Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Power of Volcanoes

National Museum held an very interesting and information talk on The Power of Volcanoes in conjunction with their Pompeii exhibit. Pompeii is a Roman town which was buried in volcanic ashes in 79 CE.

Instead of the usual 1 speaker, we had 2 volcanologists addressing the audience. Dr Chris Newhall from Earth Observatory, S'pore started by highlighting how a volcanic eruption in one country could have international impact due to the inter-connectivity of global aviation. We listened to a taped conversation between the pilots of a commercial plane and the airport control tower when the plane was caught in volcanic 'cloud'. We could hear the stress voice of the pilots when the plane's engine stalled. The speaker then related this back to the Icelandic Mount Eyjafjallajoekull’s eruption in April 2010, which caused the greatest disruption in air travel in major parts of Europe and the UK since the second World War.

Dr Antonius Ratdomopurbo, Volcano Seismologist who has spent more than 2 decades studying volcanic activities in Indonesia showed pictures and video clips on the deadly eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Merapi in 2006 and 2010. We learn that volcanoes 'explosive' forces is also classify just like earthquake magnitude. It range from 1 to 8, the higher the number, the more powerful the eruption forces. Each increase in number reflects a multiple of 10 times more the damaging force. The number give an indication of the volume of volcanic lava/ashes and also how wide spread will be the damage.

We were told that though Mount Merapi eruption is consider minor (classify as 3 and 4 in 2006 and 2010 respectively), the damage done by the lava and volcanic ashes which can spread far and wide is severe. Mount Merapi which is in Central Java erupts frequently every few years.

Mount Pinatubo in Luzon, Philippines, eruption in 1991 was considered the second largest eruption of the 20th century. It last eruption was more than 400 years ago. Normally the more powerful the volcanic eruption, the longer the time interval between next eruption. Mount Pinatubo volcanic cloud spread a radius of more than 500km !

We learned that even low tech observation and measurement method could still give an accurate prediction on the likelihood of a volcano erupting. For example, the diameter of the crater increases and the physical contour of the crater changes in shape. The difficulty is in predicting exactly when it will erupt and the severity of damage which affects the area of evacuation.

Prof Tommy Koh was in the audience and he asked the speakers if S'pore could be affected by Indonesian volcanic activities. The answer is yes, if the volcano nearest to S'pore erupts and the wind direction is blowing in our direction. S'pore could be affected by the volcanic ashes up to a few cm thick.

The audience also raised the question of the impact of volcanic activities on proposed nuclear plants to be built in Asean region. Though there is way to protect the plant from volcanic ashes but it is still a danger to have such plant sited in volcanic belt and earth quake zone. Seems like in the past, there has been no guideline on this matter. Hopefully more stringent standard would apply to suitability of nuclear facility location.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Town Coucil Wasting Public Fund

Recently in my HDB estate contractors have hacked away the base structures supporting the letter boxes. I thought there is a relocation exercise of all letter boxes in the estate. But it is not the case, the letter boxes are only temporary transferred to another brick based structure. They will be located back to the original location.

Is this not a wasteful exercise ? The existing base structures are in perfectly good condition. Building materials and resources are wasted in constructing the temporary bases and then erecting new ones.

I do not know if the same exercise is carried out in other HDB estates. What is the reason for the wasteful exercise ? I heard that they have excess budget and wanted to use it up. I know such things happen both in private and government sectors. They normally overbuget and when there is excess budget at the end of the year, they would try to use it up. If not they have to provide an explanation and would have their budget reduce for the next year. The only difference is some use it wisely, while others, like what the Town Council wasted building materials and resources.

Is it not enough that they lost a substantial sum of money in investment products, which they have no business to be involved in, since their core function is estate management ? Now they are wasting public funds in non value added project.

Animal Liberation

I attended a Buddhist introduction session recently and was impressed by the society dedication and sincerity in sharing the wisdom and knowledge of Buddhism. They showed a video clip to introduce new comers to the society's activities. There was one section in the video showing Animal Liberation which upset me. Caged birds were released. Often unscrupulous business men profit from capturing wild birds and sell them to folks who want to liberate animals as part of their Buddhist practice. To me - this is a misguided act.

Buddhism teaches kindness and refrain from harming life form. I believe animal liberation arises from this noble concept. However times have changed, and we need to pay attention to the context in which animal liberation is carried out. If not instead of it being an act of kindness, it could become an unintentional act of cruelty.

1) If animals, be it birds, turtles…etc are purchased for liberation, this is not true kindness. The only person who benefit is the business man or pet shop owner who sell the animals for liberation. The animals in fact suffer unnecessary stress of being capture and then released again. Statistic has shown that more than 50% of captured animals die due to injury, stress or ‘hunger strike’. Wild animals when capture may refrain from eating or drinking. Unscrupulous business men may not take care of the capture animals properly resulting in high death rate.

2) Liberation of animals into unsuitable surrounding may result in low survival rate.

3) Animals which are not resident to the area/S'pore could upset the eco systems and resulting in death of other animal species. An example is the popular red ear turtle sold in pet shops which are often released into reservoirs. Red ear turtle are not resident species of S’pore.

4) Those who do not understand the true meaning of animal liberation may be encourage to be irresponsible pet owners. Often pets are abandon when the owner cannot cope. They use the excuse of setting the animals free, when they are in fact committing a very cruel act. In S’pore we often see turtles, tortoise, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs…. release at parks and reservoirs. These are house hold pets, they cannot survive on their own. Some have been breed for decades as pets and need human care. These animals ‘set free’ often suffered a prolong death due to injury, disease or hunger.

Buddhism is against taking of life. But is not subjecting an animal to prolong suffering even more cruel ? This is surely not in line with Buddhist teaching.

No animals should be purchased for liberation. It will only perpetual the demand for these animals and the vicious cycle of animal cruelty.

a) Participate / Support worthy Animals Welfare Project / Causes
The society could instead support or participate in animal welfare projects or causes. For example Resort World Sentose captured wild dolphins and trained them to perform for the public. Many had died and those that survive the ordeal will face a bleak future in an unnatural environment with the sole purpose to entertain the human race ! Animal welfare groups in S’pore like ACRES, SPCA… are petitioning for their release. This is a valid case of animal liberation.

b) Adopt an abandon animal
There is no greater kindness than the commitment to care for and give a home to an abandon animal. Those members who like animals could be encouraged to adopt an abandon animal from SPCA, Cat Welfare Society and other animal welfare NGOs.

c) Take care of the strays
Members could be encouraged to take care of the strays in their neighbourhood. There are always stray cats to be found in HDB and even private condos / estates.

Certainly the above mentioned worthy causes are more meaningful than the empty gesture of releasing animals just for the sake of practising Animal Liberation.