Sunday, April 11, 2021

Graffiti Alley, Ann Arbor

After a year of being shut in, I was happy to be walking around the Liberty Street area of our town,
and to take a look at Graffiti Alley, where several artists were working on the wall art.

This group posed for a portrait. They told me that the painter with the spray can had never been to Ann Arbor before.
I didn’t ask where they were from, but they seemed to be having fun. The art is always new!

The art work of Graffiti Alley has been evolving
since 1999, and is constantly repainted by anyone who
wants to add to the murals on the walls.

Graffiti News from Korea

Here's an amusing story from ArtNet News: "A Couple Accidentally Defaced a $500,000 Painting in a Seoul Mall After Mistaking It for a Participatory Artwork" --
"A couple visiting a street art exhibition at a mall in Seoul unknowingly vandalized an abstract painting by American artist JonOne, said to be worth $500,000, painting three large dark splotches across its surface.

"The couple were confused by the array of brushes and paint tubes scattered on the ground beneath the canvas. They were meant to reflect the creative process of the artist, but the unwitting pair mistook the display for an invitation to add to the work."
The artist is "known for his Abstract Expressionist-style graffiti." I find this extremely funny! Especially as the $500,000 work of art looks to me just like the ones in Graffiti Alley, except that it's normal to paint over the walls in Graffiti Alley. I was happy to learn that the couple who painted on the mural were not charged with a crime.

Here's a before-and-after photo of the 23 by 9 foot painting:

Above: original work. Below: defaced work. Big whoop? (source: ArtNet News)

The Murals of El Paso, Texas

The New York Times recently published a fascinating feature about the murals in El Paso: "Art Without Borders" by Diana Spechler. If you are fascinated by murals and street art, as I am, you will surely enjoy the detailed descriptions of the artists and their goals in painting murals with topics such as racial justice, immigration from Mexico, local history and communities, and more.

The paintings in El Paso reflect many trends, especially the Mexican muralism movement of the 1920s and 1930s. This movement, the author writes, "gave us some of the most important art of the 20th century, most notably from 'the Three Greats:' Diego Rivera (otherwise known as Frida Kahlo’s husband), José Clemente Orozco (a master painter despite losing a hand to gangrene) and David Alfaro Siqueiros (who once dismissed easel painting as 'aristocratic,' mentored Jackson Pollock in New York City and is said to have tried to murder Trotsky, but that’s another story for another time)."

The photographs of murals and of their artists in the article are especially interesting, and use a sort of animated technique to interpret various parts of each mural.

Blog post © 2021 mae sander.


Saturday, April 10, 2021

In Spring

In Spring you can fly a kite in the park.

You can lie on the grass with your laptop.

You can ride a bike or take a walk in the neighborhood.

You might have to wait for a tennis court.

You can come out of hibernation like Kathy’s Bear!

The poet wrote “April is the cruelest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing / Memory and desire, stirring / Dull roots with spring rain.” I completely disagree. I think April is a very kind and gentle month. I just hope the Michigan pandemic resurgence becomes less cruel soon!

Blog post © 2021 mae sander.


Friday, April 09, 2021

"Outside the Box" by Marc Levinson

When a massive container ship blocked the Suez canal for the week of March 23-29, this year, there was a lot of talk about the blow to global manufacturing because the 200 or so waiting ships carried components from one side of the world that were needed by factories on the other side of the world. I think we are all conscious of the way vital electronics, household gadgets, cars, trucks, and industrial goods are assembled from parts that are sourced in dispersed manufacturing sites, but we don't necessarily know the details.

In the book Outside the Box: How Globalization Changed from Moving Stuff to Spreading Ideas, author Marc Levinson traces the history of internationalized sourcing of materials, as we are accustomed to thinking about it. He traces several waves of globalization that altered the production methods for goods that our lives depend on, including food, cars, iPhones, and many other commodities and products. He explains the way that shipping companies exploded the size and speed of container ships until the economies of scale were distorted, and the way that demand for their shipping services first grew and then shrunk, until now many of the ships are vastly under-utilized, and the biggest companies are in trouble. According to Levinson, a backlash against globalization has been changing many features of worldwide manufacturing and distribution endeavors.

Present-day manufacturing, Levinson explains, involves much more than just assembling parts procured through tightly-organized supply chains, as was done in the twentieth century. He traces the development of "value chains" that in the mid-20th century created a much more complex web of dependency among international manufacturers, and relied on entities in complex and loosely-organized chains. Levinson outlines the ways that this concept worked, including the major role of cheap shipping on ever-increasing container ships. He explains the benefits that derive from value chains, and also the many disadvantages -- not the least of which is a shipping incident like the one in Suez last month. Interestingly, he shows how the interdependence of factories on far-flung sources of parts has been diminishing in what he calls a "fourth wave" of globalization.

Above all, the driving force behind value chains came to be intellectual property. The design of complex products, the planning of how to build them, the calculation and negotiation of how to source their parts, and the creation of internal software for many types of modern goods means that there is often much more value from intangibles than from physical components. An important consequence is that old views of import and export surpluses and trade balances no longer illustrate the real economic impact of multiple countries' and corporations' roles in production and design. Politicians often fixate on only the physical components that may be manufactured outside their countries and their tax base, when the major value of a modern product like a car or a smart phone is in intellectual property, not in hardware. Levinson explains a great deal about the way that globalized value chains work and how this is changing right now. A new global model for manufacturing is emerging, so I guess he will be able to write a third book. (His first was called The Box, and is a history of container shipping.) 

Outside the Box is a complex work of economic history. Sometimes when reading it, I felt bogged down in too much detail. Other times I just didn't feel sure I understood the big picture. Overall, it's a book worth reading. I don't feel as if I can do it justice in a review, but here are a few more thoughts.

The Old Way: An Integrated Supply Chain

A Model-T Ford at Greenfield Village in 2012. 

"Any business faces risks, and supply chains inherently pose risks aplenty: fire might strike the plant of a key supplier; a problematic lock on a river might block shipments of an essential raw material; a gasoline shortage might make it difficult for production workers to reach their jobs. Once, manufacturers managed this risk by controlling their supply chains directly. The exemplar, Ford Motor Company, owned forests, mines, and a rubber plantation; transported raw materials to its factories on a company-owned railroad; and built blast furnaces, a foundry, a steel rolling mill, a glass factory, a tire plant, and even a textile plant at its vast River Rouge complex near Detroit, where sand, iron ore, and raw rubber were transformed into auto parts and assembled into Model A cars." -- Marc Levinson, Outside the Box (p. 153). 

Another Way: The iPhone 3G

My iPhone
In contrast, Levinson has a detailed analysis of the value chain for the iPhone 3G that was sold a decade ago, as an example of how the modern manufacturing arrangements work, and how they affect international trade. In particular, he uses this example to illustrate the fallacy of simple-minded views of trade balances:

"Consider how the iPhone 3G’s complicated supply arrangements registered in merchandise trade statistics. China exported approximately $2 billion of the phones to the United States in 2009. Apple, on the other hand, exported no goods directly from the United States to China, and other US-made components shipped to the iPhone manufacturing plant were worth only $100 million or so. Thus, if either country had published official statistics covering trade in iPhone 3Gs, they would have shown China to have a $1.9 billion trade surplus with the United States. Yet in reality, the US-China relationship in iPhones tilted in the other direction. The total value that was added in China to all the iPhone 3Gs shipped to the United States in 2009, at $6.50 per phone, came to about $73 million, or less than the value of the US-made components shipped to China. Almost ten times as much of the phone’s value originated in Japan as in China, but when those iPhones were shipped from China to the United States, they did not affect the official US trade deficit with Japan at all." (p. 135). 

Subsequently, Levinson explains, China tried to make their share more profitable: "A dozen years later, nearly two-thirds of the value of Chinese manufactured exports was created within China." (p. 168). 

The Anti-Globalization Backlash and its Consequences

"Is globalization over? Not by any stretch. Rather, it has entered a new stage. While globalization is retreating with respect to factory production and foreign investment, it is advancing quickly when it comes to the flow of services and ideas." (p. 224).
Outside the Box traces the development of global production, which relied on new agreements on tariffs and taxation, as well as relaxing many obstacles to exchange of goods among many nations. He describes both the advantages and the harms done by these changes in protective behavior by various governments. In his final chapters, Levinson documents how there are new barriers developing to totally free flow of goods, as well as new doubts about the reliability of long-distance transport of vital components and necessary goods. Distrust of the agreements both in developed and in developing nations has created new ways to do business. He cites major events such as the vote for Britain to exit the common market, and the election of Trump who restored a large number of tariffs and restraints on international trade. He writes:
"Around 2011, as the result of independent decisions by some of the world’s largest companies, trade patterns began to shift as multinational companies reconsidered their value chains. The effects showed up not only in export and import figures, but also in a set of obscure calculations that track the extent to which one country’s manufacturers use inputs that were imported from another country. In 2011, these OECD data show, 42 percent of the value of South Korea’s exports—things like Hyundai cars and Daewoo tanker ships—came from imported materials and components; six years later, the corresponding figure was only 30 percent. For China, imported content was 23 percent of the value of manufactured exports in 2011, but only 17 percent five years later. The United States, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Sweden all experienced the same trend. So did Taiwan, Indonesia, and Malaysia. There are only two likely explanations. One is that manufacturers in these countries cut back on exporting goods that used a lot of foreign inputs. The other is that they decided to obtain more of their inputs at home rather than sourcing them abroad. Either way, manufacturing became less global." (pp. 214-215). 

In China, there are thousands of KFC outlets.
A "fourth wave" of globalization is now in process, Levinson writes. The third wave, he says, could be called "the age of stuff;" manufacturing was the driving force. In contrast, the fourth wave is more about lifestyle choices, and reflects the aging of the population especially in developed nations, but also in the less developed parts of the globe.  For example, American fast food is vastly popular and widely sold everywhere -- even China. 

"Companies in industries whose products are intangible—software, accommodation, real estate, computer services—accounted for a greater share of the largest multinational enterprises, while major industrial companies shrank under relentless competitive pressure. In the emerging Fourth Globalization, moving ideas, services, and people around the world mattered more than transporting boatloads of goods—and seemed likely to create very different sets of winners and losers." (p. 219). 

The conclusion of the book takes us almost to the present moment with the question of how the Covid-19 pandemic will affect the future.

"By bringing international travel almost to a stop after airlines cancelled flights and governments directed arriving passengers to spend two weeks in quarantine, COVID-19 forced firms to manage their foreign interests without customary site visits and face-to-face meetings, and travel-weary executives may not be eager to return to the old ways even after the virus is a distant memory." (p. 227). 

Levinson obviously can't predict the future, but he offers quite a lot of economic history to help envision how life may change and how it might go on with some of the same relationships and ideals among countries and within corporations. It's a difficult book to read, but very interesting.

Review © 2021 mae sander for maefood dot blogspot dot com.


Thursday, April 08, 2021

What I’m Cooking

Ready-made ravioli, browned mushrooms, tomatoes, and pesto. All from Trader Joe’s.

Trader Joe’s Vegan Pesto is very good!

An extension of the classic cauliflower cheese.
Beyond the usual steamed cauliflower in white sauce, my version included browned onions and bell peppers with the cauliflower. I made a brown sauce (stock, butter, flour, and seasonings) and mixed it with shredded cheddar cheese, poured it over the vegetables in the casserole, and then topped it with bread crumbs and sliced pepper-jack cheese. Also some herbs and fennel seeds in the sauce, and dried herbs mixed with the bread crumbs.  All baked for around half an hour until nice and brown.

Blog post © 2021 mae sander

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Hunger in Our Society: What’s happening now?

Source:  Food Gatherers’ Website
“Scenes of crowded food banks have provided some of the most arresting images of the pandemic and brought hunger issues a rare spotlight. A recent Census Bureau survey found that, over the previous week alone, 8.4 percent of adults said their households ‘sometimes’ lacked enough to eat and 2.3 percent said they ‘often’ did. That translates into 23 million hungry adults, plus millions of children.” — (source)

The pandemic made many of the problems of our society more obvious and more pressing than they were before last year. Food insecurity, in particular, has been an issue here in America for a long time, and the large-scale loss of jobs a year ago definitely made it much worse and also more visible. Who doesn’t recall the photos of long lines of cars queued up to receive food boxes and other help from a variety of organizations. Throughout the year, I have been following both the national problems and the actions of Food Gatherers, the food bank in Ann Arbor where I live, and I wanted to explore what’s happening now.

Several changes in the national situation recently have offered a cause for optimism:

At the moment, there is a better outlook for employment. Jobless claims were at a pandemic-era low at the end of March. Specifically: “The unemployment rate edged down to 6.0 percent in March. The rate is down considerably from its recent high in April 2020 but is 2.5 percentage points higher than its pre-pandemic level in February 2020. The number of unemployed persons, at 9.7 million, continued to trend down in March but is 4.0 million higher than in February 2020. (source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Coming soon or already in place: better benefits and direct help from the federal government are being enacted into law. The New York Times reports: “With more than one in 10 households reporting that they lack enough to eat, the Biden administration is accelerating a vast campaign of hunger relief that will temporarily increase assistance by tens of billions of dollars and set the stage for what officials envision as lasting expansions of aid.” (source)

Throughout  the past very difficult year, charitable organizations have been improving their organizations and distributing more food to those in need —“The people who run America’s charitable food banks take pride in what they’ve accomplished over the past year, and the numbers justify it: They distributed roughly 50 percent more food in 2020 compared with 2019, a considerable portion to first-time visitors. They served millions of people even as they dealt with supply-chain interruptions and health risks for their volunteers and employees.” (source)

Although there is a resurgence of coronavirus cases in Michigan, and a “fourth wave” of infections may be underway, the vaccination programs throughout the country are also a cause for optimism. As more people become able to go to work, to eat in restaurants, and to enjoy a more normal life, and as children and students of all ages return to school, the root causes of increased food insecurity may become less drastic, and the new approaches to the general well-being of Americans may help solve some of our problems. 

I wrote about some of this a few weeks ago, and I wanted to update that post here. My previous post:

There are still many problems with the rest of the world — especially the fact that distribution of vaccine is not anywhere near as effective elsewhere, and the disease is still spreading. The challenges facing any approach to world hunger are drastic, and the changes needed globally are frightening. I can’t begin to grasp the scope of what’s needed globally. We have to face the consequences of climate change and destruction of resources — two potential causes of increasing poverty and unimaginable want. As we also have to face incredible public health problems. 

blog post © 2021 mae sander

Monday, April 05, 2021

Home Again

Here we are back home. We bought some Lithuanian bread
at the Russian Gourmet in Fairfax and will be trying it tonight.
We miss Alice, who made us a beautiful salad to go with dinner
last night. 
We drove from Fairfax to Ann Arbor today. 
The spring flowers there are considerably more advanced than here.
Dinner on our last night in Fairfax: vegetables, scallops, and fish cooked on the grill.

Blog post © 2021 mae sander

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens

We visited Meadowlark Botanical Gardens where spring flowers and trees are at a stunning peak. 
Meadowlark Botanical Gardens Website.

Although the gardens were open and all seemed normal, the empty display greenhouse
(like the masked people) reminded us of the pandemic that continues to endanger everyone.

Alice agreed to enhance the look of this wireframe sculpture.

The sculpture without Alice.

Blog post © 2021 mae sander.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Great Food Shops in the Fairfax Area

On our long visit to our family in Fairfax, Virginia, we have enjoyed cooking and having family meals. It's a wonderful thing to stop being isolated! Going to a variety of small and large food shops in the area has been a great pleasure too -- before being vaccinated, we had all food delivered to us, so we were unable to enjoy the process of shopping and making choices. Fairfax County is much larger than the urban area where we live (Ann Arbor, MI), and has a diverse population, so it offers many more types of shops. Whether they are part of a large chain (like H-Mart) or a single small-scale business (like the Russian Gourmet), we were happy to have these much-missed experiences. 

Crumbl Cookies

Orders can be entered online or (if small) at the counter.

Baking is done behind a display window.

Our selections. These are REALLY big cookies! Crumbl Cookies. Vienna, VA. Website.

Pasties from the prize-winning Pure Pasty Co.

The Pure Pasty Co, Vienna, VA. Website.

The Pure Pasty Co writes: "We travel home to Cornwall every year for the World Pasty Championships.
We’ve won the Open Savoury category twice (2018+19)."

Several flavors made up our lunch Saturday: all delicious. What I liked: Moroccan Lamb
and Provençal Vegetable. They are sold frozen, to be baked just before eating.
I've tried the pasties in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. These are much more varied.

The Swiss Bakery

The Swiss Bakery (near the Beltway) has been a favorite with our family for years.
Several types of rolls, sandwiches, and pastries made there are just wonderful. Swiss Bakery Website.

The Russian Gourmet

A small shop crammed with fascinating imports.

Many types of vegetables in jars, as was typical in
20th century Russia.

We were particularly interested in trying the Borodinsky rye bread which is made at The Russian Gourmet in Fairfax -- WEBSITE. We enjoyed it, and also tried several other items imported from Latvia, Armenia, and elsewhere in the former SSRs.

Woody’s Ice Cream

A popular ice cream place in downtown Fairfax.

We ate our ice cream in the nearby park. Woody's WEBSITE.

A Visit to H-Mart

H-Mart is a well-known chain of huge Asian supermarkets with outlets in around 10 states. We had never shopped in one before this, however, as the nearest H-Mart to us is an hour from our house. Our purchases included a number of Asian vegetables and sauces for our various cooking projects -- and some to take back to Ann Arbor.

Blog post and all photos © 2021 mae sander.