Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A Couple of Firsts

Milestones are often an important indicator of change. Therefore, when watching for change as I do, tracking firsts is one means of doing that. 2008 might go down as a banner year for first time events. Here are a few.

--The Vatican announced Monday that Muslims outnumbered Roman Catholics for the first time as the largest religious denomination in the world. The Vatican's statistician, Monsignor Vittorio Formenti, placed the Catholic number at 1.13 billion, which represented 17.4% of the world's population. Muslims stood at 19.2%. The monsignor noted that while the Catholic figure were fairly stable, the Muslim percentage grew because of an escalating birth rate (WSJ, 3-31-08.)

One wonders if the statistics were inflated with non-practicing Catholics and Muslims. If that were the case, a significantly smaller number of Roman Catholics might be the result, although the Muslim figures would most likely stay the same. If this was true, the number of Muslims would have overcome the Roman Catholics before now.

Not a big deal to some, but a worry for many nations like France. In that country non-practicing, secular Catholics no longer fill the Church's coffers and have low birth rates; a situation that is unlikely to change. On the other hand, the Muslim population is increasing greatly--so much so that there is talk that someday minority Muslims could become the majority in Europe. Europeans tremble at the thought.

--A newly released United Nation's population study revealed that by year's end, more than half the world's population would live in cities for the first time. Most of this shift has taken place in Asia, particularly China, although newly emerging India has contributed its share of city migration. By the year 2025,
27 megacities with 10 million plus inhabitants will have sprouted in such places as Lagos, Nigeria, Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Paris, France.

These behemoths will join Toyko which was expected to have reached 36.4 million by then, and 20.6 million will call Kolkata, India home.
By the year 2050, not too far down the road, the world population will have mushroomed to 9.2 billion people with 6.6 billion of them living in cities. At that point, 70% of Chinese will live in cities compared to 40% currently. Even sleepy Africa is expected to follow the same tend. By 2050 half of it's population will live in cities (AP, 3-31-08.)

The question of resources is obvious; therefore, I wonder if these predictions will come to fruition. Thomas Malthus was famous for his theories about non-sustainable populations. In 1798, he was famously quoted as saying:"The power of population is so superior to the power of Earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race." To date, he has been proven wrong because technology and new resource discoveries have always saved the day (WSJ, 3-24-08.) Whether this techy salvation will continue is open to speculation. Some believe that Mr. Malthus may have been a prophet before his time, and that now is the time of which he was speaking.

--In 2008 China will produce more carbon monoxide than the United States for the first time. It was expected to take place later this year, but may already have occurred. China's growing economy has also allowed China to overtake America in number of cell phones this year as well.

It's not so much that America was overtaken on these two accounts, but that it took China so long to catch up. But catch-up they have with avengeance this year. There will most likely be a long list of firsts for China as the next few years unfold. I expect even more firsts this year such as the Beijing Olympics. Who would ever have thought when the Olympic Committee awarded the summer games to Beijing all those years ago, that China would be where it is today. Amazing, really.

--Cuba opened its previously foreigner-only stores to its citizens for the first time this week. Not only were they allowed to buy cell phones as previously mentioned in this blog, the excited shoppers gauked at DVDs, TVs and other consumer goods imported from China and other friendly nations.
Since the average pay in this communist enclave is $19.50 a month, most didn't have enough money to buy the goods, but enjoyed looking none-the-less. That situation is expected to change for the better as more people begin to participate in a more normal living environment post Fidel Castro.

Even more importantly from a production standpoint, was the government's new policy on land use announced this week as well. Up until now, 51% of the arable land remained fallow, and the Cubans were itching to till that unused soil. Now, they will get their chance. Exportable goods such as coffee and tobacco for cigars were mentioned as produce of choice rather than food, but it showed a promising start to reforms (AP, 4-2-08.)

--And lastly, technology experienced a first with the demonstration of a $299 headset that allows users to "control simple actions within games using their thoughts." The device works by measuring electrical activity in the brain and is fairly primitive. However, the first phase of these futuristic headsets will be delivered to gamers by the Emotiv Company later this year.

What's even more fascinating is the company's collaboration with IBM which could lead to thought controlling headsets for use in virtual worlds. You've heard about these make-believe places that are described by those in the know as "free-form on-line environments in which players assume the roles of characters called avatars." Didn't I see that in the sci-fi movies somewhere? Well, the "some time in the distance future" might be right around the corner starting quietly in 2008. Stay tuned. I would imagine that this potentially news provoking discovery will not stay quiet for long.

Of Note: This watchful Indian photo was taken by me last year. I admire the little guy because he keeps an eye on our expansive yard year-round. He seems a good mascot for this blog about watching for change, don't you think?

Today's Weather Report: Partly cloudy but a balmy 41 degrees. The road has gone to mush again. Jim and I always have a bet on the day the ice goes off the lake. I always lose, but told him this year I'd bet on April 11th. Why? For the last two years, that's the exact date the ice broke up. Looking outside today, that doesn't seem possible. But I'll let you know what happens..

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