China and its ‘magic island-maker’ dredging vessel

 

The Tiankun dredger: China’s massive island-maker.

What am I talking about here and what is its significance?

Well, amid ongoing territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the controversial island-building frenzy China has been undertaking thereat, it has been reported lately that this economic giant of a nation continues to flex its maritime muscles, this time with the launching of an equally giant island-building vessel considered to be the most powerful vessel of its type in Asia.

Named the Tiankun, the vessel, more aptly described as “a magic island maker”, is the best of its kind in Asia, according to the ship’s designer, the Marine Design and Research Institute in Shanghai, and “can be used to conduct coastal/channel dredging and land reclamation operations even in bad weather at sea.”

The vessel, with a deck as long as five basketball courts, 140 meters, and a full displacement of 17,000 metric tons, can smash underwater rocks and then suck out sand, water, and mud, and transfer the substance up to 15 kilometers away. It can dredge up to 6,000 cubic meters (around two and half Olympic swimming pools) an hour from a depth of up to 35 meters.

The Tiankun is the same kind of vessel as its sister, the Tianjin, the largest currently operating dredger used to create several China-held militarized islets in the disputed seas including those close to our shores in the West Philippine Sea.

The fortification of these Chinese-made islands with military-grade airfields and weapons systems was referred to later as China’s “great wall of sand,” by U.S. Pacific Command chief Adm. Harry Harris in 2015.

The Philippines government is said to be wary about the giant dredger especially that international security observers have expressed alarm that it might be deployed to the region again, this time to reclaim Scarborough Shoal.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that government is monitoring the dredger especially in the light of the statement issued by Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, saying, “The President recognizes the principle of good faith in international relations. China has told the President they do not intend to reclaim Scarborough and we leave it at that.”

But who are we really to stop what China has already began in what it claims as their territory historically?

Good faith?

As the poor, aggrieved country we can only rely on our faith. The question, however, is: Will China give in to faith as it extends its influence in Asia and across the globe?

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New species of orangutan discovered

 

An adult male Tapanuli orangutan in the Batang Toru Forest (Photo from National Geographic).

Far from being the Fosseys and Goodalls of this world, both leading primatologists, the discovery of a new species of orangutan, however, brings excitement to ordinary people, like me, who loves and gets immensely entertained by this kind-looking, playful and intelligent variety among the primates, who generally are considered one of humankind’s closest relatives.

Orangutans long were considered a single species, but were recognized as having two species in 1996, one in Sumatra (Pongo abelii) and one in Borneo ((Pongo pygmaeus).

(Photo by National Geographic)

The new species, called Pongo tapanuliensis, is found in the isolated Batang Toru forest in Sumatra, Indonesia. And it’s estimated that there are fewer than 800 of these shaggy reddish tree dwellers left, making it very vulnerable to extinction. It makes the new species also the rarest great ape on Earth. Note that the Sumatran (estimated 14,000) and Bornean (estimated 55,000) have both been declared as critically endangered.

Although the Tapanuli orangutans were thought to belong to the species Pongo abelii, also known as the Sumatran orangutan, scientists discovered that the new species is more closely related to its cousins in Borneo than to its fellow Sumatran apes.

But according to scientists there had been a few hints in their observation that the so-called Tapanuli orangutans were different. Previous research showed that this population of orangutans behaved differently than other orangutans and had some genetic differences. But it wasn’t clear whether those differences were enough to name a new species, thus, it continued to be identified as belonging to the Sumatran orangutan.

The tell tale signs of significant difference later came when researchers got access to the skeleton of an orangutan found in the Tapanuli region. The orangutan, named Raya, had died after being harassed and injured by people, according to National Geographic. A comparison between Raya’s skull and teeth and those of 33 other adult male orangutans revealed that there were enough differences to grant a new species designation.

Orangutan means “person of the forest” in the Indonesian and Malay languages, and it is the world’s biggest arboreal mammal. Orangutans are adapted to living in trees, with their arms longer than their legs. They live more solitary lives than other great apes, sleeping and eating fruit in the forest canopy and swinging from branch to branch.

“It’s pretty exciting to be able to describe a new great ape species in this day and age,” said University of Zurich evolutionary geneticist Michael Krützen, adding that most great apes species are listed as endangered or critically endangered.

“We must do everything possible to protect the habitats in which these magnificent animals occur, not only because of them, but also because of all the other animal and plant species that we can protect at the same time.”

Matthew Nowak, of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, echoed the same sentiment, saying, that “In addition to threats like hunting by humans, significant areas of the Tapanuli orangutan’s range are seriously threatened by habitat conversion for small-scale agriculture, mining exploration and exploitation, a large-scale hydroelectric scheme, geothermal development and agricultural plantations.”

Talking about collateral damage!

Dog ‘fired’ for refusing to sniff explosives

Because we see dogs of all types in public places sniffing whatever it is they are trained to detect, we immediately suppose that all dogs are the same. Right?

Wrong!

Man’s best friend, like his master can be choosy, too, and for a reason.

The reality is that some people are not cut out to be assigned in a high-pressure or demanding work environment, and this realism seems to apply to some dogs, too.

Take the case of Lulu, a black Labrador, whose handler had high hopes that she would emerge as CIA’s latest bomb-sniffing talent.

High hopes turned to surprise for the handler, however, when a few weeks into training Lulu began to show signs she simply “wasn’t interested in detecting explosive odors”.

For Lulu, enthusiasm turned to indifference.

No amount of motivation, either in food or time playing, could bring back the dog to focus on sniffing bombs. She simply was not enjoying herself any more is the way her handler described her predicament.

Apparently the mental and physical well being of the sniffer dogs is the CIA’s priority, so they “made the extremely difficult decision to do what’s best for Lulu and drop her from the program”.

But it is not all bad news, as handlers have the option to adopt dogs who are dropped or ‘fired’.

Lulu now has a new home, and spends her days chasing rabbits and squirrels in the garden. Just to show that she had something else in her mind – having fun and easy life!

Año-Dela Rosa tandem against police scalawags

 

AFP Gen. (Ret.) Eduardo Año and PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa.

In the same manner that Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa welcomes the appointment of newly retired Armed Forces chief General Eduardo Año as Special Assistant to the President to help him “supervise the police” pending the one-year ban on Año’s appointment to a civilian office, I am sure this gesture by President Rodrigo Duterte also sits well for many Filipinos.

While dela Rosa maybe good in his job, it takes the caliber of Año to effectively purge the scalawags from the police organization that has been giving it its bad reputation.

Thanks to Duterte’s war on drugs, it became apparent and glaring that, indeed, many policemen could not be trusted to protect the people as they themselves were involved in drugs, one way or another.

The Año-dela Rosa tandem is what I call a partnership of brains and brawn that should be effective in not only identifying the rouge policemen, but most importantly in making them reliable and trustworthy in the eyes of the Filipino people, in particular, and the visitors to the country, in general.

Duterte saw the potential of Año in reforming the massive police organization, in the same manner that he was able to whip up the morale of the soldiers of the Armed Force of the Philippines (AFP), and with the able assistance/collaboration of dela Rosa, the Philippine National Police (PNP) will soon find its luster again not only because it has gotten rid of the scalawags, but it is now more determined in helping government make the country a safer place for everybody.

High hopes for the visually impaired

 

Like bats that use sound waves and echoes – a technique called echolocation – to capture prey and find food, a visually impaired person may soon find its way easily and safely by practically using the same technique as additional aid methods like the cane and walking dogs.

To echolocate, bats send out sound waves from their mouth or nose. When the sound waves hit an object they produce echoes. The echo bounces off the object and returns to the bat’s ears.

The active use of sonar (SOund Navigation And Ranging), which actually is the essence of echolocation, along with special morphological (physical features) and physiological adaptations – allows bats to “see” with sound.

Ars Technica, a website covering news and opinions in technology, science, politics and society, was quoted in an article in Newser, saying that a man who recently lost his vision has a new device, a wristband, which lets the visually impaired navigate via sonar, and could be “the Fitbit for the blind.”

He wristband, called Sunu Band, is a devise that emits a high-frequency sound wave that bounces off objects and back to the hand, where it is translated into vibration.

Fernando Albertorio, one of the co-creators of Sunu, said that one of his friends call the devise his “sixth sense.”

Albertorio, who is legally blind, has used the wristband to avoid objects while walking, find doorways, identity crosswalk buttons, and even run a 5K race. He says the “feeling of independence” is “amazing.”

The Sunu team hopes their invention changes how the visually impaired live. Albertorio says people who are blind can be afraid to go outside, but not only will Sunu help them move about safely it allows the visually impaired to “blend in and be part of their community,” unlike a traditional cane.

 

Of exemplary leaders and Trump’s absurdity

US President Donald Trump

It is both interesting and daunting times in the US, and the world in general, as the greatest country on Earth is slowly losing its grip in world leadership because of the absurdity of its leader, President Donald Trump.

It is in this light that I am sharing with you this enlightening article written by Allan S.B. Batuhan under the Business Section of Cebu Sunstar Daily, dated October 23, 2017.

The new normal

Leaders of men used to be looked up to by their constituents as agents of inspiration. In the darkness of moments when there seems to be no hope, they manage to lift up the spirits of their people.

 IT IS for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work, which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. (Quote 1)

 Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. Henceforth Hitler’s Nazis will meet equally well armed, and perhaps better armed troops. Hence forth they will have to face in many theatres of war that superiority in the air which they have so often used without mercy against other, of which they boasted all round the world, and which they intended to use as an instrument for convincing all other peoples that all resistance to them was hopeless…. (Quote 2)

 And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own. (Quote 3)

You know that this could happen when you signed up for it … but it still hurts. (Quote 4)

It is almost too easy to guess which one of the quotes above does not belong with the others. Because while the first three inspire, and move the audience to greater passion, the last one unfortunately causes nothing but despair. The first three are the noble language of leadership, the last the crass pronouncement of the rogue.

But believe it or not, all three quotes come from leaders of men. The first one, of course, is from President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The second is from Prime Minister Winston’s address to the people of the United Kingdom, following the fall of Dunkirk. And the third is excerpted from President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address. And the fourth, well that is what President Donald Trump is supposed to have said in his call to the mother of Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in Niger by Islamist militants this month. Four leaders, three of whom lived to unite, and one of whom who rules to divide.

Leaders of men used to be looked up to by their constituents as agents of inspiration. In the darkest of moments when there seems to be no hope, they manage to lift up the spirits of their people, and allow them to dream – if only for a brief moment – that better times are ahead. Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King – along with the three quoted above – these were leaders whose lives were like beacons of hope, whose every public word was awaited with baited breath, because they were always measured, and calculated to arouse only the noblest of emotions in their people.

Today, it seems, this tradition of inspiration is no more. Voted into power by the people of the United States, President Trump has defied all manner of definition, in terms of what a leader should be. When once they were expected to lift and inspire their people, today, sinking them to the depths of despair seems to be the new normal.

 

In support of Sara’s ‘Tapang at Malasakit’ movement

 

Davao Mayor Sara Duterte Carpio

I am talking of course of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte Carpio, the feisty daughter of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte, who will head the launching of a nationwide movement called “Tapang at Malasakit Alliance for the Philippines” at the Marquis Events Place in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City on Monday, Oct. 23, 2017.

Before going further it is only relevant that we interpret in English what the words “tapang’ and ‘malasakit’ means so it will be understood clearly by those reading this piece.

While we may easily find a direct translation of the word ‘tapang’, which means toughness/ courage, there is, however, no exact translation of the word ‘malasakit’. The closest that I could think of is concern or compassion.

Accordingly, the alliance would be the “umbrella organization of all groups who supported Duterte when he ran for President in May 2016, and that joining the group would serve as a pledge for a better Philippines and a commitment to be good citizens.”

I am not a member of any group, but since I voted for Duterte and continue to have faith in his leadership, I am supporting this movement being spearheaded by Duterte’s own daughter who knows better than anybody else about her father and the reason why her father took the risk of running for the presidency in 2016 without money and political machinery except to reassure the people that what he had beside his sincerity and honesty was his ‘tapang at malasakit’.

‘Tapang at malasakit’ are characteristics that are making a big difference now in where we are heading as a country both here in the region and in the international community. Things are changing and moving fast and while on one hand we have issues about the country’s war on drugs and EJKs, on the other hand the country is getting to be recognized and respected and it is developing faster than ever because of Duterte.

It is in this light that I am supporting this movement as I am also in conformity with the fears that Sara has about people wanting to derail her father’s reforms and programs in government for their own personal and political interests.

This is now a choice between trusting one who has shown selflessness and competence as a leader or letting those who had had a chance in governing in the past but miserably failing to be at the helm again?  We need the latter like we need badly a hole in our heads!

Let us all get behind Sara’s movement for this is the vehicle that will surely take us to stability, peace and prosperity.