Why Are Rhino Horns Twice as Valuable as Gold?

The price of gold has hit all-time highs recently, touching $1,800 an ounce as the stock market swooned last Wednesday. But there's another commodity that's enjoying an even bigger bull market these days: rhino horns. According to a recent study by Kenya-based ivory expert Esmond Martin, and his colleague Lucy Vigne, the ivory trade is hotter than ever, fueled by booming demand in China, where it is coveted for its supposed medicinal purposes. The study found that the number of ivory items on sale in southern China has more than doubled since 2004. And most of it is traded illegally.

The Boss Effect: Study Shows Chinese Recognize Their Boss's Face Before Their Own

A small study published in the journal PLoS One, titled "Who’s Afraid of the Boss," reveals key cultural differences in the way people react to their superiors. The study notes a particularly stark difference between Chinese and Americans. Researchers in both countries showed subjects a rapid series of photographs, asking them to press a button either when they recognized themselves or their boss. The abstract states:

Human adults typically respond faster to their own face than to the faces of others. However, in Chinese participants, this self-face advantage is lost in the presence of one's supervisor, and they respond faster to their supervisor's face than to their own.

Americans, on the other hand, are predictably different in light of a cultural emphasis on independence rather than collectivism.

FREAK-est Links

This week: an economic analysis of gang colors; a chopstick shortage in China; the mathematics of basketball; the social networks of elephants, and are smart people getting smarter?

FREAK-est Links

Georgia's shriveling peach economy, one-third of Michigan teachers feel pressured to cheat, the annual Big Mac index, a public library incentive scheme, and why West Virginia is awash in car crashes the week after a televised NASCAR race.

Waiting in Line Pays $3 an Hour in China

From NPR's Beijing correspondent Louisa Lim, comes a story about China's epic lines, and the money-making opportunity they've spawned:

Earlier this month, people waited four days and three nights to register for low-income housing in the central city of Xian, while admission to a certain Beijing kindergarten in Changping last year required a week-long, round-the-clock queue, for which people set up camp beds along the pavement.

A half-day wait at the bank is also apparently not unusual. It's all led to this:

For the past two years, Li Qicai, 28, has made a career out of waiting in line. What's more, he now outsources the waiting to others. He employs four full-time queuers and a host of freelancers, who, for a cost of about $3 an hour, will do the waiting for you.

"I'm just selling my time for money," says Li. "You don't need any skills, except the ability to suffer. For some jobs, you need to look good. If you want to buy things for rich people, you can't look like a farmer or they'll think you're a scalper."

The Chinese media pins the phenomenon on an economy driven by laziness, where low labor costs fuel China's "convenience culture."

One more point: if it takes a week to wait in line to sign up for kindergarten now, what happens if China's most populous-province gets its wish, and the country's one-child policy is overturned?

"We Are Creating Magic" With Trees and Grass

From China Daily:

A successful forestation and grassing program in Ngari prefecture in the Tibet autonomous region is effectively battling sandstorms and improving people's livelihoods.

"We are creating magic, because no one has successfully planted good trees and grass in an area sitting 4,000 meters above sea level," 45-year-old Han Junwen, an expert with the agriculture and animal husbandry bureau in Gar county told China Daily. ...

Local government statistics show the average elevation in Gar is 4,500 meters and it has an annual precipitation of about 73.4 mm, which makes plant seeding extremely difficult.

But after six years of research and planting, Han and his team have now successfully planted 267 hectares of Lucerne grass.

Though land reclamation, grass seeding and forestation are increasing, there is still a long way to go. Tibet still ranks third in the list of areas suffering desertification in China, even though more than 11 percent, about 14 million hectares, is covered with forest.

The Suicide Attempt That Ended With a Kiss

Having just completed an hour-long radio program on suicide, and having just visited mainland China for the first time, I was drawn to this incredibly moving story from Shenzhen, by Shi Yingying in China Daily:

Like a real life version of Snow White, Liu Wenxiu's kiss literally saved the life of a 16-year-old boy.

Liu just passing by a pedestrian bridge in downtown Shenzhen on June 11 when she spotted hundreds of onlookers watching a young man with a knife in his hand, threatening to jump.

"I saw him get more and more excited - everybody around was just looking, nobody was trying to step up and help," said Liu, a 19-year-old hotel waitress.

"He had to be saved - because I've been there before and I knew exactly how it was," continued Liu, who had attempted suicide several times. ...

"He told me he didn't have a home anymore, nobody cared about him and no one trusted him. I said nothing but showed him the scars on my right wrist. ... With the boy crying even harder, Liu knew he had a sense of being understood.

Will China Need a New Debt Ceiling Too?

I don't know enough about the Chinese economy -- or the U.S. economy, for that matter -- to say just how big a deal this is, but I sense it's potentially pretty big:

China said local governments owe debt equal to more than a fourth of the country's economic output, the first time Beijing has put a number on such debt, fueling fears banks could again face mountains of bad loans and underlining the limits Beijing faces as it battles inflation.

The National Audit Office said Monday that local-government debts total some 10.7 trillion yuan ($1.65 trillion), or 27% of China's gross domestic product last year. The report Monday was billed as a comprehensive tally of such debt, much of which was incurred during a two-year stimulus-spending binge ordered by Beijing to fight the effects of the global recession.

Some analysts say the National Audit Office's figure failed to count certain kinds of local government debt, meaning the actual total could be even higher.

Either way, the figure released Monday affirms analysts' belief that the true level of China's government debt is considerably higher than has been acknowledged by the Finance Ministry, which puts just the central government's debt at 17% of GDP without taking into account local governments' debt.

Beijing Bleg

I am heading to Beijing today (first time), and will have roughly 36 hours of free time. Eager to hear suggestions of things to see, do, avoid, eat, etc. Thanks in advance.

How to Best Incentivize Organ Donations?

Organ donation is a familiar topic around here. Back in December, we discussed whether there should be a legal market for organs in a podcast episode called "You Say Repugnant, I Say... Lets Do it!" A few weeks ago, we blogged about whether the idea of a legal organ market is losing its stigma. So we were immediately intrigued by news that emerged earlier this month from China, about a 17-year-old boy who had sold his kidney for $3,392 to buy a new iPad 2. From the BBC:

The 17-year-old, identified only as Little Zheng, told a local TV station he had arranged the sale of the kidney over the internet. The story only came to light after the teenager's mother became suspicious. The case highlights China's black market in organ trafficking. A scarcity of organ donors has led to a flourishing trade.

The story turned out to be perfect fodder for Michele Goodwin, who has embarked on a three-part series on organ transplantation over at the Chronicle of Higher Education. Goodwin argues that the organ transplant market is far too restrictive, and makes the case for creating better incentives for organ donors in order to undercut the black market.