Friday, September 23, 2005

When the disaster comes before the storm arrives

All J.G. Ballard has to do for the next novel is type—We mentioned earlier that the scenes from hurricane-ravaaged Gulf Coast read like J.G Ballard novels. He’s the British novelist who specializes in environmental disaster sci-fi, like Drowned World and Drought. The scenes from the Texas highways leading out of Houston today would make another chapter. I would guess it is one of the biggest traffic jams in history: tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people trapped in their cars on an interstate highway so jammed that no one moves and a killer storm is coming. Cars run out of gas and are pushed to the side. People ensnared in their cars in 100-degree heat, unable to run their air conditioners let they too run out of gas. A bus carrying sick people blows up. The government once again clueless on how to handle this, although, to be fair, no one has tried to evacuate the country’s fourth largest city before. And, why is God picking on Texas? My daughter’s take is that God is punishing Texas for giving us George Bush. Even He has had enough.

And Ballard gets more help. Research compiled by the Australian Medical Association and the Australian Conservation Foundation suggest that world-wide temperatures could increase, displacing millions and touching off social chaos. Droughts, floods and typhoons (Ballard has already done two of them) could lead to an increase in diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and cholera. The study is predicting the average temperature will rise by between 1 and 6 degrees Celsius by 2100. Crops would fail. Civilized society would be threatened. Fifteen thousand people could die each year in Australia alone just from the heat. Ironically, Australia—along with the U.S.—is the only developed country refusing to sign the Kyoto Accord on global warming.

How to screw the censors—It has been a theory of mine for years that the Internet represents the ultimate communication tool: no matter how hard governments try, they cannot control it, cannot censor it effectively, and generally have to learn to live with free expression whether they like it or not. Most do not. But that doesn’t keep them from trying. China regularly tries to censor bloggers. It works for a while. Now a media watchdog group in Paris has issued a booklet with hints on how to foil the censors. Reporters Without Borders’ “Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents”, partially financed by the French Foreign Ministry, has technical advice, for instance, on how to stay anonymous on the web. It contains advice for setting up blogs and explains technologies for circumventing the government filters. The information, in five languages, can be downloaded from here. This, of course, only works when companies like Yahoo don’t go squealing to authorities.

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