Archive for February, 2008

China to Discuss Energy in Washington State

IF THERE WAS EVER a good spot to show bureaucrats from Washington and Beijing the value of preserving the environment, Gig Harbor, Wash., would be it. It’s fitting then that the town, a small community nestled among pine trees with gorgeous vistas of Puget Sound and Mount Rainier, will host high-level talks this Sunday about the future of the nations’ energy and economic policies.

The talks are part of the U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue, which held its inaugural meeting in December 2006. On the agenda this weekend are discussions about China’s investments in Sudan, and how both nations — which combined consume one-third of the world’s oil — can reduce their carbon footprint. Officials will also meet with local business groups in Seattle and Spokane, and Washington state senator Maria Cantwell appears hopeful that Northwest innovators will offer some energy solutions.

According to the Seattle Times, the president of the Washington State China Relations Council has said that Seattle could become “the Davos of U.S.-China relations.” I love my hometown, but I sincerely doubt that — the Seattle Visitor’s Bureau web site doesn’t even offer a Chinese translation. (Hat Tip: Eric Lucas)

Whether anything significant will come from these meetings remains to be seen; China has long said “you first” to the U.S. in dialogues about economic restrictions and green policy, and understandably so. We can only hope the scenery will influence both nations to make some headway.

Photo: perfect sunset, by agenthandy. gig harbor.

A Red Light, a Bicycle, a Coffin

UNFORTUNATELY, THE STORY IS nothing new — a cyclist jumps a red light, and it ends up being the last thing they ever do. But the death of 29 year-old Matthew Manger-Lynch in Chicago this past Sunday hit close to home for me. He died while competing in the third stage of the Tour da Chicago, an annual “alleycat” street race, in which friends of mine have participated in years past. Manger-Lynch, who was married and had plans to open a French-style charcuterie, was leading a pack of about 40 racers when he crossed Irving Park Road against the light. He was struck by an SUV and pronounced dead soon afterward.

Being a law-abiding cyclist in the city is dangerous as it is. You might get pinched by someone who didn’t check their mirrors, you might get slammed by some asshole with uncontrollable road rage, or you might take a header through a window if someone unwittingly flings open a door streetside. I won’t pretend I’ve waited for every light, and I’ve done an alleycat or two myself, but events like these serve as a painful reminder that every time we bend the rules we take our lives into our own hands. This isn’t a story about SUVs vs. bicycles, this is a story about a careless moment and its consequences.

My sincere condolences to the Manger-Lynch family. Be safe out there.

Read more in The Chicago Tribune.

Photo: untitled, by brownphoto. chicago.

Boycott Lonely Planet for Burma?

THE TRADE UNION CONGRESS has called for a boycott of all Lonely Planet travel guides until the publisher pulls their Burma edition from the shelves, saying that the country’s tourism trade only filters more money into the hands of a brutal regime. The TUC has posted an online petition, though the BBC, which now owns Lonely Planet, has already issued a statement saying they have decided not to comply.

The issue draws a fine line between ethics and freedom of information, though in reality there’s certainly some overlap. According to a recent BBC news report, the Corporation has said of its Burma edition: “It provides information and lets readers decide for themselves.”

At the front of the volume, there is a clear list of pros and cons.

Its reasons not to go include:

  • Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi opposes tourism
  • The military government uses forced labour
  • International tourism seen as ‘stamp of approval’
  • Money from tourism goes to the military government

Reasons to go are:

  • Tourism one of few areas to which locals have access
  • Carefully targeted spending reaches individuals in need
  • Locals have told travel guide authors they are in favour
  • Abuses less likely in areas frequented by foreigners

That LP provides travelers with this list may be ironic. If you’ve bought the book, you’ve likely already made the choice and the guide will certainly enable that decision. But denying people access to this information doesn’t seem right either; if people are going to Burma, it’s better that they go armed with the right information. While the TUC’s argument certainly has veracity, its reasoning is somewhat analogous to the conservative claim that taking away condoms will stop teenagers from having sex — it won’t, it will just make it more dangerous.

It’s also worth noting that the most recent version of LP’s guide to Burma was published in 2005, it its ninth edition. The 2007 September protests and ensuing crackdowns may have been a visceral reminder of the terrible nature of Burmese junta, but the country has been a police state since 1962 — this boycott, if it had merit, would seem long overdue.

Photo: marcia reads the lonely planet, by Ed Fladung.

The Grand Canal, Glaring Oversight

AS SOUTH KOREAN PRESIDENT-ELECT Lee Myung-Bak prepares to take office next Monday, the peninsula churns in heated debate over his plans for a canal that will cut through mountain ranges and stretch the the length of the country. Lee promises that the waterway will be a shot of adrenaline to wanting inland economies, though many – including myself – believe his plan is severely misguided.

Choe Sang-Hun has a video report for the International Herald Tribune here. A quote from the accompanying article just kills me — a true model of shortsightedness:

“Until now, we saw no future, no way to turn around our economy,” said Baek Young Ja, 43, a restaurant owner. “Talk about possible environmental damage the canal might cause doesn’t mean that much to me. I think more about all the engineers who will come in and eat at my place once construction starts.”

[read more]

***

TDT leaves tomorrow morning for a long-weekend jaunt down South.
Posting will resume as normal on Monday.

Someone Else’s Shoes: SF’s Underbelly

AMANDA WITHERELL AND BRYAN Cohen, in the true fashion of investigative journalism, spent a week in and out of San Francisco’s homeless shelters getting an unfiltered look at life on the streets. The SF Bay Guardian reporters chronicled their harrying experience on separate blogs, and Witherell wrote a compelling piece for the paper that sharply dissected the local homelessness situation.

The two discovered firsthand that despite the presence of empty beds cross the city, a breakdown in communication among a network of shelters means night after night people are forced either to doze fitfully in the equivalent of a waiting room or to find an empty patch of sidewalk. It took Cohen five days to find a bed. When they did successfully navigate the confusing shelter system, the reporters were often met with terrible smells and grudging staff, only to be briskly ushered out into the cold morning at six o’clock. The article paints a grim and honest picture of the crushing struggle so many face, and scratches at our sense of common human dignity. An absolutely essential read.

China and the Good Ol’ Boy Olympics

WITH THE OPENING CEREMONIES in Beijing drawing ever closer, I have increasingly struggled with whether China deserves the all the flak it’s getting. Especially as a resident of a nation that has a rather shameful track record as of late, I wonder, “Who are we to point a finger?” Beijing has continually fallen back on just that idea, using it to rail against environmental restrictions, political pressures regarding Burma and Darfur, and the politicization of its beloved Olympic games.

Part of me just wants to give it to them. I mean, they have come a pretty long way, right? But then shit like this happens, and like a flood it occurs to me that behind Beijing’s weakening excuses are mountains of injustice – from an editorial in the South China Morning Post, via China Digital Times:

Can the propaganda masters in Beijing get a grip on their horses and stop the kind of silly stunts like the one being conducted in Shanghai? Shanghai’s Xinmin Evening News reported last week that the government was looking for 40 young women between the ages of 18 and 24 and 168cm to 178cm tall to help present medals at the Games. According to the report, they must meet at least 15 requirements including such physical attributes as bones in every part of the body being well proportioned and symmetrical, muscles elastic enough to display a healthy, beautiful body – full-figured, not fat and cumbersome, and so on.

While the officials’ intention is to show the world the utmost attention they pay to every salient detail of the Games, this has come off as incredibly sexist and offensive to many people, including this writer. For heaven’s sake, you are looking for young women to present the medals and they should not be treated to a process as strict as that used by emperors to choose their wives.

[read more]

Everyone Wants a ‘Canal’

I GUESS IT’S NO surprise that in Dubai, a land of overflowing wealth and man-made islands, that local developers are looking to create a 75 km canal in the middle of the desert. While that not might sound as ludicrous as, say, trying to build a canal that stretches the length of a nation – it still sounds pretty crazy to me.

The above picture is taken from the blog of Kang Hun Sang, a Yonhap foreign correspondent in Dubai, and shows an artist’s fanciful rendering of what the waterway – creatively named “The Arabian Canal” – could look like.

To those who might see it as providing a viable alternative for transportation of goods into the city, Kang points out a major caveat: the “canal” is only going to be six meters deep. That means despite all the hype about this being the next Suez Canal, it’s really just another playground.


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