Sports and national pride

Some time ago I was still somewhat skeptical towards the national pride people feel during international sports events: countries playing against each other, trying to win and beat the opponent, shooting goals, scoring points and so on. I felt that such national pride was a step towards a more extreme national feeling, one that might end up in nations and people waging war and trying to obliterate one another. At the same time I felt that at least in sports the national pride is channeled in a less harmful way than in the event of open war, sports hooligans being the exception.

When the UEFA EURO 2016 tournament started in the beginning of July, I noticed two things in my hometown. First, people with their origins in different countries were driving around with their national flags fluttering on their car tops and side mirrors. Second, people of different nationalities were driving in the same line and seemed to be enjoying themselves in the spirit of the ensuing sports competition.

This made me adjust my opinion on the national feeling brought about by sports. That feeling is a healthy feeling, as long as it involves respectful behavior against others and is about coming together, regardless of nation and origin, showing others the best sides of me, being proud of my and my country men’s good qualities and admiring the good qualities in others. It is just wonderful how people of different nationality and origin can, in a foreign country, openly express their background and cheer for their home country. Contrasting this with the national feeling usually felt during war made me realize, how different the two situations are. I find it more difficult to imagine people showing their background and nationality in a foreign country during wartime, especially if their country of residence and their home country are not allied, not to mention on the opposing sides.

During war time it would be difficult to try to show your good qualities in a foreign country and being appreciative of those of others, if you in fear of being identified as an outsider do not want to stand out. But during peace time you and your country men can show through sports how good people you are, how well you treat others, co-operate with and respect others and how skilled you are. Then you use that national pride to stand out of the crowd and improve the lives of those around you.

Sports brings people together and helps us accept each other just as we are, without paying too much attention to the differences between us, rather accepting everyone as they are and embracing them and their contribution to the society. Sports helps us form stronger bonds and use those in other areas of life to achieve greater deeds together than we could alone.

Food and agriculture – feeding the globe

In the beginning of June The Economist published an interesting article on the future of agriculture and how new technologies can help improve yields and reduce the required resources for food production. The growing world population requires more food and climate change may take its toll on agriculture. Among the examples for getting better harvests and increasing efficiency in food production were the use of GPS for more directed fertilizing, gene technology as a means to improve yields and make crops resistant to disease and big data analytics to analyze the effects of selected technologies on food production.

The article discussed how food production can be made more effective and efficient, but it also provoked thoughts in to the direction of equality and food consumption.

In the article was the below graphic from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) showing the estimated global consumption of calories per capita and food source by 2050.

Source: The Economist Original source: FAO
Source: The Economist
Original source: FAO






What struck my eye was the estimate on food intake of about 3´000 kilocalories per person per day in 2050. Based on the same graphic, that is an increase of about 13% from the 2010 level of roughly 2’650 kilocalories and an increase of 25% from the level in 1970. Yet, we certainly are not more active on average, and a large portion of the population is doing office work, a trend unlikely to see an end any time soon as robots take over the more physical tasks.

The Economist cites a FAO report from 2009 that estimated the required increase in agricultural production to be 70% in order to meet the forecast demand induced by increases in global population and food intake per capita. The Western World is already battling with obesity and the developing economies are, unfortunately, catching up, so the required increases on food production could be more moderate, if we put more effort into keeping ourselves at a healthy weight and eating what we need instead of what we want. As the FAO estimates the world population to be 9.7 billion by 2050, just keeping the average caloric consumption at current levels would require an increase of 30-40% in the global food production based on the population growth of 2.4 billion from today’s 7.3 billion. This would require only half of the growth required to meet also the increases in expected average food consumption per capita.

Wasting food, saving time

The technological advances in farming technology, gene technologies, aquaculture and other related fields might be enough to increase food production as required by the increasing population and the growing average food consumption. But I think it would be irresponsible to use all that technological capacity regardless of whether we actually need it or not to feed the whole world adequately. If we make more and more food available, even with the same resources, we either end up eating more with stable or even reduced activity levels, inducing obesity, or we end up wasting more of the food if it won’t be eaten. The first option would be undesirable since all we end up with is more obese people who have to be treated. This would lead to increased costs in health care, and these costs are avoidable just by avoiding eating all that much.

The second option, more food being available and more going to waste is not necessarily a bad option. For example, if the availability of food reduces people’s time spent on doing grocery shopping and the time required “for finding food”, the benefits may overweigh the costs of the wasted food. If a high-skilled person can use this extra time to do productive work and the value of his output is higher than the value of the wasted food that is allocated to him, it is clearly beneficial to have an abundance of food and throw part of it away. The problem here is that such an analysis, especially on a global level is not trivial: How much time each person can spare? How will the person use this time? What is the value of the activities and their outputs that came out of this extra time? How can we even measure the value of these outputs coherently? Is it morally acceptable to use food for time optimization in some countries when others have their people starving?

The above questions are just some that we would have to answer, but I think that any economist worth his bread could give at least an indication how to approach the problem. Gaining global commitment and coordination for such endeavors is yet a further complication.

Food for the hungry, food for thought

Whether or not we will use new technology to improve our global productivity by making food more readily available to all, I think it is clear that famine, malnutrition and obesity are problems that have to be solved in any case.

Since we already have, on average, enough nutrition to feed the whole world, maybe we should use the technological advancements selectively to distribute the available food and nutrition more equally and efficiently. This can take place either locally by use of better farming methods or via centralized farming and global logistics, depending on which alternative if more effective and efficient.

In 2013 FAO estimated in its report on food and agriculture (see page 5 of the report) the global costs of undernutrition and micro-nutrient deficencies to be 2–3% of the global GDP of some USD 70–80 trillion, and the costs of non-communicable diseases, for which overweight and obesity are key risk factors, to be in aggregate about 2% of the global GDP in 2010 during the following two decades. Clearly, undernutrition is still the larger problem, by a factor of 20, yet the increasing obesity problem all over the world should be tackled now, before it becomes, well, bigger.

As I see it, undernutrition and obesity can be partially targeted with complementary methods. Undernutrition is caused by too little high quality food, while obesity is caused by too much food in relation to activity levels, and the food eaten might also be of inferior quality, lacking in nutrients. Therefore, the key would be to improve the general nutritional quality of consumed food all over the world. I am not going to start a lecture on sugary drinks and high-fructose corn-syrup, but they are admittedly in the center of the discussion, when it comes to low-quality food. The total cost aspect of nutritious food and increased activity levels leading to reduced health care costs is also an important point in this discussion.

As other areas of life, we might and should think food and physical activity as daily choices. Life goes on every moment and waiting for the right time to do things or start something is useless; it’s never the right time, so we should start now. Likewise, our daily food choices and activity are what keeps us healthy, not some miracle diets and fitness programs that are waiting to be started in the future.

What am I doing to help? Currently, just minding my daily choices. As Gandhi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” If you wish for more active people, be more active. If you wish people ate healthier, eat healthier.

Season final at Gams

Last weekend hour sports association finished the competition season at the Rheinthaler Turfest in Gams. In our category we finished 2nd. Although there were only 2 teams in our category, our score shows that we would have placed among the top ten, or even top five, in the neighboring categories as well. It just happened to be that we had too few participants in our team to make it to the highest category, but also too many to compete in the lower categories that had up to over 30 teams each. Regarding the final score, we achieved our goal of 27 points or more, or an average of nine out of ten.

Unfortunately, I could not participate since I sprained my lower back the evening before. Luckily, it turned out to be just a prolonged and very hard muscle cramp. Nevertheless, it prohibited me from participating in the competition, but a team member jumped in to substitute me, so my absence didn’t cost the team any points. A good team is prepared for absences even on the day of the competition.

Now it’s time to enjoy summer without thinking about competitions and soon start preparing for the next season. After the show is before the show.

Guarantee of origin

Two weeks ago I saw for me a new way of presenting the origin of a product. By the street, in my hometown, I saw a wooden bench that still had the tree trunk intact at its other end. On the tree trunk was attached a sign informing people about the origin of the wood, it being local and also having earned a national seal of origin.

I found it interesting how it was possible to show simultaneously, by leaving part of the tree trunk intact, the origin of the wooden bench, bring a new aspect and twist to its design and also make it somewhat theft proof since the added wood makes the bench much heavier and cumbersome to handle. Yet I do not suspect that wooden benches are going especially strong among thieves.

Seeing the bench got me thinking what other products could benefit from a similar approach, leaving part of the raw material or an intermediate manufacturing phase visible, and using the properties of the unrefined raw material to improve the product in one way or another. At least in gastronomy this approach has been popular in the past years, serving dishes with their  ingredients separate from one another but on the same plate.

Showing the origin of a wooden bench.
Showing the origin of a wooden bench.

Do we want data privacy or publicity?

In the beginning of April the Panama Papers were all over the news, with the 2.6 terabytes of data providing examples of most exquisite constructs to hide funds, their origins and owners.

As the Panama Papers provide information on un-taxed funds, governments are sure to be more than happy to have their hands on these pieces of information. At the same time data security is an issue, at least in the EU, and was exacerbated by Mr. Edward Snowden’s disclosure of NSA data in 2013, followed by other data leaks.

Surely illegal funds should be revealed and taxation carried out according to the spirit of the law. At the same time, the question of the used and acceptable methods for uncovering such funds is crucial. If potentially illegally leaked information can and will be used by governments to get their hands on until now un-taxed funds, what does prevent the same governments from using such means in other cases? When is Big Brother allowed to step in? And how could he be kept from peeping into all areas of life? If we accept and make possible the breaching of confidentiality and privacy in some cases, how can we guarantee that such breaches will not take place in others, if the technology is already there?

From a game theoretical perspective it is worth pointing out that it is not promises themselves that make people keep their word, but the consequences of keeping or not keeping their word that give them the respective incentives to act.

A question about the value of data privacy was presented in a case where FBI wanted Apple to provide access to a customer’s phone. Although FBI allegedly found a way to break in to the phone without Apple’s help, Apple’s publicly declining to help gave some hope that data privacy is something of value. The next chapter in the same storyline was written by WhatsApp, introducing shortly after the FBI vs. Apple case encryption to all communication between users. As Mr. Koum from WhatsApp argues, even if you trust your government today, you should not give away your privacy, since you do not know the government of tomorrow.

Quoting Theodore Roosevelt: “The government is us; we are the government, you and I.” Do we want the government, you and I, to have access on all of our data, to know all about our lives, to be able to intervene and look in as it pleases? Do we want to make it possible or acceptable? If not, how do we act against it?




Oberwalliser Turnfest 2016 in Gampel

A week ago, end of May, our sports association participated in our second competition this season: Oberwalliser Turnfest 2016. The competition took place in Gampel and we missed the third place by a few tenths. We are confident that we can improve our performance by mid-June to improve our final note to an average of 9 out of 10, thus having good chances of finishing at the top of our group at our main event this season in Gams.

Here you can some some impressions from Gampel on our sports association’s website: among other things we ran, jumped, swung at the rings and had a lot of sunshine and a great time.