Monday, April 17, 2006



In the deteriorating relationship between the global economy and the earth's ecosystem, China is on the leading edge. A human population of 1.3 billion and a livestock population of just over 400 million are weighing heavily on the land. Huge flocks of sheep and goats in the northwest are stripping the land of its protective vegetation, creating a dust bowl on a scale not seen before. Northwestern China is on the verge of a massive ecological meltdown.

While overplowing is now being partly remedied by paying farmers to plant their grainland in trees, overgrazing continues largely unabated. China's cattle, sheep, and goat population tripled from 1950 to 2002. The United States, a country with comparable grazing capacity, has 97 million cattle. China has 106 million. But for sheep and goats, the figures are 8 million versus 298 million. Concentrated in the western and northern provinces, sheep and goats are destroying the land's protective vegetation. The wind then does the rest, removing the soil and converting productive rangeland into desert.

The fallout from the dust storms is social as well as economic. Millions of rural Chinese may be uprooted and forced to migrate eastward as the drifting sand covers their land. Expanding deserts are driving villagers from their homes in Gansu, Inner Mongolia, and Ningxia provinces. An Asian Development Bank assessment of desertification in Gansu Province reports that 4,000 villages risk being overrun by drifting sands.

The U.S. Dust Bowl of the 1930s forced some 2.5 million "Okies" and other refugees to leave the land, many of them heading from Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas to California. But the dust bowl forming in China is much larger, and during the 1930s the U.S. population was only 150 millioncompared with 1.3 billion in China today. Whereas the U.S. migration was measured in the millions, China's may eventually measure in the tens of millions. And as a U.S. embassy report entitled "The Grapes of Wrath in Inner Mongolia" noted, "unfortunately, China's twenty-first century 'Okies' have no California to escape toat least not in China."

Planting marginal cropland in trees helps correct some of the mistakes of overplowing, but it does not deal with the overgrazing issue. Arresting desertification may depend more on grass than treeson both permitting existing grasses to recover and planting grass in denuded areas. Beijing is trying to arrest the spread of deserts by encouraging pastoralists to reduce their flocks of sheep and goats by 40 percent, but in communities where wealth is measured not in income but in the number of livestock owned and where most families are living under the poverty line, such cuts are not easy. Some local governments are requiring stall-feeding of livestock with forage gathered by hand, hoping that this confinement measure will permit grasslands to recover.

China is taking some of the right steps to halt the advancing desert, but it has a long way to go to reduce livestock numbers to a sustainable level. At this point, there is no plan in place or on the drawing board that will halt the advancing deserts.

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Saturday, April 15, 2006

From Above

Music Review - MC Solaar

MC Solaar is the stage name of francophone hip hop artist Claude M'Barali (born March 5, 1969). By far the most internationally popular French rapper, he was born in Dakar, Senegal to parents from Chad. The family moved to Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, just outside Paris, when Solaar was six months old. He also spent time at the École Française du Caire (French School of Cairo) later on in life.

One of MC Solaar's first claims to fame was the rap he did on a level one French language education tape: "Comment t'appelles-tu?".

MC Solaar's first single, "Bouge de là", was a French hit in 1990 that went platinum (see 1990 in music), as was his first album, Qui Sème le Vent Récolte le Tempo. His second album, Prose Combat, may be his most acclaimed.

As a rapper MC Solaar is known for the complexity and poetry of his songs, which rely on wordplay, lyricism, and philosophical inquiry. The music is based on dance rhythms and sensual grooves. In the English-speaking world, Solaar was signed by London acid jazz label Talkin' Loud and invited to record with British group Urban Species and Guru, a member of the famous and highly-acclaimed New York group Gang Starr.

MC Solaar gained new fans in North America in early 2004, when his 2001 song "La Belle Et Le Bad Boy" was featured on the final episode of the popular television series Sex and the City. MC Solaar remains best-known outside of France for his work on Guru's Jazzmatazz project and as a guest rapper on the Missy Elliott track "All N My Grill". Out of Guru and Solaar's collaboration, the single "Le Bien, Le Mal" (The Good, The Bad) was a popular Hip Hop/Dance crossover hit receiving playtime on MTV.