First the smog, then the stink. Beijing’s white hot economic growth has led not just to smoggy skies but also stinky landfills that are literally taking people’s breath away.
Faced with overflowing landfills across the city, Beijing residents have been complaining about the rising stench of garbage that can be overpowering when the wind blows. So, the government decided to remedy the situation by installing 100 giant deodorant guns aimed at the city’s stinkiest landfill–the Asuwei dump site on the edge of Beijing.
The high-pressure cannons, like the one seen here being used at a public gathering, can spray dozens of pints of fragrance per minute over a distance of 160 feet. In addition to being bathed in sweet perfume, the Asuwei dump site will also get extra plastic layers to cover the garbage so that the smell doesn’t waft towards the city when the wind blows.
But The Guardian reports that it would take more than a few plastic sheets and perfume guns to zap Beijing’s garbage problems away:
When organizers at the American Museum of Natural History in New York decided to set up a debate on the future of manned space exploration, President Obama had not yet announced plans to cancel the NASA program designed to carry astronauts to the moon by 2020 and Mars by 2030. That recent development only served to spice up the proceedings at last night’s Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate, moderated by Neil deGrasse Tyson.
The main theme guiding the night’s proceedings was supposed to be “Where next?” But based on NASA’s recent change of course, much of the night focused on how to kick the human exploration into gear.
Robert Zubrin, founder of the Mars Society, was the idealist and dominant personality on the panel, claiming “we’re much closer sending men to Mars now than we were sending someone to the moon in 1961.” He noted that when factoring in inflation, NASA has about the same budget for manned spaceflight as it did during the Apollo years. He encouraged a bold deadline for reaching Mars to motivate current scientists and inspire future ones.
Yet the Apollo comparisons can only go so far. “We don’t have the Cold War infrastructure that helped build Apollo,” said Paul Spudis, the panel’s moon expert. And during the Q&A session, audience member Miles O’Brien (a space blogger and formerly CNN’s science correspondent) plainly stated, “The nostalgia of the Space Race is not coming back. You can’t just recreate that.”
Pandora on Earth
If you’re a big Avatar fan, then James Cameron’s Oscar loss may have left your eyes swollen and your popcorn soggy. But if Avatar grabbed your attention with its story of greedy humans ravaging the alien moon Pandora for a mineral that Earth needs, then here are a handful of real-life stories, from good ol’ planet Earth, that might make the plight of Pandora’s native Na’vi seem eerily familiar.
First we have members of the Dongria Kondh tribe from Orissa, India, talking to the tribal-rights group Survival International about their quest to save their sacred mountain from a large mining company. The company wants to raze a huge part of their lush, bountiful, holy mountain to mine not “unobtanium,” but bauxite. Wait, James… are you getting this down?
Survival International took out an ad in the film industry magazine Variety to appeal directly to Cameron for help. Says Survival International director Stephen Corry: “Just as the Na’vi describe the forest of Pandora as ‘their everything,’ for the Dongria Kondh, life and land have always been deeply connected. The fundamental story of Avatar – if you take away the multi-coloured lemurs, the long-trunked horses and warring androids – is being played out today in the hills of Niyamgiri in Orissa, India.”
Chinese citizens hoping to share dirty jokes or flirtation via text message will now be subject to Beijing’s all-seeing eyes. After policing the Internet and censoring online dissent, the Chinese government has stepped up its monitoring of cell phone messages in the country. The government is encouraging people to be mindful of the texts they send, and is asking them to refrain from writing or forwarding any smutty messages or pornographic content.
State controlled-media has reported on the new effort to clean up cell phone messages. Mobile service providers in Guangzhou, Beijing, and Shanghai are reportedly trying a text-filtering system, looking for porn or sexual content in short messages–which the Chinese refer to as “yellow texts.”
Something nasty is in the air in China, and it isn’t the infamous smog. Sweeping the country is a new paranoia, in which men become convinced that they’ve contracted HIV, often blaming their infection on a visit to a prostitute. Hundreds of Chinese men have reportedly been visiting doctors and have refused to believe the evidence of negative HIV tests. So strong is their fear that some men wear masks or refuse to interact with their families for fear of transmitting the disease.
Although the men say they feel sick, doctors don’t believe they’re dealing with a hitherto unknown virus, explains the BBC:
They suspect extreme guilt or anxiety about an act the men are ashamed of — sex with a prostitute — is affecting their immune systems, making them feel ill.
Chinese hospital authorities like Cai Weiping, who works in the southern province of Guangdong, are mildly annoyed at the steady trickle of patients who are paranoid that they are HIV positive.
Is your child going to be a championship basketball player, or world-class pianist, or Nobel-winning physicist? Well, waiting for them to grow up before scoping out their talents can be a drag. Plus, it cuts down on precious training time.
That’s why, for $880, parents in China can send their three-to-12-year-old children to a special five-day camp where they will undergo DNA testing in an effort to predict their area of success. From a sample of saliva, scientists say, they can examine 11 genes that gauge a child’s future IQ, height, memory, and other traits. They will then recommend to the parents the best course of action to hone the kid’s innate capabilities.
“Nowadays, competition in the world is about who has the most talent,” said [program director Zhao Mingyou]. “We can give Chinese children an effective, scientific plan at an early age”….
[P]arents are convinced it will help their child. It is no secret that China’s one-child policy often produces anxious and ambitious parents with high expectations for their only child.
“China is different from Western countries,” said Yang Yangqing, the lab’s technical director. “There is only one child in our families so more and more parents focus on their children’s education and they want to give them the best education.”
You can also watch CNN’s video about China’s DNA testing here.
There’s just one problem: Can DNA tests really reliably predict whether a child will be the next Stephen Hawking or Michael Jordan? After all, success is often the product not of a gene or two, but rather a complex combination, along with a properly nurturing (or incentivizing) environment—not to mention a hefty dose of hard work and luck.
Discoblog: A Year After Olympics, Beijing’s Air Quality Back at Square One
Discoblog: Bad Breath? Body Odor? Don’t Bother Applying to China’s Space Program
Discoblog: To China’s Internet Filter, Garfield is Pornography, Porn is Not
Image: flickr / Alex E. Proimos
Last summer, we speculated whether the air pollution in China—home to the tirelessly-publicized 2008 summer Olympics—could prove hazardous to the health of the Games’ athletes and spectators. Still, the nation managed to clean up its air that summer by closing factories and allowing cars to hit the roads only every other day.
Unfortunately, the trend was too good to last: The veil of smog suspended over Beijing is back just a year later, and the nation’s air quality is now rated “hazardous” by the embassy. Although the so-called “Green Olympics” might have raised public awareness about the pollution in China, its political effects have been paltry. AFP reports:
“It changed the public mentality and made people remember the clear days we had 20 years ago and wonder why can’t we have that again. That’s a big achievement,” said [China climate and energy campaigner Yang Ailun].
However, the fact that China had to basically shut down much of the city of 18 million to meet its Olympic clean-air promises, showed that little real progress has been made.
“The Beijing experience did not provide any examples of cost-effective policies that can actually deliver results. All the major measures taken by the city were expensive and not easily replicated elsewhere,” she said.
Beijing maintains some restrictions on how many cars can be on the road on any given day, for example—but with the addition of 1,500 cars daily, such a measure is a little like teaspooning water out of a sinking aircraft carrier.
Discoblog: Could Beijing’s Polluted Air Sicken Olympic Spectators?
Discoblog: The Air Over There: As the Olympics End, a Look Back at Air Quality
Discoblog: 1/3 of China’s Yellow River Not Even Fit for Industrial Use
Image: flickr / kevindooley
It seems hygiene in space is all the rage. First, it was the odor-resistant underwear that one astronaut wore for a month. Now, China’s space program has come up with 100 rules for potential ‘nauts—and anyone with bad breath, dental cavities, body odor, or a family history of serious disease within the past three generations need not apply (apparently the program is looking only for “super human beings”).
Shi Bing Bing, a doctor at the 454th Air Force Hospital in Nanjing, eastern China, said the new rules will help China send the best of the best into space.
“Bad body odour will affect fellow colleagues in the narrow confines of a space shuttle,” he said. “These astronauts could be regarded as super human beings.”
Mr Shi’s hospital has now carried out a first screening of candidates to weed out those who fell foul of the 100 rules. A further two screenings will whittle hopefuls down to the small band who will follow in the footsteps of China’s space pioneers, chosen in 1997.
We hate to say it, but sometimes discrimination stinks.
Discoblog: Scientists Examine Underwear Astronaut Wore for a Month
Discoblog: Cooking in Space: Slow, Mediocre, and Dangerous
Discoblog: What Happens to Your Underwear in Space?
Image: flickr / Valerie Everett
Former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said that although he couldn’t define pornography, he’d know it when he saw it. Was he talking about images of Garfield? How about a photo of cooked pork? Well, according to the mandatory Internet filtration software proposed by the Chinese government, both pics should be blocked because they are pornographic.
The filter, known as Green Dam-Youth Escort, was about to be required to be installed in all personal computers sold in the country, beginning July 1. However, the government has reportedly reneged on this mandate, and has postponed that deadline indefinitely. And it’s a good thing: Critics worry that the software will be used for censorship, and the program also fails to effectively block plenty of content that may concern parents. According to Reuters:
When the software is installed, and an image scanner activated, it blocks even harmless images of a film poster for cartoon cat Garfield, dishes of flesh-color cooked pork and on one search engine a close-up of film star Johnny Depp’s face. With the image filter off, even though searches with words like “nude” are blocked, a hunt for adult websites throws up links to soft and hardcore pornography sites including one with a video of full penetrative sex playing on its front page.
Green Dam has not detailed how it scans images for obscene content, but computer experts have said it likely uses color and form recognition to zoom in on potential expanses of naked flesh. Program settings allow users to chose how tightly they want images scanned. When too much skin is detected, Green Dam closes all Internet browsers with no warning, sometimes flashing up a notice that the viewer is looking at “harmful” content.
But the interpretation of obscene is apparently generous enough to include the orange hue of Garfield’s fur and, on the highest security settings, prevent viewers clicking through to any illustrated story on one English language news website.
Some speculate the strange growths are the result of a mutation caused by chemicals the cat’s mother was exposed to before giving birth. It’s certainly possible, since the heavily industrialized city of Chongqing is packed with chemical, metal, and automobile factories pumping out acid rain and air pollution. In fact, as of 2004 the city was the second most polluted worldwide. And it’s taking its toll: Environmental authorities suspect chemical contaminations were behind the deaths of thousands of fish in the Fujiang River in Chongqing a few months ago.
Others say the so-called wings are actually growths from an embryo that never completely separated from the cat before birth – in other words, the cat’s, er, Siamese twin.