Saturday, March 26, 2011

Discussion on Palm Oil

Recently, in the forum for Primate Conservation at my Alma Mater, someone posted a link to this report at the Adam Smith Institute.

I've read it, and a few furious replies came up. Mostly attacking it as a non-reviewed paper by a market research institute, and the admittedly sweeping statements behind it.

But I realised that all of the conservationist replies are missing the point. Often, there is no sense of reality of the situations, except that primates (or biodiversity) is there and they must be saved. I suspect it is something about being in Borneo too.

So I posted a reply and it follows here:

"Hi all,

My turn! I read the article, some very sweeping bits, for example in page 2, it says : Far from pristine rainforest being ripped out in favour of commercial crops, the majority of the country's virgin rainforest remains unspoilt and intact.".

But at the end of it all, they are fighting their corner, we are fighting ours. I don't think we should expect many economists to see our point. Not yet anyway. Our views are biodiversity-biased, their views are economics-biased, simply because we lack the training or background on each other's side. If we ran the economy, I'm sure we'd do a lot worse than what is going on now, and the economy is already very messed up. Ditto for if they were in charge of biodiversity.I think on our part as biodiversity conservationists/specialists, we should not be narrow-biodiversity scientists. Go around to the second-hand bookshop (tonnes of those in Southeast Asia - especially all you who are hanging around in my patch :P) pick out a textbook on economics; read about commodities, and about value of land - cropland, forestland; read about what drives the demand; find out why or how demand for crops hop around from one to another; look around to how land-use policies are or should be laid out, from the economist's perspective. I think a lot of times we tend to be dismissive of their views and they of conservationists.

He did make some valid points. Like mentioned by Marie, we do tend make things overblown, but that's how the way the world works. Threaten a double-dip recession and the government would bust their nuts trying to prevent it and end up with record economic growth instead. They do it, we do it. His point is valid, but I think where it differs from us, is that an economy might actually end up with record growth within the year, but we will not see record biodiversity growth within the same period of time. For the economy, it's "Yay, we did it!". For forests and biodiversity, it's "I don't see a difference, are you sure?".

A big sticking point, which he does point out, it that the VAST majority of oil palm forests is in Peninsular Malaysia, which only comprises 40% of all total land area in Malaysia. Also, there are no orangutans! Conservation should do something to address that point, because it is a good point, it is valid and we've all been silent about it, at least publicly.

I think the palm oil and forest issue is extremely tricky and complication. Firstly it does affect one of the main financial thrusts of a country run by a democracy which will fail if the government tries to change policies. The Malaysian electorate is FAR less educated and the power of the indigenous populations is too great for the government to deviate from current economic policies. I'm sure some of you will know about that having lived in Malaysia for a while.

A big big big problem is that conservationists are now increasingly viewed as anti-agriculture. The big point for economists and governments in this region who are trying to profit from the "green" movement is that palm oil are used in food, and that conservationists are worsening a global food crisis. Australia is having massive problems because of a drought that has been around for more than a decade in much of its agricultural area and then now it gets a drought which floods the fields AND the coal mines which produce theirs and many countries' power supply. All their freshwater there are increasingly turning saline. You may not feel it in Europe, but in this part of the world, all the way down to Pakistan, Australia feeds itself, Southeast Asia, and South Asia. China is facing a failed crop last year, this year, and probably the next year too. The pressures will begin to shift to Southeast Asia.

We cannot say, we are just targetting palm oil in Borneo. Economists will say, look, petroleum is expensive, the world's most populous country is running out of water, the 2 of the world's most populous countries in the world may face a food crunch from failed crops in China and possible failure in Australia, the world's most populous Muslim country in the world with a history of eruption into street violence may face in stability in the face of rising costs. Orangutans in Borneo VS palm oil/agriculture, not a difficult choice. Maybe the positions of the forests are much more unstable that we think. Also, the demand for oil palm IS increasing worldwide. The 2011 budget of Malaysia is 212 billion Malaysian Ringgit. Palm oil alone contributed 53 billion to gross national income, the value of this commodity to them is immense. Conservationists point to declining prices of palm oil, such as here:, but this is no longer valid. In March 2008, palm oil reached the height of $1,146,86 per metric ton. Then in declined to $522.19 in January 2009. There were many articles online about possibility of less oil palm plantations. The decline did not stay. Let me give you the trend over the last few months. By July 2010, it was up to $774.50, in August, $865.23, October $935.22. In November, it broke the psychologically important $1000 barrier, reaching $1059.01. Within the next two months, by January 2011 (this year!) it has reached $1,238.57. A record price. Today (23rd Feb) it eased off a bit, but is trading at $1107. There is another point: for Malaysia to sustain the industry, it only needs to sell the oil at around $400. So they were still quite profitable in the lean years, and they are getting close to three times cost price. What's not to like for the economist?

Yes, we know there are orangutans in the forests of Borneo. Many many many more other flora and fauna, we know about how the forests are the lungs of the world, how they contribute to the water cycle and flooding. That is why I am against the clearing of forests for palm oil. But the argument by conservationists about the bit of science here and there being wrong, and selling the orangutan like people will fall down dead the next minute, it doesn't work. Not here. Maybe in Europe and the US. Over here, getting out of the village and getting rich first is the priority. There is a country to run, mouths to feed, subsidies to give out for basic necessities. I think we have to change tack, we might also have to be less hardline.

Sorry this is very long, hopefully I've given it a different spin!"

Hope some readers will chime in with non-spam posts!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Be fair, many things are anthropogenic, but many things are NOT.

Recently, many low lying places in Singapore have been flooded when 120% of an entire month’s rainfall fell in approximately three hours. After the first flooding, PUB did a check on their pipes and decided that some choked culverts may have been the cause. So PUB held their hands up and said, “Ok maybe we didn’t do enough”. Kudos to them for that. Some people (including myself) have wondered if the Marina Barrage has anything to do with it. Personally, I have a little suspicion, but hey, I’m not an engineer, and someone should explain that.

Many people have then jumped on to the back of the government, with comments like “Let’s see Dr. Yaacob Ibrahim take responsibility.” He did, through PUB. What more could he have done? Resign? Over two days of freakish rainstorms? Let’s not forget Dr. Ibrahim’s background. He’s Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at NUS, got his PhD in Cornell and did his post-doc at Stanford. Look in the Cabinet - is there a better to do that job? No. So give the man a break and let him do his job. Demanding this and that at this point in time does not help. We are all victims of freakish weather.

Then there are others that go, “Look, earthquakes, flood, drought. It’s Man’s fault. Mother Nature is paying back”. Firstly, earthquakes are the result of tectonic plate movement. NOTHING to do with anthropogenic action. Secondly, what’s the point with gloating? Happy that you might be right? Well then do something! And I mean do something more constructive than point your finger at the Minister, who quite rightly made most of our drainages culverts so they are not above ground and smelling to the high heavens. Besides, the drainages are choked partly because people are LITTERING. Is that Dr. Ibrahim’s fault too? How many people actually tell off people who litter or pick up and dispose of litter that “missed” bin?

At the end of the day, this period of flooding is the result of two freakish rainstorms. No amount of planning short of turning Singapore in Venice could have prevented the floodings, choked culverts or not. Is it the result of anthropogenic climate change? Maybe. But let’s all not forget that in Nature, unpredictable things happen. In 1703, hurricane strength winds for two weeks killed nearly 30,000 people in Britain and destroyed much of the Royal Navy. Even with modern technology and meticulous planning, could this have been prevented? Of course not. So let’s take things in perspective. Do what we can in reducing anthropogenic impacts on the environment, but when freak storms occur, we should also keep in mind that we may not have been the cause of the weather, but we still have caused the flooding by selfish daily behavior.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Guest Writer: Solar Energy, Pros and Cons

I've not updated this for so long, but Barbara has kindly written an article on solar energy (especially in the light of the messy oil spills here in Singapore and in the Gulf of Mexico) which I'm going to stick below, so here goes!

Here’s a simple method to learn the way solar panels work

What is solar energy ?

Solar energy is radiant energy that's produced by the sun. Each day the sun radiates, or sends out, a huge volume of energy. The sun radiates more energy in a single second than people have used since the beginning of time!

The energy of the Sun derives from within the sun itself. Like other stars, the sun is really a big ball of gases––mostly hydrogen and helium atoms.

The hydrogen atoms in the sun’s core combine to create helium and generate energy in a process called nuclear fusion.

During nuclear fusion, the sun’s extremely high pressure and temperature cause hydrogen atoms to come apart and their nuclei (the central cores of the atoms) to fuse or combine. Four hydrogen nuclei fuse to become one helium atom. However the helium atom contains less mass compared to four hydrogen atoms that fused. Some matter is lost during nuclear fusion. The lost matter is emitted into space as radiant energy.

It takes many years for the energy in the sun’s core to make its way to the solar surface, and somewhat over eight minutes to travel the 93 million miles to earth. The solar energy travels to the earth at a speed of 186,000 miles per second, the speed of light.

Only a small percentage of the energy radiated by the sun into space strikes our planet, one part in two billion. Yet this amount of energy is enormous. Every single day enough energy strikes the united states to provide the nation’s energy needs for one and a half years!

Where does all of this energy go?

About 15 percent of the sun’s energy which hits the planet earth is reflected back into space. Another 30 percent is used to evaporate water, which, lifted into the atmosphere, produces rainfall. Solar power also is absorbed by plants, the land, and the oceans. The rest could be employed to supply our energy needs.

Who invented solar power ?

People have harnessed solar power for hundreds of years. Since the 7th century B.C., people used simple magnifying glasses to concentrate the light of the sun into beams so hot they'd cause wood to catch fire. Over a century ago in France, a scientist used heat from a solar collector to create steam to drive a steam engine. In the beginning of this century, scientists and engineers began researching ways to use solar energy in earnest. One important development was a remarkably efficient solar boiler introduced by Charles Greeley Abbott, an american astrophysicist, in 1936.

The solar water heater gained popularity at this time in Florida, California, and the Southwest. The industry started in the early 1920s and was in full swing prior to World War II. This growth lasted before mid-1950s when low-cost gas became the primary fuel for heating American homes.

People and world governments remained largely indifferent to the possibilities of solar technology until the oil shortages of the1970s. Today, people use solar technology to heat buildings and water and to generate electricity.

How we use solar power today ?

Solar power is employed in several different ways, of course. There's two simple forms of solar power:

* Solar thermal energy collects the sun's warmth through 1 of 2 means: in water or in an anti-freeze (glycol) mixture.

* Solar photovoltaic energy converts the sun's radiation to usable electricity.

Listed here are the five most practical and popular techniques solar energy is employed:

1. Small portable solar photovoltaic systems. We have seen these used everywhere, from calculators to solar garden products. Portable units can be used for everything from RV appliances while single panel systems can be used traffic signs and remote monitoring stations.

2. Solar pool heating. Running water in direct circulation systems via a solar collector is an extremely practical solution to heat water for your pool or hot tub.

3. Thermal glycol energy to heat water. In this method (indirect circulation), glycol is heated by sunshine and the heat is then transferred to water in a warm water tank. This method of collecting the sun's energy is more practical now than in the past. In areas as far north as Edmonton, Alberta, solar thermal to heat water is economically sound. It can pay for itself in 36 months or less.

4. Integrating solar photovoltaic energy into your home or office power. In most parts on the planet, solar photovoltaics is an economically feasible method to supplement the power of your property. In Japan, photovoltaics are competitive with other kinds of power. In america alone, new incentive programs make this form of solar power ever more viable in many states. An increasingly popular and practical method of integrating solar energy into the power of your home or business is through the use of building integrated solar photovoltaics.

5. Large independent photovoltaic systems. For those who have enough sun power at your site, you may be able to go off grid. It's also possible to integrate or hybridize your solar energy system with wind power or other forms of sustainable energy to stay 'off the grid.'

How can Photovoltaic panels work ?

Silicon is mounted beneath non-reflective glass to create photovoltaic panels. These panels collect photons from the sun, converting them into DC electrical energy. The energy created then flows into an inverter. The inverter transforms the power into basic voltage and AC electrical power.

Solar cells are prepared with particular materials called semiconductors for example silicon, which is presently the most generally used. When light hits the Photovoltaic cell, a particular share of it is absorbed inside the semiconductor material. This means that the energy of the absorbed light is given to the semiconductor.

The energy unfastens the electrons, permitting them to run freely. Solar power cells also have more than one electric fields that act to compel electrons unfastened by light absorption to flow in a specific direction. This flow of electrons is a current, and by introducing metal links on the top and bottom of the -Photovoltaic cell, the current can be drawn to use it externally.

Do you know the advantages and disadvantages of solar energy ?

Solar Pro Arguments

- Heating our homes with oil or natural gas or using electricity from power plants running with fossil fuels is a reason for global warming and climate disruption. Solar power, on the contrary, is clean and environmentally-friendly.

- Solar hot-water heaters require little maintenance, and their initial investment can be recovered in just a relatively small amount of time.

- Solar hot-water heaters can work in almost any climate, even in very cold ones. You just have to choose the right system for your climate: drainback, thermosyphon, batch-ICS, etc.

- Maintenance costs of solar powered systems are minimal and the warranties large.

- Financial incentives (USA, Canada, European states…) can aid in eliminating the cost of the first investment in solar technologies. The U.S. government, as an example, offers tax credits for solar systems certified by by the SRCC (Solar Rating and Certification Corporation), which amount to 30 percent of the investment (2009-2016 period).

Solar Cons Arguments

- The initial investment in Solar Hot water heaters or in Solar PV Electric Systems is greater than that required by conventional electric and gas heaters systems.

- The payback period of solar PV-electric systems is high, as well as those of solar space heating or solar cooling (only the solar domestic hot water heating payback is short or relatively short).

- Solar water heating do not support a direct combination with radiators (including baseboard ones).

- Some air conditioning (solar space heating and the solar cooling systems) are very pricey, and rather untested technologies: solar air conditioning isn't, till now, a really economical option.

- The efficiency of solar powered systems is rather influenced by sunlight resources. It's in colder climates, where heating or electricity needs are higher, that the efficiency is smaller.

About me - Barbara Young writes on solar power kits in her personal hobby website Her work is devoted to helping people save energy using solar powered energy to eliminate CO2 emissions and energy dependency.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Biodiversity Education in Singapore (and probably the rest of Southeast Asia)

In many respects education in Singapore is top-notch, especially in Mathematics and most sciences due to a great emphasis on the student mastering the basics of a subject. In recent times however, science has moved rapidly and is quickly becoming a large, interdisciplinary field where the lines between mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology are become very blurred.

This is especially important in biodiversity and conservation. Students are brought up in with the mindset of objectivity and a somewhat mistaken concept of the omission of a "human factor". Our students see science as cold and hard and this extends into the biology students, and the education of our biology students.

Biodiversity studies in the days gone by were relatively more straightforward and less bounded by various factors that we have to consider now. Dr. Terry Erwin fogged a forest to do a species survey. This obviously cannot be done now. Similarly, biodiversity conservation has moved on. Many Singaporean conservation students probably do not know this, but conservation of species was actually a concept started by big game hunters in order to ensure the continued survival of their big game targets. It may sound ironic, but effectively, it is not very different from sustainable fishing. Following the scramble for Africa, where European colonial powers carved up Africa for themselves, they set about establishing game reserves, or national parks for this purpose. This was the start of the so-called "fortress conservation" that we now know that is practiced all over Southeast Asia. Its basic concept is quite clearly stated as in the Wilderness Act of 1964 of the United States which says that "A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.". This means man is excluded from any reserves so designated to protect it's "wilderness".

But what does it actually mean to people in practice? One word: Eviction. Local tribes and "natives" are removed from their ancestral lands to fulfill an essentially Western concept of nature. This brings us to another term: nature. What is nature? How do we define nature? We see this term in many "nature blogs" including this one. Raymond Henry Williams a Welsh academic at Cambridge said that it is "perhaps the most complex word in the English language". Rebecca Solnit, prominent writer and cultural historian, said,"One way to guarantee a conversation without a conclusion is to ask a group of people what nature is". Interestingly however, indigenous peoples often have no concept of nature wilderness or biodiversity. Mark Dowie interviewed an Alaskan Yupik scientist and got this reply: "We have no concept of 'wilderness'. What you call 'wildnerness' we call our backyard. To us none of Alaska is wilderness defined by the 1964 Wilderness Act - a place without people. We are deeply insulted by that concept, as we are by the whole idea of 'wilderness designation' that too often excludes native Alaskans from ancestral lands". The nearest approximation in Yupik of "biodiversity" is "food". In Pima (Native Indians of Arizona and Mexico), the nearest approximation for "wilderness" is "health" or "wholeness".

I cannot help but feel that the coldness of the biology that is taught in Singapore is leaving us behind in conservation thought, at the the era of 1964. Conservation biology students have a hardnosed economics vs biodiversity mindset. No doubt that is important. However, anthropology is quickly assuming a role in conservation biology that our students have so far largely failed to take notice. Take for example 'slash-and-burn'. Singaporeans immediately think: haze, forest loss, animals running out of habitat. But how many realise that shifting 'slash-and-burn' or more correctly, swidden agriculture of native peoples actually create mosaics that improve the fire-resistance of the forests, that it reduces erosion rates of standard tilling and ploughing techniques of farming? Now, I am NOT defending the people who caused the haze, those were due to commercial farmers try to clear land quickly to plant cash crops and exhaust the land. We have to make the differentiation between materialist, commercial burning and subsistence, shifting swidden agriculture. Slash-and-burn do NOT always mean the haze, and people should stop calling for it to banned as they are the only livelihoods for some people who actually through doing so, and they enhance and have actually been actively and positively shaping biodiversity for thousands of years.

But we must be careful. We cannot say that we are condemning these people to a primitive life. A lot of times people and governments use this argument, but it is again a perspective of cold, hard numbers. People should be allowed to live their lives as their ancestral culture dictates. Besides, it is always wrong to evict people who have done no wrong except for living primitively - from a Western perspective. Turn the situation on its head. Imagine forest or nomadic cultures one say became militarily and scientifically strong while living in the forest. Would it be right for them to head out to France to pull down the Eiffel Tower or to London tear down city? Obviously not. We view the environment and landscape differently and we cannot assume we are always right.

Coming back to Singapore and biodiversity and conservation education, can the reader see what we are lacking now? I hope you do. If not, I will say it here: anthropology. The current system we have will allow us (although some people will dispute it) to produce good biodiversity scientists coming from a Western perspective. But until the system changes and students have to learn cultures and social perspectives of biodiversity and conservation of indigenous cultures, we will NEVER see a prominent, successful CONSERVATIONIST as it requires a balanced, global perspective. I leave everyone with a speech from Roy Sesana, a G//ana bushman elder from the Kalahari in Botswana which he made when he received the Right Livelihood Award from the Swedish Parliament in 2005 for the courageous fight he put up in trying to tell the world of his people's right to remain in their ancestral land.

"Right Livelihood Award address, Stockholm, December 2005

My name is Roy Sesana; I am a Gana Bushman from the Kalahari in what is now called Botswana. In my language, my name is ëTobee' and our land is ëT//amm'. We have been there longer than any people has been anywhere.

When I was young, I went to work in a mine. I put off my skins and wore clothes. But I went home after a while. Does that make me less Bushman? I don't think so.

I am a leader. When I was a boy we did not need leaders and we lived well. Now we need them because our land is being stolen and we must struggle to survive. It doesn't mean I tell people what to do, it's the other way around: they tell me what I have to do to help them.

I cannot read. You wanted me to write this speech, so my friends helped, but I cannot read words - I'm sorry! But I do know how to read the land and the animals. All our children could. If they didn't, they would have all died long ago.

I know many who can read words and many, like me, who can only read the land. Both are important. We are not backward or less intelligent: we live in exactly the same up-to-date year as you. I was going to say we all live under the same stars, but no, they're different, and there are many more in the Kalahari. The sun and moon are the same.

I grew up a hunter. All our boys and men were hunters. Hunting is going and talking to the animals. You don't steal. You go and ask. You set a trap or go with bow or spear. It can take days. You track the antelope. He knows you are there, he knows he has to give you his strength. But he runs and you have to run. As you run, you become like him. It can last hours and exhaust you both. You talk to him and look into his eyes. And then he knows he must give you his strength so your children can live.

When I first hunted, I was not allowed to eat. Pieces of the steenbok were burnt with some roots and spread on my body. This is how I learned. It's not the same way you learn, but it works well.

The farmer says he is more advanced than the backward hunter, but I don't believe him. His herds give no more food than ours. The antelope are not our slaves, they do not wear bells on their necks and they can run faster than the lazy cow or the herder. We run through life together.

When I wear the antelope horns, it helps me talk to my ancestors and they help me. The ancestors are so important: we would not be alive without them. Everyone knows this in their heart, but some have forgotten. Would any of us be here without our ancestors? I don't think so.

I was trained as a healer. You have to read the plants and the sand. You have to dig the roots and become fit. You put some of the root back for tomorrow, so one day your grandchildren can find it and eat. You learn what the land tells you.

When the old die, we bury them and they become ancestors. When there is sickness, we dance and we talk to them; they speak through my blood. I touch the sick person and can find the illness and heal it.

We are the ancestors of our grandchildren's children. We look after them, just as our ancestors look after us. We aren't here for ourselves. We are here for each other and for the children of our grandchildren.

Why am I here? Because my people love their land, and without it we are dying. Many years ago, the president of Botswana said we could live on our ancestral land forever. We never needed anyone to tell us that. Of course we can live where God created us! But the next president said we must move and began forcing us away.

They said we had to go because of diamonds. Then they said we were killing too many animals: but that's not true. They say many things which aren't true. They said we had to move so the government could develop us. The president says unless we change we will perish like the dodo. I didn't know what a dodo was. But I found out: it was a bird which was wiped out by settlers. The president was right. They are killing us by forcing us off our land. We have been tortured and shot at. They arrested me and beat me.

Thank you for the Right Livelihood Award. It is global recognition of our struggle and will raise our voice throughout the world. When I heard I had won I had just been let out of prison. They say I am a criminal, as I stand here today.

I say what kind of development is it when the people live shorter lives than before? They catch HIV/AIDS. Our children are beaten in school and won't go there. Some become prostitutes. They are not allowed to hunt. They fight because they are bored and get drunk. They are starting to commit suicide. We never saw that before. It hurts to say this. Is this ëdevelopment'?

We are not primitive. We live differently to you, but we do not live exactly like our grandparents did, nor do you. Were your ancestors ëprimitive'? I don't think so. We respect our ancestors. We love our children. This is the same for all people.

We now have to stop the government stealing our land: without it we will die.

If anyone has read a lot of books and thinks I am primitive because I have not read even one, then he should throw away those books and get one which says we are all brothers and sisters under God and we too have a right to live.

That is all. Thank you."

*Note: He is not Christian, he made the speech in native language and this was the best translation in English.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Actually this is just a place for my stuff, ya know? That's all, a little place for my stuff. That's all I want, that's all you need in life, is a little place for your stuff, ya know? I can see it on your table, everybody's got a little place for their stuff. This is my stuff, that's your stuff, that'll be his stuff over there. That's all you need in life, a little place for your stuff. That's all your house is: a place to keep your stuff. If you didn't have so much stuff, you wouldn't need a house. You could just walk around all the time.

A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you're taking off in an airplane. You look down, you see everybody's got a little pile of stuff. All the little piles of stuff. And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn't want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff. They never bother with that crap you're saving. All they want is the shiny stuff. That's what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get...more stuff!

Sometimes you gotta move, gotta get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore. Did you ever notice when you go to somebody else's house, you never quite feel a hundred percent at home? You know why? No room for your stuff. Somebody else's stuff is all over the goddamn place! And if you stay overnight, unexpectedly, they give you a little bedroom to sleep in. Bedroom they haven't used in about eleven years. Someone died in it, eleven years ago. And they haven't moved any of his stuff! Right next to the bed there's usually a dresser or a bureau of some kind, and there's NO ROOM for your stuff on it. Somebody else's shit is on the dresser.

Have you noticed that their stuff is shit and your shit is stuff? God! And you say, "Get that shit offa there and let me put my stuff down!"

Sometimes you leave your house to go on vacation. And you gotta take some of your stuff with you. Gotta take about two big suitcases full of stuff, when you go on vacation. You gotta take a smaller version of your house. It's the second version of your stuff. And you're gonna fly all the way to Honolulu. Gonna go across the continent, across half an ocean to Honolulu. You get down to the hotel room in Honolulu and you open up your suitcase and you put away all your stuff. "Here's a place here, put a little bit of stuff there, put some stuff here, put some stuff--you put your stuff there, I'll put some stuff--here's another place for stuff, look at this, I'll put some stuff here..." And even though you're far away from home, you start to get used to it, you start to feel okay, because after all, you do have some of your stuff with you. That's when your friend calls up from Maui, and says, "Hey, why don'tchya come over to Maui for the weekend and spend a couple of nights over here."

Oh, no! Now what do I pack? Right, you've gotta pack an even SMALLER version of your stuff. The third version of your house. Just enough stuff to take to Maui for a coupla days. You get over to Maui--I mean you're really getting extended now, when you think about it. You got stuff ALL the way back on the mainland, you got stuff on another island, you got stuff on this island. I mean, supply lines are getting longer and harder to maintain. You get over to your friend's house on Maui and he gives you a little place to sleep, a little bed right next to his windowsill or something. You put some of your stuff up there. You put your stuff up there. You got your Visine, you got your nail clippers, and you put everything up. It takes about an hour and a half, but after a while you finally feel okay, say, "All right, I got my nail clippers, I must be okay." That's when your friend says, "Aaaaay, I think tonight we'll go over the other side of the island, visit a pal of mine and maybe stay over."

Aww, no. NOW what do you pack? Right--you gotta pack an even SMALLER version of your stuff. The fourth version of your house. Only the stuff you know you're gonna need. Money, keys, comb, wallet, lighter, hanky, pen, smokes, rubber and change. Well, only the stuff you HOPE you're gonna need.

(All material written and owned by George Carlin)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Girl Who Silenced the World for 5 mins

A coursemate forwarded this to me, and I thought it's one of the best clips ever to appear on Youtube. It features Severn Cullis-Suzuki, at the age of 12, speaking at the United Nations Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro in 1992 (that was where the Convention on Biodiversity was signed). Watch it, and think about what you were doing at 12, and if you are way past 12, what are you doing now?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Crocodile Post on STOMP

I read this post on STOMP, which basically was about this Singaporean who went to a Johor crocodile farm, and "learnt" stuff from the farm's owner. I quote the following from the post:

""The crocodile has no tongue and according to the farm owner, Mr Ng, it has 72 teeth which can even snap off your leg if you are within reach of its mouth."

Correction #1: The crocodile HAS a tongue. It is attached by a membrane to the bottom of its mouth so it's movement is limited and sometimes looks like it has no tongue. In fact for these estuarine (i.e. saltwater) crocodiles, the tongue is one of it's most important organs because it has salt glands to excrete the salt that gets into its physiology from it's saltwater environment in the wild.

Correction #2: Estuarine crocodiles have 64-68 teeth. Not 72. Firstly, there isn't a fixed value, and secondly, 72 is a bit high.

I suppose the STOMPer wouldn't have known better, but it's disturbing that supposed "experts" give dodgy information.