June 16th, 2007

#435: More news from the "workers' paradise" of China

Slave laborers forced to make bricks. Slaves include children, too. Isn't that wonderful?

Child labor and slave labor are illegal in China, of course, and the article says that the man responsible for these factories is wanted by the Chinese government. It also says that "local governments" turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the factories.

Now let me understand this: the government of China is unable to prevent slavery within its own borders? Do I understand this? Real slavery, I mean, where people are forced to do hard manual labor for the majority of a day, fed little, and paid nothing?

The whole reason communism is so great, we are told, is that it takes care of the masses. The little guy is always assured of having food, a place to live, medical care, and education. As long as he obeys the law he is also guaranteed safety from crime.

But here we have a news story saying that criminals are somehow managing literally to "Shanghai" workers into slavery...and to make bricks, something which requires big heavy non-portable equipment, so it's not as if the slavers can just pick up operations and move when "the heat's on".

China's government is failing utterly to protect its people from slavery. In an earlier entry I discussed other ways the Chinese government is failing its people, including education and economic development.

Where is the workers' paradise?

#436: Anti-nuclear lies

I just finished watching an alleged "documentary" under the Modern Marvels monicker on History International. It was about the incident at Three Mile Island (TMI) in 1979.

It spent the first 45 minutes in a discussion of TMI. I don't doubt that the historical data is accurate, more or less. But "fair and balanced" it was not. ("Hack job" is the phrase which comes to mind.)

Every minute of footage which was not historical/archive footage was of people who were clearly anti-nuclear. They didn't get anyone who was pro-nuclear or even remotely neutral.

The show did its best to maximise the danger and minimize the good points. "The radiation at the top of the containment vessel," the narrator intoned gravely, "will kill a man in twenty minutes." He meant the radiation inside the containment vessel, of course, because if the radition outside the containment vessel had been that high, a lot of people working at the plant would have been dead. But he didn't specify that, because people who uncritically accept tripe like this would say, "Oh my God! We almost died!"

At least the show admitted that TMI didn't kill or injure anyone. But then they told us that in order to understand TMI we had to consider an event which took place "half a world away". As soon as they started talking about that I knew what they were talking about: Chernobyl.

The only problem with that is, talking about TMI in the context of Chernobyl is like talking about a walk in the woods in the context of the Bataan Death March.

The documentary was mostly right about one thing: Chernobyl was deliberately mis-operated, which resulted in the explosion of the reactor core, and subsequent contamination of the surrounding countryside. But there the facts pretty much come to an end, and the bullshit begins.

The documentary said that the reactor core destroyed the "containment building". There was no containment vessel. It's disingenuous--at best--to call the building a "containment building"; in the sense that the building contained the reactor, it is true, but it was not designed to hold in the contents of the reactor in the event of an accident. It was a "containment" building in the sense that the building contained a nuclear reactor, much the way a warehouse contains merchandise.

A typical containment vessel for a light water commercial reactor in the United States is made of concrete and steel; it's very thick and designed for the worst conditions in which a reactor can be reasonably expected to exist. It's designed to contain overpressure as well as excess radioactivity and heat. The containment vessel at TMI worked flawlessly, and prevented any uncontrolled escape of radioactivity or pieces of the reactor core.

Chernobyl did not have a containment vessel. It was housed in a building made of concrete and steel, and when the reactor blew, it blew big. But why did the reactor blow up?

The Chernobyl reactor was a graphite-moderated reactor. It is a type of reactor that no one in the West uses; no commercial power reactors were ever built that way in America. Why? Because graphite can burn. If it gets too hot, it will ignite, and it is notoriously difficult to extinguish.

If Chernobyl had had a containment vessel--a real, Western-style containment vessel, like the ones at TMI--it might not have been such a disaster. Or, at least, the disaster might have been mitigated. But a proper containment vessel was too expensive for the USSR to bother with.

The documentary invented some statistics. It said that 2,000 people died in the initial explosion, and that 6,000 more died trying to contain the fire and radiation. It added that there were a certain numbers of birth defects and cancers due to the radiation released from Chernobyl.

But the casualty figures are drastically inflated. In fact, 60 people died fighting the fire and building the containment sarcophagus. There have been four thousand cases of juvenile thyroid cancer that can be linked to Chernobyl. But I haven't seen any statistics for birth defects anywhere.

Check out this quote from Wikipedia:
The 2005 report prepared by the Chernobyl Forum, led by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and World Health Organization (WHO), attributed 56 direct deaths (47 accident workers, and nine children with thyroid cancer), and estimated that as many as 9,000 people among the approximately 6.6 million most highly exposed, may die from some form of cancer. Specifically, the report cited 4,000 thyroid cancer cases among children diagnosed by 2002.
These aren't nuclear industry figures; these are from the freaking UN, for crying out loud. And "may die" does not count as a casualty of any kind of accident. Everyone "may die" of something.

At Chernobyl, the safety systems were deliberately de-activated and the reactor was deliberatey mis-operated in order to perform a long-overdue test. The reactor was an outmoded design which had a history of being hard to control, and it used a moderator which could burn. There was no containment vessel around the reactor; when the reactor exploded, it destroyed the building that held it. 60 people died from radiation exposure, and a couple hundred got enough of a dose to be made perilously ill.

At TMI the safety systems worked properly. There was a controlled release of radioactive hydrogen which resulted in a radiation release on the order of 1,500 millirems, which isn't even enough to make a person sick; in the same year, getting an angiogram would have exposed you to 25,000 millirem of radiation. Typical background radiation from natural sources averages around 100 millirem per year, and at no time did radiation on the ground at TMI rise much above that background level. In order to receive the 1,500 millirem dose, you would have had to camp out atop the containment vessel for the entire duration of the event. Cancer rates for the area have dropped slightly since the event, although the drop is not attributable to the event at TMI; it's a statistical fluke and not relevant.

About the only thing which TMI and Chernobyl have in common is that both were nuclear fission reactors designed to produce electricity. The attempt to conflate the nuclear accidents at these sites is both ludicrous and disingenuous.

And they have to lie to perpetuate the myth that nuclear power is dangerous. If you have to lie to support your thesis, there might just be something wrong with it.

Coal power has killed more people than nuclear power has (particularly coal miners) and under current federal nuclear regulations, a coal-fired power plant actually emits more radiation than TMI ever did, because coal contains all kinds of radioisotopes (Carbon 14, for example)--besides making pollution and "greenhouse gases", that is.

But no one is suggesting that coal-fired power plants are somehow inherently dangerous, despite proven environmental and safety issues. Coal power is hazardous.

Nuclear power is also hazardous. Most useful tools are. A chainsaw can lop off your arm easier than it can take a branch off a tree. A person could be stabbed to death with a steak knife. The correct application of a wood pencil to a person's temple or throat can kill him just as dead as a bullet. A baseball bat can kill. How many people die in car accidents every year? A friend of mine once killed a bat with a dictionary, for Christ's sake!

But nuclear power is only frightening if you don't understand it. It is a tool, and properly used it is safer than coal and much cleaner. TMI, rather than showing how "dangerous" nuclear power is, actually showed us how safe it is. The reactor core underwent a partial meltdown and nothing happened outside the plant.

If the press, and the makers of this alleged "documentary", had not had an anti-nuclear axe to grind--if they were pro-nuclear--the story would be all about how great the safety systems were, how well they worked, and how the people who ran the plant were smart and conscientious people. But that's not the story they want to tell, because they are not even remotely neutral.

And so the lies and half-truths got another showing today on History International. I guess from now on I'll have to take everything I hear on Modern Marvels with a grain of salt.

* * *

And what is "modern" about an event which happened 28 years ago? For a show about "modern marvels" I note that many of their episodes aren't about modern things.

#437: Saturday night rambles

I really dislike web sites--particularly blogs or other text-based sites--which have dark backgrounds and light text. Yes, it may look really cool, but if you read more than a few lines of text, the next time you look elsewhere you will see dark-and-light bands in your vision.

Dark-on-light is the only good way to present text. One site I look at every once in a while presents all its text in yellow on black, which really hurts the eyes. And don't even get me started on the subject of low-contrast color choices, such as purple-on-gray. Jesus Christ.

It's one thing if your site is mainly pictures; it's another if you're posting nothing but text. I won't spend a lot of time reading a site which is hard to read, no matter how good the content is.

It's kind of odd, though. I never had trouble reading text on a green-screen monitor, and back in the C-64 days, my preferred color combination was white text on black. Of course the C-64 was a 40-column machine (the screen could hold 25 lines of 40 characters each), and on this monitor a single character would be about half an inch tall. The C-64's top resolution was 320x200:

...which is a bit small compared to this monitor's native resolution of 1680x1050; it's 1/4 of the screen of a typical VGA monitor running at the base VGA resolution of 640x480.

* * *

Steven den Beste wrote an interesting post on the economics of fansubs. The comments are very interesting, in particular.

When I first got into anime, in 1994, the stuff was pricy. Ranma 1/2 was $25 for a two-episode VHS tape, dubbed. (Subbed was $35.) AnimEigo charged $30-$40--or more--for a subbed videotape. In the case of Urusei Yatsura it was four episodes, but most of their releases were two episodes to a tape.

Mostly it was due to the economics of scale: if you're selling 500 copies of something, and if you want to make some kind of profit, and it costs a packet to generate the copies, your per-unit price is going to be high. If you're selling 10,000 copies, all else being equal, your per-unit price can be lower.

These days anime is a lot cheaper. DVDs are cheaper to produce in bulk than videotapes are--DVDs are stamped out rapid-fire, whereas videotape must be copied in real time--and the larger market for anime enables larger production scales, which also helps to drive down costs.

If you are not worried about having the latest releases as they come out you can get quite good deals on "thinpack" releases. If you're even more patient you can get stuff off eBay for a fraction of the original price.

90% of the anime I buy these days is thinpack box sets, usually on sale--I don't have the disposable income I had in the late 1990s.

But I think fansubs are a vital part of the fan community, too. Show me the company which is releasing the live action Hana Yori Dango. Can I buy translated versions of the live action You're Under Arrest or the live-action Sailor Moon? How about Mizuiro Jidai, Hime-chan no Ribon, Akazukin Chacha, Creamy Mami, or Magical Fairy Persia?

I got the first episodes of Yawara! in 1999. Neko Creations (a fansub group) did the first 40 episodes of that series, and then stopped after AnimEigo picked up an option on the rights to the series. I then waited eight years, and AnimEigo still has not released it. (The first season is coming out later this year, supposedly. It will cost around $150 for--what? 26 episodes?)

AnimEigo sat on the Kimagure Orange Road TV series for eight years before finally getting around to releasing it. I have it on laserdisk; I suppose I'm going to have to bite the bullet, buy another laserdisk player, and then copy them to DVD. (And then put the LD player and the laserdisks into a climate-controlled vault.)

Want Oh! My Goddess! TV? Be prepared to fork over $170 for the entire series--AnimEigo has re-released it as a "collector's edition". It's been out for a while, but don't bother with the individual DVDs; with the artbox that'll cost $175.

The anime market in the USA has exploded in the last 5 years. Old guard anime fans like me remember when you could fit all the commercially released anime into one 4-foot section of a 60" high gondola. ("Gondola" is retail-ese for "shelving unit", BTW.) And I'm not engaging in hyperbole, here--I mean all of it, every single title.

These days an entire wall of a typical video store might be enough space. We're lucky it caught on.

* * *

I wanted sesame chicken but ordered empress chicken. I didn't really think about it; I woke up hungry and wanted food, and it was early enough that the Chinese place would have my order ready in 15 minutes. So I was a bit surprised at how spicy it was, until I got my head straight.

My cat, Luna--
You see? I am an old guard anime fan! That proves it! I got a black cat in 1998 and I named her after the cat in Sailor Moon! If she'd been male I would have named it "Jiji" after the cat in Kiki's Delivery Service.
--Luna was nosing around and mooching as I was eating some reheated leftovers, just now; when I was done with the plate I set it aside. She sniffed at it, walked away, came back, sniffed at it some more, and then made "covering" moves--trying to bury it.

* * *

Today I got some more videotape of the cicadas in action, and I even managed to capture a male cicada "singing". The bug flexes its abdomen as it makes the noise. Considering how loud the noise is, that's not particularly surprising--it looks like it takes a bit of effort.

I realized--while mowing the grass--that the cicada's sudden death after mating is a survival-of-species tactic: the dead bug's body will likely fertilize the tree which will nourish the bug's offspring for 17 years.

The female implants her eggs into a twig, and today I saw what it does to the twig. It rips it up something awful, which explains why the end of the twig dies and falls off. (Also, incidentally, helping to fertilize the tree.)

* * *

Well, I guess I'm out of rambles for the moment.