Urban sprawl works differently in China

October 27, 2015

Much of our flight to China we fond the ground, or ocean, obscured by clouds. About an hour out of Beijing, we caught glimpses of China’s countryside.

It’s different there.

If you’ve flown much over the U.S., you’re familiar with agricultural regions having identifiable features such as the large circles created by irrigation systems, or the grid-pattern fields laid out across much of the American Midwest. Those fields are punctuated, especially at night, by farmhouses, smaller crossroads featuring a few more buildings, small towns, and increasing urbanization along the highways going into bigger cities.

In China, north of Beijing, human habitations are much more dense than small U.S. farm towns, and the fields themselves appear almost wholly absent of human habitation.

Semi-rural area north of Beijing, from 30,000 feet or so. Note new, high-rise apartment buildings in the small town. Photo by Ed Darrell

Semi-rural area north of Beijing, from 30,000 feet or so. Note new, high-rise apartment buildings in the small town. Photo by Ed Darrell

Here’s a photo I took from our airplane window, looking to the west, over China at least 100 miles north of Beijing. ChinaCom’s system doesn’t identify locations to my iPhone as Verizon’s system does in the U.S.; I have not yet identified the river, though I think it may be the north-flowing Songhua-Amur Rivers complex.

Agricultural fields are neatly laid out. Notice there is no room left for wild lands, where wildlife might find a home.

Agricultural fields are neatly laid out. Notice there is no room left for wild lands, where wildlife might find a home.

I was struck by the lack of uncultivated, unplowed or undeveloped land. Fields abut each other tightly, without even hedgerows between them. We noticed a marked lack of wildlife on other parts of our trip; without even space for weeds to grow between the fields, wildlife habitat is reduced essentially to nil. Does that harm or benefit agricultural production, and other production?

Not a perfect comparison, but here is a nearly-randomly-selected USGS aerial photo of farmland in the U.S., near Jerseyville, Illinois (from much lower airplane elevation):

USGS photo of land near Jerseyville, Illinois, near the Illinois River. Hills are unplowed now (they may have been farmed in the past), and waterways have banks of brush and trees for some distance, partly to control erosion. Notice wild tree and shrub growth between some fields.

USGS photo of land near Jerseyville, Illinois, near the Illinois River. Hills are unplowed now (they may have been farmed in the past), and waterways have banks of brush and trees for some distance, partly to control erosion. Notice wild tree and shrub growth between some fields.

This photos are not an exact comparison, but you can get the idea that worries me.

China’s tightly-controlled development policies over the past five decades, coupled with a thousand years or so of continued, developed and intentional habitation on these lands, leaves little room for something that is not planned.

Little room for nature. Someone would argue China’s land use is required in order to feed a massive population. Is that so?

On the trip I ran into a fellow working for a company trying to figure out ways to bioremediate polluted rivers in China, since the government came to realize polluted water harms human health and agricultural and riparian production downstream. One way would be to establish buffer lands along the banks of rivers. Can China change policies to allow that to happen, in time?

Pretty from an airplane window. Reflective of wise land use policies? There’s a rich discussion.


Trump says China? Let’s go see

October 26, 2015

Kenny sent an e-mail, with a link to Donald Trump, saying “China.”

So, we went to see.

Among other things, Kenny’s brother James, our younger son, was getting married in Beijing.  Good excuse to travel.  Keeping with the rule that one should spend at least a day in a destination for every hour of travel it takes to get there, we planned 13 days.

I don’t think Donald Trump knows China.

After 13 days and a few thousand miles, and perhaps a few hundred supreme dumplings and two Beijing ducks, fugu, and noodles of nearly endless variety, with gallons of stout vinegars you won’t find in a U.S. supermarket, I know I don’t know China.

(I don’t think Trump knows much of anything, a very little in any depth; this is funnier now than it was when Kenny sent the link before the trip.)

Following, not always consecutively, some reports on some of the things we saw. Please stay tuned.

Wikipedia photo, by the way:

We saw the ancient city of Pingyao, Shanxi Province, where wheelers and dealers have been mincing people like Donald Trump for millennia. I’ll bet Trump didn’t go there. (This is a Wikipedia photo, by the way: “Pingyao-oldtown” by Benzh – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pingyao-oldtown.jpg#/media/File:Pingyao-oldtown.jpg)


Cats in Crete and China, and evolution

October 23, 2010

Cretan Cat - photo by Kenny Darrell

A cat Kenny Darrell photographed in Crete -- notice each eye is a different color.

Darwin wondered about the genetic reasons behind white cats being blind deaf (though, of course, he didn’t call it “genetics” then).  Evolution in action:  White cats today usually can see hear.

Kenny found this cat in Crete, and got a good shot of its eyes, each of a different color — though of course, as soon as the focus was set, the cat leaned forward for a pet.

Kenny’s in China right now.  I wonder if China has cats and dogs on the streets like Crete?

Below the fold:  Darwin on white cats.

Read the rest of this entry »

American corporations hide American heroes at Shanghai Expo

July 17, 2010

“Penny pinching” conservatives in Congress shamefully worked to guarantee America’s legacy of freedom would be buried at the current Shanghai Expo.  Architecture writer Fred A. Bernstein reports that the conservatives won, and that the current U.S. exhibit in Shanghai is shamed by exhibits from other nations highlighting American virtues that the U.S. pavilion should have shown:

Where are the examples of American democracy and freedom, of American know-how and imagination, and of American heroes?

Artist's rendering of U.S. pavilion at Shanghai Expo 2010

Artist's rendering of U.S. pavilion at Shanghai Expo 2010 - corporate sponsorship failed to replace government support prohibited by "money-saving" 1990s law

For those things, visitors have to search elsewhere at the Expo: for the statue of Rachel Carson, outside the Broad Air Conditioning pavilion; for a tribute to Frank Gehry, at an exhibit sponsored by the city of Bilbao, Spain (Gehry would have designed a great U.S. pavilion!); and for videos of an American girl, describing what makes cities livable, look to the Russian pavilion. (Incredibly, the Russians shot the video in front of the U.S. Capitol, smartly appropriating an American symbol of freedom.) Carson, Gehry and the girl are Americans worth celebrating.

What will the millions of Chinese who visit the Expo think of the United States? The most sophisticated of them, especially the 45,000 a day who get inside the U.S. pavilion, will see a country determined to promote its corporations rather than its people or its political system. The rest — and this is even scarier — may visit the Expo, a microcosm of the world in 2010, and not think about the U.S. at all.

What in the hell were we thinking?

Bernstein explained what happened:

Seeing a statue of Rachel Carson, the crusading American environmentalist, at the World Expo in Shanghai moved me almost to tears. After all, Carson is a symbol of independent thought and action, both vital U.S. exports.

Too bad the statue wasn’t at the U.S. pavilion. But that building, sponsored in part by Carson’s nemesis, Dow Chemical, was never going to be a celebration of the power of individuals. Indeed, the pavilion, with its bland tribute to “community,” says little about what makes America, and Americans, special.

Check out Bernstein’s piece, “A World Expo flop by the U.S.,” with the subhead:  “Our pavilion at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai is a huge disappointment, failing to showcase the best of the United States.”


Kicking U.S. butt even when we’re trying to study their language

May 10, 2010

Who gets the most out of this exchange?

“This country doesn’t value teachers, and that upsets me,” she said. “Teachers don’t earn much, and this country worships making money. In China, teachers don’t earn a lot either, but it’s a very honorable career.”

Ms. Zheng said she spent time clearing up misconceptions about China.

“I want students to know that Chinese people are not crazy,” she said. For instance, one of her students, referring to China’s one-child-per-family population planning policy, asked whether the authorities would kill one of the babies if a Chinese couple were to have twins.

Some students were astonished to learn that Chinese people used cellphones, she said. Others thought Hong Kong was the capital.

Barry Beauchamp, the Lawton superintendent, said he was thrilled to have Ms. Zheng and two other Chinese instructors working in the district. But he said he believed that the guest teachers were learning the most from the cultural exchange.

“Guest Teaching Chinese and Learning America,”  Sam Dillon, New York Times, May 9, 2010, page A14.

Chinese government behind “climategate” hacking?

January 1, 2010

Conspiracy fans — a category which appears to include almost all climate change denialists — won’t like the news from Planet Green’s “Planet 100.”  This little news show claims evidence that China was the source of the hacking of the University of East Anglia’s climate related e-mails.

Why won’t the denialists like it?  They won’t like it because it makes sense:  Who stood to profit from embarrassing scientists just before the Copenhagen meetings?  China, who wished to avoid any binding agreements, would gain simply by sowing confusion.

Evidence is pretty thin, but for the first time since the hacked e-mails were published, there’s a plausible motive.   Also, the source is also not wholly pristine or reputable in science stuff — the Daily Mail of London, which specializes in gossipy tabloid news.  Watch that space.

P.S.  — Don’t miss the squid invasion story in the same newscast.


“Isn’t that how the last depression started?”

September 25, 2008

Econ, government teachers:  Are you ready to explain this one?

China banks told to halt lending to U.S. banks

And then this one:

China denies shunning foreign banks

“Fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

Two million minute challenge

May 9, 2008

Just over two weeks to graduation, son James is concerned about global competitiveness.  He’s off to study physics at Lawrence University in the fall; he is insistent I note the news in the paper this week.  I still have an active  stake in public schools, after all — good call, James.  Here’s his concern, below.

Each child has two million minutes of life over the four years of high school. Whether the U.S. can remain competitive in the global economy depends more than ever on how each child allocates those two million minutes.

A new film raises concerns that U.S. children are losing out against students from India and China.

Dallas Morning News business reporter Jim Landers wrote about the movie, “Two Million Minutes,” in an article May 6. It’s an indication of something that this is front page in the business section — an indication of genuine concern, one may hope.

Science and mathematics education gets the major attention in the film. One wishes this film could compete with the anti-science film “Expelled!” which still lingers malodrously in a few theatres across the nation.

Landers wrote:

2 Million Minutes argues that “the battle for America’s economic future isn’t being fought by our government. It’s being fought by our kids.”

And in a series of international comparisons, the U.S. kids are not doing so well. The one area where they score better than the rest is self-confidence.

Once they leave the eighth grade, students have a little more than 2 million minutes to get ready for work or college and the transition to being an adult. This documentary, made by high-tech entrepreneur Robert Compton, follows two high school seniors in Carmel, Ind., two in Bangalore, India, and two in Shanghai, China, to see how they use their time.

All six are bright, accomplished, college-bound individuals.

Our students spend a lot of time watching TV, working part-time jobs, playing sports and video games, but not so much on homework. The Chinese kids spend an extra month in school each year, more hours at school each day and more hours doing homework. By the time they graduate, Chinese students have spent more than twice as much time studying as their U.S. counterparts.

While one may hope kids will pay attention, one may be unhappy to recall the topic, and many of the same or similar numbers, were published nationally in the 1980s by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) at the U.S. Department of Education. I remember it well, since I was publisher for some of the work.

The website for the movie offers more details, including a calendar of screenings. DVDs are available, but at very high prices — $25 for home use, $100 for school or non-profit use. I’d love to show it to students; I can get a couple of much-needed PBS videos for that same price. I hope producers will work to arrange distribution competitive with opposition movies like Stein’s. I’ll wager “Expelled!” will hit the DVD market at about $10.00, with thousands of DVDs available for free to churches and anti-science organizations.

Landers chalks up some of the stakes, and we should all pay attention:

Nearly 60 percent of the patents filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in the field of information technology now originate in Asia.

The United States ranks 17th among nations in high-school graduation rate and 14th in college graduation rate.

In China, virtually all high school students study calculus; in the United States, 13 percent study calculus.

For every American elementary and secondary school student studying Chinese, there are 10,000 students in China studying English.

The average American youth now spends 66 percent more time watching television than in school.

SOURCE: “Is America Falling off the Flat Earth?” by Norman R. Augustine, chairman, National Academy of Sciences “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” committee

Understanding trouble in Tibet

March 27, 2008

Tibet a “powderkeg?” How could that be?

Potala Palace, by Galen Rowell circa 1981

Photo of Potala Palace by the late Galen Rowell, circa 1981; for Rowell’s famous photo of the Palace and Rainbow, click here. Read Sweeney’s post, note the difference between the two photos here.

Julia Sweeney discusses her trip there nine years ago. You’ll see things more clearly.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Pharyngula, again, and he tips to Stranger Fruit. Myers is about a lot more than just biology, and so are most other blogs by biologists.

Chinese MIG in front of Potala Palace, Lhasa, parked on the former reflecting pool
Photo: Chinese MIG on display in front of Potala Palace, one of Tibetans’ most sacred landmarks. From WhereIsEven.com

World’s oldest playable musical instruments: Listen

March 14, 2008

About that 5,200-year old animation: Was there a musical score to accompany it?

Certainly flutes could have provided accompaniment: Research establishes that several neolithic bone flutes found in China are 7,000 to 9,000 years old.

9,000 year-old flutes from crane bones, Brookhaven National Lab

A 1999 release from the Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) discussed the dating of the flutes:

Recent excavations at the early Neolithic site of Jiahu, located in Henan province, China, have yielded six complete bone flutes between 7,000 and 9,000 years old. Fragments of approximately 30 other flutes were also discovered. The flutes may be the earliest complete, playable, tightly-dated, multinote musical instruments.

Garman Harbottle, a chemist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory and member of the Jiahu research team, helped analyze data from carbon-14 dating done in China on materials taken from the site. “Jiahu has the potential to be one of the most significant and exciting early Neolithic sites ever investigated,” said Harbottle. “The carbon dating was of crucial importance to my Chinese colleagues in establishing the age of the site and the relics found within it.”

These flutes were found in modern China, and the bowl with the jumping goat images was found in modern Iran. The spread of technology may have worked on a millennial time scale then. Did the flute technology cover the approximately 3,500 miles between the sites, in the 3,000 to 4,000 years in between their creation?

At least two .wav files exist of one of the flutes being played (here, and here), again from BNL; the actual tunes the flute creators played, we do not know, ASCAP and BMI did not protect the publication of the tunes.

What other astounding archaeological finds are out there, relatively unpublicized?


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