More iPhone, More Carbon.

Earlier this week, when Apple announced that it was building a solar-powered data center in Mesa, Arizona, I immediately thought of their phones. To be sure, there’s much to admire in Apple’s commitment to reducing its internal carbon footprint. But that admiration needs to be tempered by an equally relevant set of facts: the carbon emissions associated with each generation of the iPhone are actually growing.

More carbon with every bite.

More carbon with every bite.

The trend was brought to my attention in a blog post by the Restart Project, a London-based collective that promotes repair and maintenance of old products. As they point out, Apple laudably discloses carbon emissions for each of its products via publicly available environmental reports. And according to those reports, the carbon emissions associated with an iPhone have been growing with each new model, from 70kg for the 4s, to 75kg for 5s, to 95kg for the iPhone 6 (Apple doesn’t break out respective carbon emission rates for the 6 and the 6 Plus) that was selling –  according to Apple – 34,000 units per hour during its last reported quarter. That’s a whopping 35% increase in per iPhone carbon emissions over three phone generations.

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Another Reason Beijing Shouldn’t Host the 2022 Olympics

China is currently bidding against Almaty, Kazakhstan for the right to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. In general, this is a bad idea – Beijing has little to no snow in the winter, but lots and lots of smog. And those are just the starter reasons (I documented more in this column for Bloomberg last year).

In any case, today, while reading Beijing’s full bid document as submitted to the International Olympic Committee last week (available here), I came across another: the organizing committee appears intent on deluding itself and, most assuredly, the world. Take, for example, this passage that I screengrabbed from volume I of the bid:

Great Wall

I won’t go into the history of the Great Wall, but suffice it to say that the structure was a military fortification designed to keep China isolated from the world. That is to say, it was designed to keep everyone out. Or, to put it differently – generally speaking, people who want to meet and integrate with others don’t build giant walls.

In any case, it’s a small point. But one worth noting.

Toughest Fella I Ever Knew.


Toughest fella I ever knew, Max Zeman, my grandfather, passed away this weekend just 9 weeks short of his 100th birthday. For somebody who witnessed the worst of what the 20th century had to offer, he managed to hold onto one of the world’s best, warmest laughs and a firm appreciation for the little things. I’m talking about 5 feet of steely will that survived Nazis, sniper bullets, military hospitals, infections, displaced person camps – and a half century of Minnesota Vikings disappointments.

Below, two brief passages from the eulogy I wrote for him. The first concerns the sniper bullet that disabled him outside of Dresden at the end of World War II, and then the aftermath, including the discovery that his family had perished in the Holocaust. The second concerns what mattered most to him. If you knew Max, you loved him. If you didn’t, you would have.  He’s going to be missed. Continue reading

Chinese want to leave China like Ecuadorians want to leave Ecuador.

Rich people are leaving China in droves. Just ask the South China Morning Post: “Exodus of the super-rich: half of China’s millionaires plan to leave country within five years.” Or the Wall Street Journal:  “Almost Half of Wealthy Chinese Want to Leave.” Or Bloomberg: “Almost Half of Rich Chinese Consider Move, Barclays Says.”

Seems convincing, no? Well, no, and I’ll do my best to show why by answering three simple questions.

First, how does Barclays know? The Barclays report, which I received this morning, is called “The Rise of the Global Citizen?” and is published as part of its Wealth Insights series (intended, presumably, to attract clients). For this edition, they interviewed 2000 high net word individuals “all of whom had more than $1.5 million in net worth,” and 200 with more than $15 million in net worth. They come from 17 countries, and 750 self-identify as entrepreneurs. Beyond that we know nothing, but I think it’s safe to assume – based on this information – that the sample taken was not representative of Chinese millionaires as a whole (the sample size would be too small). Rather, it’s representative of Chinese millionaires who don’t mind responding to surveys from investment bankers. Though I’d hate to generalize, in my experience wealth in China tends to be very discreet, and those who are willing to talk about it are unusual and typically have spent time abroad. Continue reading

Native advertising?

This morning while browsing the New York Times I came across this stunning full page Apple ad. Terrific collaboration on the part of two of America’s top lifestyle brands.

[and a nice explainer on native advertising, here at the Guardian]



The Moon Shines Just as Bright

It’s Mid-Autumn Festival time aka Mooncake Festival here in the Chinese-speaking parts of Asia. When I lived in China, I mostly associated it with eating extremely heavy pastries (mooncakes ) and crowded restaurants. But of course there’s much more to it, as I was reminded in a conversation with a Malaysian Chinese acquaintance who grew up in Penang, a heavily Chinese part of Malaysia, in the 1960s. On the occasion of the festival, which occurs during the full moon, folks in her town would gather, eat a large meal and – in a tradition she recalls as ‘old fashioned’ – pray to the Moon Faerie.

Then this happened.

NASA (800x800)

Or, as she put it to me: “Who wants to pray to an American flag?”

Now, this wasn’t a statement of anti-Americanism (believe me). Or, as some of my more logically-minded friends might assume, an instance of reason triumphing over faith. It’s just that where once there was a Moon Faerie, now there was a flag. Or, as my acquaintance’s mother was said to have put it: “Why would I want to pray to an American flag?” The reaction, I’m told, was not sadness but anger. To my ears, at least, it sounded as if an uninvited dinner guest had crashed tradition.

I don’t want to take this too far. I’m told the old traditions in rural Penang were dying out anyway by the time Neil Armstrong put his flag in the lunar soil. Far from being a myth buster, that man on the moon was more of an irritant to a culture that was still trying to maintain itself against ever-approaching modernity. Of course, in the end, everyone adapted, the festival is still celebrated, and more likely than not, a few folks still point their eyes heavenward, to the Moon Faerie.

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival from Malaysia.

IMG_1824 (800x600)



What Does San Diego Have Against Recycling, Free Enterprise, and the American Way?

For more than a decade, Gary Ries of Mission Hills, California, has spent his spare time earning money by picking recyclable cans and bottles from trash cans owned by the city of San Diego. Under most definitions, this is laudable entrepreneurship and everyone wins: Ries makes a few extra bucks, San Diego trucks a few less pounds of trash to the landfill, and, well, recycling!


However, according to a report by ABC 10 in San Diego, the city of San Diego doesn’t quite see it that way: “The city of San Diego says that once an item enters a trash can on city property, it becomes property of the city.”

So, rather than laud Ries – or, better yet, just leave him the @#$% alone – the city of San Diego has decided to make him miserable. Last weekend, they twice issued $150 citations against him. And if he doesn’t stop recycling the city’s landfill-bound cans and bottles? The police officer who harassed him the first time around will “arrest him, take him to jail and have his bail set at $5,000.”


But it gets worse. San Diego isn’t merely concerned that Ries is stealing their garbage. They’re worried about liability if “someone gets hurt digging through the trash,” as well as identity theft (ie, the city is protecting people who might leave bank statements in San Diego’s beach-side garbage cans). Or, in the words of Jose Ysea, spokesman for the city of San Diego Environmental Services Department: “it’s more to protect the residents and the community at large.” Continue reading