Thursday, October 05, 2006

What is the Difference between exchange rate GDP and Purchasing Power Parity GDP?

This is a question that I could hear everyone thinking during our IMF visit last week. I meant to post on it sooner, but I got distracted. I hope it's still helpful.

I know that everyone is in ECON-100 (if that), so I will try to make this an easily accesible explanation!

There are various ways of calculating Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is the total amount of goods and services produced in an economy. GDP is always calculated in some type of currency unit, and in order to compare GDP across countries the unit needs to be the same. Generally, the US Dollar is used for these transactions. However, this poses a problem because most countries have their own national currency, so the price of goods in their country is not measured in dollars. This means that the price must be converted into dollars. The two principal ways to do this are using exchange rate and purchasing power parity (PPP).

With exchange rate calculations, the value of a country's GDP is calculated using the nominal exchange rate on the currency markets. With PPP calculations, the conversion is based on how much one could buy with a given currency.

An example, because I know that was confusing:

We have two countries, A and B. 1 Country A dollar = 2 Country B pesos. The GDP of Country A is 100billion dollars and the GDP of Country B is 100 billion pesos. We would like to know the GDP of Country B in Country A dollars.
100 billion pesos x (1 dollar/2 pesos) = 50 billion pesos

However, if I tell you that a typical good that costs 1 dollar in Country A costs 1 peso in Country B, what is the GDP using PPP?
Purchasing power of 1 Country A dollar = 1 Country B peso
100 billion pesos x (1 dollar/1 peso) = 100 billion pesos

Even if you didn't follow all that, you can see that the GDP of Country B appears much larger with PPP calculations than exchange rate calculations, while Country A GDP appears much larger with exchange rate calculations. This is basically the same thing that happens in the real world and is the reason that different countries (i.e. US and India) support different ways of calculating GDP!

Sunday, May 01, 2005


At the end of the class, it was difficult to remember what I expected out of the class. Granted, now I know far more about Star Trek than I ever dreamed, but it's more than that. The analysis, especially comparing and contrasting various cultures, was amazing and much, much deeper than I originally expected. Linnea spoke in her last post about how various societies will come together and unite over differences; I feel as if this class has shown me just how divisive our society continues to be. For example, the switch between definitions of what is enemy and is not and turning on those who were previously seen as heroes shows how fickle society can be. The enemy may be the friend, but then the friend the enemy. This simply reflects the United States. We try to unite and try to love one another, but hey, once something happens, suddenly everyone who opposes one part of the grand plan is a terrorist. Or on the other hand, they may be something or one that can't be trusted, at the very least. Though I appreciate the differences that do make this a wonderful place to live, to say that we are united is an exaggeration. Instead, the various novels read over the course of the semester simply prove that there is devisiveness on the most basic of levels.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Some last thoughts on the class

Wow, this is really hard. I'm just sitting here, staring at the screen, wondering how to summarize all my thoughts about our class. I guess I'll blog a little about my final project, because, to me, that is a culmination of the entire class...

I'm writing about the role of identity, particularly minority identity in people's lives. Part of the project is looking at the role these groups play in social science and science fiction. However, I'm also doing some interviews to try to find out a bit about how people from minority groups feel about how their identity affects their role in society.

I am not done with my project yet, but I've conducted a few interviews. What I've found amazing so far is the degree of difference between how different people feel, and what they think that the future of minority roles in the United States. I've found a general concensus that knowing your heritage helps to build your sense of identity. However, visions of the future are quite different. On the one hand, some believe that the creation of a more unified society will make the heritage of individual groups less important, while on the other, there is a sentiment that society will become more unified when people understand the heritage of other groups better.

How does this have to do with science fiction? Take The Moon is a Harsh Mistress for example: The people on Earth, who still see racial difference, disapprove of mixing races, perhaps even of understanding them. The priority is on separation and purity. Simultaneously, the moon has created a society in which racial differences and ethnic heritage do not create barriers between people. Instead, people come together across divisions to make one society.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Time Jumps

The only thing that bothered me about Ian Banks' spectacular book was his tendency to thrust you into situations with absolutely no explanation or description. The ironic thing was that he had spectacular descriptions, but the generally didn't appear until after you had already drawn much of the same conclusion for yourself. I understand that he was trying to create an authentic experience of the events in the novel by revealing things only as they occurred to the characters. Unfortunately, the characters had the advantage of living in the world and already having seen/learned about what was going on. I am not opposed to Banks' technique on principle. I think that it can be very effective. In particular, the slow revelation of Quilan's mission as he himself remembers it is very good. However, I think Banks overuses the technique. As soon as the reader thinks they have a grasp of what is going on, they are thrust unexpectedly into a new situation where they are confused again. It is extremely difficult to get a hold of the timeline until about halfway through.

Look to Windward

I saw what the topic of the class was, that of machines surpassing humans, and then read Look to Windward. The book itself does deal with an advanced civilization made of machines, but it also seems to deal with political coersion similar to that of the United States. For example, they try to force the other culture to not have slavery through less overt threats, such as through bribes. The United States uses the UN and Human Rights Watch to try to get countries to stop various human rights violations.
The Terminator was a better example of how machines surpassed men. The machine, in the end, was even able to feel emotions and learn from the past, which made it seem more human. They were able to live over a hundred years on one battery pack, and they were able to do more tasks. While the machines are usually made to seem more distant than humans are, there is still the evolution of these machines with emotions. Once the machines are free thinking beings able to evolve and feel, then they have surpassed humans, because the main characteristic that makes humans superior to machines, at least in my mind, is their ability to feel and learn, something that machines will soon have.
There is no guarantee that machines will turn out to be the enemy or the assistant to the humans, but it is very probable that eventually machines will surpass humans. We just need to retain our ability to feel emotion that is tied to our own humanity. But just to be tired and bring this up again, what is human? Are machines who can feel actually machines? That is a question that needs to be answered.

Friday, April 22, 2005

It Goes Both Ways

We have seen two basic variations of relating to the Other, which have been to destroy or assimilate it. I feel that I must point to a bit of a middle road, which involves both destruction and assimilation, but ultimately leads to not only much less loss on both sides, but a final solution that one need not guiltily validate in history books for all time.
The Good Ole U. S. of A. is the quintessential example of this middles approach. (in the modern day, the Native Americans where not so fortunate) I'm not an expert on this subject, but I think it goes something like this: Samuel Huntington saw (sees?) as the biggest threat to America the "hyphonated Americans". These Italian-Americans and Mexican-Americans are destroying the very social fabric of this pure and perfect Anglo-Saxon Protestant nation. This in turn, he says, will lead our nation to nothing but ruin, decadence, internal strife, and loss of our country into small and fractious portions.
Huntington is right on several accounts. There are millions of hyphonated Americans in the country right now, and they are ripping apart the very fabric of the Anglo-Saxon Protestant nation that Huntington loves so much. However, the Italian-Americans' social fabric is also being torn apart, and the Mexican-Americans', and the Russian-Americans'. They are all forced to change, to assimilate, if you will, into a new culture, that of just Americans (in which, ironically, Anglo-Saxon-American is just another hyphoned aspect). By integrating all these together under one larger, all encompassing identity, despite the fact that some celebrate San Rocco Day, some Cinco de Mayo, and some Confuscious' birthday, they are all part of the same nation, the same identity. Few Americans, should Russia go to war with the US, fly back to Moscow to sign up. Despite their clinging to their customs, it is unlikely that all the Cuban-Americans of Little Havana in Miami will sail back home once Castro kicks the bucket. They can't any longer. They invent their own dances, they named a sandwich after themselves, but they are no longer truly Cuban...they are American, they have been assimilated just as much as others have been assimilated by them.
This is my final point. Look around. There's a German-American eating pizza, speaking Spanish to his friends from down the block, and going to Ikea to Feng-shui up his home while believing in extreme obedience on the part of his children. There's a Chinese-American, working 60 hour weeks to make all the money she can, yet practicing Buddhist meditations during her breaks. The Filipino-American who doesn't speak Tagolog and would much prefer an English style Debutante Ball than a traditional Catilian, but loves the fact that there's 62 members of his family within 2 miles of his house.
These groups have not been "assimilated" per se, in the taken sense that one "superior" culture subjugates and conquers another, making it lose itself and accept the stronger. No races have been "neccessarily" destroyed in order to maintain civilization in America (minus, again, the natives). Being changed while changing others; this is the best way in which to maintain peace AND individual group identity. This tends to satisfy both the "native" population and the 1st and 2nd generationers. By having something larger, it doesn't matter what the small, underlying things are, as long as at the end of the day that "American" is more important than what is before the hyphon. This has occurred in other places, and thanks to globalization is happening ever faster. Assimilative Cohesion. That's the ticket. I wonder if the Humans, Piggies, and Buggers will achieve it on Lusitania?


We continue to evaluate the destruction of the enemy, but the assimilation of the other is just as important. The United States has been known for assimilating various cultures since Europeans first arrived on its shores. This aspect is repeated in various forms of science fiction and throughout history. If something or someone comes along that is identified as "other", than it has to begin to look and superficially act as though it were part of the mother culture. For example, even if something were to look completely different from humans, if it were to act in the same way as our American culture with similar values, than it would be somewhat more respected and eventually we would be able to come to terms with that group. If they came and began to convert the humans to a hive mentality, or as one mentality (see Borg), then they would be considered evil. Often the United States and other cultures merely want to see something convert to their lifestyle. On another level there is the evaluation of something that looks like it is human, but shares none of the same values or belief structures. This can be seen in the past through England and its encounters with the people of Africa. Until they accepted the same religion and were willing to change to an economic and political system that meshed with their idea of civilization. If the country can't go to war with them, they have to have some way to relate to the people that they've come across. Assimilation is thus considered an acceptable alternative, and this was shown in the book for last class, the fact that the Europeans either assimilated various groups that were here or they destroyed them if they would not convert to their way of life. My previous post showed some examples of what happened when a native population chose to resist, but we also need to evaluate the prevalence of assimilation and the long term impact on the world.

The other....

"Kill the Buggers! Kill the Bugs! Kill the Arachnids! Kill the Aliens! Kill the Piggies! Kill the Indians! Kill, kill, kill, kill..."

Doesn't anyone ever get tired of all this killing? Over and over in science fiction, there is a repeated emphasis on wiping out the different ones. I know we've talked about it over and over, but still....

Oh, and what about our moral hypocryse (and lack of spelling ability) regarding geno/xeno cide. When it was Ender wiping out the Buggers, we were all saying "Yeah, let's go get the fuckers!" but when we were reading Todorov, everyone was saying "Well, there is no question it was morally reprehensible..." Mightn't we be in a bit of a Speaker for the Dead situation? In retrospect, "shit, that was a bad idea". Shouldn't we try to understand what was going on at the time? I know that the Native Americans were not the threat that the Buggers appeared to be, but they might have been as much of a threat as the Buggers genuinely were. After all, the Buggers weren't coming back to get Earth and the Native Americans weren't coming back to get the Europeans.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Are We There Yet?

One of the things that reading The Conquest of America left me with is the story of the Spaniards inability to view the "Indians" as something distinctly like themselves (after all, how many of the chroniclers stated that their culture was exactly as the European's HAD been, or WOULD be in a more primitive state) yet they were treated with complete disregard as anything near human. Indeed, they were often listed alongside the storage items less important that grains and flowers, such as chairs and carts in the quartermaster's reports. This made me think of a conversation I had with two friends of mine a little while ago. What would happen if, in the near future, we discovered that another Terrestrial creature was sentient (here, intelligent, socially complex, and able to think on a higher plane than just needs for survival). Putting this against the backdrop of Todorov, and it's an interesting propostion.
I'll keep it short for the purposes of the reader (our conversation lasted over an hour), but, seeing as how the Indians, particularly the Aztecs/Mexicans that the most time was given in the book, were so advanced, so socially complex, and so beautiful physically and in a "primitively religious" (they were, after all, just confused Christians) way, why were the Spaniards (and all Europeans elsewhere) unable to deal with them as human, as something the same yet different at once? They were treated as something less than human, although, as Todorov points out, they excelled in every way except warfare to a par with the Europeans, if not above them. They were, after all, seen as much more pious then the Spaniards, more peaceful on the whole, and extremely courtious and generous at first. Then, however, the perception changed when it became more convenient for the Europeans. They changed into something primitive, beastial, and raw when the Spaniards stopped getting everything they wanted, and the Indians proved a little TOO human for them. (protecting their women, praying to gods in temples, learing the Spanish language, looking for advancement in society) The view changed with the convenience.
So what would happen if, say, chimpanzees began to earnestly build a civilization, cities, buildings, rudimentary at first, but then ever more evolving over a short span of time. What would happen if we could, perhaps, decipher dolphins' speech or whales, and discover that higher level communication has been going on between them for centuries. How would we react?
Myself, being an optimist, said that we would try to learn to communicate with them, because clearly they've been trying for years, ever since we starting putting them in cages a couple years back. We'd teach them, raise them as little brothers of sorts, and help them develop, but so quickly as to destroy their social fabric. They are, of course, surrounded by human creations everywhere, so they cannot possibly be isolated like the piggies in Speaker for the Dead.
My friends, however, took the opposite view. The first few intelligent ones we'd lock up and study. The next ones we'd treat as anomolies and remove them from thier groups so as not to allow any more intelligent breeding. How would we pullute the ocean if we knew that dolphins have been trying to clean it for 50 years without us? Where would our pedestool go if we were no longer the ONLY intelligent species. We would feel threatened, and we would stop it to keep our position. In short, we'd do to them what we did to the Indians--treat them as sentient beings when it was beneficial, for instance, in order to convict them of crimes when they broke OUR laws, but otherwise insist that they were not (to bring back an old phrase) truly ramen, and therefore do not deserve the full rights of an intelligent being.
Which would happen? We still don't see each other, different human races as "fully human", so how could we possibly expect to views chimps as our equals? Global society is changing rapidly,though, so maybe we'd adjust if it happened, say, in the more distant future, 150, 1000 years from now. Interesting to think, though, that our problems with intelligent life need not even come from a foriegn planet, and they need not be huge ugly insects of our nightmares. They might come from the very animals whose likenesses we play with and laugh at as little kids.

Conquest of the Americas

Columbus' expedition essentially eliminated the native populations from various locations within Latin America as well as forcing change amongst others. Todorov spoke of this in the framework of the other, someone who is different from the Europeans, and I feel as though this is held up by the testimony of various colonists who went across the ocean to travel and settle within North and South Amerca.
Many of the travel narratives as well as diaries and other accounts that can be examined today spoke of the native population of the Americas with horror while continously trying to find characteristics to relate them to the Europeans. Finally, the colonists began to destroy various cultures within Latin America, both so they could control them and so they were more like the Europeans.
Never was this process of making the natives more European than in the convents within Peru. Since there were no European women brought over in the first wave of colonization, the Spanish soldiers had to marry native women. In order to ensure that their bloodlines remained purely "European", convents were formed where young girls were sent to be educated. In the early days, the culture that one was raised in made one European, not racial background. This shows how the other is dealt with and made one of their own through as basic a process as marriage and education. Women who were educated in these convents were able to live relative lives of leisure, making it desirable to be placed in one, so they could find a good marriage.
Peru is not the only place where the other was eliminated for various means. In the southern part of what is now known as the United States, there was a culture in which women had the majority of the power over the land as well as the home. The men had to be accepted by a woman in order to live in her house. There was also a high degree of sexual freedom for the women; it was believed that those they had sex with they had power over. The soldiers were very confused when the women came to them asking for sex, not knowing that then the women believed that they had power over them. When monasteries were established in this region, they were shocked at the behavior of the Pueblos and did everything within their power to oppress them and herd them into the villages so they could be saved. The priests authorized various acts of cruelty in the name of the best interests of the native populations. The natives eventually backlashed and drove the priests off for approximately ten years, but when they came back, the native populations was demolished. Historically, native populations have been destroyed when they won't give up and simply allow themselves to assume the values and ideals of the conquering nation.
This brings about the question, however, about the destruction of the Cherokee during the Trail of Tears. They lived as the Europeans did. They had farms, wore the same clothes, went to school. spoke English, but the government still had to destroy them. This brings to light an entirely separate issue about what level does one have to assimilate in order to be accepted by the conquering society.
These are kind of random examples, but I feel as though they further prove Todorov's points about the otherization and destruction of various cultures through different means, especially in America.

dimensions of personality

In the midst of reading The Conquest of America, a few sentences brought to mind the real similarities between social science and science fiction, reality and fantasy...

Communication is "the interaction of individual with individual, the interaction that occurs between the person and his social group, the person and the natural world, the person and the religious universe," Todorov postulates (69). This definition seemed quite accurate to me, because the concept of communicating with the world is obviously distinct from the concept of communicating with a specific person, and, as a result, takes on different characteristics when put into practice.

However, this passage also reminded me of an explanation Card makes in the introduction to Speaker for the Dead: "Our whole demeanor changes, our mannerisms, our figures of speech, when we move from one context to another." As a result, it is difficult to write a book with many important characters because, in order for them to be fully developed, the writer has to explore their relationship with each other character, and different combinations of multiple characters.

It seems to me that the concepts of these two passages are quite similar, although one addresses issues of communication in a real historical situation, and the other characterization of fictional persons thousands of years in the future. Nevertheless, the underlying concept is that people change substantially depending on their surroundings and what they hope to accomplish in terms of communication and interaction. I think the two ideas could be applied to each situation. Communication differs not only when it is addressed to the world rather than an individual, but also depending on which individual it is addressed to. Likewise, people change depending on whether they are concentrating on their relationships with another individual, a group of individuals, or the world.

Friday, April 15, 2005

All in How You Name Them

One of the questions Professor Jackson posed on Tuesday was whether the meaning of the definition of ramam would change if in the description, "The stranger that we recognize as human, but of another species" we used "piggie" instead of "human". My opinion is that it would. As was also said somewhere in the book, Speaker for the Dead, the labelling of other species as "human" is a step on the part of the labeller, not the labellee. It is very important in the use of raman that we (as humans) consider others to be human, but by labelling them as "like piggies" we are then turning the meaning of the label into something completely different.
The piggies are intelligent, it is true, and the Starways Congress does everything it can to protect and honor them as "people" but at the same time they are only so protective because they seem to be technologically inferior to humans and their culture and fighting ability is well "below" that of humans. It is under these auspices that the piggies are considered, especially among those that have never met or seen them (i.e., the vast majority of humanity). Although they are seen as "human" they are seen and regarded as human children, specifically, children which must not learn the abilities of thier parents. Thier culture is seen as primitive and simple (not to understand, but the actual living of the piggies is rather simple)...lounging around all day, playing games constantly, asking a million questions about everything, following the xenologers; these are all attributes we normally give human children, i.e., immature and not-as-intelligent humans.
By labelling another species as "piggy, but of another species" is belittling to that other species, and one would expect the same simple culture, low technology, and other rather negative connotations that "being piggy" implies. This would be interesting to see how they would then classify another generally peaceful new and intelligent species, but one that was clearly advanced and more dangerous, whether it would still be raman (here, "like the piggies"), varelse (i.e. dangerous and unable to communicate, hence, their destruction is permissible upon the slightest provocation of danger to humans), or something else, neither "like the piggies" or "like the buggers".
Lennea brought up the fact that from the piggies perspective raman would mean "piggy, but of another species" and it would mean the same thing as "human, but of another species". Of course it would, they would look at the entire universe from their own perspective. From their point of view, of course, our first definition "human....." would mean someone that was technologically advanced, but socially and culturally extremely strange and closed off, very secretive and oftentimes stupid to obvious things. (doubting the existence of the wives, and not realzing there's grass on both sides of the fence to name just two).
The point of what I'm saying is that when the labeller compares something to anything other than himself, he IS absolutely regarding that something as distinctly NOT the same as he. By labelling new raman as "piggies, but of another species" they are inherently not like humans, but rather different from us, similar to something else we've seen. In the piggy context, this also denotes an inferiority. (in fact, would humans really ever admit that any species is their superior on the whole??...interesting to think about) Generally, the "different" label is neither good nor bad, it just is, but one can definately use it later to further differentiate that "other" unless they are specifically said to be "us". As we have seen, differentiating can lead to severe problems.

Reflection on what is an enemy

We seemed to finally come to the conclusion during class that there was no firm way to answer what an enemy is or what they incorporate. It finally degenerated into a question of what is perceived as human. As a class and myself as an individual we continue circling back to this question, and it's one that has to be addressed rather than skipped around. Though it pains me to say this, we as a society shy away from anything that doesn't fit our physical description of what is human. Centuries ago we thought that those who had a different skin tone weren't considered to be human, now they are equals. Our definition of human is constantly changing, which makes the question of what is human more difficult to answer.
I'm going to try a bold statement here, one that claims that those who are enemies are those we as a society perceive as being not human. If you examine the language that we, the United States, uses when referring to the enemy, it constantly refers to how their behavior is less than human, it dehumanizes people, it does not live up to civilized standards. This type of language differentiates the enemy from our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, and friends. It prevents us from feeling guilt when they are killed, and when someone tries to claim that they are human and that we shouldn't be going to war, that language is once again utilized.
Similar instances can be found in the books we are reading. They state that the enemy is someone or thing that is dissimilar from the remainder of society. I do not advocate labelling other people and I don't feel as if it were a conscious move on our part, but it's clear that it does happen.