Gamechanger: China’s New Silk Road


China’s New Silk Road

DW (2018)

Film Review

This is a German documentary (in English) about China’s Silk Road* projects, commenced in 2013 based on an agreement between Chinese president Xi Jinping and Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev. The Silk Road will consist of a network of superhighways and high speed trains connecting China to western Europe via Kazakhstan and Russia.

In China, the Silk Road begins at Chongqing, a western city of 30 million dubbed the Chinese Silicon Valley for computer hardware. At present, Europe imports most of their computers from China. At present, it takes them four months to reach China by sea. With the completion of the overland Silk Road network, this time could be reduced to a month or less. Shipping goods overland also enables Chinese companies to avoid growing tensions with the US in the South China Sea.

The Kazakh leg of the Silk Road, which is being funded by World Bank and Chinese loans, runs past the Kazakh oil fields – with China importing much of its oil from Kazakhstan.

In China, the Silk Road superhighway network runs alongside the Gobi Desert, where China’s largest solar and wind farms are located.

*The Silk Road was a centuries-old trade route connecting Asia with Europe. China has invested billions of dollars in building superhighways and high speed networks along the Silk Road route through Kazakhstan and Russia.



The Fight to Make Medical Knowledge Open Source


Restoring the Commons: Why Should Corporate Publishers Profit at Patients’ Expense?

Owing to growing mistrust of Big Pharma and the corporatization of medical care, patients increasingly rely on Internet research to help us take take responsibility for our own health and wellness. Usually the biggest obstacle we face is the pay wall scientific journals and big name publishers like Elsevier have set up charging $30 a pop for readers to view scientific articles online. Thanks to Alexandra Elbakyan, a Kazakhstanian neuroscientist, millions of scientific papers are now freely downloadable from Sci-Hub, the file sharing site she started in 2011.

Elsevier, along with US courts, views Sci-Hub’s activities as Internet piracy. Ironically, however, Sci-Hub enjoys the support of many researchers. They resent being denied access to state-of-the-art research, while big publishers like Elsevier derive immense profits from their own work. For the most part, scientists surrender the copyright for research papers to academic journals and science publishing houses and recoup no financial reward themselves.*

According to John Bohannon writing in the April 2016 Science, Elsevier is more profitable than Apple, with over 30% of their 2014 revenue going to profit ($1 billion).

Who Uses Sci-Hub?

Sci-Hub now hosts over 50 million research papers. Between September 2015 and March 2016, they provided more than 28 million documents free to health providers, patients and researchers. Most of Sci-Hub’s users (4.4 million) are from China. India, at 3.4 million, is their second largest user. Iran is the third largest user, Russia the fourth and the US the fifth.

Sci-Hub Servers in Russia

In October last year, a New York judge ruled in favor of Elsevier, decreeing that Sci-Hub infringes on the publisher’s legal rights as a copyright holder ordering the website to desist. The injunction had little effect. Although the web domain was seized in November 2015, the servers that host Sci-Hub are in Russia, which for obvious reasons has little interest in enforcing US intellectual property law. Within days, the site reappeared on a different domain.

Although Elbakyan declines to say exactly how she obtains the papers, she confirms it involves online credentials of academics and institutions with legitimate access to journal content. Her supporters donate the material voluntarily.

Read Bohannon’s article here

People can access Sci-Hub’s search and download service here:

*A growing number of scientists publish through the Public Library of Science (PLOS), believing their work should be freely available to health providers, patients and other researchers. PLOS is a nonprofit open access scientific publishing project aimed at creating a library of open access journals and other scientific literature.

How Plants Control Us

The Botany of Desire

Directed by Michael Schwarz and Edward Gray (2009)

Film Review

The Botany of Desire is a 2009 PBS documentary based on Michael Pollan’s 2001 book The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the Word. Both concern the co-evolution of plants and human beings and the vital symbiotic relationships they form.  Pollan focuses specifically on the apple, the tulip, the cannabis plant and the potato, detailing how each has evolved to deliberately appeal to human desire. In addition to tracing each plant to its region of origin, he highlights specific biological adaptations it has made to make it appealing to human beings.

The film is full of fascinating factual tidbits, eg that apple trees still grow wild in Kazakhstan and poke up through sidewalk cracks and that potatoes were essential in fueling the development of northern Europe (which is prone to erratic grain harvests) and the industrial revolution.

In addition to providing lavish detail about the art and science of indoor cannabis cultivation, Pollan also examines research into specific cannabis receptors in the human brain. The latter play an important role in helping us forget painful and/or irrelevant memories.

The video concludes by focusing on some of the drawbacks of industrial agriculture, especially our over-reliance on monoculture crops. The loss of diversity in our corporatized foods system makes our food crops far more susceptible to pests. This, in turn, makes us over reliant on toxic pesticides, herbicides and GMOs.

As Pollan stresses at the end of the film, the solution to problems caused by monoculture isn’t more technology. The solution is to end monoculture by diversifying food production.

My only point of disagreement was Pollan’s statement (in 2009) that plants lack consciousness. More recent research suggests that they’re more aware of their environment than we are. See Are Plants Smarter than We Are?

YouTube has taken the film down for copyrights reasons but it can be viewed free at PBS videos