Liquor Consumption By Country

I’m a sucker for charts, graphs, and maps, especially those that explore global trends and attitudes — no matter how seemingly trivial or mundane. Often times you learn some pretty surprising things about other cultures and societies. For example, take a look at who the world’s heaviest liquor drinkers are, courtesy of a chart from Quartz (a great source for such infographics).

Note that the chart is also measuring the change in average consumption over the span of a decade, beginning in 2000. Some countries remain largely flat in their liquor consumption (such as Austria, Belgium, and Muslim-majority countries like Egypt and Indonesia) while others have grown (the U.S. and especially the Philippines) and still others have declined (Brazil, Ukraine, and Greece).

So I know what many of you must be thinking: how are South Koreans, not exactly well-known for their hard-drinking, ranking so incredibly high? We’re talking 13.7 shots of liquor per week on average, followed by Russians and Filipinos at less than half that amount (6.3 and 5.4 shots per week, respectively). Well, the Quartz piece offers a simple explanation:

South Korea’s unparalleled liquor consumption is almost entirely due to the country’s love for a certain fermented rice spirit called Soju. The South Korean liquor accounts for 97 percent of the country’s spirits market.

Like most countries where alcohol consumption is high, South Korea is combating the subsequent social and public health consequences, an approach that accounts for the decline or stagnation of liquor consumption in famously hard-drinking countries like Russia, Ukraine, and the U.K. Of course, when the particular spirit of choice is so culturally and historically ingrained, it can be a pretty difficult battle.


A Hidden Gem of the Mediterranean — Valletta, Malta


Valletta is the capital of Malta, an island nation of around 400,000 people located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, about 50 miles south of Sicily. One of the world’s smallest and most-densely populated countries, Malta has been inhabited since 5,200 BCE and is brimming with history and culture — some of the world’s oldest free-standing structures can be found here. The country’s strategic location has led to its changing hands numerous times throughout history, being ruled and influenced by dozens of distinct cultures and nations.

This is one reason why Valletta is such a jewel. Built during the rule of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, also known as Knights Hospitaller, the city contains a rich collection of architectural styles from the 16th century onward, mostly Baroque followed by elements of Mannerist, Neo-Classical and Modern architecture. The City of Valletta is so beautiful and well preserved that is was officially recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980.

The official name given by the Order of Saint John was “Humilissima Civitas Valletta” — The Most Humble City of Valletta, or Città Umilissima in Italian. The beauty of the city’s churches, gardens, and palaces earned it the nickname among European elites as “Superbissima” — Most Proud. I certainly agree with that sentiment.


The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras

This is going to be the first of many posts that highlight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, cultural and natural landmarks that are identified for their incredible value for humanity. 

The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras — which span five sites — was the first property to be included in the cultural landscape category of the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995.

Built 2,000 years ago and passed on from generation to generation, the Ifugao Rice Terraces are a marvel of engineering, built on steeper slopes and reaching a higher altitude than most other terraces. The terrace pond fields were created using stone or mud walls, and were carved carefully to follow the natural contours of the hills and mountains. They’re irrigated through an intricate system that harvests water from the forests of the mountain tops. The rice terraces are incorporated almost seamlessly into nature.The maintenance of these living rice terraces require a cooperative approach among the entire community. They rely on detailed knowledge of the rich diversity of biological resources existing in the Ifugao ecosystem, a finely tuned annual system respecting lunar cycles, meticulous zoning and planning, extensive soil conservation, and mastery of a complex pest control based on the careful processing of a variety of herbs, all accompanied by religious rituals.

Archaeological evidence reveals that these techniques have been used in the region virtually unchanged for 2,000 years. Because they illustrate the persistence of cultural traditions and remarkable continuity and endurance, they were included in a list reserved for sites of profound global importance to humanity — rightfully so, in my opinion.

Twenty-One Children and Their Bedrooms From Around the World

PolicyMic is featuring the engaging works of James Mollison, a Kenyan-born, English photographer based in Venice whose 2011 photo book, Where Children Sleep, collects photos of various children and their sleeping quarters. It was meant to draw attention to each child’s “material and cultural circumstances” and to put perspective on the class, poverty, and the diversity of children worldwide.

I strongly suggest you check it out here; it’s well worth your time. Some of these images are pretty powerful, highlighting the vast discrepancies in standard of living between (and within) countries around the world. Many of the subjects have a lot of personality and character as well (which is no doubt why they were chosen.

Our Dying Seas

A recent study conducted by an international team of ecologists and economists predicts that the majority of saltwater fish will be extinct by 2048, due to overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, and climate change. Already, 29 percent of edible fish and seafood species have declined by 90 percent, only one percent of the global ocean is effectively protected.

But the issue isn’t just having seafood on our plates. Ocean species filter toxins from the water. They protect shorelines. And they reduce the risks of algae blooms such as the red tide.

“A large and increasing proportion of our population lives close to the coast; thus the loss of services such as flood control and waste detoxification can have disastrous consequences,” Worm and colleagues say.

The researchers analyzed data from 32 experiments on different marine environments.

They then analyzed the 1,000-year history of 12 coastal regions around the world, including San Francisco and Chesapeake bays in the U.S., and the Adriatic, Baltic, and North seas in Europe.

Next, they analyzed fishery data from 64 large marine ecosystems.

And finally, they looked at the recovery of 48 protected ocean areas.

Their bottom line: Everything that lives in the ocean is important. The diversity of ocean life is the key to its survival. The areas of the ocean with the most different kinds of life are the healthiest.

But the loss of species isn’t gradual. It’s happening fast — and getting faster, the researchers say.

The researchers conclude that it is not too late to reverse the trend, provided we act quickly to established sustainable fisheries management, control pollution, maintain habitats, and create more ocean reserves. Of course, acting both speedily and decisively, in an international context, is far from easy.  It’s the classic tragedy of the commons: why should anyone cease their consumption or extraction of resources if they don’t think anyone else will either?

That’s one of the reasons why most solutions are to established public, semi-public, or cooperative institutions to manage and protect global resources. But again, the desire to consume freely — combined with the inability to grasp the bigger picture — gets in the way. But a lot is at stake, especially since half of the world’s population directly lives off the sea (and nearly all of us depend on its resources in one way or another). Will that be enough to get us to act before it’s too late?

What the World Thinks of America in 10 Words or Less

NPR asked Americans living abroad to tell answer the following question in 10 words or less: What Do People In Your Host Country Think Of America?. Here are some of the answers (click the link to see them all).

Cheap iPhones, rap music and better movies exist in America.” — Russia

“Gun-loving but fun-loving; hard working but spoiled and fat.” — Hungary

“Americans are aggressive, paranoid gun-hoarders who don’t want social health care.” — China

“Americans are very patriotic and all have guns.” — Italy

“Full of contradictions: confusingly progressive yet behind the times.” — Spain

“Has a limited worldview and is absolutely crazy about guns.” — New Zealand

Notice a theme with many of these?

This is part of NPR’s “Project Xpat”, which explores the lives and experiences of Americans living abroad. It’s very interesting stuff, so check it out when you have the chance.

Daily News Wire – 6/27/12

World History?

Am I the only one who was taught “world” history as if it were mainly European history? Throughout primary school, I scarcely learned anything about the rest of the world unless it involved the West in some way. Aside from some token references in textbooks – which were often glanced at or skipped anyway – it seemed that very little occurred in most of the world for most of human history. In fact, one gets the impression that Africa, the Americas, and much of Asia were devoid of history until the Europeans showed up.

Indeed, how many people can recall the civilizations that existed in Sub-Saharan Africa prior to European colonization – or if any civilization existed in the first place? How many people know anything substantial about the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incans other than that were conquered by the Spanish? The Persians, who constituted one of the most ancient and advanced civilizations in human history, emerge first – and often solely – as antagonists to the Ancient Greeks, whose civilization is the one many world history teachers start from instead.

And what about the invaluable contributions made by the ChineseIndian, and Islamic civilizations, each of which produced countless innovations, art forms, and philosophies? Their very existence changed the course of human history. Chinese civilization alone spans tens of thousands of years, most of them rich in all sorts of political, cultural, and intellectual developments. Yet by my recollection, the Chinese generally receive little more than passing acknowledgement of their ingenuity, much less any in-depth coverage.

To be clear, I’m not trying to denigrate the importance of European history. To me, there’s no competition between any of the world’s many histories – they should be taught collectively and with as much equal consideration as possible. Obviously, we know more about some histories than others, and certain time periods were more influenced by some nations than others.

But the point of history, as the root word shows, is to tell a story. It shouldn’t be limited to just the victors or superpowers. Every perspective is pertinent to a holistic understanding of history. Even if Europe was the dominant bloc for many of the last few centuries, does that make the point of view of “lesser” or colonized states any less valuable or insightful?

Also, my assessment comes from personal experience, as well as my own observation of what young people are learning now. I’m not aware of any research on the subject, although I’d be very interested to read other people’s experiences. But either way, I’m certain that if I had limited my worldview only to what was presented to me in (public) school, I’d be woefully ignorant of the astounding richness of human civilization across the planet and the ages.

Sadly, if my anecdotal accounts are correct, not a lot has changed. The American public is woefully ethnocentric and has little knowledge or concern for other cultures, languages, and global events. Most people have little understanding of their own nation’s history, much less that of foreign entities. The overwhelming majority of Americans don’t even have passports.

Some may argue that all this is a consequence of our superpower status, since smaller and comparatively weaker states must necessarily look outward to compete. Even geography may play a role – compared to other regions like Europe or East Asia, we’re quite isolated from other distinct civilizations. Another argument involves the nature of the public education system, which is too focused on math and reading at the expense of social studies.

So is the way we approach history the cause of our cloistered attitudes? Or is it the other way around? Are private schools any better? Whatever the case – and I confess having my own internationalist bias – I’m still lamenting the overall lack of appreciation for a genuine global history.

The Best (Political) Photos of 2011

Needless to say, just about every media outlet or publication has it’s own compilation of images they tout as the definitive depiction of last year’s greatest moments. But long-term readers, and those of you willing to do a search, will know I have a soft spot for Foreign Policy, not only due to my internationalist leanings, but for the quality of its work as well. There are few better places to go for anyone with a modicum of worldliness to them, so I recommend you all check out the rest of the site after you browse through the slideshow.

Click here to revisit the great stories, big and small, that shaped our eventful past year. As a bonus, also check out another photo essay (also from FP) that looks back on what was perhaps the most memorable event of 2011 – the Arab Spring. Though the movement’s outcome remains mixed and disputed, there’s no denying the influence it has had on the region and the wider world. Whatever your views, it was definitely an important even worth reflecting on.

The Best Articles of 2011

I know it’s cliche to start off a new year with a perfunctory reflection on the preceding one, so I’ll be doing so only briefly, with Foreign Policy as my proxy. For those of you who are fellow internationalists, or who care about being informed about the world around you, check out FP’s compilation of last year’s biggest events, debates, and concerns.

Not only does the slideshow include the better known issues, like the Arab Spring or America’s relative decline , but it covers some lesser known ones: the rise of India’s military, the looming food crisis, and a list of the year’s best global thinkers. Each photo has a hyperlink below, so click it if you want to read the relevant article. Last year has been pretty eventful, and there’s no telling how it’s various paradigms will turn on in 2012.