Archive for July, 2007

Melting Glaciers On The Tibetan Plateau

Sunday, July 22nd, 2007

– The paragraph at the end of this article is the kicker. It refers to the Yangtze River which begins in the Tibetan highlands. And it says,

The Yangtze River rises in the mountains of Qinghai Province on the Tibetan plateau and flows 6,300km to the East China Sea, opening at Shanghai. The Yangtze river basin accounts for 40% of China’s freshwater resources, more than 70% of the country’s rice production, 50% of its grain production, more than 70% of fishery production, and 40% of the China’s GDP.

– What this article doesn’t say is that as high altitude glaciers and summer snowpacks diminish, those downsteam who depend on these sources for melt water to supply their summer needs are going to experience serious water shortages in the future. This is true in the western US, in India south of the Himalayas, in South America west of the Andes and, now we see, in some of the most populated areas of mainland China. It doesn’t bode well.

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Science Daily “If I compare this land to what it used to be in the 1960s, it is difficult for me to recognize it,” recalls Qi Mei Duo Jie, a 71-year-old nomadic herder from Yanshiping in China’s central-western Qinghai Province. “Glaciers are melting, temperatures are rising and rainy seasons have become unpredictable.”

Yanshiping is the last town on the Qinghai-Tibet Highway before entering Tibet. At an altitude of 4700 metres, its landscape in summer is marked by shaggy yaks grazing in the green alpine pastures and the transparent blue waters of Buqu River – a tributary of the Yangtze. Winters are white and freezing, with temperatures reaching as low as -20°C.

It is no surprise that people welcome a warmer, more comfortable climate in this remote region. But there is another side to the changing climate story.

Pressure on the plateau

Nomadic groups of Tibetans have been moving around this area for time immemorial, following the natural rhythm of the seasons and availability of grassland to raise their livestock.

Qi Mei Duo Jie’s family has been raising yaks for at least three generations.

“This year has been very dry, and with less grassland it will take longer to properly feed and raise livestock,” he says. “This will mean a lower income for us.”

To compound the situation, warmer climate conditions are attracting more cattle and sheep farmers to this harsh but beautiful high-altitude area, putting additional pressure on the already fragile alpine landscape. This pressure is also starting to squeeze out local wildlife, such as Tibetan antelopes, that depend on the grasslands too. There have even been reports of brown bears wandering close to villages in search of food.

And if bears roaming around town aren’t enough to lose sleep over, the remote rural region is experiencing pollution from greenhouse gases that have been emitted from big cities as far away as Beijing and Shanghai.

These are some of the consequences of climate change on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau.


Gulf dead zone to be biggest ever

Sunday, July 22nd, 2007

This year could see the biggest “dead zone” since records began form in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Scientists say conditions are right for the zone to exceed last summer’s 6,662 sq miles (17,255 sq km).

The dead zone is an area of water virtually devoid of oxygen which cannot support marine life.

It is caused by nutrients such as fertilisers flowing into the Gulf, stimulating the growth of algae which absorbs the available oxygen.

The volume of nutrients flowing down rivers such as the Mississippi into the Gulf has tripled over the last 50 years.

The annual event has been blamed for shark attacks along the Gulf coast, as sharks, along with other highly mobile species, flee the inhospitable waters.

Animals which cannot move simply die.


Bogus bun scandal

Sunday, July 22nd, 2007

– News from China of late has been full of horror stories about bad food, bad water, bad toys and bogus chemicals. So, when a story hit a week or so back about a fellow making buns for pork rolls out of cardboard suitably softened and bleached with chemicals and made to taste ‘reasonable’ with pork flavoring, it seemed like just another in a long line of ugly stories.

– But, in this case, it turned out to be a hoax.

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It turns out that the cardboard bun scandal–the sensational story that’s had people talking (and cracking jokes, ie “I always thought those lamb skewers tasted a little funny”) over the last few weeks–was an elaborate hoax concocted by a freelance TV reporter in Beijing.

This AP story says that an investigation determined that the reporter, whose last name is Zi, gathered meat, flour and cardboard and convinced four migrant workers to make the buns while he filmed them. Beijing Television (BTV) apologized on-air Wednesday night, and said that the reporter had been detained by police. The station also said it would punish the editors of the program, and take steps to improve its ethical standards.


Police plea on genital mutilation

Saturday, July 21st, 2007

– I’ve written on this sort of thing before. I like to think I’m an open-minded liberal but this kind of cultural practice completely crosses the line with me. No amount of hand-wringling over cultural relativism is going to make me accept that women are not the equal of men and that they do not deserve every right and freedom men have across the board. Women are not cows or goats to be sexually altered to please the whims and insecurities of men.

– Previous posts on closely related topics are here: & & & & .

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The Metropolitan Police is offering a £20,000 reward for information which would bring to justice anyone involved in female genital mutilation.

The campaign is being launched at the start of the summer holidays, during which young girls – mainly from African communities – are thought most at risk.

Mutilation involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia for cultural reasons.

Up to 7,000 girls in the UK are seen as at risk of this form of circumcision.

The long summer holiday is seen as the most likely time for parents to seek the procedure for their daughter as she has time to recover from what is usually a brutal ordeal before returning to school.

She can be sent abroad for the treatment, but police say they know it is also being carried out within the UK itself.

A new law was introduced in 2003, which not only repeated 1985 legislation banning the procedure, but also criminalised those who took a child outside the country for mutilation to be performed.

No-one has been prosecuted under the new legislation.

“It’s a hidden act,” said Alastair Jeffrey, head of the Child Abuse Investigation Command, as he announced the reward. “And that’s why it’s so hard to uncover.

“This is child abuse. It is not an attack on anyone’s culture, it is an attack on anyone who commits this horrendous abuse of children.”


Green Myth-Busting: 70’s Ice Age Predictions

Thursday, July 19th, 2007

– There are certain arguments I get from climate crisis doubters that on first blush, I have trouble refuting. “There!“, they say, “That proves all this global climate crisis stuff is bogus.

– “The Great Global Warming Swindle” video shown first on British TV back on March 8th of this year was one such. Just packed full of scientists testifying and with flashy charts and data, it seemed to show that global warming was just a contrived crisis. But, as the days and weeks followed showed, the only thing that was ‘full of it’ was the show itself. See: & & & .

– Another theory the climate deniers have grabbed onto and pointed at as having ‘disproved’ the idea that global climate change is being caused by mankind it the ‘Sun did it theory‘. They ran with that one for awhile but recently articles have come out from the scientific community putting the lie to that refuge as well. See: & &

– Then there’s the ‘Cosmic Rays are doing it theory‘. A sample proponent of the theory: and a sample rebuttal: .

– Sometimes the climate change deniers go back in time to find their material. One issue I’ve had tossed at me more than once involves research done in the 70’s that suggested that the world was on the brink of an ice-age. Some high-profile people like Carl Sagan pushed this idea and that gave the public the impression that it was the consensus opinion of the climate science community in general, which wasn’t true. Reasic has taken the time to publish a nice piece, called Green Myth-Busting 70’s Ice Age Predictions, placing this fiasco in perspective here: .

– Now, let’s turn our attentions towards the future of climate denial as in, ‘What’s next’?

– Well, the other day I saw several interesting stories about an ice core that they drilled in Greenland some five hundred miles north of the island’s southern tip. The expectation was, that when they got to the bottom of the ice and found the materials and DNA there from whatever lived there the last time the ice had melted, they would be looking at stuff from the last big melt which was about 125,000 years ago. But, in fact, the materials they found there were from about 450,000 years ago which strongly implies that during the big melt 125,000 years ago, this part of Greenland remained covered with ice. Here are links to some of the articles: &

– So, what might all of this mean to the climate deniers? Well, the fact that the scientists didn’t find what they expected at the bottom of the hole means that their theories are obviously wrong. You can probably expect to see a series of such claims soon. But, in fact, it means that the existing theories need to be adjusted and that is the normal and reasonable course that science aways follows. Skeptics expect science to be 100% accurate or they say it is all wrong. Scientists know that science is a self-correcting entity and they welcome new data and the changes those data cause. Each change means the picture has grown a bit clearer.

A Churchill quote

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

“Americans will always do the right thing…… after they have exhausted all other possibilities”

– thx to Robert S. in NZ for that gem – I feel better now.

CF Bulbs and that clamshell packaging

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

We were in one of the gigantic Costco stores the other day and stocked up on compact fluorescent bulbs and I walked out feeling virtuous.

The CF Bulb

I was looking forward to getting home and swapping out a lot of old-style incandescent bulbs for these things and then enjoying the fact that I was getting just as much light for way less money and being good for the environment as well.

I’d opened and installed four before my wife came to me and pointed out the packaging they were in. I’m so used to buying things that come in those hard clear plastic moulded packages that you have to get strong scissors to even get into that I hadn’t noticed what the packaging was in my excitment to get into them and put the new bulbs up.` And, the truth is I hate the kind of non-recycleable 10,000 years packaging in the dump to delivery a product that will last at best a few years and at worse days or weeks.

the CF bulb

– But this was particularly outrageous as the product being delivered was and is being touted as a way to help preserve the planet. Unbelievable. My bulbs will last three to five years – maybe ten at the outside. Their packaging may still be here in the year 12,007. That’s easily twice all of human history. That’s (at 20 years per generation) 500 generations of human beings. That’s a damn long time. No one will remember my name after a few generations but the memory of my purchase will lie in a hole some where for all of that time – because why?

Well, interestingly, as I was searching for an image of a CF Bulb still in its hard plastic packaging, I chanced across a website called Landing the Deal which was discussing here why these bulbs are so hard to sell. Their theory about the hard plastic packaging was that it was to protect people from the small amount of Mercury inside which would be released if the bulb were broken.

That sound good – so long as you don’t actually try to think about it. Consider that these bulbs, after a hard and dangerous wrestle with sharp edged scissors, are going to come out of their packaging in the middle of your family (the ones who are being protected, remember) and the bulbs are going to be placed in the very areas where your family lives for a long time. And we’ll all just have to hope there are no accidents. And there the bulbs will be day after day without their protective plastic covering. Oh my gosh, am I missing something? No, but I think the people behind this theory might be.

Just for grins, never ever having done this before, I Googled “campaign against hard plastic packaging” and immediatly turned up a slew of strong hits. People are on this problem. Are they doing any good – I don’t know but they are on it. I also discovered that there’s a specific name for this kind of packaging – it’s called ‘clamshell packaging’. I like that better than Eternal amoured razor shark tooth packaging, I think, but it’s close.

Without having done the research, my two cents on why manufacturers prefer this packaging all goes back to the capitalistic corporate maximization of profit above all things motive.

If the plastic packaging is reasonably cheap to employ, then it’s a natural winner because it protects the product in transit so there are less damaged returns, it can be shaped to stack efficiently to lowe shipping costs, it can be designed so that it stands up as its own display without requiring a lot of external display apparatus, and it reduces shop lifting. All of those add to the item’s profitability. Once money changes hands and the product leaves the retail outlet, any problems with packaging trash disposal becomes someone elses.

Ugly, ugly ugly.

Links of interest: , , and

Public Floods FCC with Net Neutrality Support

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

Over 95 Percent of Comments Filed at Agency Demand a Free and Open Internet

WASHINGTON – JULY 17 – Tens of thousands of public comments supporting Net Neutrality flooded the Federal Communications Commission before the close of the agency’s official inquiry yesterday. In a landslide, well over 95 percent of the comments called for rules that prohibit phone and cable companies from discriminating against Web sites or services.

People from different backgrounds, living in every corner of the country, demand this basic Internet freedom. Internet users from all 435 congressional districts used’s online tools to send personal messages to the FCC.

“I am living the American dream because of Network Neutrality — my games have been used in thousands of schools all over the world,” says Karen Chun, a single mother and owner of a successful online educational games business. “Without Net Neutrality, my little Web site would have been consigned to oblivion because I wouldn’t have been able to pay the fees the ISPs want to charge.”

Net Neutrality supporters include a broad range of small business owners, students, churchgoers, bloggers, political candidates, educators and activists who say that protecting Net Neutrality is fundamental to their family life, work and interests.

“In rural America, the Internet is very important in staying informed,” wrote Charles and Carol Swigart of Huntingdon, Pa. “We read several national newspapers every day to get the news our local paper does not thoroughly cover. All persons who publish on the Internet should have an equal opportunity to have their voices heard.”

Kelly Jones of Portland, Ore., told the FCC that “corporations are not, and have never been, qualified as gatekeepers to American communication and growth. If the FCC believes in true democracy, it must ensure that broadband providers do not block, interfere with or discriminate against any lawful Internet traffic based on its ownership, source or destination.”

Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) — co-sponsors of the bipartisan “Internet Freedom Preservation Act” — sent a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin urging the FCC to reinstate Net Neutrality rules.

“We see that thousands of people have submitted comments describing how a free and open Internet benefits consumers and telling you the discriminatory practices planned by their Internet service providers would substantially harm their online experience,” Dorgan and Snowe wrote the chairman. “We hope you take note of these thousands of public comments\nurging you to protect Internet freedom.”

In 2005, the FCC removed the rules that had guaranteed Net Neutrality since the Internet’s inception. The heads of the biggest phone and cable companies have repeatedly stated plans to discriminate against Web sites that don’t pay extra fees to get higher quality service and faster speeds.

More than 1.6 million people and 850 groups from across the political spectrum have called for the FCC and Congress to reinstate Net Neutrality.

The Commission opened its Net Neutrality inquiry in March, asking for comment on why a neutral Internet is important; how phone and cable company efforts to discriminate against content online affect everyday lives; and whether the agency should enforce rules that would prohibit such discrimination.

“Once again, the public has sent a clear mandate to Washington: Protect Net Neutrality,” said Timothy Karr\, campaign director of Free Press, the group that coordinates the Coalition. "Internet users want competitive and affordable services. They don’t want phone and cable companies to manipulate the free flow of information and distort the Web’s level playing field. Now, the FCC must heed demands from people of every walk of life and enforce full Net Neutrality.”

– To the original at

– I wrote earlier on this subject here: &

– And Bill Moyers did a wonderful piece here on press freedom and net neutrality:

– Thx to Michael M. for directing me to this piece.

Excellent short video summary of U.S. foreign policy

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

– I frequent several analyst sites and follow the world news daily through a number of on-line newspapers across the globe. No one, of course, really has the complete picture of a subject as complex as U.S. foreign policy but I’ve watched this short clip now several times and I think it comes close.

– Give it a look and see if you agree. Your comments, as always, are welcome.

U.S. Foreign Policy Video Recap:

Seeing Yellow Protests “Big Brother” Laser Printers

Monday, July 16th, 2007

– I was pretty amazed to read this though, apparently, it’s been around for awhile. Some color laser printers lay down a fine pattern of yellow dots on their printed pages which the Secret Service can use to back track to the specific printer that printed the document. It’s apparently a way to track-back to the folks who would use the printers to make counterfeit money, for example. And, in the most perfect of worlds, where the authorities aways acted only in the public good, that would be fine.

– But this is the country where J. Edgar Hoover bent the government to his will through several presidencies. It is the country where a professional agent’s career in the current administration was ruined because the administration didn’t like the fact that her husband reported the truth about the absence of WMD in Iraq. And it is the country wherein “Scooter” Libby, fully and fairly convicted of crimes connected with the agent’s unmasking – had his sentence commuted by the president. This list could go on for a long long time. But those were just the few things that came to mind this second. But, do I think all the government’s decisions are always and solely for the best good of the American public??? Naw, I don’t. So read this story and see how it makes you feel. Laser printers today, cell phones yesterday, door knobs tomorrow?

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MIT Media Labs launches to call for protest against printer manufacturers whose laser printers secretly monitor usage

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and other privacy advocates have long warned that some color laser printers produce a nearly invisible grid of yellow dots on documents that store the serial number of the printer and the date stamp of the printed page. Now Benjamin Mako Hill and other members of MIT Media Labs’ Computing Culture research group have established to spotlight this practice as an incursion on the civil liberties of the users of the laser printers. The yellow-dot “watermark” allows the US Secret Service to enlist the help of the manufacturers in tracking counterfeit currency generated on laser printers. A statement on seeing calls this practice a “direct attack on the privacy of the owners and users of printers, and in particular, on their right to free, anonymous speech.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation previously reported on this issue and has posted a DocuColor Tracking Dot Decoding guide that explains how the Xeroc DocuColor model printers produce the yellow dot pattern. It also provides a utility for translating your particular dot pattern to determine what information it stores. The DocuColor pattern is a repeating 15 x 8 grid of yellow dots on the entire page that encodes up to fourteen 7-bit bytes of data, such as model number, serial number, and date of printing. Other manufactures such as Brother, Hewlett Packard and so on also produce similar tracking patterns.

On his blog Mako points out that “The Federalist Papers were one of the most important set of documents in early US political history and they have fundementally shaped the way the US and its governments grew. They were (originally) published anonymously and there’s reason to believe that they would have said what they did or even been published at all if were immediately traceable to their authors.”

Alexander Hamilton co-authored the Federalist Papers, before being blackmailed by James Reynolds for having an affair with his wife, Maria Reynolds. Mr. Reynolds was later arrested for counterfeiting.

To the original: