Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Mekong River Dolphin nears extinction

Sad news on the Guardian today. It seems that according to an NGO, Mekong River Dolphins are nearly extinct. I am not sure what to say. I remember that I once spent a sunny, happy morning in a small wooden boat about 8 years ago, scanning the lakes of southern Laos and shouting in delight at the sight of the grey-pink mammals playing on the surface, splashing their flippers in the tropical sun. They were rare then, but now we are told there are as few as 85 individuals left in the border area between Laos and Cambodia. Perhaps as worryingly very few young are being born, meaning that the species is pretty much on the way out.

I think it is worth thinking about these numbers for a second, because we have become so used to endangered species being counted in hundreds and thousands that we have forgotten how few that is. Species with a few tens of thousands are considered abundant. 85 dolphins – that’s the same number of individuals as two or three classes in a busy school. Similarly there are perhaps 20,000 lions in Africa. The same number as there are people in the small town I grew up in, spread across an entire continent. Even in the great wildebeest migrations a herd might have 250,000 animals. It seems vast beyond imagining, yet that is about the same as the Glastonbury Festival. I guess you can see where I am going.

Anyway, it looks as though I will probably never see a Mekong River Dolphin again. It is just one among many species, but the world already seems a bit more lonely and dark.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Initial thoughts on London riots

There can be no excuse for the riots that are happening in London. I do not condone or apologise for those behind it. I will wait to do a longer follow up. One story though that made me think was about a random gang smashing a Halfords. A crowd gathered and a woman stopped a car and shouted - 'I want a SatNav'. Now this is just one story. It might not even be true. But one thing that is true is that this explosion of violence is directed as much against property as anything else. Part of this is looting for gain, but I feel there is something else going on too. Fear from bystanders is one facilitator (how else could twenty kids trash a street while fifty people film?), but is there also a sense in which people are lashing out, probably unconciously, at the symbols around them? In a world in which humans are largely reduced to consumers, shops and brands become objects of fetish and of hatred. You may long for the product, but you hate the provider and celebrate its downfall, in the same way a prisoner may rely on and hate his captor. I am not suggesting this is some moment of class conciousness or some other such nonsense. It is young people with no sense of belonging to society as a whole or the country. There is no excuse, but society cannot go on like this, and crass greed and consumerism, from the top to the bottom is part of the problem.

On the other hand, I also subscribe to the Southpark philosophy which states that one quarter of any population is an asshole. At least.