Brilliant artwork

By chance, I spotted a gallery/shop/whatever window display in Liverpool One, piled high with unsettling baby dolls. This was arresting enough as a sight and it was drawing the attention and laughter of almost every other passerby.

But the explanation that accompanied the exhibition showed that the whole project is close to genius:

To produce a written constitution for the UK, by outsourcing the job to China.

You can read all about the project – with some fascinating posts – and track the journey using Google Maps and even see photos of the disturbing dolls on


Moral panic of the day

China is so often first with its master-class examples of how moral panics can justify social repression. Here’s another one. China has used an imaginary illness (online gaming addiction) as an excuse to remove Internet users’ anonymity, according to the Times.

The system is aimed at combating gaming addiction particularly among the young, according to the Chinese authorities. Gamers have to give their real names when they register as well as the code from their government ID cards. Gamers are still allowed to use their gaming names in the games themselves (wizardlordofall13571) but their account must have the correct information including the gamer’s age.

“… as well as the code from their government ID cards.” 😀 Western governments will be taking notes. “If you’re not doing anything wrong”, and so on.

Some text-book elements of this strategy are:

  • the use of fear. China doesn’t have The War Against Terror, so they have to use “public health”. What kind of anti-social bastard wouldn’t care about public health?
  • concern for the young. Fragile innocents are under attack. You must protect them by forbidding action x.
  • government must always act to protect its people, whether from others or from from themselves.
  • start a war against an abstract noun (“gaming addiction”)

OK, by the standards of moral panics, this is farce rather than tragedy. It doesn’t turn the public against a hated minority group. So, it won’t end in pograms and ethnic cleansing and massacres. A few thousand gamers will have lost some rights and a few companies will be shut down.

(It might also damage the bizarre WOW-related mini-industry that has grown up in China, with urchins spending long shifts grinding WOW levels to earn online gold, in order to get cash from Western players too lazy or busy to play their own characters. )

The first casualty of war is supposed to be the truth. War-against-abstract-nouns has the highest truth-casualty rate. The war has to start by defining its abstract noun as self-evidently evil. So step up, internet addiction, your time has come.

Addiction is a spurious concept, at best. Internet-gaming addiction is off the far edge of any validity it might have. However, according to ars technica (the Times’ source for the story)

The addictive nature of online gaming has been proven, at least anecdotally, time and time again. While not everyone who jumps into the digital realms of World of Warcraft or the various other massively-multiplayer online role-playing games is liable to get endlessly sucked in, those with addictive personalities certainly run the risk.

LOL. “proven, at least anecdotally.” Somebody skipped Epistemology 101.

There is little doubt that the potential for addiction exists with MMORPGs. ….. countless anecdotes from the East have produced horror stories that have gone so far as to end in death from malnourishment.

Well, there’s plenty of doubt from me. Just because you add up a list of anecdotes, they still don’t constitute scientific proof.

China, Korea, and even Japan have had a long and sordid history with online gaming addiction.

(I am momentarily distracted by the “and even Japan” phrase.) All the examples come from the far east, maybe because of some sense that readers will see the far east as so exotic that it might really have “diseases” with which we westerners are unfamiliar. Like bird-flu.

What are the symptoms of this Asian internet-flu? To quote another ars technica story:

If you find yourself using the Internet for more than six hours per day and exhibit at least one of a number of symptoms, you could be addicted. The list of symptoms is about what you would expect, including things like insomnia, difficulty concentrating, mental or physical stress, irritation, and spending time wishing you were online.

Blimey, we’re all doomed. If you work at a PC – which is most of us – you could find yourself well and truly in the “addicted” range without even logging on at home. The symptoms? I suspect they could be called the “human condition”. But if we can all become unstressed, focussed, easy-going people who sleep like logs, just by not playing WoW, most of us should be already there.

Committing adulteration

The Register has a piece on the “melamine in whey protein” story that’s been disturbing me. Obviously, it’s nowhere near as disturbing to me as it has been to the thousands of Chinese babies become seriously ill with kidney damage and even died, as a result of imbibing the product when it found its way into milk.

One thing about this incident that inspires true shock and awe is the evil chemical genius that it shows. Imagine that you are a milk producer whose yields are a bit disappointing. Even, if you were completely unscrupulous, you might think that watering down the milk was as far as you could go.

Not so, a company called Xuzhou Anying can provide a sciencey-sounding “protein” powder. Well, a powder that tests as if it was made of protein, when you do an assay on it. It turns out to be melamine. How on earth did anyone come to think “Mwa ha ha, I can pass of melamine as protein”

In the first quarter of last year, the Chinese company, Xuzhou Anying, was advertising dust of melamine as something it called “ESB protein powder” on the global market trading website, Alibaba. “The latest product, ESB protein powder, which is researched and developed by Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co., Ltd… Contains protein 160 – 300 percent, which solves the problem for shortage of protein resource,” it boasted. (from the Register)

So this magical protein powder claimed to contain more than 100% protein. Shouldn’t that have set off just a few alarm bells in the minds of prospective buyers.

“Dust of melamine” How tasty does that sound? I mean, if it’s good enough to make kitchen worktops, melamine must be great as a food item.

Awkwardly worded and a bit fishy, it nevertheless apparently hooked North American pet food makers and animal feed distributors ….

(killing off lots of pets in the USA)

…China makes a lot of melamine and the country also manufactures and exports tens of billions of dollars worth of powders and concentrates for use in processed food. Readers can see where this is going. Completely stamping out criminal rings making and diverting melamine for use in processed food is going to be a long process, if it can be done at all.

I start thinking of all the ways that “protein” powders get into the food chain. There’s a big enough market for cheap whey protein, for a start. Plus, protein powders are added to most manufactured foods.

It doesn’t inspire much confidence to consider that an assay for the nitrogen content of a product is enough to render it acceptable, especially when the readings are so far off the scale as to be incredible.

I googled “ESB protein powder” “about 2,430 for ESB protein powder.” The first page of Google results gives no apparent indication that this is a completely blag product.

(The accompanying Google ads list several online supplement sellers, who might probably feel that they definitely haven’t had their money’s worth for their ad dollars, given that that guilt by association isn’t normally seen as an advertising plus. But then, there’s nothing in the hits to suggest that ESB protein powder isn’t a miracle new bio-engineered protein.)

I follow the top listed Googled hit.
Here on the page, in a list of other doubtless meticulously-safe protein powder products, I see:

4. ESB protein powder
The latest product ESB Protein Powder which is researched and developed by Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co., Ltd. contains
Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co.,Ltd. [China \ Jiangsu\Xuzhou]

I am tempted to order some for a sick laugh. I follow the link. It only says “Enquire now” though but it does provide some information on this nutritionally astonishing powder:

The latest product ESB Protein Powder which is researched and developed by Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co., Ltd. contains protein 160%-300%, which solves the problem for shortage of protein resource. Reasonably making use of NPN and reducing the production cost of feed factor, ESB Protein Powder is a good additive to supplement the shortage of protein resources in animal feed applications.
After eating this, protein powder will be transformed into mycoprotein in the alimentary canal under the action of digestive enzyme; it will be normally digested, absorbed and used by the livestock and poultry. It is safe nonpoisonous, without bad reaction

I feel momentarily smug as a vegetarian. At least I won’t be eating animals fed on tasty melamine. Wait a minute. Mycoprotein? Doesn’t that mean “protein derived from fungus”? Is melamine now being classed as a mushroom? Doesn’t Quorn claim to be derived from mycoprotein? Feel notably less smug. I hope they don’t outsource the Quorn ingredients.

There are 42 protein powders listed on these pages, almost all from Chinese companies. The site is directed specifically at the wholesale market and at resellers.

“Hi! Start here to find Protein Powder manufacturers,exporters,suppliers,distributors and wholesalers related to Protein Powder. from china and around the world “

Here’s another reseller’s blurb from exilion.

… Reasonably making use of NPN and reducing the production cost of feed factor, ESB Protein Powder is a good additive to supplement protein resources in animal feed applications. After eating this, phalli protein will be transformed inside the alimentary canal and upon effect from digestion enzyme; it will be normally digested, absorbed and used by the livestock and poultry. It is safe nonpoisonous, without bad reaction. Use Methods. For poultry feed: adding 2% is capable of increasing protein by 3.2%-4%. 2. For cattle/sheep/pig/fish/shrimp feed: adding 3% is capable of increasing protein by 4.8%-

I give up on working out what phalli protein means (isn’t that the plural form of phallus?) I see that sheep, pigs, fish and chickens are all likely to get fed this crap.

Every link to ESB powder relates to a product from a single Chinese factory. This is slightly reassuring. At least this particular scam seems to have some limts. But the massive plethora of resellers doesn’t exactly allay suspicion. And these are just the resellers who are citing the original source. I would imagine there must be many more who have rebranded the product or would be quite willing to do so.

Now, just in case one gets the idea this is bagging on China too much, consider it takes two parties to make this crime work. The people who make and sell the melamine. And the western firms in the food industry working the territory for the best possible deals, in the process giving up tight supervision and quality control of their suppliers. (from the Register)

An Olympic Sized Lesson

Some sad news today, with a bit of a reflection on the current fear-based legislative ideas that grips the west.

From the BBC:

Sixteen Chinese policemen have been killed in an attack on a border post near Kashgar city in the western region of Xinjiang, state media say.
Two men drove a lorry into a group of jogging policemen before attacking them with explosives and knives, according to the Xinhua news agency.

Without a shadow of a doubt, this is sad news and my condolences to the families of all those involved (on the massive off-chance Chinese people can even read this blog).

It shows that the evil of terrorism is truly a global problem. Oddly, China is on record as having an astoundingly appaling human-rights record. It has laws that would make almost anyone in the “free” west blink twice. It has oppressive laws controling how its citizens can (and can’t) behave, forced ID controls and monitors the activities (on and off-line) of its population.

In short, China has the anti-terrorist powers that most western governments would die for.

Did it prevent this attack? Obviously not. Is there any reason to think that people in China are safer from [terrorists|murders|paedophiles|insert bugbear of choice] than any western nation? Well, no.

If anything, history shows that the more oppressed a population becomes, the greater the “revolutionary” response — oddly the US is both an example of this and the figure-head of the New World Order. Terrorists (revolutionaries) find fertile breeding ground where one segment of society feels it is being treated unjustly and no amount of monitoring, surveillance, torture (etc) will prevent this. The current War on Terror is especially ironic as the “terrorists” hate the west because of our freedoms. In our goal to prevent them turning us into oppressive nations we are becoming an oppressive nation.

Well done us.

Is there a solution? If there is, I don’t have it. In the UK terrorism is outlawed by criminal law. Terrorism is a crime. Can a 100% crime-free utopia exist?

For me, the only reasonable solution is to accept the fact there will always be some level of crime (murder, terrorism, burglary etc) and find a situation where we can minimise its impact without destroying the freedoms we once considered universal and self-evident.

Is that difficult?

Wonderful Web Weirdness

The internet is the most fantastic source of weirdness the universe has ever seen. I am, generally, at a total loss as to what is spoof and what is real, which could explain some of the posts on this blog…

Picture of floating home - Copyright 2005, Underwater Vehicles Inc. All rights reserved., I was innocently surfing the net when I discovered a “Floating Home” (see pic or original site). This is brilliant and I really do hope it is real.

Basically for a mere US$4 – 5 million you can get one of these submersible houses. Words can not do justice for how cool something like this would be (strains of Homer Simpson singing “under the sea” are reverberating through my head now), especially given modern house prices.

Looking around the site (albeit briefly), it seems this was actually published in Popular Mechanics in 2002. This makes me wonder why there aren’t a good few of this wonders floating around. Even in the poor UK, there are a lot of people who can afford to spend GBP2.5 million on a house – especially a six bedroom one like this claims – and getting a house you can move, dont have to mow the lawn and get to see underwater from strikes me as a major selling point.

Add in the way this looks like an ideal means for an island with limited land and an increasing population and I think Gordon Brown should get involved as part of his major social housing scheme.

Obviously there are a few downsides, I suppose. The commute to would could be a pain in the ass (but we should all be telecommuting or working in VR anyway – even China has got in on the act here but more of that another time) and I can imagine docking fees every time you want to go to the shop could be tiresome. Would this be outweighed by the advantage of being able to move your house to a warmer clime whenever the mood hit you? Probably.

The only insurmountable hurdle I can see would be piracy. Can the Flying Spaghetti Monster help here? 🙂

Still, I am willing to take the risk. If people can help me raise enough funds, I will buy a floating semi-submersible house and report back what it is like. Currently the fund stands at US$0.00. All donations welcome…

[tags]Housing, Gordon Brown, Pirates, Flying Spaghetti Monster, Virtual Reality, Society, China, Scam, Spoof, Floating House, Technology, Adventure[/tags]