From Our Own Contrivement

When I was younger I used to document fluff pieces when I found them on TV or radio.

Partly due to the job I had then and partly for posterity, I would document and save the obvious propaganda pieces I saw – and sometimes use them in classes.

However, the sheer volume of it is obviously impossible to keep up with, and to be honest, it’s bad for the soul: “He who stares into the abyss…” and so on. Over the years, even though it annoys me, I have just learned to let it go.

Most of that stuff that I collected has been binned now. I would never have had time in a million years to write about it all.

However, sometimes you just can’t let it pass.

This morning I listened to the episode of “From Our Own Correspondent” from October 4th of this year called  A Tale of Two Termini (at time of writing it is the fourth one down on this page).

I’ll give you a rundown of the pieces in the episode…

  1. France bad (socialist [sic] president don’t you know), England good. France and England usually develop in a parallel way but now France bad France bad France bad (socialist president don’t you know), England better (has problems yes but no bad socialist president).
  2. Venezuela dangerous (Socialist president don’t you know), Chavez opponent good (even has “boyish charm” don’t you know). Socialists dangerous. Don’t wear wrong colours. 14 years of Socialist president is enough don’t you know?
  3. Assange bad (don’t you know). Wouldn’t he have been happier just “painting flowers?” – believe it or not that is more or less a quote. Oh and muslims bad don’t you know? Denmark cartoon guy better than Assange don’t you know?
  4. Communists were bad don’t you know? Stalin was bad, did bad things. Watch out for those communists and socialists. Bad Bad Bad.
  5. China Bad… or is it Good? Ah, they are just a little silly and culturally underdeveloped.

It has to be heard to be believed. I’m keeping it in case I am ever teaching media studies classes again.

[Cartoon from the Pleb]

Yellow and Red Dust

In the Mediterranean there is a climatic condition whereby at certain times the clouds look like they are boiling red. As they come over the hills the air looks almost as if the oxygen in it had rusted.  This happens because the winds are blowing the desert sand over the Mediterranean from Africa. These clouds usually bring rain with them too and when the wind dies down the rain evaporates and the sky returns to normal leaving all the cars with a coating of red sand. When I saw it most clearly, with a mountainous backdrop, is the time in my life I most regretted not having a camera on me because as the clouds roll over the mountains it is a quite spectacular sight.

That said, the red dust isn’t pleasant and covers your clothes too. However, in South (and presumably North) Korea there is something called the yellow dust which is extremely nasty. I’ll get to explaining what the yellow dust is exactly in a roundabout (or should it be rounders?) sort of way.

Baseball is quite a popular sport in the USA but it is something I had never been able to like. I like to at least give things a try though and several times had tried to watch an entire match from start to finish on TV, always with the result of falling asleep.

Therefore, shortly after I arrived in Korea in March and noticed baseball was a rather popular sport there, I thought I would go along to a match and see if it was any better in the stadium . When April began it was getting warm enough that you could go out basically with just a t-shirt and jeans in the daytime so I was only wearing exactly that . I noticed also in April that people were wearing the face masks that you see so often in pictures from Japan but I didn’t bother to get one.

It must have been about 25 degrees that day, which is not hot but certainly not cold. I was just wearing a t-shirt but all the punters in the crowd were telling me to cover up. I thought they must be telling me this because they were being nice and were worried that I could get burned.  Not so.

You see, the yellow dust (or Hwang Sa as it is called in Korea) is something which  sweeps down from Mongolia, Kazakhstan and China into Korea. The sands from the deserts in those countries are blown down by seasonal winds in March, April and May, sometimes as far as Japan or further.

This is obviously something that has happened for thousands of years. It is worse now though because…

In the last decade or so, it has become a serious problem due to the increase of industrial pollutants contained in the dust and intensified desertification in China causing longer and more frequent occurrences, as well as in the last few decades when the Aral Sea of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan started drying up due to the diversion of the Amu River and Syr River following a Soviet agricultural program to irrigate Central Asian deserts, mainly for cotton plantations.


For the past few years, the dust storms often carry oxides (aluminium, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and silicon) and toxic waste thus increasing the risks of respiratory and skin reactions.

So I think now that the Koreans were trying to tell me to cover up for another reason entirely and

I experienced the double whammy of watching a crap sport and getting a little bit sick for a few days on account of that.

For a few days after I didn’t feel so good but the main thing that annoyed me was that no one at my work bothered to tell me about it until after the event. I explained about my weekend and I that I wasn’t feeling so good and they told me “Oh, that would’ve been the yellow dust”. Kamsa Hamnida for that!

So if you are going there, you have been warned.

Siberian Tiger Shot Dead

Xinhua are reporting that a highly endangered Siberian tiger had to be shot dead a couple of days ago…

A female Siberian tiger escaped from a zoo and entered a public park in an east China city late Monday, but she was immediately put down by police on safety concerns, local officials said Tuesday.

The nine-year-old animal made her way out of the zoo after a zookeeper came to feed her but forgot to properly lock the cage. After the escape, the tiger roamed a public park in downtown Wuhu, a city in Anhui province, and occasionally met with frightened residents.

More than a dozen armed police came and shot the giant cat before she could attack humans.

A tragedy, especially given that…

Siberian tigers are among the world’s rarest species. The population of wild Siberian tigers is estimated at around 500, most of which live in eastern Russia and northeastern China.

In the light of this, I just wanted to refer you back to a recent article I wrote…


If you want to get me angry then here is an easy way to do it. Watch an animal documentary and then describe one of the animals in it as “evil”.   They aren’t evil, by calling them that people are ascribing human characteristics to animals, which is called anthropomorphisation.   People do this all the time, for example believing that they can tell when their dogs are feeling guilty and it is an illusion, or better put, a delusion.

I also once watched a documentary about people who keep tigers as pets. A fair few of them ended up getting mauled or worse. I don’t think it is too controversial to paraphrase Douglas Adams and say that the only genuinely evil thing that happened in these situations was the people taking the tigers as pets in the first place. I’m sorry for them but although I know it’s harsh I can only think what the hell were they expecting? You cannot blame the tigers for doing their jobs as tigers.

(Cartoon from the Pleb)

I started thinking about all this again when I saw the following story on BBC today (the italics are mine)

Exotic animals on loose in Ohio

Dozens of exotic animals have escaped from a private zoo in Zanesville, Ohio, and are roaming the area, say police.

Police have been receiving sightings of cheetahs, grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, tigers and lions. Twenty-five animals have reportedly been shot dead.

The animals’ owner, Terry Thompson, was found dead at the zoo, Muskingum County Animal Farm, but police have not said how he died.

We don’t know the circumstances of Thompson’s death and I am not going to speculate. I’m sorry he is dead as I would be when anyone dies but again, the first and probably only genuinely evil thing that happened here, which has subsequently led to the rest of the problems, was the removal of the animals from wherever they were and putting them in a private zoo in the first place. If these animals were taken from rescue centres or similar then you only need to move the removal I am talking about back a generation or two and the point still stands.

Now, the police are shooting these animals to kill. Even if you don’t agree with that it is easy to see why. These are bears, tigers, lions and so on. I said before that they are not evil or malign but neither are they cuddly toys – and the police department is charged with protecting the people in the area. If someone who was not involved with the zoo is killed or attacked then it is a real tragedy. Indeed, reports say that locals have been uneasy about having the private zoo in their area for some time, with previous escapes being mentioned too.

Other reports say that zookeepers from the local zoo, probably at risk to themselves, are also out trying to capture rather than kill the animals. This looks like a better option but you can still see why the police don’t want to take any chances.

My point, again, is that this terrible situation could have been avoided if the animals had not been removed from their habitat in the first place.

Now, I think the case for zoos is pretty weak in general. Whilst conditions in most of them have markedly improved over the years, it is still not the same thing as having the animals in their natural habitat. Captive-breeding is a mixed bag. There may be a case to be made for it in terms of critically endangered animals and many programs have been successful. However, there is no reason why a captive breeding program cannot be conducted in private instead of in the public eye for all to see and in fact many captive breeding programs are done away from the public. The quick retort to this is that sometimes there isn’t enough money to conduct the programs without the money that the public brings in, which in itself shows how much of a priority is really given to the problem of extinction.

To conclude, as far as I know, this private zoo was not conducting a breeding program and the owner of the zoo, Mr Thompson, must have known the risks associated with having these animals in his care. If he didn’t know the risks then he shouldn’t have been anywhere near them. These animals are now being shot for no other reason than that they (or their parents or grandparents) were unfortunate enough to have been kidnapped earlier.

Altogether now… none of these tragedies would be happening now IF THE ANIMALS HAD NOT…

Who Buys Richard Clayderman Records?

One of the worlds great mysteries solved. This is an excerpt from the incomparable Douglas Adams book Last Chance to See. He was writing about visiting China in the 80s. I imagine it is somewhat different now…

The world-famous Peace Hotel Jazz Band was out for the evening but a deputy band was playing in their place. The promise is that this is one of the only places in the world where you will still hear the music of the 30s played as it was played, where it was played. maybe the world famous combo keeps the promise but their deputies did not. They banged their way through endless repetitions of Edelweiss, Greensleeves and Auld Lang Syne, interspersed with the occasional bash at New York, New York, Chicago and I Left My Heart in San Francisco.

There are two odd things about this. First of all, this wasn’t just for the tourists. This was the music we heard everywhere in China, particularly the first three titles. On the radio, in shops, in taxis, in trains, on the great ferries that steam continually up and down the Yangtse. It was usually played by Richard Clayderman. For anyone who has ever wondered who in the world buys Richard Clayderman records – it’s the Chinese, and there are a billion of them.

The other odd thing was that the music was clearly completely foreign to them. Well, obviously it was foreign music so that’s not altogether surprising but it was as if they were playing from a phrasebook. Every extemporary flourish the trumpeter added, every extra fill on the drums were all crashingly and horribly wrong. I suppose the Indians must have felt this hearing George Harrison playing the sitar in the 60s, but then, after a brief indulgence, so did everybody else.



I haven’t been watching much of the olympics but I turned the TV on the other day and they were talking about the history of table tennis in China.

They mentioned that during the cultural revolution sport was frowned upon and things like that.

Then they started talking about Deng Xiaoping who may have been directly responsible for the Tiannanmen massacre. At any rate, he is reported to have spoken in praise of the officers and soldiers involved.

However, the BBC entirely neglected to mention this and described him as a ‘political visionary’ and as the man who ‘revolutionised chinese table tennis’. Apparently this is because he allowed them to change the way they hold the bat.

It’s like a reporter from the 13th century describing Genghis Khan as being notable for changing the way people wear hats.

Don’t get me wrong, they don’t cover non-chinese politicians any better like when Bush recently said..

“Russia has invaded a sovereign neighbouring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people, such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century.”

and they report it without anyone saying ‘hang on a minute…’

It is simply what everyone knows…the goalposts have moved on who is a good butcher and who is a bad one..

Related post – Watching you watching me


This post is in relation to the video I have posted below which I again urge you to watch. 

I found this story on Reuters …

China admits controversial tiger photos faked

BEIJING, June 29 (Reuters) – China has sacked a number of government officials and arrested a man in connection with a set of fake photographs that local authorities had said was proof of the existence of a highly endangered tiger.

This isn’t the first time this has happened, as the reuters story points out…

China has been rocked by a number of major scandals involving official endorsement of photos of rare wildlife in recent years.

In February, the chief editor of a Chinese newspaper quit after one its photographers faked a prize-winning photo of endangered Tibetan antelopes appearing unfazed by a passing train on the Qinghai-Tibet railway. (Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

The important point about this is not that a few people faked some photos and made a little money, it is how these stories were used to justify other things. The photo of the antelope was used to give the impression that they were completely untroubled by the new railway in the vicinity. Later evidence has suggested – though the evidence is not complete – that the antelope are indeed getting used to the railway.

However, this story was also used by many people who wanted just to say that this kind of photo showed that animals were untroubled by the things humans do and therefore we should stop worrying about it.

Similarly, the fake tiger photo was used by many to say that those people suggesting that there is a fullblown global extinction crisis – and it is gathering speed – were just fringe lunatics. Many articles and blogs were published saying that this tiger proved that all of these supposedly extinct animals were fine and would show up eventually [this was also done with the supposed Baiji dolphin video].

Carry on regardless was the message, ignore climate change, ignore animal extinction, keep buying sh*t you don’t want or need and all will be fine [SEE PICTURE BELOW – Thanks to the Culture Ghost].

Well don’t, because it won’t.

Other important links on the subject.