“Reading: … ” Book of the Year (Non-Fiction): Jonathan Safran Foer – Eating Animals

jonathan safran foer - eating animals
jonathan safran foer – eating animals

reading: jonathan safran foer – eating animals

jonathan safran foer - eating animals
jonathan safran foer – eating animals

friday atheist re-blogging

Being the day when a carpenter who has fantastically scant evidence for ever having existed in the first place was hung up on the objects of his trade and encouraged to die, I thought I start my erratic wasting a couple of hours by mocking god-botherers.

Pharyngula mostly writes about biology and has dead sexy aquatic porn, like photos of Hagfish embryos. Quite regularly though he likes to ridicule, and laugh at creationists, believers, all the usual vacuousness of faith, especially if it comes from a scientist.

In a lazy Friday destruction of Dr Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project, he says, “I would suggest that this argument by Collins would be better answered by supporting the divinity of Julius Caesar. His existence is far better supported than that of Jesus; we even have examples of his writings preserved, with monuments and first hand personal accounts of his life. He allowed himself to be called a god — Deo Invicto, no less — and his successor built temples to the Divus Julius. It’s awfully silly that Collins thinks the argument that either Caesar or Jesus was a god generates uncertainty, that he resolves in one direction for one of the pair, and in the other direction for the other.”

Far more important though, April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month if you live in the United States. I doubt a month will make much difference though, but I would like to see all my friends who have complete assholes for partners stop making excuses and choose April as the month to take out the garbage.

Back to China.

The Chongqing Nailhouse suddenly became news if you spoke English. The New York Times had a piece, and I was sitting at Orange a couple of days ago and saw it in The Age too. Hamish McDonald used to be the Beijing correspondent replaced a while ago by Mary-Ann Toy, but there’s no change in the approach to China coverage from either The Age or Sydney Morning Herald. Admittedly I read a lot of blogs and news coverage coming out of China, but these papers are consistently a week or two behind, provide inadequate and cursory appraisal, and largely seem to get their news from a small subset of China blogs. If that’s all it takes to get a gig at The Age, I wanna be in the Guangzhou office. (I’ll just read 在桥下流 and put my name to whatever Feng37 blogs about.)

One of those news sources is the excellent Global Voices Online, founded by Rebecca Mackinnon. Writer 杨恒均 Yang Hengjun talks about how he kept on finding himself drawn into encounters with the various writers from the website (ESWN translates the Boxun article), again Feng37 turns up, translating Yang’s novel 致命弱点 Fatal Weakness.

Oh, and don’t drink the water in Guangzhou, how many times do I have to say that? “It contains high levels of ammonia, fluoride, faecal coliform bacteria and heavy metals.”

Meanwhile even in China people said, 哀悼。。。 and 难受… when they heard about 鲍德里亚 I mean Jean Baudrillard dying.

Another Global Voices person is Ethan Zuckerman, who has been in Doha, Qatar for the Third Annual Al Jazeera Annual Forum. He’s been covering it in a series of posts I’ve been devouring each day. Together they constitute an incisive look at Al Jazeera and the media in Qatar, the Middle-East and globally. Read them all or pick one at random: Things to do in Doha when you’re dead tired, Seymour Hersh kicks things off at the Al Jazeera Forum, International news: pack a parachute?, “Politics, media and misinformation” – a panel that contained all three…, Falling down on the job, A new era? Al Jazeera’s cautious embrace of citizen media, Al Jazeera English. I want it., Lessig: “Help us in the US to remember these ideals. Help us by living them yourselves.”, Al-Jazeera panel on the rights and safety of journalists, Media in the Middle East: bridges or walls, or the need for a cigarette, Last post from Doha: Five Stories.

Mainstream Media and the dereliction of Theatre. Both Nicholas Pickard and Alison Croggin from different incidents come to the same point about their respective city’s papers attenuated interest in performing arts, which is pretty similar to their coverage of China, viz. the nailhouse above. Over the other side of the world, New York Times previews Becky, Jodi and John that opened a couple of days ago.

Of course I have to finish with trannys, what do you think I am?

The title is sheer class: I was born a boy, but even my fella never guessed. The article illustrates that with a supportive family being transsexual is no big deal.

Another sublime one-liner dressed in a lurid font, Meghan Chevalier’s Confessions of a Transsexual Porn Star, who is the rather famous subject to whom the title refers. I sometimes wonder about my social standing when I seem to have quite a familiarity with the world of shemale porn…

a nature hike through the book of revelations

Sunday morning I arrived in Melbourne after three weeks in Adelaide, my fifth domestic flight since June and one of hundreds of hours at eleven thousand meters during the past four years. Paul has bought a new car, a Toyota Prius that uses regenerative braking and a bunch of other mechanical engineering genius to cause us to roll alongside Albert Park lake at 60 kmh using no petrol and also charging the hybrid engine battery, or almost 1000 km for every 45 litre tank. Not quite as efficient as my bicycle.

Last night we went to the movies, to see a film that should be playing to packed houses and week-long queues and not the mostly empty seats occasionally populated by exactly the kind of person who doesn’t need to see it; the already converted and believers. An Inconvenient Truth.

I imagine most readers here are already well-informed and educated on global warming, but for those of you who aren’t please please go and see this film by Al Gore and imagine the world we would live in now had he become president instead of the usurper and pretender Bush. Then do something about it.

Humanity is sitting on a ticking time bomb. If the vast majority of the world’s scientists are right, we have just ten years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet into a tail-spin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves beyond anything we have ever experienced.

If that sounds like a recipe for serious gloom and doom — think again. From director Davis Guggenheim comes the Sundance Film Festival hit, AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, which offers a passionate and inspirational look at one man’s fervent crusade to halt global warming’s deadly progress in its tracks by exposing the myths and misconceptions that surround it. That man is former Vice President Al Gore, who, in the wake of defeat in the 2000 election, re-set the course of his life to focus on a last-ditch, all-out effort to help save the planet from irrevocable change. In this eye-opening and poignant portrait of Gore and his “traveling global warming show,” Gore also proves himself to be one of the most misunderstood characters in modern American public life. Here he is seen as never before in the media – funny, engaging, open and downright on fire about getting the surprisingly stirring truth about what he calls our “planetary emergency” out to ordinary citizens before it’s too late.

With 2005, the worst storm season ever experienced in America just behind us, it seems we may be reaching a tipping point – and Gore pulls no punches in explaining the dire situation. Interspersed with the bracing facts and future predictions is the story of Gore’s personal journey: from an idealistic college student who first saw a massive environmental crisis looming; to a young Senator facing a harrowing family tragedy that altered his perspective, to the man who almost became President but instead returned to the most important cause of his life – convinced that there is still time to make a difference.

With wit, smarts and hope, AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH ultimately brings home Gore’s persuasive argument that we can no longer afford to view global warming as a political issue – rather, it is the biggest moral challenges facing our global civilization.

don’t drink the brown acid

The first time it was almost world news; the second when upstart southern capital Guangzhou tried to get in on the ‘dump poisonous shit in the river and see if anyone notices’ routine, it barely brought a roll of the eyes. Shaoguan is along the Bei river, near the border of Hunan, and not far from Yingde and some of the places I’ve been climbing in. The achingly beautiful landscape, as real as a cliché of a Chinese ink and brush painting is eviscerated by a Mordor-esque gangrene of endless factories pouring a toxic soup of waste into the air and rivers and leveling the hills as surely as scraping muck of the sole of a shoe.

The astounding thing in this latest spill is not that it happened but that it was able to be measured against a background of such high levels of pollution. And as for claims of advising Guangzhou residents not to drink the water, no-one is stupid enough to drink the gunk anyway (though I did see one mad Chairman Mao impersonator doing laps in the Pearl River beside Shamian Island once).

Authorities had dumped 380 tonnes of chemicals and opened reservoirs to dilute the more than 1,000 tonnes of cadmium-contaminated water a zinc smelter spilled into the North River on Dec. 15, the newspaper said.

“The cadmium content of the slick dropped 20 percent on Saturday,” local environmental protection official Li Zisen was quoted as saying.

Shortly after the accident, cadmium levels in the water surged to nearly 10 times above safety standards, forcing authorities in areas downstream to turn off tap water supplies to tens of thousands of people in Guangdong province.

— The Star

Continue reading

shit place for a swim

The Three Gorges dam is nothing much more than a giant toilet, slowing to a grinding halt the flow of the river which by virtue of its speed managed to at least partially carry away the endless amount of shit dumped into it by people too lazy or greedy to care. Not any more. With the rising of the waters, the shit is backing up like an unruly septic tank and the amazing lack of foresight or care for the environment has come back to squat like a stinking turd on the doorstep of every town and city up-river of the dam.

Chongqing’s environmental protection bureaus predict that sewage discharge, currently 1 billion tons, will reach 2.3 billion by 2010, and that the volume of trash will increase from 1.3 to 2.6 million tons in the same period.

However, the way of dealing with it all remains relatively primitive: using fishing boats to gather the rubbish up with sticks and hooks.

“If we don’t use more effective means, 40 billion square meters of water in the area will be severely polluted and the lower reaches will be affected,” said Wu Dengming, an expert on environmental protection and president of Chongqing Green Volunteers Association.

Liu Gujun, 39, is the head of Chongqing’s Wanzhou District river trash relief team. Since last year, his team has been in charge of clearing floating litter in 27 branches and 23 bays of the Yangtze.

In just one year, his 17-boat fleet has been reduced to 4 vessels. Most of them are refitted old fishing boats with an open hold on the foredeck to load the trash.

[…]

Weeds also increasingly darken the surface, a dangerous sign that oxygen in the water is diminishing and there is more growing room for floating plants.

Liu also said the variety and quality of fish in the river mouth have diminished greatly, the remaining ones being inedible. Dead fish began to appear in the river two months ago.

Although the pollution across the area is worsening, the only people fighting against it face disbanding for lack of money.

Initially they were funded by the local relocation bureau and were able to deal with 15,000 tons of trash, once collecting over 60 tons in one day. But several months ago the funding was handed over to the district department of environmental protection and they have since run short of money.

pollution in China

The Economist published a fairly detailed article on the state of the environment in China, the levels of continuing degradation and pollution, and the various measures that trying to deal with it. One case study is in Guangdong Province, where the extremes go from murderous to state-of-the art.

Plugging a cigarette into his mouth, He Shouming runs a nicotine-stained fingernail down a list of registered deaths in Shangba, dubbed ‘cancer village’ by the locals. The Communist Party official in this cluster of tiny hamlets of 3,300 people in northern Guangdong province, he concludes that almost half the 11 deaths among his neighbours this year, and 14 of the 31 last year, were due to cancer.

Mr He blames Dabaoshan, a nearby mineral mine owned by the Guangdong provincial government, and a host of smaller private mines for spewing toxic waste into the local rivers, raising lead levels to 44 times permitted rates. Walking around the village, the water in the streams is indeed an alarming rust-red. A rice farmer complains of itchy legs from the paddies, and his wife needs a new kettle each month because the water corrodes metal. “Put a duck in this water and it would die in two days,” declares Mr He.
Poisons from the mines are also killing the village’s economy, which depends on clean water to irrigate its crops, says Mr He. Rice yields are one-third of the national average and nobody wants to buy the crop. Annual incomes here have been stuck at less than 1,500 yuan ($180) per person for a decade, almost three times lower than the average in Guangdong province. The solution to Shangba’s nightmare would be a local reservoir, but that idea was abandoned after various tiers of government squabbled over the 8.4m yuan cost.

Some 200km (124 miles) farther south and several decades into the future sits the Taihe landfill plant. Built for 540m yuan by Onyx, a waste-management company that is part of Veolia, a French utility, it has handled all of Guangzhou city’s solid waste for the past two years. Each hour 140 trucks snake into the site, bringing 7,000 tonnes of rubbish a day from the 9.9m inhabitants of Guangdong’s capital. In October delegates from 300 other municipalities will visit Taihe, promoted by central government as a role model of technology.

Smart cards record each truck’s load, since Onyx charges by weight. Unrippable German fabric lines the crater into which the waste is dumped, stopping leachate, a toxic black liquid, from leaking into the groundwater, as it does at almost all Chinese-run sites. Most landfill in China is wet (solid rubbish, such as old TVs, is scavenged), and the Taihe plant collects a full 1,300 tonnes of the black liquid daily. Chemical and filtration systems to neutralise it are its biggest cost. Expensive too is the extraction equipment to gather another by-product, methane gas, which Onyx plans to feed into generators that will supply electricity to the local grid. Finally, the waste is topped off with plastic caps, deodorised and landscaped, while a crystal-clear fountain at the entrance tinkles with the cleaned-up leachate.

The extremes represented by Shangba and Taihe explain why it is difficult to get an accurate picture of China’s pollution. In a country where data are untrustworthy, corruption rife and the business climate for foreigners unpredictable, neither the cause of Shangba’s problems nor the smooth efficiency of Taihe are necessarily what they seem. As with many other aspects of China’s economic development, rapid progress and bold experiments in some areas are balanced by bureaucratic rigidity and stagnation in others.

colour pollution

Hanging out on Er Sha Dao in the evening, the new apartment blocks on both sides of the river which are jammed together in an imitation of Hong Kong’s New Territories are a blaze of light in the haze. Unlike Hong Kong, there is a proliferation of bad rope-light, a seeming lack of understanding of colour and eye-burning quantity over quality. There are some gems though, the Borg Cube in Tian He is one, but it’s a rare night when even the brightest stars can be seen.

In May, the Symposium on China’s Color Industry: Status Quo or Development was held, addressing the serious issue of light and color pollution.

Miao Wei, director of the Beijing AEAA (America, Europe, Asia and Australia) International Economic and Cultural Exchange Center, says urban color pollution has become increasingly severe as cities rapidly expand and rebuild. Miao says that Chinese cities violate the science of color: ads bristle from every available post or wall; traffic signs are not uniform; and garish lighting projects are thoughtlessly installed.

[…]

Cui Wei, an associate professor at the Beijing Garment Institute, has visited more than 20 countries to study urban color science applications. He says that good lessons may be drawn from many European cities. For example, the government of Turin, Italy, began paying close attention to city color planning and construction as early as the 19th century, and many other cities throughout Europe followed its example. “Effective color planning and regulation enable us to enjoy the attractive, distinctive styles of European cities today,” says Cui.

[…]

Professor Han Guangxu, of the Architecture Institute of Central Academy of Fine Arts, suggests legislating color application in urban construction and including color design as an indispensable process in city and regional planning. Such legislation would mean that a proposed project could not begin without an approved color design. Moreover, related government and professional organizations should strengthen color science study and improve city color management. Simple, scientific, regular, orderly and civilized, says Han, should be the goals.

A big stinking shithole

Last xinnian, I travelled to Sichuan with the intention of going up to Jiuzhaigou for a couple of weeks. New year transport wierdness meant we couldn’t get out of Chengdu for four days, so we decided to head east to San Xia, the Three Gorges. We spent two weeks walking, traveling on small boats that were combination courier/home/kitchen, switching to dodgy ‘cruise liners’, and one infamous all-night taxi van suicide trip that was surreal, funny and terrifying.

Aside from the sheer beauty of the place, the horrific environmental destruction left me in tears. Even before the Three Gorges Dam is completed, this is a river that is suffering unimaginable levels of degradation, which will only intensify once the dam is completed. One giant shit-filled septic tank.

Peking Duck today wrote about this catastrophe, and it reminded me of what I saw all the way from Chongqing to Wuhan: endless destuction. Imagine Lord of the Rings, and the desecration inflicted on Orthanc, then imagine it stretching for hundreds of kilometers, fueled by the monstrosity of Chinese industrialisation hysterically out of control, and western corporate greed at its most craven.

This article can’t do justice to the visceral disgust I felt at the

perpetrators of this abomination, but it’s definitely worth reading:

Despite worsening problems with pollution, there’s only one private environmental group in the upper Yangtze River region, the Green Volunteer League of Chongqing.

Its president, Wu Dengming, sympathizes with local officials who’re torn between demands by Beijing to stop dumping waste and pressures to maintain economic growth.

“Once the factories that pollute are closed, it causes big social problems. People will lose their jobs,” said Wu.

He held up pictures showing waste near factories along the river. “These photos show that the Yangtze River has turned into a garbage dump,” he said, then added: “The common people, including officials, have no awareness of environmental protection. If economic activity causes environmental damage, they don’t care. They just want to make money.”

About a quarter of the 207 tributaries that flow into the Yangtze River are so seriously polluted that the water is unfit for irrigation, local press reports say.

The Yangtze’s water quality has also deteriorated. State officials say it’s at grade three under a Chinese rating system, which means it’s of poor quality but usable for various purposes. However, the state system doesn’t include a count of coliform bacteria, a sign of raw sewage, which would drop the grade further.

Some 30,000 ships and vessels operating in the Three Gorges Reservoir dump an estimated 7 million tons of excrement into the Yangtze every year.

Moreover, cities keep dumping raw sewage into the river basin.

Last year, Gweilo Diaries wrote:

Yesterday China began filling the world’s largest open-air latrine. Ironically, the 385 mile stinking cesspool is a fitting tribute to the man behind it — the butcher of Tiananmen Square, Li Peng.

The Three Gorges Dam is terrifyingly, only one part of a continent-wide project that will dam and divert all the major rivers and tributaries in China from Tibet where they have their sources to where the the land becomes too flat or the river crosses the border. And once again, the whole mess is bank-rolled by the western banks and corporations. If you’re planning on a holiday down the river, don’t bother, just roll around in your own shit, it’s more attractive.

Poison & chemical deaths in China

China has a pretty piss-weak workers’ safety record, but is it just me or have the last couple of weeks been rife with some of the world’s favourite toxins? Hot on the heels of olymipic pool quantities of Chlorine sloshing around Chongqing, Xinhuanet reports on twenty-one particularly nasty ways to die in the last week.

The latest was a hydrogen cyanide gas leak on Tuesday from a gold mining plant in Beijing’s suburban district of Huairou that killed three people and left another 15 hospitalized.

Another six fatal leakage included Wednesday’s explosion of a toluene reaction facility in a pharmaceutical plant in Taizhou City in Zhejiang Province, east China, in which two were killed.

Nine people were killed on April 16 by blasts in the wake of a chlorine gas leak at Tianyuan Chemical Industry Plant in Jiangbei district of southwestern Chongqing Municipality.

A poisoning accident at a privately-owned refinery in Maoming City in Guangdong province, south China, left three people dead on April 19.

On April 20, an oil tanker at the Nanjing section of the Yangtze River in Jiangsu Province, east China, exploded when it was being serviced, killing two people.

On the same day, two people were killed in an explosion at Jihua Group Company in Jilin Province, northeast China, and a leak of waste chlorine in Jiangxi Axunge Plant also left many injured.

Funnily enough, insufficient safety measures and outdated equipment have been blamed.