East or West, we know best – so you can just shut-up!

Polar bear on iceflow, Chuckchi Sea.

Endangered species – all of us!

The occupants of our block of apartments pay a small monthly sum into a communal fund for services such as cleaning of common areas – corridors, staircases – and for any basic shared maintenance. This fund is administered by a ‘superintendent’ elected by the occupants.

We are lucky if we get a receipt for our monthly subscription. We have no idea how much money is collected annually; we have no information on any actual expenditure incurred.

We, the occupants of Apart.x, have been asking the superintendent for a general meeting of the block, since – last autumn? The previous meeting was in September, 2009. It resulted in all sorts of promises – to fix the damaged front door, to paint the entrance, to improve the general cleanlinesss of the building.

All that has happened since then is that we pay more per month, and the routine cleaning has definitely improved. The damaged door remains, not one lick of new paint has been applied, and the staircase radiators have been removed.

Last winter, ‘someone’ unilaterally decided the staircase radiators should go, to cut the common heating bill. No-one bothered to ask us, the residents. What’s more, through complete idiocy and carelessness on ‘their’ part, the radiators were stolen (black market scrap). Or, were they…

Cockroach control

Last year, all the apartments suffered from an extensive visit by cockroaches. They liked the place so much that they have decided to prolong their stay. While mounting our own defences against the elusive buggers, we asked the superintendent to investigate hiring the services of specialists, to spray the common areas including the basement. It’s taken him weeks to come back to us to say that they don’t have the money.

Well, how much is he talking about? We got a quotation today for 70 leva (about €35), with an extra 20 leva to do our own apartment in addition.

There are 12 apartments in the block. If we each pay 10 leva per month, the annual total comes to 1,440 leva. If we had any idea of the regular outgoings, we’d have an instant notion of whether the cockroach-clearing could be afforded. If it couldn’t, we might even decide to club together for the job with an additional payment.

But… because of the superintendent’s management accountability and attitude, we don’t have the necessary information. Wait until we catch him on the stairs this weekend…

Train crash in China

Why am I banging on about cockroaches, you may ask. Three events over the past few days have struck me as being somehow connected with our position of impotence (for the moment!)

The recent high-speed, bullet train crash in China was, undoubtedly, a human tragedy. The death toll now stands at 40 people, with about 190 injured. But what intrigued me from a different perspective was the official attitude towards those killed, their families and relatives, and Chinese citizens in general.

Official apologies – yes, eventually. A press conference, 24 hours after the crash occurred. Railway officials sacked – all three of them. Compensation for lost lives? Initially, claimants were to sign an agreement without knowing the terms or amount of compensation. This has now changed, and the initial offer (eventually declared) has been doubled, on direct orders from Beijing, to $142,000 per person.[1]

The initial news of the crash was spread on social networks; none of the major state newspapers mentioned the disaster the day following the crash.[2] Onlookers were horrified to see two reported bodies fall out of a railway carriage as it was winched from the line and shoved over the bridge on which the accident had occurred. In another carriage, a  toddler was found alive after 20 hours. Meantime, railway and state officials were accused of concentrating more on getting the rail service back into action than in trying to save lives. Those carriages, that could have aided the belatedly promised investigations, have been crushed and buried onsite.

The media were told in no uncertain terms that they were forbidden to ask questions, but were to accept official statements and versions of the event without debate, as “they represent the truth of what happened”.

Needless to say, everyone began to suspect a cover-up. Why?

The rush to progress

China has been developing high-speed rail technology for a full decade, in an attempt to bolster its economic progress and national prestige. It is acknowledged as one of the world’s leaders in this specialist sector. I may have missed something, but in everything I have read the past few days, much emphasis is given to words like “economic”, “pioneering”, “technology”, but nothing to “social service”. Paying passengers, it seems (tell me if I’m wrong), are a mere economic commodity to contribute to some grand feat of technology. (By the way, all passenger tickets include a compulsory insurance levy – another point of contention in China, apparently, given the Railway Ministry’s questionable handling of compensation.)

Nor is this drive (excuse me) for faster trains and the associated infrastructure limited to the territory of China. The country has been active in seeking international contracts for similar projects. In fact, the current H-S network in China is a cooperation with Bombardier, the Canadian company.

Commercial reaction across the globe has been rapid: “Their chances of selling high-speed trains are zero,” said Edwin Merner, president of Atlantis Investment Research Corp. in Tokyo, which manages about $3 billion in assets.[3]

One train crash – and all these official pretensions and ambitions could well be shattered. Never mind a mercifully small number of inconveniently dead passengers and citizens – we must, as the super-efficient, patriarchal Party, not lose face, nor endanger our international contracts. I can guess that this is what currently exercises the minds of bereaved families.

Polar bears and scientists equally endangered

Another story caught my interest this week, this time in the USA.

Do you recognise the name Charles Monnett? No, neither did I, although I had read of his theory that polar bears were being adversely affected by global warming. This followed his findings back in 2004 of four bears mysteriously drowned in the Arctic Ses, and a subsequent scientific paper published two years later under the catchy title: “Drowning-related deaths of polar bears may increase in the future if the observed trend of regression of pack ice and/or longer open water periods continues”. The polar bear was eventually declared an endangered species (by the Bush administration in 2008, would you believe!), the first animal to be accorded suh protection as a result of climate change.

So far, so good.

Now, Monnett,  described as “the guy in charge of all the science in the Arctic” is now suspended and is being investigated for “possible scientific misconduct… just now as an arm of the interior department is getting ready to make its decision on offshore drilling in the Arctic seas.[4]

The equally memorable US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement has been conducting research into drilling in the Arctic, with Monnett overseeing much of the scientific work on behalf of the agency, and responsible for about $50 mn. of the research budget.

An investigation by the Obama administration into his work began in 2010, resulting in his suspension this month (July 2011). It is reported that he is under a gagging order, and not allowed to communicate with his colleagues.


Apparently, oil companies have been complaining of delays in environmental reviews and reporting, especially in the untouched Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. Obama ordered (again, this month) a speeding-up of the allocation of oil drilling permits in the Arctic region.

So, a scientist entrusted with loads of US government money is providing the wrong answers, and his “scientific integrity” is questioned?

If this is so, why doesn’t Obama just cut the environmental budget bullshit, and cover the region with wells and pipes? It would help his country’s debt problem… and he could always arrange to have a few of the remaining polar bears stuck in a zoo in Washington as a sad casualty of the “rush to progress”.

“This is a cautionary tale with a deeply chilling message for any federal scientist who dares to publish groundbreaking research on conditions in the Arctic,” says Jeff Ruch, president of the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

It’s much more than that; it’s an equally chilling message that the fight for world dominance goes on – bullet trains and prestige, or oil to keep an unsustainable economy going for a few more years at any cost. You and I, and the ordinary person in USA or China just don’t count at all. Capitalism or Communism? No, just blatant self-interest at the top, the highest levels – and, sod the people! Cockroaches!

And, finally…

Four days to go before the USA goes broke!

No-one can guess the consequences, because this is new territory. The world is still struggling to emerge from a crisis that was initially caused by America, and looks as though it will be engulfed in a new catastrophe within the next few days (forget Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy, combined), unless…

… unless a collection of self-preening monster insects (Democrats and Republicans, equally) can agree on what to do with America’s ‘credit limit’. Well, thanks, you guys, for being so introvert, arrogant and partisan that you can endanger not only your own citizens, but the rest of us miserable little people scattered around the world. (I forgot for a moment that there’s yet another presidential election soon.)

Apple, the computer company, now has more cash in the bank than the US Treasury. But I don’t suppose Mr. Jobs feels like throwing his comany’s cash into an infinite black hole.[5] He has the strange, old-fashioned view that an organisation tries to at least balance the books, not make the biggest loss in history.

And China, the bullet economy,  holds US securities worth about $1.6 trillion.[6]

Meanwhile, I’ll let you know if anything positive happens in our own little Battle of the Cockroaches.

Only 4 days to go, folks, until meltdown! Source: http://www.usdebtclock.org/

Update: Additional source reading regarding US debt and its effects on the Euro.

Source [1]: 39online.com

Source [2]: CNN

Source [3]: Bloomberg

Source 4:  The Guardian

Source [5]: BBC

Source 6: NYTimes


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