Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Watching China Run - bset of the after-article comments - AMERICA BEWARE!

Watching China Run By BOB HERBERT

China has nothing comparable to the research, industrial and economic resources of the United States. Yet the Chinese are blowing us away in the race to the future.

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240 Readers Comments

February 13th, 2010
8:43 amAmerica has developed the mindset that doomed China to long-term backwater status centuries ago: a smug over-confidence about its own superiority.

Vast numbers of people, encouraged by the corporate media, think: "No, we don't want universal health care. Then we'd be unfree like the Europeans. No, we don't want our schools to place more emphasis on learning than on sports or senior proms. Then we'd be geeky like the East Asians. No, we don't need to learn foreign languages, because everyone everywhere speaks English. No, we don't want mass transit or high-speed rail. They're contrary to the American way of life. Yeah, we have to remake and dumb down all those foreign movies and TV shows, because who wants to read subtitles or see anything unfamiliar? No, we can't cut back on our military. Then we'd be like those wimps in Canada. Why should we listen to what those other countries think? We saved their bacon in World War II. Besides, all those Canadians and Europeans wish they could live here, and they should become more like us, anyway."

And most of all: "No, I haven't traveled outside the U.S. Why should I? This is the greatest country in the world. We have everything right here."

Recommend Recommended by 603 Readers 6.CJGC
Cambridge, MA
February 13th, 2010
8:43 amNo we can't.

Not only is Congress dysfunctional, so is our corporate economy. What we produced in the last decade was a real estate bubble and a huge amount of speculation on Wall Street, stealing money from the middle class, and even the poor, to make the rich richer. When this happens elsewhere in the world we call it corruption. When we do it it's just business with the powerful exercising their "right" to get even richer. The banks got bailed out with public money and are utterly shameless about giving themselves bonuses for....I forget what exactly, but they call it "success."

Corporate interests are successfully keeping us from health care reform. They keep taxes as low as they can so we have too little money to put into infrastructure. (China is getting high speed trains.) If the government should dare to spend money on anything other than wars there's a hue and cry about "socialism" (or maybe "facism" or Nazism or some other foreign ism). In any case, if some other country is doing it it must be un-American.

And still President Remove-The-Solar-Panels Reagan is thought by many to have been a great president. So sad.

President Obama can't be held responsible for the nation's determination to stay stuck in the mud.
Recommend Recommended by 499 Readers 4.Cdr. John Newlin
Vista, Calif.
February 13th, 2010
8:43 amThe irony is that while China is leading in the development of green technology it is also leading in polluting the atmosphere. It is estimated that 78% of the airborne particulate matter over Los Angeles emanates from China.

As far as the U.S lagging the Chinese and other countries in technological development of clean energy goes, Americans, particularly Oklahomans, can thank the likes of Senators Inhofe and Coburn as well as just about every talking head on Fox News who laughed and tittered and chuckled over how the blizzards that engulfed the Northeast were proof that Al Gore's global warming warnings were just too funny.

Not to mention that America ranks way behind 30 some other countries in math and science education. We, the citizens are our own worst enemies. After all, we put the men and women who represent us in power.

Money rules and the love of it corrupts nearly every state and national legislator. That makes it easy for those that are profiting from the status quo to buy Inhofe and his ilk. It's not going to change no matter how many brilliant columns on the subject great minds like Bob Herbert write.
Recommend Recommended by 404 Readers 18.chris
new york
February 13th, 2010
8:52 amThe problem in the US is not only with the politicians, but also with the American culture and attitudes toward greatness. You get more respect and recognition by singing a bad song on the American Idols than winning a Noble Prize in science. In China, scientists and engineers are heroes. In the US, corrupt lawyers, athletes who can't read, Paris Hilton wannabes, "MTV generation", Hollywood's dumbed down characters, etc., are gods. One nation focuses on superficiality. The other on substance. One goes for progress. The other stuck in congress.
Recommend Recommended by 377 Readers 3.Marie Burns
Fort Myers, Florida
February 13th, 2010
8:43 amToday Harry Reid said he liked the filibuster. We all know the Republicans like it, too. As long as China has a dictator who can decide priorities, & we have a dysfunctional Congress that can't decide anything, we can expect China to beat us wherever they choose to.

The Constant Weader at
Recommend Recommended by 321 Readers 7.Phil in the mountains of Kyushu
February 13th, 2010
8:43 amOh, jeeehz, where's your sense of fun?

Of course the Chinese -- and the Europeans -- are by-passing the U.S. in developing green and fast rail futures. America itself has no workers left -- their jobs have all been off-shored to 3rd-world cheapest labor sites. This has given U.S. CEOs and those atop high finance mega bonuses for their smarts -- but, hey, come on, let's have a sense of humor for the America and Americans left behind.

Look at today's headlines. America is opening a New and Improved front in one of its global wars -- one of the "stans." This is great -- it just goes to prove that all those teen boys playing their computer war games -- they know what's up -- they know America's real, true future -- war everywhere, constant war, war open to enlistees even today, all across America. And the Chinese are happy to pay for it -- they've got a productive economy -- of course they're happy to pay for the U.S. to be klutz police bully and nothing more.

It's hilarious. It's America. And this country has got nothing else for the future -- zilch -- nada -- but scenarios of adolescent explosions. What a laugh.
Recommend Recommended by 291 Readers 21.George Roberts
February 13th, 2010
8:52 amYou compare apple with orange. The Chinese and Americans are entirely different Species. The Chinese are cerebral and solid people. We Americans are physical and shallow people. WE American like watch and play sports with minimum brain activities, such as football and baseball. The Chinese like watch and play chess and bridge which most American college graduates are clueless. Over time, we Americans became dumber and dumber.
In China, a bodybuilder would never became governor (California Gov)
An actor, such as Ronald Regan would never became President in China.
A nuke model (scott brown) would never elect to Chinese senate.
To certain extend, success in America requires package, the superfical stuff. The Chinese are just not that shallow.
One Beijing University student once asked me "with all due respect, How come America general public are so retarded?"
Recommend Recommended by 287 Readers 22.Pauline
February 13th, 2010
8:52 amIn the eighties, I watched the last throes of the textile and garment manufacturing industry in the USA, even as we tried to find and work with domestic suppliers for the advantages of quick response and keeping jobs here.

We were confronted at every turn with bloated, spoiled, intransigent businesses that were imprisoned by old technologies and approaches and unwilling to move an inch outside of setups and systems that they assumed demand would always keep in place.

So we moved on to Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and eventually China, who took on new ideas and limited runs, and were thrilled to have the business.

The same happened with the US auto industry, and it's true in areas as diverse as hi-speed broadband (not), response to climate change (not), and universal health care (nimby!).

THE ENTIRE PLANET IS LEAVING US IN THE DUST. The world is moving on, while we stay mired in bloat and intransigent, stubborn refusal to change and grow.

Our only solutions are the war machine and an ever growing corporate stranglehold on the nation's life and possibility, which are now sacrificed to corrupt, vested interests in dead, unsustainable technologies.

Recommend Recommended by 235 Readers 16.Joe V.
Chicago, IL
February 13th, 2010
8:47 amWe used to have a very simple and prosperous economy: We made things, we sold them, and we paid the people who mead things enough so they could buy them. It wasn't rocket science.

But the only thing Americans know how to manufacture these days is money, and money, when you get right down to it, is an illusion.
Recommend Recommended by 210 Readers 5.Kevin Cahill
Albuquerque, NM
February 13th, 2010
8:43 amChina will run right past us in science and technology unless they screw up their politics as badly as we have.
Recommend Recommended by 164 Readers 37.William Brody
Seattle, WA
February 13th, 2010
9:02 amMr. Herbert, China is not a poor country. It is a creditor nation. America is a debtor nation. One guess on who owes whom boatloads of merry dough after splurging on luxuries like two failed wars and tax breaks for the ultra-rich?

Also, if American universities are so great, what good are all those graduates going to do us if they are either a) unemployed because there are no jobs, or b) looking for jobs IN CHINA. Clearly, the brain trust in America has done a lousy job of doing socially beneficial things - unless you think of credit default swaps and bundling high-risk loans as beatific acts.

China - despite its horrible human rights record, invasive social controls, non-existent environmental policies (yes, I read about the wind turbines, jeez), and unfortunate privatisation of health care - is vaulting forward with bold projects that are the envy of the West.

Americans have been snake-bitten by their inflated sense of entitlement and enchanted by their past achievements. We sat on our laurels whilst everyone else innovated and invested. Here, we kicked the infrastructural can down the road just so we could say that any improvements to the system are now too expensive, so let's scrap them.

So China leads the way - so what? Why would I want no-one else but Americans to prosper? What is the sense in proclaiming ourselves the Greatest Nation on Earth at the expense of others? If Americans had any sense, they would approve and applaud deficit spending in the style of Franklin Roosevelt to get this country back on its feet: universal health care, resurrecting Glass-Steagall and the Works Progress Administration, and finally ending our shameful misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But no. Instead, we choose to fĂȘte oligarchs as working class-heroes, whilst simultaneously destroying the actual working class.

Neo-conservatives gleefully revile Jimmy Carter, yet his words in this article were prescient, and should haunt this country to the end of its days.
Recommend Recommended by 151 Readers 11.David Thompson
Madison, WI
February 13th, 2010
8:47 amIt's pretty clear why the US is being left behind. The big oil companies are doing just fine with the old energy system, and are doing their best to keep things that way. What happens to the nation as a whole doesn't matter to them, as long as we keep buying their hydrocarbon products. Even in the area of renewable biofuels, the oil giants are lobbying for and developing the least efficient alternative. An article in the journal Science recently revealed that it will be TWICE as efficient to burn biomass in powerplants, then use the electricity to charge the batteries of electric vehicles. Twice as efficient, compared to running vehicles on liquid biofuels. But when the US lurches towards renewable energy, big oil wants to make sure it's a liquid fuel they can still control--even if it's only half as efficient. Almost all the "green research" that big oil companies now boast about is research for liquid biofuels. But those are barely green, compared to the efficient alternative of electric vehicles running on electricity from burning biomass.
Recommend Recommended by 145 Readers 8.Bill Benton
San Francisco
February 13th, 2010
8:43 amAmerica today sometimes reminds me of England in 1776, at the start of the American Revolution. They were so focussed on who was gonna get what part of the English pie that they never noticed that America, even then clearly ten times their size and power, was slipping away.

Our congress is owned by the banks, insurance companies and military contractors. Their focus is on looting the taxes that most of us pay willingly. Watch videos on YouTube that dramatize this, search word AOE1776.

Banks don't profit from lending, they rely on bailouts and Fannie Mae subsidies, so they don't notice the whole world slipping away.

China is trying to undersell to the world so it will be their monopoly market. Chinese products that are inexpensive here are four or five times more expensive there. My Chinese-American friends often receive checks from relatives in China asking for purchase of made-in-China products to be bought here and sent to China! (I know about this first hand, my friends insist that I go to the mall with them.)

It's a wonderful world.

bill benton at
Recommend Recommended by 137 Readers 29.Chris Johnson
Berkeley, CA
February 13th, 2010
9:02 amBob - make no mistake, the US COULD be sprinting along, developing and implementing the same or better technologies. Who or what is holding us back? It's all the dimwits and nitwits in the Republican Congressional caucus. Just like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, Congressional Republicans are marching in lock-step with the instructions they get from Big Oil lobbyists. Energy independence = bad for oil companies. Therefore, it's a non-starter. Talk about being bought and paid for. Once again, the American people have a crystal clear example of how the GOP is holding the country back at a time when it needs to move forward. Just say "No" to progress. Say "No" to the environment. Say "No" to jobs. Why? Because they don't want to help President Obama achieve ANYTHING while he's in office. These pigs are so corrupt, it makes me sick.
Recommend Recommended by 132 Readers 15.Turtle49
Las Vegas
February 13th, 2010
8:47 amThe United States is senile and yesterday. China is young and tomorrow.
Recommend Recommended by 119 Readers 14.Richard Calderhead
Palm Springs, CA
February 13th, 2010
8:47 amRight on. Why are we Behind the Curve here? In America...Private Capital (hisss) has declined to play. Why? You need only listen to Glenn Beck for an hear the sneering disparagement of Anything Green. He basically is calling Global Warming the Biggest Scam'Hoax/ the History of Man.
You continue to bring vital issues to the attention of your readers. Keep up the good work!
Recommend Recommended by 119 Readers 33.johnnyneuron
February 13th, 2010
9:02 amThe decline of the U.S. is irrelevant to the corporate interests which dominate our government. The rise of the Chinese consumer will more than match any loss in the U.S. Rugged individualism and the pursuit of profit at any cost are the maxims of the day. The ruling class doesn't give a damn about the noble ideals this country once represented. The poor and lower middle class are a mindless disconnected mass tricked into fighting over table scraps and kept in a constant state of isolation and fear through the continuous propaganda of television. God bless America!
Recommend Recommended by 109 Readers 13.Jay Casey
February 13th, 2010
8:47 amIf Congress (especially the fossil-fuel Republicans) don't get off their butts and actually enact the incentives for the green industries we need to reward them with a one-way ticket home. Yes, we need an industrial policy. That is how China has done it.
Recommend Recommended by 96 Readers 28.Michael
February 13th, 2010
9:02 amThe reason for this seeming dilemma is simple. Anyone with intelligence and the empirical facts can ascertain the best course of action for the health of the planet and the economy of their society. It merely comes down to accepting truth and logic, i.e., facing reality. The Chinese leadership, being practical men who intend for their country to prevail as the foremost superpower in the future, simply send down the necessary orders. The West, where power and wealth is sparingly diffused amongst a corporate aristocracy that competes intensely within its own circles, does only what is in the economic best interest of whatever cliques have the political upper hand at the moment. Right now that would include the big energy companies (including oil, gas, coal and the power grid). It used to include the car companies and other heavy manufacturers, but no more. Other present-day major players include health care, banking, finance, insurance, agribusiness, chemicals/pharmaceuticals, weaponry, communications/entertainment, informatics (interfacing of every conceivable thing w/ computers), law enforcement/corrections, legal practice and a few others. Nothing will be done to diminish their share of power or wealth in this country, even if that means sacrificing our ability to compete as a nation in the global arena further on down the road. We will continue to burn fossil fuel at maximum rates as long as the process brings profits to the shareholders. We will continue to pump chemicals into the earth to grow our food. Designer drugs will continue to pour forth to cure ills that haven't even been invented yet. Weapons will roll off the assembly line till there's nearly one remotely controlled robotic weapon per capita. Prisons will continue to expand at thrice the rate of higher education, and financial business will be carried out using increasingly opaque rules and arcane algorithms. The corporations don't formally make the law, but they will continue to buy the most effective legislators (and chief executives) that their money can buy. The Supreme Court has recently made sure of that. See? Mystery solved. The Chinese see and act on the big picture. Here it's every special interest for itself.

Recommend Recommended by 92 Readers 30.Yesh Prabhu
Plainsboro, NJ
February 13th, 2010
9:02 amYou have written, “Our esteemed leaders in Washington can’t figure out how to do anything more difficult than line up for a group photo.” You are clearly wrong on this because just look at these facts: They know how to vote for wars and send our men and women to fight on foreign soil and to even bomb and invade other nations. They also allocate time and again, year after year, hundreds of billions of dollars to fight these wars, even as they cut domestic spending. They did this even though there was no money in our treasury, by borrowing money from China.

Also, you wrote, “China is a poor country with nothing comparable to the tremendous research, industrial and economic resources that the U.S. has been blessed with.” If China is indeed a poor country, as you say, how do you explain the fact that it owns over a trillion dollars of America’s debt? Common sense tells us that a rich nation lends money, and a poor nation borrows. If China is poor, how could it lend such a huge amount to America, and why would the very rich America borrow money from poor China? Is this “new economics”?

Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ

Recommend Recommended by 85 Readers 41.NY Nice Guy
My Mind
February 13th, 2010
9:09 amI think people know about all these things, Mr. Herbert - one rule of thumb I've observed is that by the time it hits Main Street, it's already old news.

What's problematic is how to implement these wondrous new things. It's like the Aesop's Fable about how all the mice got together and decided, eureka, that a bell should be hung around the neck of that nasty ol' house-cat so that everyone will know when he's sneaking up on them. But...just who will hang it around the cat's neck??

The vast majority of ordinary people don't care about the environment, and that's the truth. I mean really care, care enough to inconvenience themselves even just a tiny microscopic bit. At the tree-huggin' premier of "Avatar" by me the movie theater was trashed same as always, despite the audience having cheered loud and long.

In China, however, ordinary people don't count. It's a rule of the elites. Now a benign dictatorship is better than a democracy of idiots, just as a truly educated electorate is much better than a stupid dictator. So you see, it really doesn't matter the system; it's about the intellectual and moral quality of the decision-makers.

China will win because they have decently competent folks at the top. We have careerists at the top, and idiots for an electorate who despite knowing that "all" politicians lie never fail to vote the same damned liars into office.

After all, you get the government you deserve and all that!
Recommend Recommended by 77 Readers 1.Thomas Huynh
Atlanta, Georgia
February 13th, 2010
8:43 amMr. Herbert,

There is a reason why you're my favorite columnist and that is you are alway striving to make America better, either preventing us from going astray during the healthcare reform debate or today's column on clean energy. Investments in clean energy like solar panels and wind towers will not only reduce our need of foreign oil but also create new jobs, to put more American minds and muscle to work. What a shame so many are involuntarily on the sidelines as we watch other nations rush pass us by. However, the America I know hates to lose -- it's part in our culture -- and I can bet we won't be trailing for long!

Thomas Huynh
Recommend Recommended by 76 Readers 20.Afrikaneer
February 13th, 2010
8:52 amThe US has become too politicized, there are too many radio and TV political pundits spinning the political rancor in the country. Sometimes the excesses of the media can be as detrimentral as a dysfunctional Congress. China's one party system and zero political pundits may be an unsurmountable advantage.
Recommend Recommended by 70 Readers 17.David
Nevada Desert
February 13th, 2010
8:47 amAmerica has already missed the boat on creating jobs in manufacturing machines and tools for clean energy. That was President Obama's hope. China can do it just as good and cheaper.

As a German auto technician for Mercedes once said to me: " We have stripped down two Lexus in our shop. We know how they make it so good...but we don't know how they make it so cheap."

Besides medical care and prisons, what growth industries are left? Of course, in Nevada we have gold mines, geothermal energy and cows that no one can off-shore.

Recommend Recommended by 70 Readers 46.WS
Ann Arbor, MI
February 13th, 2010
9:09 amYou say "The network of world-class universities and advanced research institutions in the U.S. is by far the most impressive in the world: think Harvard and Stanford and Berkeley and M.I.T. and on and on."

For several decades the IBM and the ACM have been having an international collegiate programming contests among top universities.

Here's the results for 2010:

Harvard, Standford, and MIT are in the 14th place tie group, beaten by universities in China, Taiwan, Russia, and Poland.

The first step in overcoming a problem is admitting we have one.

Recommend Recommended by 65 Readers

Global Weirding - Tom Friedman is Weirding Out! -- Girlyboys? -- Two good comments here about POLAR CITIES and the future of the human race. NSFW

Bubba in
Maryland said at the NYTimes comments after-article on
February 17th, 2010:

Dear Tom
Excellent article. Part of the problem is that understanding why global climate change is occurring, and how it will effect life on earth requires some understanding of thermodynamics and chemistry. For many people, that isn't possible. There was a time when Einstein was universally lauded for his theory of Special Relativity even though the vast majority couldn't (and still can't) explain what the theory is about. We now have a large anti-intellectual movement in this country that simply denies or ridicules any aspect of science that they do not understand. Scientists (and the work they performed) were once highly regarded by those who often did not understand the science, but were willing to accept the possibility that there may be persons having a greater intellect that did. Now, for the anti-intellectual movement, scientists are just the "pointy-headed" enemy.


Peter Y in
San Francisco, CA added:

dear Tom,

Lose the double chin sir, you are overweight. It should be called "rising sea levels" since this is the problem we are most concerned about. Rising sea levels are irrefutably measurable and clearly going to cause some major expense as the coastlines recede. Why are the sea levels rising? Because the ice caps are melting. Why are the ice caps melting? That doesn't take a scientist to figure out, especially if we are all agreed that the sea levels are rising.

"Global warming" just makes people think we will get more arable land at the cost of some biodiversity.

Recommended by 6.7 billion Times Readers

Jim Peden notes: "In Heinlein's classic tome, MARCHING MORONS, the morons have bred to the point where they are the predominant cultural group, and the few smart folks left were burdened with trying to hold the fabric of society together.

Jim Peden commented on Andrew Revkin's Facebook link the other day:

"In Heinlein's classic tome, MARCHING MORONS, the morons have bred to the point where they are the predominant cultural group, and the few smart folks left were burdened with trying to hold the fabric of society together. All of the Morons had PhDs earned by reading comic books ( reminds me of today's public school teachers, who have the 2nd lowest SAT scores of any college major ) and ran around calling each other "Dr." while driving cars that made vroom vroom sounds with an errant speedometer that made them appear to be going faster than they actually were.

Heinlein's solution was of offer free vacations to Mars, where money grew on trees and similar reports. They simply marched the Morons on to rockets and launched them out into the void, while sending postcards back home to their relatives telling how great their vacations were and urging their relatives to join them.

A wonderful story, very humorous ( as only Heinlein could write ) and highly reminiscent, as I said, of today's public school system."

NOTE: Wiki reports that this story was not written by Heinlen:

"The Marching Morons" is a science fiction story written by Cyril M. Kornbluth, originally published in Galaxy in April, 1951. It was included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two after being voted one of the best novellas up to 1965. The story is set hundreds of years in the future: the date is 7-B-936. John Barlow, a man from the past put into suspended animation by a freak accident involving a dental drill and anesthesia, is revived in this future. The world seems mad to Barlow until Tinny-Peete explains the Problem of Population: Due to a combination of intelligent people not having children and excessive breeding by less intelligent people, the world is full of morons, with the exception of an elite few who work slavishly to keep order. Barlow, who was a shrewd con man in his day, has a solution to sell to the elite.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Polar Cities Pioneer Danny Bloom doing well after "Bill Clinton" heart stent procedure -- call it a "Bill Clinton Moment"

Essociated Press Writers

TAIPEI – Call it a ''Bill Clinton'' moment. Doctors who opened a blocked artery in polar cities pioneer
Danny Bloom's chest say he'll be able to resume his normal climate
activist lifestyle soon, starting with his expected departure from the hospital the day after
his procedure.

Bloom could leave St. Martin de Porres Hospital on Friday and be
back at work at his local email cafe in Chiayi as soon as Monday,
cardiologist Ong Su-Soong said.

Bloom went to the hospital in a taxi cab on Thursday to have a stent
put in his coronary artery in his still-beating heart
after suffering major discomfort in the chest while reading a
newspaper at the local coffeeshop that morning.

A stent resembling a tiny mesh scaffold was placed inside the
artery as part of a medical procedure that is common for people with
clogged arteries. Dr Ong said tests had showed that one artery was almost
completely blocked and quite clogged up with plaque. O lucky man!

procedure took about an hour, and Bloom, who does not carry medical
insurance and paid cash for the entire ICU stay, was able to get up
two hours
later, Ong said. The 60 year old expat spent a week in the ICU ward
before and after.

"The procedure went very smoothly," Ong said, describing
Bloom's prognosis as excellent.

In an angioplasty, the procedure Bloom had on Thursday, doctors
through a blood vessel in the groin to a blocked artery
and inflate a balloon to flatten the clog. Often, one or more stents
are used to prop the artery open.

The angioplasty is usually done with the patient awake but sedated with
a local anastesia.

It's one of the most common medical procedures done worldwide. More
than a ten angioplasties are done inChiayi each year,
most involving stents.

"It's not unexpected" for Bloom to have had a stent put in place, said
Dr. Clyde Yancy, cardiologist at Baylor
University Medical Center in Dallas and president of the American
Heart Association.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Some novel uses for snails, or, why snailpapers is a term of endearment for print newspapers

Some novel uses for snails

by Dan E. Bloom

Please read this commentary at a snail's pace or, as some might say,
at a snail's gallop. Because this story is about snails in our
language and how terms
like snailmail and snailpapers (for print newspapers) came to be
coined. If something happens at a snail's pace, of course, it means
that the action happens at a snail's pace. When watching a movie, if
the plot seems to be unfolding at a snail's pace, it might mean seem
to the viewer in the theater as if all the characters in the film were

What about snail bait? That's a good one. That's a humorous way of
talking about a slow-moving, lazy, or sluggish person.
Not jail bait, that's something different.

You've heard of a web cam and overhead cam, but what's a snail cam?
Get ready for this one: It's a came for mechanical engineers that
features a cam with spiral cross-section used for progressive lifting
of a lever as the cam revolves.

Snail fever? You do not want to catch snail fever, and here's why.
Schistosomiasis is a tropical disease caused by infestation with
schistosomes, widespread in rural areas of Africa, Asia, and Latin
America through use of contaminated water. Why you don't to catch
snail fever, even at a snail's pace: It's characterized by infection
and gradual destruction of the tissues of the kidneys, liver, and
other organs. And you might die.l Slowly. At a snail's pace. Not a
pretty picture.

Now we all know that snail mail (two words) or snailmail (one word) is
a derogatory "retronym" — named after the snail with its proverbially
slow speed — coined in 1982 to refer to letters and missives carried
by conventional postal delivery services. The phrase refers to the
lag-time between dispatch of a letter and its receipt, versus the
virtually instantaneous dispatch and delivery of its electronic
equivalent, e-mail. But snailmail, for all its ornery derogatoriness
can also be a term of endearment for sending and receiving mail in the
old-fashioned way, using such arcane instruments as paper, envelopes
that can sealed up with glue (or saliva!), handwriting tools, stamps,
postmarks, things like that. Some people still love that stuff. I do!

Did you know that snail mail is also sometimes used as a term in
reference to penpals? Get this: "Snail mail penpals are those penpals
that communicate with one another through the postal system, rather
than on the internet which is becoming the standard form of
communication for penpals." That's what I learned today while I was
typing this article at a snail's pace in my usual hunt-and-peck

There are lots of stories, some true, some not, some apochraphyl, some
apocalyptic, about how snailmail got its name. Says one source (and I
am just copying and pasting here): "This term was used at least as
early as 1981 in the animated feature 'Strawberry Shortcake: Big Apple
City' to describe mail being delivered by a snail. Strawberry receives
her letter three weeks late because, as the snail character admits,
'Snail mail, she is slow'."

And now you know....the rest of the snailmail story.

But there's more: you might be reading this article in your own daily
snailpaper. Yes, this newspaper you are holding in your hands right
now, scanning the headlines and checking out
the photographs, turning the pages and going back and forth as your
whims dictate, this is a snailpaper! Why do I call it that? Well,
first of all, let me explain that the word as I use it here is not a
derogatory retronym but rather a term of endearment. Because I love my
daily snailpaper and I hope and pray that snailpapers will never
disappear from the face of the Earth. Maybe they will disappear, but
if they are fated to do so, I hope they disappear at a snail's pace so
that I can spend the rest of my life, at least, reading my daily
snailpaper. If in the future, after I'm gone, and my entire generation
passes to the Great Beyond (where the afterlife will really proceed at
a snail's pace, I am sure!), snailpapers are completely replaced by
this thing called the Internet and online news platforms, well, at
least, I knew what the smell of ink was like, the sound of
freshly-turned pages, and the joy of clipping stories out of the paper
and folding them up and putting them in my shirt pocket for later
reference, and sitting a sunny park bench reading the bright newsprint
thingamajig with joy and anticipation as I turned each page -- at a
snail's pace.

So long live the daily snailpaper, and long may it prosper still in
our Digital Pixel Culture where "don't blink or you'll miss it" has
become the defining moment of human awareness. Sigh.

Okay, I'm an old fuddieduddy (OFD), way past my prime and edging into
my 60s in a world where you can't trust anyone over 30 (remember that
one!), but I a happy OFD and there's nothing like firing up my outdoor
BBQ grill with some odd remnants of my daily snailpaper as fuel to get
the coals going. Fuel for thought? Food for thought.


Dan E. Bloom (the middle initial stands for "electronic") is a 1971
graduate of Tufts University in Boston where he majored in

Is climate change the new faith?

Is climate change the new faith?

by Simon Hoggart

in the UK at the Guardian snailpaper

Feb. 6, 3010

Fanatics must stop playing fast and loose with global warming data? OH REALLY?

As a climate change agnostic – and I suspect most of us are, especially now, and more especially after the Guardian series this week – I've been bothered by two aspects of the argument. The first is the religious overtone. Humankind has always wanted to blame its own behaviour for natural events, whether Noah's flood, plagues of frogs, or volcanos which demonstrate that the gods are angry.

Three years ago a British bishop announced that gay marriage had caused our floods. I've often wondered whether global warming is another example of this, an irrational belief designed for a rationalist world.

And there is an element of religious faith in the true believers. Those who disagree are "deniers", with its echo of fanatics who don't believe in the Holocaust. Years ago I saw a sceptic howled down at a British Association meeting; scientists shouldn't behave like that. If people disagree with you they might not be morally wrong, or agents of Satan. (Or big oil, as the believers often claim.) This ties in with my second worry. Clearly many believers have played fast and loose with the data: since what they believe is true beyond doubt, they have a right – no, a moral duty – to suppress any evidence that might contradict them.

Years ago I cowrote a book, Bizarre Beliefs, about various crazy things people believe in, such as astrology, the Bermuda Triangle and spiritualism. Most of them generated vast amounts of data from which believers simply cherry-picked whatever suited their case. The world's climate produces millions upon millions of facts and figures, and it's very easy to select the ones that suit you and ignore all the rest.

Of course I don't know who's right. But I'm not surprised to see the true believers struggling.

Friday, February 5, 2010

An interview with Hamish MacDonald, author of FINITUDE, one of the most important novels of the 21st Century

An interview with the author of FINITUDE, a novel about future climate chaos in an un-named country. Reproduced here from Outer Alliance Spotlight, all rights reserved, copyright, 3010.

Hamish MacDonald

Welcome to Outer Alliance Spotlight #20. Each Friday, the Spotlight features an ally who writes, reviews, publishes, or is in some other way involved with LGBTQI speculative fiction. Our guest this week is Canadian author and bookmaker now living in Scotland, Hamish MacDonald.

Hamish has been designing and publishing his own books for a decade, beginning with the Y2K thriller, doubleZero. All of his books feature gay characters, but he’s quick to point out that their sexuality is not the only thing that defines them. “In writing books, I try to create accessible, fun stories that clip along yet deep down ask a fundamental question about some issue we’re facing,” he says. “The homosexuality is always incidental to the story, but it’s something reviewers have singled out and use to describe the books; I think that’s narrow — straightness doesn’t need a warning label, nor is its inclusion taken to be a statement.”

Originally from Canada, Hamish gave in to the desire to live in place where his name would be commonplace, and relocated to Scotland in 2001. He lived in Edinburgh for 9 years, but is currently planning to move up into the highlands. In addition to creating books from scratch, he also passes on instruction and advice for others in his podcast, DIY Book. He keeps a blog on his website, and can be found on Twitter as hamishmacdonald.

OA: Finitude is set in a time when climate change has reached a crisis point. How well does your fictional portrayal of this scenario match your actual opinions and worries?

HM: In order to have complete freedom to explore a lot of extreme scenarios, I set the book in a fictional, parallel world. This also meant I wouldn’t come across as finger-wagging or blaming any nation in particular.

What I tried to do in writing a piece of fiction was give a ground-level point of view, a few characters with whom we could contemplate what this kind of outcome might really mean for us as individuals, something we can relate to, rather than dwelling on the Celsius scale or particulate carbon parts per million.

For instance, there’s one bit where they’re faced with a conundrum (one I can’t answer for myself): If it turned out that air and sea travel were too damaging, and we could only take one last trip somewhere — to have a “Last Flights Day” — where would you go? For me, living in one place, working with a client in another, and with my immediate family in two other places, it’s wrenching. But what if? And that question is really what fiction is for, I figure.

I started off trying to write a funny story, just to avoid all the heavy-handedness this issue is generally treated with. Sure, it’s the most serious issue we’re facing, don’t get me wrong, but I tried to keep the characters out of it, in a way. They’re bumbling about, trying to survive, while behind them the machinations of bureaucracy and a generally apathetic public are making things very bad.

Unfortunately, I think this is our collective weakness, too: Our politicians are geared toward creating a society that’s conducive to business, not life, and the rest of us are just too damned comfortable to want to change. Especially when we keep being told “You’re worth it,” “Treat yourself”, and such things by an industrial system that needs us to be constantly dissatisfied yet hopeful for material bliss. Suggesting people undergo a drastic change of lifestyle like the one they made here [in Britain] during World War II today comes across today like an insult.

In some ways, I believe story and metaphor are better tools for achieving awareness and care than constant, belligerent argument. And my job was to try to make this novel clip along, because I don’t feel I have the right to challenge anyone to think about an idea until I’ve honoured the free time they’ve loaned me and rewarded them with something fun.

That said, we can go too far in that direction, resulting in a candy-floss forest like Avatar, which is an amazing, fun spectacle, but is ultimately a closed loop: You leave the theatre having had a complete experience, so you’re finished; meanwhile, that story trades on our three most serious issues (which are all really the same thing): the ecosystem, trade justice, and corporate sociopathy. Yet none of us leaves angry about our complicity in the parallel, real things happening in our world. For instance, mining the coltan in our mobile phones (“unobtanium”) leads to abuse and slavery of a group of people (the “Na’vi”) in the Congo (“Pandora”). It’s the same damned thing, but we’re too busy to notice, being wowed by blue cat-people living in a cosmic bowling lane of a jungle.

While researching Finitude, I lucked upon a website called It’s a resource, searchable by speciality, that teams writers up with scientists, so our work can be a more accurate reflection of their disciplines. I guess they’re also tired of all being portrayed as clip-board toting brunettes wearing white coats and glasses, just waiting for a dramatic moment to take off their specs, shake their hair out of a bun, and suddenly be sexy. So, out of gratitude to the climate scientists who gave me their advice, I’ll say that scientists are sexy all the time.

OA: Do you have any suggestions for the global community about how to mitigate the problem?

HM: Despite my ranting, I’m really not a political person, and I don’t pretend to have any answers; I just like playing with ideas, always trying to climb higher and higher to get a clearer view for myself. Conflict is story, and it’s pretty easy to be in conflict with the horseshit our society gets up to.

In fiction, I guess I keep trying to dig under issues, ask what an issue is really about. In thinking about Finitude, it occurred to me that none of this is actually about light-bulbs or shopping bags or Swiffers, but about our fundamental relationship to life — our own and that around us, and it seems like we don’t want to think about it.

Someone once said that fiction should ask questions but never answer them, and I agree with that. There are far better-informed people with real, workable visions we can turn to — if we’re moved to.

OA: You’ve self-published from the start of your novel writing career in 1999. Why did you choose that path, and what do you love about it?

HM: My first book, doubleZero, was about Y2K. Yeah, oops! That topic had the shelf-life of yoghurt in the sun. But when I started, I had no idea what I was doing, then I finished, I had a novel, and there was no way I was going to just let it sit in a drawer!

So I sent out the manuscript, and I received some serious interest from a publisher in Toronto who kept saying yes, yes, then finally said no: They were concerned about having to recoup all their investment before the end of the year. So, since I was doing graphic design at the time, I laid it out myself and hired a small press to print it.

The result got me in with the vibrant ‘zine community in Toronto, and I learned a lot from them. I suck at self-promotion, though, so I was just happy to sell out the run of books.

I wrote a second novel, but submitting it was a similar story: “Love it… Love it… Cut it in half.” That kind of thing. The responses were good, but everyone wanted someone else to be the first to choose me.

Then I up and moved to Scotland, following my heart and gut when they kept saying I should come over here — which has been great, absolutely the right thing to do life-wise, but meant I had to start my career as a novelist over.

My next book, Idea in Stone, was a magical realist story about Edinburgh, and I spent years sending that around to various publishers in Scotland, most of whom were too busy fighting for their continued existence to take on any new work that wasn’t by a celebrity, or they were in the process of being bought out by a multi-national corporation. One was interested in going ahead with it, but then the press stopped printing fiction, choosing instead to make coffee-table books about whisky and hillwalking, along with some Glaswegian joke-books to read in the bathroom. What can you do?

It was all enough to make me decide to leave the industry to itself and focus on creating books and finding readers. So this time, rather than pay a truckload of money for someone to deliver boxes of books, I decided to make them myself.

The DIY Book process I’ve set out for myself is work, but it’s a helluva lot of fun. And it means I’m creatively free to dream up and print anything I like without asking anyone for permission. I think this is a really important freedom, especially for an LGBTI person who might be tempted to censor or stifle themselves after spending time trying to woo that corporate world — where the aim becomes trying to be as unobjectionable, as unrejectable, as possible. But of course, in my case, I’ve come to see that the bits I feel apologetic or shy about, the bits I would cut, are the things that my readers say they love the most.

Indie publishing seems to, coincidentally, be a hot topic these days, with traditional publishing in such trouble, and e-books on the rise. So I’d love to spare potential self-publishers having to learn everything from scratch as I did. And with so many business springing up to predate on writers’ ambitions, I’d like to show that there’s a third path for entering the field — not traditional publishing, nor Print-on-Demand (which is usually presented as the only other option), but a true DIY effort that anyone can start at any level of complexity and expense they’re comfortable with, starting with some pretty cheap and easy methods. I’m sharing this information via a free podcast on iTunes.

Rather than cutting off options, I think this is a great way to bypass a lot of hassle and heartache, learn loads about what’s involved in publishing a book, retain complete creative freedom, and just do something while waiting for the limelight to hit — which, honestly, is a bit of a lottery, and doesn’t happen for as many of us as the contests and talk shows would suggest.

OA: You’re not keen on people assuming queer stereotypes are true (you describe yourself as gay, but a crap decorator, for instance). How do you combat this in your work? Do you have any particularly non-stereotypical gay leads?

HM: I write fiction in which one or more of the characters is incidentally gay, alongside other characters. It’s not “gay fiction” — though some people blindly lump any story with a gay protagonist into that genre — because the story is about something else. I write stories I’d like to read, that I could relate to — stories about made-up times, places, and people alongside real ideas and questions.

At the risk of offending anyone, I never want to read another book about a young American kid from the heartlands who goes to Manhattan and becomes a hustler who dies of AIDS. Or a story about a clutch of gays who shop and giggle and drink with their drag-queen best friend. Or a book with a shirtless model on the cover and pages filled with wank stories, labelled “Gay Literature”.

There are a million other stories, and while we’re not finished securing equality and understanding, the LGBTI spectrum is a lot more varied than our own culture tends to acknowledge.

OA: The DIY Book podcast is full of information on how to make books, which is awesome, but I’m wondering if you have any advice for people who want to make podcasts of their own. Are there any resources you’d recommend?

HM: Oh, cheers! It’s fun, though admittedly it takes a lot of work. But I get excited about the prospect of helping other people get their own book out into the world.

At the risk of sounding like a Mac zealot, the Apple program GarageBand makes it easy for me to produce a rather complicated piece of multimedia. It hadn’t occurred to me to make a podcast until I switched back to a Mac and found this amazing studio program just sitting there, for free, in my Applications folder.

I’m sure there are other ways to do it, but this is mine. I try to remember, though, that the computer is just a creative tool, and what matters is what you create with it, not which name or fruit is on the lid.

OA: What’s it like living in Scotland as a foreigner? Do you ever feel homesick or out of place?

HM: People are always a bit surprised when they’ve heard my name then hear me speak. I’m not from here, and I’ll never be from here, and I’m aware of that. I thought my Canadian accent would have changed more by now, but it hasn’t. Maybe I’m too old, or maybe it’s been a factor of living in Edinburgh until now, which is a real crossroads for students, visitors, and other people from everyplace else. This city can be a bit hard on the surface, and it took a while to meet real Scots!

Of course, now I’ve been in a relationship with one for a while, I’m getting to experience what it’s like to be taken into a family.

OA: How has the move affected your writing?

HM: The gravity and beauty of Edinburgh overwhelmed me at first, and I can still just take a walk around and be in rapture. That inspired me to write a book about the place, but I didn’t know enough about the place for it to be historically accurate, nor could I authentically write in the voice of local people, so I opted for a magical realist story about someone discovering the place and falling in love with it just as it’s starting to vanish because of redevelopment. (Am I sounding like a crank? It’s actually a love story!)

So I got a book out of this city. And now it looks like I’m moving to the north Highlands. Like, north north. So we’ll see what I find there!


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Deng Cheng-hong's ''Polar Cities of the Future''

Deng Cheng-hong's current exhibition at a major musem in Taipei, titled ''Polar Cities of the Future'', is a selection of the Chiayi artist’s architectural proposals for polar cities in the distant future for climate refugees fleeing a warming world and migrating north to Alaska, Canada and Russia.

Mr Deng was heavily influenced by the ideas of British scientist James Lovelock and worked with American climate activist Dan Bloom in Taiwan to come up with these pioneering images -- the first of their kind anywhere in the world, and written up in the New York Times climate blog Dot Earth, too.

Deng has made every effort to promote his polar cities architectural proposals over the last two years, but they have continued to drift between the imagination and professional world of actual architecture, ultimately remaining only on paper.

If we understand these unrealized architectural proposals as a means of constructing a future world, where survivors of global warming might have to seek refuge in polar cities, then these meditations on the constructed connection between architecture and society will be extremely fascinating.



POLAR CITIES COMING SOON - headline in Los Angeles Times -

POLAR CITIES COMING SOON - headline in Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Even climate activists like Joe Romm and Daniel Smith and Glenn Albrecht are in climate denial

New York Times comments are now closed, but I submitted this to Daniel B Smith's very good article about solastalgia:

re this specific comment No. 73 by DAVID of CAPE TOWN SOUTH AFRICA

"Daniel Smith's implicit assumption in the article seems to be that the move to a ever more industrialised, technological future is inevitable and desirable and unavoidable, but that somehow we can turn to psychology to game our way past the mental dis-ease that will increasingly overtake us as we over-develop and destroy our environment.

I suspect he is wrong, and that there will be no way, other than a deep "green" future, to restore our deep mental health.

It seems to me, for example, that there are different orders of "climate change denialism", and that those who acknowledge climate change yet imagine that it is a problem that can be resolved through deploying new technologies are simply on a different part of the "denial" spectrum elsewhere occupied by those who refuse to acknowledge even the existence of human-induced climate change.

I write as a one-time technological utopian," he wrote.


All these comments, above, I say this to Daniel B. Smith, and the editorial comments mod
team at the Times,
is what some pundits now call an After-Article. It's a new journalism term
coined for the comments that now often follow a published news article
on a snailpaper's website such as above. here.

In the old days, 1850 to 1999, before After-Articles became common, a
news article or feature story would appear in, say, the New York Times
or the LA Times or the Boston Globe or the Guardian in London, and if
a reader wanted to contact the author of the article or the editor of
the newspaper to comment on the story pro or con, he or she had to
write a letter and send it in by snailmail or email and wait for a
response. Most letters never received a reply or a response. Sometimes
the author did reply. It took weeks, months.

Fast foward to 2010. Now many news articles and opeds and feature
stories -- longform journalism -- in the New York Times and other
snailpapers have a comment section following the online publication of
the story and readers can write in immediately and voice their
opinions or make their feelings known one way or another, pro or con.
Some comment sections print 10 - 25 comments, some as many as 500 or

And reading the comment sections -- what I now call THE AFTER-ARTICLE
-- often is more interesting and enlightening and rewarding to the
reader than the original article. Or as interesting. Or both combined
make up a new kind of reading experience. So a new term is born.

That said, and having read all the comments above by printing them out
on paper -- the only way to read, IMHO -- on paper surfaces, this
screen reading is for the birds -- after reading the comments i can
only conclude that everyone here, more or less, is in denial about
climate chaos coming out way in the distant future. Even Dan Smith is
in denial, even Dr Albrecht is in denial, all the therapists
interviewed for the article are in denial, and most comments here too
are in denial. You still think there is a fix. In fact, there is not
fix. No engingeering fix, no geoengineering fix, no technologcail fix,
humankind is coming to a major impasse, and billions will die in a
series of massive die-offs in the next 500 years -- not now -- and
about 200,000 remnants of humankind will make it to polar cities in
Alaska and New Zealand to serve as breeding pairs to keep the human
species alive, and later, maybe year 10,000 AD, these remnants will
repopulate the Earth when the climate clears again. This is the
direction we are headed in. I am not in denial. I completely accept
this fate for humankind. Those who do not accept this, you are in
denial. you want life to continue as is, therapy sessions and all. get
over it. we are headed to a place where Mad Max meets The Road.

Rocker Andy Fraser Champions Global Warming Issue with Powerful Song “This is the Big One”

Andy Fraser Champions Global Warming Issue with Powerful Song
“This is the Big One”

Songwriter Continues to Rally Support Against Catastrophic Climate Change with Powerful Anthem and Music Video

Read the full story and listen to lyrics and see video at

"I want to do what I can to keep this issue front-and-center in people’s minds," he says.

 Andy Fraser, founding member of the influential 1970’s rock group, ‘Free,’ and writer of their mega-hit “All Right Now,” continues to spread the message about global warming and resulting catastrophic climate change through his powerful song and video, “This is the Big One.”

Andy FraserFraser has also made the song available to fans as a world-wide free download in order to help rally attention.

“We initially made the song and video for 'This is the Big One' available on the Internet just prior to the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December 2009 to spread awareness of the issue, and to inspire and cajole listeners into taking action and to raise their voices about Copenhagen,” Fraser told this blog.

“Not surprisingly, the barest minimum was achieved at that meeting - so now we have to take the ‘long view.’ The issue is still with us. The young, more so than older generations, are motivated to make change happen, as it affects their future more than anyone.”

“I want to do what I can to keep this issue front-and-center in people’s minds. Music is my gift, and thus how I make my contribution," says Fraser.

From his forthcoming album, On Assignment, “This is the Big One” is perhaps the most galvanizing lyrical work of Fraser’s career. With a driving rock beat, haunting vocals, and virtuoso slide work from one of music industry’s best female guitarists, Kat Dyson (Prince and The New Power Generation), the track hearkens back to the days when music carried messages that entered the social consciousness and helped to spark change.

Fraser’s video for “This is The Big One” has received positive response world-wide. Video producer, Eric Donaldson says, “In the video, we look through a ticking clock at both the beauty of our planet and the stress and destruction that man has placed on the earth.” He continues, “Whether you come from a political standpoint or not, I think that the message of cleaning up the environment resonates around the world. Whether it’s recycling or changing the light bulbs in your home to energy-saving bulbs, I think that the message is a good one.”

Gary Walker, writer for the LA based newspaper The Argonaut says of the video: “’This is the Big One’ is an anthem to the perils of ignoring global warming as well as a statement about the planet’s beauty. It features striking images of sandy beaches, sunsets and cascading waterfalls, juxtaposed with power plants belching flames toward the sky, melting icecaps and rising ocean levels.” The video also features Fraser’s daughter, Hannah, a professional mermaid, model and graphic designer, swimming with a whale pod near Tonga’s Vava'u Islands in the South Pacific Ocean.

View the video for “This is the Big One” here:

Free fan download here:

official website:

Publicity contact:
Clif Doyal
CDA Promotions-Nashville/OKC
(a division of the Clif Doyal Agency, LLC)
Office: 615.885.5998 Cell: 615.319.1863
E-mail: CDAnashville(at)aol(dot)com

"Is There An Ecological Unconscious?" -- Letter to New York Times by Dr Steven Moffic

Dr M. Steven Moffice, MD, psychiatrist, writes in a letter to the New York Times regarding the Sunday Magazine's recent article about solastalgia by Daniel B. Smith:

Dear Editor,

Congratulations on the Sunday Magazine article "Is There An Ecological Unconscious?" on January 31 by Daniel B. Smith, which deepens our understanding of the psychological aspects of climate change. Not only does it discuss the new psychopathology, deemed solastalgia, but also gives pioneering examples of how the stress of climate change can be inrorporated into psychotherapy. Emphasizing the unconscious as an influence is crucial, since what is happening outside of the conscious awareness of the public and politicians, may be the most important reason for the slow pace of addressing the ecological problems.

However, as comprehensive as the article was, some unconscious aspects were ignored. One is the unconsious impact of such benign terminology as global warming and climate change. I would think we would get a greater psychological concern if we used terms like global boiling and climate instability.

In addition, the brief discussion of the historical connections to the concept of an ecological unconsious omits an important thread. Freud conceptualized a "death instinct", which may drive us toward death and malignant destructiveness. Though subsequently abandoned by him, we all might sense one of its remnants when we get suicidal feelings. Later, Eric Fromm updated this idea in his discussion of necrophilia, which is the opposite of biophilia, in his book "The Heart of Man: Its Genius for Good & Evil" (Harper & Row, 1964). Keeping these deep and disturbing unconscious tendencies in mind amy be helpful in reversing our course. Fromm suggests advocating a love of life as the antidote. As he closes his book: "Indeed, we must become aware in order to choose the good - ". Let us choose life.

H. Steven Moffic, M.D.
Professor of Psychiatry
Medical College of Wisconsin
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Monday, February 1, 2010

Rina Mukherji, Indian journalist, on victims of climate change in her country

Rina Mukherji in India writes me today, saying: "Dear Dan,
This is an article that I wrote for on the victims of climate change in India. Thought it might interest you."
[It does interest me, and I reprint it here with Rina's kind permission.]

Copenhagen can't compensate them

By Rina Mukherji

30 Jan 2010

As industrialised nations refuse to drastically cut down their GHG emissions, the poor living on the coastlines bear the brunt of the rising seas.

Surabala Das lost her fertile land and now survive with difficulty
Surabala Das, a widow, was once the owner of 10 bighas of fertile land in Gobardhanpur, on G plot of Patharpratima block in Sundarbans. Surabala and her family became environmental refugees when all their farmland disappeared into the sea. Her eldest son died of an undiagnosed fever, and the younger son abandoned his family for better prospects. Surabala, her elder daughter-in-law, and her two teenage grand-daughters now survive by begging and doing menial jobs.

As coastlines erode, beaches shrink and islands disappear, our coastal people lose their homes and livelihoods. Well-off farmers and fisherfolk become bankrupt, and end up as environmental refugees dependent on charity.

In Kerala and West Bengal, the two worst-affected coastal Indian states, sea level rise caused by global warming has meant destitution and loss of livelihood and an end to a dignified life to many women.

As coastlines erode, beaches shrink and islands disappear, our coastal people lose their homes and livelihoods.
Two islands in the Indian Sundarbans - Lohachhara and Suparibhanga were gobbled up by the rising seas in 1982. Several other islands are losing huge chunks in their southern portions to the Bay of Bengal. Ghoramara - one of the largest islands in the Sundarbans, is now just a small patch of what it once was. Sagar, adjacent to Ghoramara, and the largest of the islands, is losing 100 bighas to the sea.

Patharpratima block is made up of 15 grampanchayats that operate under its aegis. The block headquarters is located on Patharpratima island. Four of the grampanchayats are located on the mainland, while the rest are on various islands in and around Patharpratima. Of the islands, G plot and K plot are badly affected by the rising sea, with many of their villages having disappeared over the years.

G Plot originally comprised nine villages - Gobardhanpur, Budobudir Tat, Indrapur, Sitarampur, Sattadaspur and north and south Surendraganj. Some 12 years ago, Gobardhanpur was entirely swallowed up by the Bay of Bengal. The southern part of Sitarampur has entirely disappeared, while the northern part of Sitarampur is slowly getting eroded in chunks. As farmlands, homes and hearths disappear into the sea, families lose their livelihoods and are rendered bankrupt. For women, this has often translated into destitution and abandonment.

Anima Patra and her family lost 16 bighas of land to the sea
Anima and her husband, Ashwini Patra owned 16 bighas of land in Gobardhanpur. Since the sea swallowed up their lands, they had to move north along the same island to take refuge. Her family of eight, which includes her parents-in-law, and four children must now make do by fishing and occasional menial jobs in the fields, as and when offered. They have yet to get Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards, although they have scraped and saved out of their meagre means to manage a roof on their heads. Anima Mondol and her family had to leave Ghoramara island 14 years ago when most of the island went under water. The family lost 40 bighas of fertile land and had to take refuge in Jibantola, Rudranagar on Sagar island. Deprived of his livelihood, her husband now goes to sea as a boatman on fishing fleets, and is away most of the time. She must fend for her family of four children and her aged mother-in-law, earning out of menial jobs on farms and homes.

Anima Mondol lost 40 bighas and now does menial jobs
It is a sad irony that the Sundarbans - which has borne the brunt of a rising sea, and stronger and more frequent cyclonic storms over the past decade, does not have electricity in most of its homes. Where electricity is available, such as in G-plot, Sagar and a few other islands, it is confined to a few hours after dusk. Even so, not many can afford the solar connections. And yet, there are an estimated 50,000 environmental refugees in the Sundarbans, who are trying to survive after being displaced by nature.

In Kerala and West Bengal sea level rise caused by global warming has meant destitution and loss of livelihood and an end to a dignified life to many women.
The situation has become more poignant after Cyclone Aila caused sea water to overrun farmlands in May 2009; rendering it impossible to grow crops for a year or more. Thousands have streamed into the overcrowded slums of Kolkata, creating infrastructural problems that shall, in turn, soon strain the civic services. The few who continue to stay on in the Sundarbans are confronted with a shortage of drinking water, since sea water has overrun all open reservoirs. Saline water has also affected groundwater in many parts, making life extremely difficult in this densely-populated region.

After losing boats and home, John and Jacinta now survive by doing odd jobs
The situation is equally heart-rending in Kerala in southern India. Uncontrolled sand-mining and a rising sea level have devoured beaches, destroyed fishing villages and turned groundwater resources saline.

Jacinta, who used to vend fish, and husband John, a fisherman, were a well-off couple until they lost their home in a fishing village in Thiruvananthapuram district, as well as their catamarans and nets to the gushing waters of the Arabian Sea. The temporary shelter provided to them is 5 km from the coast, making fish-vending difficult. Jacinta now works as domestic help in the city, while John does odd jobs in the vicinity. Jacinta's friend Josephine and her husband, Lewis, are now living off odd jobs in the city. At the shelter, they share an overcrowded room with another family. Their four daughters are married, but their once-healthy teenage son, Leslie, is often down with respiratory ailments and fever.

Carmel and Stephen lost their house three years ago and now work as coolies in the city. Stephen struggles to find work as he is disabled, so the family depends on the earnings of Carmel and her son, Paulo.

The smoky confines of the tin-roofed shelter turn Joseph and Stella nostalgic about their once self-sufficient past. Losing their boat and house in Poonthura village has turned the couple and their five children into environmental refugees. They suffer from bronchial asthma, and income is erratic. Four of their children have moved out to seek employment in other states.

Can the climate negotiators, from the leading developed and developing nations, who played a cruel joke on such vulnerable people by agreeing to Copenhagen Document, ever see these climate refugees in the eye and fulfil their basic entitlements of food, clothing and shelter that a rising sea and global warming have deprived them of?

Rina Mukherji is a writer, poet and journalist. She began her career in journalism in 1984 and since then has worked with and written for several national and international publications and news agencies. As a UGC fellow, she completed her PhD on African Studies in 1994 and is a keen commentator on issues concerning marginalized communities, environment and development.