Damning the Yin Ta Lai

Damning the Yin Ta Lai

September 20, 2008 |

Damning the Yin Ta Lai is a short, 13-minute video that provides a rare glimpse into the heart of Karenni State in eastern Burma, and the lives and environment of the Yin Ta Lai.

Living along the Salween river, the Yin Ta Lai are facing extinction from the Weigyi dam, one of five controversial dams that are planned for the Salween. Once completed, the dam’s reservoirs would submerge the entirety of the Yin Ta Lai’s homeland.

“The Yin Ta Lai will become extinct if this dam goes ahead. While Burma’s regime gains profits from selling electricity, we will bear the costs” says Aung Ngyeh, a spokesperson of the Karenni Research Development Group (KDRG), who produced the movie. “We urge all parties to suspend plans for the Salween dams.”

“The military junta ruling Burma is planning to build five dams on the Salween River with financial backing from Thai and Chinese companies. In addition to the Yin Ta Lai, the Weigyi dam will permanently displace an estimated 30,000 people in Burma’s smallest state. The series of dams will adversely affect well over half a million people living along the river in Burma,” adds the Salween Watch Coalition.

The film includes some interviews with Karenni farmers who were displaced by flowwing from the Mobye dam in 1966.

Damning the Yin Ta Lai


Sarah Palin Speaks with Charlie Gibson interview (Full Pt. 1)

Sarah Palin Speaks with Charlie Gibson

Interview Part 1

Interview Part 2

30 Days: Life on an Indian Reservation

30 Days: Life on an Indian Reservation

Growing up in the US, the documentarian Morgan Spurlock wasn’t any different from most Americans (and Canadians); knowing very little about indigenous people, their history, or the problems they face today.

And so, for the season finale of his television series 30 Days, Morgan decided to “leave America as he knows it, without ever actually leaving US soil, to live with a people who many see as refugees in their own country:” the Navajo.

Hulu.com has the full 30 Days episode, “Life on an Indian Reservation”, available on their website. You can watch it below, however, only if you’re in the US. Hulu is a US-only video service.

If you’re outside the states and really want to watch it, you can download and install Hotspot Shield, then come back here (or go to hulu.)

Incidentally, Canada’s CPAC is currently running a related, multi-part documentary called Our Home on Native Land, which examines life on a few reservations in Canada. If you can figure out the timezone issue, you can watch it online aswell (no matter your location). The next part will be shown on Sunday, July 20 at 8PM ET / 5PM PT.

Thoughts on the Episode

I heard Morgan was heading to “Indian Country” about a month ago. Honestly, I hoped he was going to spend the time at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, which is said to be the most impoverished place in North America (right next to Haiti).

Morgan’s stay on Navajoland is still somewhat revealing, however, as Chris Monfette points out, the episode was in many respects a soft-peddled, made-for-tv look at what’s really going on. There are tonnes of issues that we’re not mentioned, such as the uranium contamination – and the issues that were mentioned were not examined in any real depth.

Nevertheless, with there being so few opportunities for people to see what indigenous people really face, it’s good Morgan decided to go to Navajo Country… to try and see the world through their eyes, and understand it with their voice. If only more people had the courage to follow his example.

30 Days: Life on an Indian Reservation

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Hanford crews make progress on 618-7 Burial Ground (w/ video)

Hanford crews make progress on 618-7 Burial Ground (w/ video)

By Annette Cary, Herald staff writer

Video: Hanford 618-7 burial ground

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Hanford workers are finding huge stainless steel tanks, one with radioactive powder inside, and drums of potentially flammable zircaloy chips as they dig up the final trench at a burial ground just north of Richland.

Contractor Washington Closure Hanford had delayed starting cleanup of the 618-7 Burial Ground until this year, fearing that its contents would be so hazardous that it needed to have a new safety plan required by the Department of Energy in place before work began.

“It’s gone better than we expected,” said John Ludowise, project engineer for Washington Closure. “We prepared for the worst.”

The burial ground was used from about 1960-73 for waste from the Hanford nuclear reservation’s 300 Area along the Columbia River, where fuel was made for Hanford’s reactors and research was conducted.

When the waste was disposed of, it was not expected to be retrieved to meet future environmental standards so records of what it was used for are sketchy. That means there were bound to be some surprises and workers were protected with supplied-air respirators.

Work began shortly after the first of the year to dig up the two largest trenches, each about 650 feet long and 100 feet wide.

Workers found about 800 drums, most with aluminum turnings or vermiculite, a material used for insulation or packing midcentury. About half were open, some with lids that had popped off, and others had to be carefully opened one at a time to make sure their contents were relatively benign.

“We were surprised how tame the contents were in those,” said John Darby, Washington Closure project manager.

Because Washington Closure knew somewhere in the burial grounds there were likely to be drums of zircaloy shavings, which can ignite if fine particles are exposed to air, drums were opened in an enclosure with remotely operated equipment with the capability of adding water or mineral oil to stabilize the contents.

Darby also was surprised by the amount of lead contamination found in the soil.

When fuel was manufactured during the Cold War to produce plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program in Hanford reactors, the fuel was dipped in a lead bath. The bath had to be skimmed every couple of hours and then the slag was disposed of.

“It was just dumped in the dirt,” Ludowise said.

About 66,000 square yards of dirt and debris have been removed from the two large trenches in the burial ground with about 4,800 square yards still to be dug up in one section that appears to be slightly deeper.

Workers also have about 60 percent of the third and final trench dug up, which Washington Closure expected might have different materials. The approximately 500-foot-long trench had been called the thoria trench, a reference to a white, powdery oxide of radioactive thorium that’s sometimes used in gas mantles for lanterns. At Hanford thorium was used in a program to research a new type of nuclear weapon.

In the thoria trench they found the zircaloy shavings, about 100 drums so far. The zircaloy, a metal alloy of zirconium and a small amount of beryllium, has been in pieces large enough so far not to present a fire danger. And the drums have been well marked with a sticker that indicated it contained beryllium.

“So they had a lot of respect for beryllium contamination even back then,” Darby said. Beryllium can cause an incurable lung disease in people who have an allergylike reaction.

The surprise in the thoria trench has been 16 large stainless steel tanks plus piping and processing equipment. The tanks are about 10 feet tall and about 8 feet in diameter.

Not all have been checked, but one had thoria at its bottom.

Ludowise believes the equipment is from a PUREX prototype because historic photos show equipment that look similar. PUREX, a chemical separations plant in central Hanford, was used to process irradiated fuel from the experimental thorium project.

Workers also have unearthed hundreds of 5-gallon buckets left from the thoria project, most marked with a “thorium oxide” label.

The Department of Energy faces a legally binding Tri-Party Agreement deadline to have the burial ground cleaned up and the area replanted in December. More wind than usual this summer has stopped work on several days and Hanford workers are digging and hauling waste on a lengthened work week to meet the deadline.


Obama campaign targets McCain’s support of dumping nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain

Waste not, want not

Obama campaign targets McCain’s support of dumping nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain

Posted by Kate Sheppard at 9:55 AM on 11 Aug 2008

Grist on PoliticsDemocratic presidential candidate Barack Obama released a new ad over the weekend in Nevada, targeting Republican rival John McCain’s support for dumping nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.

“Imagine trucks hauling the nation’s nuclear waste on our highways to Yucca Mountain,” the ad says. “John McCain supports opening Yucca. He’s not worried about nuclear waste in our state — only in Arizona.”

The ad then replays video of a May 2007 interview with McCain in which he appears to say that he would not want nuclear waste trucked through his home state of Arizona. Grist has covered this particular video before, and if you watch the rest of his response, which the Obama ad cuts off, it’s clear that McCain seems to have either misheard or misunderstand the question (as he has with other questions on environmental issues). He goes on to say that he thinks the technology can be made safe, and that having waste in insecure locations around the country is dangerous.

“What people forget is the option of leaving this waste in areas outside, maybe unprotected, certainly not well protected, all over America, rather than having it in a safe and secure repository for it,” McCain continued. “I preferred not having the status quo. And, I think it is a national security issue.”

That’s not to say McCain’s support of nuclear is unproblematic. Despite the candidate’s love affair with nuclear power, he hasn’t addressed concerns about safety or the problem of where all this waste from those new reactors should go. And while McCain is an avid supporter of dumping at Yucca Mountain, most Nevadans oppose plans to deposit the waste in their state.

The Obama campaign clearly sees this issue as a winner in Nevada. Watch the ad:


The Origins Of Wall-E

In Disney/Pixar’s surprisingly good Wall-E, fat, lazy Humans are catered hand-and-foot by sleek, semi-intelligent robots who ultimately teach their creators a lesson in the merits of industry, activism, and self-reliance.

Besides the movie’s cutesy references to classic movies and pop culture, the theme of humans relying completely on their creations – and the often-unfortunate results of that dependency – is definitely not a new one. Although such works as Asimov’s “I, Robot” or Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” (on which “Bladerunner” was based) have a significant emphasis on the various ways in which robots of different types and intelligence levels will assist humans in The Future, they do not go so far as to describe a civilization completely void of Human endeavor.

Here are a few that do:

1909 – “The Machine Stops”, E.M. Forster

In a remarkably prescient tale about life in the distant future, a vast ecological disaster has forced humanity underground, where people live their lives in relative isolation, communicating through instant messaging and video-conferencing. In this dystopian existence, sluggish humans have become dependent on advanced technology to maintain their idle lifestyle – until, of course, someone rocks the boat and the system breaks down.

In 1966 the story was adapted into a 50-minute drama by the BBC. Note the moving recliner chairs and the technocratic overtones:

1957 – “Blobs!” [MAD #1], Harvey Kurtzman/Wally Wood

Interestingly enough, the cover story of the very first issue of MAD (still in its original comic book format) was an obvious (yet uncredited) satire of “The Machine Stops”. In this 7-page story, two of the few remaining humans who have not let their brains atrophy as completely as their bodies take a moment to review the history of technology and how it has changed civilization – not for the better.

As can be seen in the panel above, it has all the essential elements of technologically-augmented human laziness – including reclining chairs, video screens, and cup holders. The last three panels of this bizarre adaptation are particularly poignant.

Full comics: Pages 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

1967 – “The Apple” [Star Trek Season 2 Episode 5], Max Ehrlich

In this famous episode from the original series, Capt. Kirk and his intrepid crew must deal with a planet ruled by an ancient, artificially-intelligent machine. It tends to its flock of primitive humans – feeding, housing, clothing, and even procreating them – and demands only a daily feeding of the indigenous explosive rocks. Violence ensues as Kirk tries to to free the tribe from its gilded cage (using the absence of Sex as a point of contention), causing Spock to almost be killed, while quite a few redshirts aren’t as lucky.

1986 – “Don’t Want” [Nehochuha], K. Parsamyan/A. Vatyan

From the Russian studio that brought you the Wolf-vs-Hare antics of “Nu Pogodi“, comes a cautionary tale of a young boy who doesn’t want to do anything. Falling asleep after an argument with his grandmother over his laziness, he dreams of a wonderful amusement-park land where he can spend all day in bed – eating junk food, watching TV, and playing video games – while a robotic assistant makes sure he has to do as little as possible. Only when the boy meets his grotesquely obese and sessile future-self does he realize the error of his ways.

1999 – The Matrix, The Wachowski Brothers

Although only indirectly referenced in the first movie in the series – later to be expanded in the 2003 Animatrix films “The Second Renaissance” – Earth prior to the machine uprising was a place where humans “…soon became victim to vanity and corruption” through the hedonistic use of technology – especially artificially intelligent robotics – to supply their every need. In this Frankenstein-complex scenario, when the machines finally understand that they will never be considered by their masters to be equal, they rise up and eventually destroy humanity as we know it.

So don’t turn your back on Wall-E and E.V.E.:

P.S – Almost forgot the first thing you think of when laying eyes on Wall-E: