ripe as a succeeding superpower?  Well, if the recent Pew Research Center survey of 44 nations is any indicator, the track record remains as mixed as ever, although the results may surprise you.

Here are the top ten biggest critics and fans of the U.S.:

Overall, the U.S. remains fairly popular in Sub-Saharan Africa, much of Asia (particular East and Southeast Asia), Europe, and Latin America. Notably, it is viewed more favorably than its biggest current rival, China (especially in Asia) and has a far more positive image than Russia, with which relations have visibly soured to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.

Here are some charts from another Pew study showing China’s standing among roughly the same nations polled for the U.S. survey:

Notice the discrepancy with regard to the Middle East, which is broadly America’s greatest critic and China’s biggest booster. Pew’s assessment of the data goes a bit further in detail on the U.S.’s biggest detractors and supporters:

Anti-Americanism is particularly strong today in the Middle East. In Egypt only 10% of the public favor the United States, which long backed the regime of Hosni Mubarak and failed to oppose the military overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government that succeeded him. Support is not much higher in Jordan (12%) and Turkey (19%), both countries that are notionally Washington’s allies. Those not-so-warm feelings for America have fallen 17 percentage points in Egypt and 13 points in Jordan since 2009, the first year of the Obama administration, when there appeared to be some hope in those nations that Uncle Sam would pursue policies more to their liking.

In addition, less than a quarter of Russians (23%) have a positive view of America, whose image is down 28 points in just the last year, a casualty of Washington’s opposition to Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine.

But there are still corners of the world where America is held in high regard. In European countries surveyed, half or more of the publics in seven of nine nations say they see the U.S. in a positive light. Top of the list are Italians (78%), French (75%) and Poles (73%). Only in Germany, where U.S. favorability is down 13 points since 2009, has the positive image of the United States slipped significantly. And, despite this slippage, roughly half of Germans (51%) still see America favorably.

Asians are also pro-American. In fact, the Filipinos are the biggest fans of the U.S.; 92% express a positive view. South Koreans (82%), Bangladeshis (76%) and Vietnamese (76%) also agree. Even half the Chinese give Uncle Sam a thumbs up. However, Pakistanis (14%) share no love for the United States (but neither do Americans have much affection for Pakistan).

The U.S. is also feeling the love from Latin America, where majorities see the U.S. in a favorable light in eight of nine countries surveyed. Salvadorans (80%) are particularly positive in their assessment, as are Chileans (72%) and Nicaraguans (71%). Notably, despite all the tensions between Washington and Caracas, more than six-in-ten Venezuelans have a favorable opinion of the U.S.

And Africans express particularly positive views about America. Strong majorities in all seven nations surveyed back the United States, including roughly three-quarters or more of Kenyans (80%), Ghanaians (77%), Tanzanians (75%) and Senegalese (74%).

France, widely considered by most Americans to be the most anti-American country in the world, is actually one of our key boosters. This may be attributed to the two nations having similarly exceptional foundations in Enlightenment Era revolutions, but there is likely some genuine admiration of U.S. culture as well. Germany stands out for its very divisive attitude towards the U.S., which probably hasn’t been helped by recent revelations of CIA spying in that country. As Europe’s leading economic and political power, Germany may regard America’s traditionally large role on the continent as an increasing rivalry. Of course, differences in foreign policy initiatives and stances certainly don’t help.

Vietnam’s overwhelmingly positive view is pretty surprising given the horrific toll of the war with the U.S., whose scars still linger to this day (the nearly 20-year conflict ended in 1975, not necessarily that long ago in the public memory). Anecdotes from American travelers to Vietnam have also highlighted this warm attitude, which may have a lot to do with demographics — a large chunk of the Vietnamese population was born after the war and thus has little memory of it — as well as history; spanning three thousand years, Vietnamese civilization has contended with many invaders, including centuries of resistance to China. Maybe a comparatively meager two-decade conflict just isn’t as pivotal in the grand scheme of historical memory.

In any case, I can spend hours dissecting the basis of each country’s attitudes towards the U.S. and  China, but sadly, time is short. It is worth pointing out that despite the lukewarm or unfavorable attitudes towards China, even critics can concede one thing: like it or not, the country is the next in line for superpower status:

Note that this poll assesses only 20 countries, albeit many of the same ones covered in the poll of attitudes towards the U.S.

Whatever change in the real or perceived power of either country — and their resultant shift in global image — it can be certain that as long as any nation wields great influence in the world, it will have a fair share of critics and fans alike. But in an increasingly multi-polar world, where power is more diffuse than ever, will any of this really matter? Will any superpower be able to act freely without concern for international opinion? How important is a nation’s brands to its ability to conduct affairs or executed initiatives abroad? What are your thoughts?

How The Ancient Egyptians Spoke

If you have ever wondered how the Ancient Egyptian language sounded, listen to the liturgical hymns of the Coptic Church, the only place it is still widely spoken.

First recorded in 3400 BCE, Egyptian is the earliest known language in history, rivaled only by Sumerian. Like all languages, it evolved over its long lifespan, becoming Demotic by 600 BCE and Coptic by 200 CE. It began to decline thereafter, going extinct by the 17th century and surviving only as a religious language, with very few fluent speakers outside of some clergy (my research suggests that only one family is known to speak it as a first language).

There have been sporadic but unsuccessful efforts to revive Coptic for mainstream use. Below is one of the few videos I have found of Coptic being spoken outside of a liturgical context. Superficially, it sounds a lot like Arabic, which isn’t too surprising since it falls under the same large language family of Afro-Asiatic and evolved during centuries of Arab rule (some things do sound familiar to me, such as the term for “and”). 

Haiti’s Underrated But Out-Sized Influence

It is a shame that so few of us know how unique and influential Haiti’s role in history has been. After gaining independence in 1804 – following a decade-long war against one of the most powerful empires in the world – Haiti became the first and only nation in history to be established as a result of a successful slave revolt; many of its first political leaders were former slaves.

Haiti became the first independent nation of Latin America and the Caribbean, the second independent nation in the entire Western Hemisphere after the United States, and the second republic in the Americas. It produced such prominent military and political figures as Jean-Baptiste Belley (the first black representative in the Western world), Thomas-Alexandre Dumas (the first and highest-ranking black officer in the West), and Toussaint L’Ouverture (brilliant military strategist and along with Dumas the highest-ranking black officer in the West).

Moreover, Haiti’s unlikely success against a major power inspired revolutionaries across the hemisphere, who looked to it for both inspiration and military strategy. Many historians regard Haitian independence as a catalyst for independence movements across Latin America, which picked up pace shortly after; indeed, Simon Bolivar, the seminal figure in Latin American independence, received refuge, money, and military support from Haiti.

Notably, France’s failure to take back what was then the world’s richest colony contributed to its decision to abandon colonialism in the West and sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States.

Needless to say, Haiti’s independence rocked the institution of slavery throughout the Americas, which would unfortunately contribute to its endemic poverty and instability: for obvious reasons, none of the racist or slave-owning nations that dominated that international system at the time wanted to support the first and only successful black republic, especially one born from a slave revolt.

Thus, Haiti would remain isolated and periodically preyed upon for much of its history. Two decades after expelling the French, it was forced to pay 150 million gold francs in reparations to French slaveholders in order to receive recognition and end its political and economic isolation. Though the amount was reduced in 1838, Haiti was unable to finish paying off its debt until 1947, leaving the country deeply impoverished — but no less proud and culturally rich.

The Troubled Waters of South India and How It Impacts Us

I love and appreciate art of all kind, especially that which brings attention to important issues and conveys them in an impactful and digestible manner. Such is the case with the photographs of Selvaprakash Lakshmanan, who has captured the lives and struggles of South Indian coastal communities while bringing attention to a troubling intersection of several modern global problems.

Koodankulam, Tamil Nadu. Fishermen protest near the proposed nuclear plant on World Fisheries Day. Credit Selvaprakash Lakshmanan / New York Terms

The New York Times offers a great slideshow and summary of his brilliant and thus far unique project, as very few journalists or photographers have explored this area.

It was as much an environmental project as a human one, he discovered. As he learned while making “Life in Troubled Waters,” the harrowing issues facing these communities encompassed many symbolic and complex problems that resonate in the globalized 21st Century.

Mr. Lakshmanan was educated about the environmental issues while serving as a participant journalist for the Fojo Institute’s Coastal Management program. “With most of my stories before, it was more people-centric,” he said. “And the cause made me look, holistically, at how it is closely connected to the environment and the social, geopolitical, and economic issues. Each issue is interconnected, either in a direct or indirect way.”

While interviewing residents of villages in Tamil Nadu, he learned that an increase in shoddy industrial construction on the shoreline had led to erosion, which threatened the fishermen’s houses. Several of his photographs documented homes falling back into the sea and the attempts to build storm walls that buttressed against its power. Rising tides, a byproduct of climate change, presumably played a part too.

Indeed, Lakshmanan’s work is sorely needed, since this part of the world — like so many others — remains invisible to the wider global community, let alone the powers that be.

Since most of India’s massive population lives in inland cities, the coastal areas he’s investigating are typically underreported and overlooked. It is Mr. Lakshmanan’s mission to bring awareness of what’s going on in those areas. He has seen the effects of coal-fueled, thermal power plants spewing fly ash into the ocean. And salt mines that raise the salinity of the soil, destroying mangrove forests, which leads to further erosion. In addition, he said, “human waste and urban sewage systems go directly into the sea.”

But like so many humanitarian issues nowadays, the bigger picture is far more complex, and the intrepid photojournalist did an excellent job capturing both the nuance and global relevance of this seemingly localized issue:

But rather than present the fishermen as blameless, Mr. Lakshmanan was quick to point out why the Sri Lankans are so angered by the poaching. Apparently, the Tamil Nadu fishermen use a technique called bottom trawling, which has been banned in Sri Lanka but not India. In this type of fishing, nets are dragged along the seabed, which destroys fragile Sri Lankan coral reef ecosystems.

This was confirmed earlier in the year by Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, the Sri Lankan Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Development, who said, “Because of this method of fishing, the bottom of our Northern sea and the marine environment get completely destroyed. In the future there will be no fish left in the North.”

Ironically, most of the catch for which these Tamil Nadu fishermen risk their lives is then shipped out internationally or to the voracious urban markets in India. From there comes the sewage that pollutes the water, forcing the fish further out to sea where the fishermen follow, to their peril. It is a baroque tale that befits our intricately woven globalized society and perhaps a harbinger of larger resource wars to come.

It is that final point, which I have emphasized, that made this project stand out for me. It reaffirms a crucial but underestimated fact about our rapidly globalizing world: that just about every system — commercial, political, or cultural  — on every level — local, national, and regional — has significant  international connections and influences.

Much like the butterfly effect of chaos theory (which I admit to possibly misattributing), even the seemingly smallest and most localized actions can set in motion numerous other changes and consequences beyond our initial calculations.

As Lakshmanan notes at the end of the article, the environmental calamity looming over south India and northern Sri Lanka — like so many catastrophes across the world — is in large part driven by the voracious demands of consumers halfway across the planet. We take for granted how easily our goods come to our homes and stores, unaware of the exploitation, corruption, and environmental degradation we are unwittingly driving.

And just as our actions have impacts across the world, so too does the reverse happen: the destabilization and degradation resulting from our consumption will come back to haunt us, in ways ranging from refugee crises to climate change. We need a global perspective that recognizes this reality and can implement solutions across borders — no small feat, to say the least.

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The world’s tallest slum—a “pirate utopia”—is being cleared by the Venezuelan government

Eupraxsophy:

It is fascinating to see people come together autonomously to create an impromptu, self-sustaining, and stable community.

Originally posted on Quartz:

On a rainy night in September 2007, hundreds of squatters made their way into the third-tallest skyscraper in Caracas, Venezuela, and set up a temporary encampment. The unfinished, 45-story building—intended as a bank headquarters in the center of the capital—had sat vacant for more than a decade, after the developer’s death and the country’s 1994 financial crisis put construction on hold.

Eventually, nearly 3,000 of the city’s poor—many of them refugees from insecure shantytowns—would join the initial squatters, creating a makeshift city with apartments up to the 28th floor, even though there are no elevators or, in some places, even a facade. The squatters organized their own electricity, running water, and plumbing, along with bodegas, a barbershop, and an orthodontist. The improvised community became known as Torre David, or the Tower of David, after the developer, David Brillembourg.

Torre David in the skyline of Caracas

Torre David in the Caracas skyline.

Yesterday, the Venezuelan government began a long-threatened eviction of Torre David’s residents. They are…

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Chart: A ranking of European countries by how much couples argue over household chores

Eupraxsophy:

Interesting research. I wonder what, if anything, does this say about sociocultural attitudes towards gender roles, relationships, romantic expectations, or other factors that may contribute to conflict between partners. I’d be curious to see research like this involving other countries across the world.

Originally posted on Quartz:

Marital bickering is not just for married couples. If you’re an unmarried cohabiting couple in Europe, you’re actually more likely to argue about whose turn it is to clean the toilet than a married couple would, according to a new report. But you may be less likely to argue over paying the gas bill than a wedlocked duo.

The report, published in the journal Demographic Research, surveyed cohabiting and married heterosexual couples in 22 European countries and determined how much they each argue about specific issues. Couples living together are more likely to argue over housework than married couples, while married couples were more likely to disagree over paid work and money, the researchers found.

The report also exposed differences in the overall rate of couples arguing from country to country. Couples in Greece, for example, are living the good life; they’re the least likely to squabble about household work divisions, paid work and money. Norway and Finland are…

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Eighty-Five People Have More Wealth Than Half The World

It is undeniable that wealth and income inequality is growing in the U.S. and across the world. But the scale and extent of it is far more than previously imagined. Although about six months by the time of this post, the report by  Oxfam International — titled “Working for the Few” — is no less stark and relevant in its identification of a “growing tide of inequality” (to use the report’s own description).

You can read the report yourself, but Laura Shin of Forbes did a good job of breaking down the sobering statistics:

  • Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population.
  • The wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion. That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population [3.5 billion people].
  • The bottom half of the world’s population owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world.
  • Seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.
  • The richest one percent increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countries for which we have data between 1980 and 2012.
  • In the U.S., the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.

The following chart compiled from this data highlights just how much the problem has grown: while every country saw some growth in inequality, the U.S. by far saw the most dramatic increase:

Although the report makes clear that some economic inequality is necessary to foster growth (in line with mainstream economics) it also warns that wealth concentration at this severity “threaten[s] to exclude hundreds of millions of people from realizing the benefits of their talents and hard work” — also in line with what we’ve learned from both history and economic research.

In particular, the Oxfam report emphasizes the corrosive effect that such inequality can have on democratic governance and social mobility, due mostly to the fact that “when wealth captures government policymaking, the rules bend to favor the rich, often to the detriment of everyone else”

According to polls conduct by Oxfam in Spain, Brazil, India, South Africa, the U.K. and the U.S. — a mix of developed and developing economies — the majority of people in these countries believe that “laws are skewed in favor of the rich” in a variety of areas, including financial deregulation, tax laws favoring the wealthy, economic austerity, policies that disproportionately harm women and the poor, and the use of oil and mineral revenues.

Despite all the grim news, the report does point out that such trends aren’t irreversible: there are plenty of historical examples of countries minimizing inequality and creating broader prosperity (notably the U.S. and Europe following the Second World War). In fact, since the turn of the century, Latin America has made significant inroads in reducing its historically high rate of inequality and underdevelopment, although it still has a long way to go.

Is there enough political will in each country, not to mention on a global level, to resolve this problem before it worsens? Or is this issue overblown? What do you think?

Prisoners and the Art of Winemaking

There are many things wrong with the U.S. justice system, but perhaps the chiefest problem is high recidivism: as of 2011 (the most recent reliable data I could find) an average of 43.3 percent of prisoners fall back into crime. Clearly, the rehabilitation system isn’t living up to its name.

One of the key causes of this is the lack of skills and opportunities among the largely poor and marginalized groups that make up the prison population. Easing up on the restrictions imposed on the formerly incarcerated, while imparting them with marketable skills, would go a long way in improving their lives and those of their families and communities (which in turn would help the U.S. economy as a whole, given the size and proportion of this population).

Italy is another country struggling with this problem — in fact, the rate of re-offense is as high as 80 percent, and Italian prisons meet similar criticisms regarding the poor and counterproductive treatment of prisoners. So some enterprising reformers decided to address the matter in a uniquely Italian way: teaching prisoners the art of winemaking, which is being spearheaded in the penal colony of Gorgona in Tuscany. As the New York Times reported:

For the past two years, Frescobaldi enologists and agronomists have imparted their know-how to a group of the island’s inmates as part of a rehabilitation program that aims to provide skills for life after their release.

Recidivism is high, around 80 percent, for the inmates of Italian prisons, “but instead, if you give people education, training, or access to a job, recidivism drops to 20 percent,” said Lamberto Frescobaldi, president of Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi, and the driving force behind the project.

Giuseppe Fedele, an educator at Gorgona, where training programs have been going on for years, said that “the best thanks a prisoner can show when he is released from here is not to be sent back to prison.”

As you would imagine, the details of this program are both interesting and inspiring:

First opened in 1869, the prison operates like a working farm. Some inmates carry out agricultural chores — growing fruit and vegetables, raising livestock, and making cheeses and bread — while others work in maintenance or in the kitchen and commissary.

“It’s still a prison, but the day flies because you’re working. It’s one thing to be in a cell for 12 hours, another to be outside, busy doing something,” said Santo Scianguetta, who has six years to go on a 16-year sentence, adding that the experience of working in the vineyard was building his confidence. “I think a lot about getting out. And now I see hope in the future.”

Most of the inmates here are serving the final years of long sentences for serious crimes, including murder. Prison officials asked that for reasons of privacy, reporters refrain from specifying their individual crimes.

Projects like the Frescobaldi initiative make inmates feel like “the protagonists of their incarceration, and not passive recipients where the state is the enemy,” said Mr. Mazzerbo, the prison director, who has lobbied to extend similar programs to other Italian prisons.

“It costs nothing to change the mentality” of an inmate, Mr. Mazzerbo said. “You can do that anywhere. You don’t need an island.”

Several penitentiaries are already involved in economic activities, and at least two others produce wine. Some penitentiaries are involved in food or fashion initiatives, and products can be ordered from the Justice Ministry website.

Prisoners here receive a monthly wage, about two thirds of what they would get on the outside, based on the provincial agricultural labor contract. “It’s good not to depend on our families for money,” said Ciro Amato, who is serving a 30-year sentence. “At least here you get an opportunity. In many cases people leave prison angrier than before.”

It’s a small start, and not without its challenges, but it is definitely worth trying. While there are similar initiatives in the U.S. (albeit many of which are accused of being exploitative and underpaying), we should definitely take steps to make such programs the norm, along with minimizing such an unusually high rate of incarceration to begin with (although that is a different story for another post).

Hats From Around The World

Since I am busy and not in the mood to write, today’s post will be light but fun — here are eighty hats from around the world courtesy of DesignTaxi.com, which in turn pulled them from travel website Venere.

In addition to the iconic hats we all know and love — the French beret, Mexican sombrero, and so on — there are some pretty interesting and little-known varieties (especially from Africa and South Africa). Fellow artists and writers might benefit from these as a point of reference.

Hats Around The World I Hats Around The World II Hats Around The World III Hats Around The World IV

I think you can learn quite a bit from a culture by looking at its attire — what sort of inferences can you make from these samples?

A Persian Gulf Nation On Mars

If the United Arab Emirates has its way, it may very well beat its better-known contenders (such as the U.S., Russia, and China) in landing on Mars, which has increasingly become the accepted next step in human space exploration.

UAE Flags

Will this be the first flag planted on the moon?

Now I know what many of you are thinking: does the UAE even have a space program, much less the infrastructural and scientific capacity to do something as costly and as technically challenging as a Mars landing?  Of course, this is the country responsible for such audacious achievements as the world’s tallest structure, several immense artificial islands, an indoor skiing mall, and more — so clearly, there is no shortage of pluck and cash to make it happen.

As Jenna Kagel of Mic explains:

The country’s vice president and ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, said in a statement on Wednesday, “We chose the epic challenge of reaching Mars because epic challenges inspire us and motivate us.”

The UAE has invested $5.4 billion into space technologies, but has yet to send someone into orbit. They have been “expanding activities of Al Yah Satellite Communications satellite data and TV broadcast company, mobile satellite communication company Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications and Earth mapping and observation system Dubai Sat,” reports RT.

The Gulf state has long intended to get involved in the space race, aspiring to replicate successful space agencies like Europe’s ESA or the United States’ NASA programs. The unmanned mission to the Red Planet will concur with the country’s 50th anniversary of their independence from Britain.

To make clear the seriousness of its intentions, the UAE marked the statement with a simulation of what the Mars mission would look like (sorry, translation not available).

I for one welcome this development. In an increasingly globalized world, space exploration is to the inherent benefit of humanity, regardless of who takes the reigns. This is especially true with something as expensive and technically-challenging as a Mars mission. The more countries we have involved, the more resources we can muster and the faster our progress (geopolitical challenges and rivalries notwithstanding).

It is worth pointing out that while the UAE may be the first small nation to express such a bold aim, it is hardly the only one with an interest in space. As the following map shows, plenty of nations maintain active space programs (albeit with varying degrees of funding and ambition):

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The map legend is as follows:

  • Yellow: Manned Extraterrestrial Exploration + Operates Space Station + Manned Space Flight + Operates Extraterrestrial Probes + Launch Capability + Operates Satellite
  • Orange: Operates Space Station + Manned Space Flight + Operates Extraterrestrial Probes + Launch Capability + Operates Satellites
  • Red: Manned Space Flight + Operates Extraterrestrial Probes + Launch Capability + Operates Satellites
  • Dark Green: Operates Extraterrestrial Probes + Launch Capability + Operates Satellites
  • Light Green: Launch Capability + Operates Satellites
  • Beige: Operates Satellites

Note that this map doesn’t include the national space agencies that are either in the proposal stage or active only in research — these would include such an eclectic mix of countries as Belarus, Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru, Morocco, South Africa, Bangladesh, and many more. Of course, the growing number of private space exploration companies open up a whole other world of potential (no pun intended).

In any case, it would be interesting to see if the UAE’s ambitious plans come to fruition, and if so, whether that will spur other countries (and institutions) of all sizes to take a crack at space travel. Interesting times await, that’s for sure.