Tens of Millions Dead

China’s been in the news more and more lately, and not just because of con­t­a­m­i­nated pet food.

That was bad enough, of course — the idea that feed­ing your dog or cat a reg­u­lar part of its reg­u­lar diet might end up killing the poor ani­mal is awful for any pet owner to con­tem­plate. But it’s not just lim­ited to pet food; med­i­cines, tooth­pastes and even human foods have been indicted as con­t­a­m­i­nated. It even­tu­ally became so bad that Zheng Xiaoyu, for­mer head of China’s State Food and Drug Administration, was killed for his extreme neg­li­gence and out­right corruption.

But it’s not really get­ting bet­ter over there, is it? Mattel has had to recall some­thing on the order of 9 mil­lion Chinese-​​manufactured toys because of high lev­els of lead in paint, and because, appar­ently, small but pow­er­ful mag­nets used in some toys rep­re­sent pinch hazards.

This is pretty sig­nif­i­cant. There’s a his­tory of cor­rup­tion that clearly did not end with either the removal — or the killing — of Zheng Xiaoyu. It’s a very safe bet that what we’re see­ing here is a more or less lit­eral iceberg’s tip.

Why this should mat­ter is the Three Gorges Dam project.

There’s already a his­tory of cor­rup­tion behind this project — a dam to con­trol the Yangtze — which is slated for com­ple­tion in the next cou­ple of years. We can assume that infe­rior mate­ri­als have been used in the dam’s con­struc­tion, just as infe­rior mate­ri­als have poi­soned the food, med­i­cine and tooth­paste sup­ply — as well as the toy lines — com­ing from China. And, given that the dam is rest­ing atop a known fault line, and that its filled reser­voir will put tremen­dous stress on the strata that lie beneath it, I think we can start count­ing the time left before fail­ure in years, not in decades.

If (or, quite likely, when) the dam fails, par­tic­u­larly if it hap­pens dur­ing the wet sea­son, we’ll be look­ing at a down­stream level of dev­as­ta­tion that’s nearly impos­si­ble to con­ceive. We won’t be look­ing at a few hun­dred, or even a few thou­sand, dead; we’ll be look­ing at mil­lions, pos­si­bly tens of millions.

…in Africa, too

And, in an inter­est­ing rever­sal of its own poli­cies, Bush’s AIDS pre­ven­tion plans in Africa are going to start fund­ing cir­cum­ci­sion.

This on the heels of a report that cir­cum­cised men seem to have 60% fewer inci­dences of HIV infec­tion — at least among vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions. It seems the fore­skin, in keep­ing the cells of the glans penis moist, also allows them to become more vul­ner­a­ble to HIV infection.

The prob­lem is the schiz­o­phrenic mes­sage. A lot of African peo­ples have ceased the prac­tice of cir­cum­ci­sion under pres­sure from the West, on the argu­ment that it’s barbaric.

And, of course, you’d have to be a moron of Bush’s mag­ni­tude not to under­stand what’s going to hap­pen to the sex­ual behav­ior of cir­cum­cised men. It’s been hard enough to con­vince them to use con­doms; now, with the mag­i­cal shield of cir­cum­ci­sion (and the mag­i­cal think­ing accom­pa­ny­ing it), we can be fairly cer­tain that unpro­tected sex will resurge in num­bers not seen in two decades or more.

This deci­sion will not reduce the spread of HIV. It’ll mul­ti­ply it exponentially.

Even when they get it right and finally fess up to the valid­ity of sci­ence, the Bush admin­is­tra­tion still some­how man­ages to make the wrong decisions.

We won’t see fall­out from either of these devel­op­ments in the imme­di­ate future; these are, how­ever, sure to be crises that will affect the entire planet by, say, 2025. The dif­fer­ence will be that the Chinese dis­as­ter will kill mil­lions in a few hours; the African one will do the same over a few years.

Hopefully, the US will have man­aged to with­draw from Iraq by then, and will be able to offer human­i­tar­ian aid to a des­per­ate and dev­as­tated China — as well as to an Africa wherein one in four will be AIDS-​​symptomatic.

But I’m sure that the reli­gious amongst us will be able to mol­lify them­selves with the cer­tainty that the human suf­fer­ing on such a vast scale was really the will of a lov­ing, if psy­chotic, God, sim­ply pun­ish­ing the unbe­liev­ers as He is wont to do.

And, of course, we’ll all be able to rest assured that no one could have seen it coming.

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UPDATE: Apparently the mag­nets don’t rep­re­sent pinch haz­ards, but they can come loose and are a choke/​swallow hazard.

Damage con­trol includes state­ments to the effect that toy recalls are com­mon. That might or might not be true, in a rel­a­tive sense. What’s unusual is the sheer vol­ume of defec­tive prod­ucts and the broad scale of the problem.

Also, if you’re think­ing of buy­ing a bike for your­self or a child, avoid the Wal-​​Mart Chinese-​​manufactured NEXT brand. For one thing they’re steel and insanely heavy; but, more sig­nif­i­cantly, the front forks have a his­tory of break­ing off due to defec­tive welds, send­ing the rider head­first over the bike’s frame. This has led to some gen­uinely tragic dis­fig­ure­ments requir­ing years of surgery to cor­rect, where possible.

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