‘Bottom Wipers’ Reveal Secrets of China’s Silk Road

bottom wipes

Photograph: Hui-Yuan Yeh/ Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

It wasn’t just merchandise that was hauled along ancient China’s ‘Silk Road’: Recently discovered ‘bottom wipers’ – bamboo sticks with grimy fabric and more ‘earthy’ remains on them – revealed that both disease and animal species were inadvertently transported by traveling traders.

The sticks, found in a 2,000-year-old latrine, provided the first solid evidence that various species of parasites made the trip along the road, spreading disease from east to west, according to a recent article in The Guardian.

Originally published in Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports (paywall), the report by Hui-Yuan Yeh, a researcher at Cambridge University, and several colleagues, notes that one of the parasites, found in feces stuck to the cloth on some sticks, was associated with the Chinese liver fluke. Because it needs marshy conditions to complete its life cycle, that 1 cm (.39 in) long parasite could not have come from the desert area around the ancient Xuanquanzhi relay station, the site of the excavated latrine.

In fact, the Guardian article said, “The Chinese liver fluke originated thousands of miles away from the arid Tamrin Basin, an area including the Taklamakan Desert – one of the harshest on earth, dubbed “the desert of death” by the Chinese. Two thousand years ago the parasite’s unfortunate host would have been a very unhappy traveler, producing symptoms including fever, griping pain, diarrhea and jaundice.

The Chinese liver fluke, which also has been associated with some kinds of cancer, presently is being studied as having potentially being useful in healing chronic wounds such as diabetic ulcers.

The Guardian noted that relay stations at oasis towns, where travelers could rest and buy food, were crucial for any traders on the Silk Road hoping to survive the desert crossing. The bone dry conditions at these sites have preserved a wealth of organic remains for archaeologists, the article said.

The large Xuanquanzhi station was excavated just over 20 years ago. It has been dated to the Han dynasty, and was in use between 111BC to 109 AD. The most celebrated finds from the site are fragments of letters and other documents – including some written on silk.

But the ‘bottom wipe’ sticks will undoubtedly prove to be among its most interesting revelations.

Space Exploration, And Explorers From Space – Which Matters Most, or At All?



Heaven knows (or at least poor people do) that terrestrial problems, issues of this world – issues such as clean water, rising earth temperatures, land too dry to farm, people virtually too poor to beg – can only be addressed with massive amounts of money, and human volunteer and paid-for effort.

And everyone – except the poor, who have heard it before, and no longer listen – knows that resources are limited, and ‘only so much can be done’ to address this, or that natural crisis, not to mention suddenly occurring disasters.

And still, and still: Nations as diverse as China and the United States are spending untold sums exploring areas of space no one is ever likely to visit, or call home, or – bottom line – realize any we-can’t-live-without benefits from.

The U.S. just achieved the remarkable feat of having a manmade craft enter the gravitational field of Jupiter, a planet some 2 billion miles from Earth, after a journey lasting 5 years. It’s not the first craft to have achieved that – The Galileo spacecraft spent eight years in the area, with far less capable technology than Juno’s, up to 2003, when it burned up in Jupiter’s atmosphere.

China's FAST telescope

Meanwhile, China is spending far smaller sums on a whole different kind of space exploration: Via a massive, ‘Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope’ (FAST) in Guizhou Province. It’s mission, as a recent article in Asia Times put it, is “answering that timelessly engrossing question: are we alone in the universe?”

There are those who believe that question has already been answered, and that, in ways not being revealed to the public, mankind (at least the American version) already is benefiting from technologies that could enable beings from elsewhere to visit Earth.

The Asia Times article includes a link to a fascinating hour-long film that includes a supposed interview session with a being from somewhere far beyond this planet – possibly even from a different dimension, and a different version of reality. Experts in several fields, including the study of concepts of extraterrestrial beings, film-making, and supposed goings-on at a highly classified site (many levels higher than ‘top secret’) in Nevada, appeared on camera and expressed their opinions as to whether the film, which is available (via our link) on YouTube, and the Extraterrestrial (ET) being it depicts, are real. Their answers varied, from ‘fake’ to ‘definitely real’.

The film included several photos of ‘flying saucer’-type spacecraft, supposedly not unlike vehicles ETs have, the film and the Chinese say, have used to come from ‘wherever’ to here – Earth. One technician, who reported having access to the engine from such a craft, said it appeared to be capable of enabling travel at the speed of light, or even faster.

If that is true – that there is such an engine with such capabilities, and the U.S. government is aware of it and is (or has already) reverse-engineered it to learn how it works – why is the U.S. continuing to use technology that causes a trip like Juno’s to Jupiter take five years?

All else aside – all else aside – that pretty much clinches the question for me as to whether or not mankind, at least the American version, has interacted with technology that would allow space travel at speeds we can only dream of today.

But I remain mystified why the U.S. government thinks it makes any sense to go to Jupiter, even if doing so might enable scientists to learn more about how our universe and the planets in it formed came to be.

We came to be, however we did. Let’s use that as a starting point, and work to deal with real issues of the planet we live on and how to ensure it remains livable well beyond the personal demise of its present residents.


Chinese Shamed For Dog-Eating Festival


While Americans (and many others) have an emotional attachment to dogs, and would never think of eating them, they appear somewhat immune to the fact that, as has been widely publicized for the past half decade, an annual ‘festival’ in a small Chinese province is built around the brutal slaughter – and consumption – of some ten thousand dogs.

Somewhat, but not totally, immune: The Huffington Post has been particularly outspoken over the past two years about the goings-on in Yulin every June. The cruelty of the event – which local government deny any involvement in, citing “local businesses and [a small percentage of] local businesses” as its instigators and sponsors, is inexcusable, but it goes on.

The fact the festival isn’t just about dog-eating doesn’t make the international media and dog-lovers globally any less comfortable: The event is officially billed as The Lychee and Dog Meat Festival, because the former and the latter are paired in culinary preparations, Wikipedia (reference above) says. It runs for ten days, during which dogs are paraded in wooden crates and metal cages before being skinned and cooked for festival goers and local residents. Some, Huff Post says, may even be boiled alive.

Not to in any way condone what goes on in Yulin, I think westerners (in the U.S. in particular, since that’s the only country I know specifics about) need to consider how the meat that ends up on their tables is grown, slaughtered and processed.

While the system has improved due to tighter laws and greater enforcement in recent decades, both four- and two-legged ‘protein crops’ still often tend to be treated more like crops than sentient animals that do feel pain, and undergo suffering as they hear the outcries of those preceding them to the slaughter.

There’s also the fact that most of the animals raised as food crops are genetically modified in ways meant to make they grow faster – often in ways that, unavoidably, make life itself a misery. (Chickens bred to have breasts two, three or more times what nature intended couldn’t be comfortable even if they had the ability to move around and try to take some of that weight off their legs and feet.)

I’ve already cut my consumption of beef to a significant degree, and I’ve tried to be more selective in where I source the chicken we eat. But I can try harder, and despite the cost, I’m going to make a greater effort to seek out birds from farmers specializing in truly free-range one with diets that are in no way genetically modified.

I anticipate that, because of the far higher cost, we’ll be cutting back on meat overall – just as we cut back on eggs when I go for the likes of the local farmer’s ‘pure’ ones at close to double the price of a Walmart dozen. (Walmart is selling large ones at close to $1.50 per dozen; That farmer is asking $3.00.)

That means, of course, we’ll have to substitute something else into our diet – something healthier, and something less subject to ‘abuse’ by producers. ‘Not a bad tradeoff, that!

Rubbish-Sourced Running Tracks Are Poisoning 1000’s of Chinese Kids


China’s Ministry of Education has said it will tear up running tracks at schools that have been blamed for making students ill.

In China, where a recent survey revealed that around 20 percent of the country’s arable land is contaminated, and air pollution in some cities is so bad that merely venturing outdoors poses a danger to your health, another form of pollution is threatening the short- and long-term health of school children who use running tracks. “Poison runways,” as the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China said in a recent CCTV report.

Synthetic (rubberized or rubber-like) tracks at many schools are made from industrial waste—including recycled tires, cables and wire. A frightening large number of children using such tracks have developed health issues that could, conceivably, be long-lasting and/or precursors of cancer of one type or another. (Leukemia has already been reported in at least one province with the ‘poison runways.’”

A CCTV report earlier this week noted that numerous students at the Beijing Second Experimental Primary School have suffered nosebleeds, dizziness and “similar problems” that seem to be attributable to the “plastic [running] track [that] exudes [a] pungent smell.”

The report says that school’s situation is far from an isolated case: “Not just in Beijing, odorous ‘runways’ have been observed across the country  for at least two years.” (The preceding sentence is an ‘approximate’ English translation of the report on CCTV’s web site. That report, in the show ‘The Economic Half Hour,’ was entitled “Who created the poison runway?”

CCTV said an investigation has been launched to discover the source of the problem, but a report in today’s New York Times suggests the fault isn’t hard to find: Subcontractors who built the tracks are said to have used sub-standard materials – below, it would seem, the ‘standard’ quality of “recycled tires, cables and wire” – and also, The Times said, “violated safety rules.”

A rambling report from the Ministry of Education – rambling, at least, in the Google translation to English – notes at one point that “there is no standards and industry standards” regulating the production or installation of sports-related equipment (including tracks).”

As well as demanding the establishment of “effective measures” to address the existing problem, the Ministry decreed that schools or school districts should “establish standards and implementation to further promote the improvement and implementation of standards.”

The Chinese, not being a God-fearing people, probably don’t understand the phrase “from your lips to God’s ear.” Also being more respecting of people in theory than in practice, Chinese authorities may, or may not, ensure appropriate changes are made to protect, in at least this way, the children who are their future.

Want Fresh Juice? It Will Cost You – A LOT!!


Somewhere, somehow, the economy is improving enough to justify the existence of a countertop vegetable-juice-producing machine costing $699 – with pre-packed veggies custom-made for it at prices up to $10 or so per 8-ounce (242 g) ‘dose’.

That, at least, is the view of investors who have put some $70 million behind a California start-up hawking its initial product as a tool, as one news report put it, “to get people to drink their fruit- and vegetable-based nutrients and reduce the amount of junk foods that they buy and eat, while also making it easy to cold-press juice at home or possibly the office.”

But your home or office has to be in California, as that’s the only place the Juicero is being offered at present. And while the company fully intends to expand, no future locations have been announced where it will be possible to plop down $699 up front and $9 or $10 daily thereafter to enjoy this wonder’s wonderful benefits.

Oh, OK, I’ll give to ‘em: Their machine is picture perfect, and it crushes the juice out of only certified organic veggies – from only hand-picked farms – and it comes with, and actually requires the use of, an app that keeps it connected, via the internet, to the parent company, which is able to read a QR code – a topic we’ll being looking at within a few days – to ensure your ‘veggie pack’ is within its ‘use-by’ period, and to record what you’ve ordered so ‘appropriate’ repeat or newly-suggested reorders can be scheduled.

This entire concept is, to me, mind-boggling!

First of all, how many people can afford to plop down $699 upfront than another $50-70 per week for seven 8-ounce glasses of juice?

I’m also wondering how a start-up company can raise $70 million for a product that, in the short (and probably long) term, would appear to appeal to a relatively small sector of the juice-loving public, and only a fraction of that number is likely to even want to spend so much for so little, in terms of quantity.

And of those who are so focused on getting the very freshest and purest juice available (at any price), I can’t imagine many of them being so fanatical on the subject that they want to know the specific farms where their juice-source vegetables were grown.

Even in California, where a copious number of start-up companies have earned small fortunes for their entrepreneur owners, where rents in such high tech centers as San Francisco are so high that at least one young man is living in a box (he calls it a pod) in someone else’s living room (at $400 per month, a bargain most anywhere for a one-bedroom apartment; but a box?) it’s hard to imagine there being enough people willing to shell out so much cash, on an ongoing basis, to generate glasses of juice.


Peter Berk’s Box (or ‘pod’)

But 65 years or so ago, ‘the big they’ was saying television would wipe out radio. That still hasn’t come to pass, and more than likely never will.

And who would have imagined, a mere four months ago, that this blog would by now have found its way into 34 countries, including China?

We live in strange times.


Strange Bedfellows: China’s Security Chief, FBI’s Comey Meet in Beijing



China’s Minister of Public Security met this morning (March 14) in Beijing with James Comey, director of the FBI. The two intend, according to Xinhau, the Chinese news service, to “enhance mutual trust and respect each others’ core interests to promote building a new model of major-country relationship.”

Gua told the news service he anticipates the two security agency leaders will “fully implement the consensus reached by [China President Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama]” when they met in Paris last November at the summit meeting on the climate.

At that meeting, the two nations’ leaders “agreed to have more pragmatic cooperation in cyber security and anti-terrorism,” Xinhau said today.

But on another area of security, the two countries are poles apart: The construction by China of military installations on disputed islands in the South China Sea. Tensions have ratcheted up recently as China has reclaimed land in massive dredging operations, turning sandbars into islands equipped with airfields, ports and lighthouses, CNN reported on March 8.

The Washington Post reported on November 30 that after arriving in Paris the day before, “President Obama’s motorcade glided along the Seine through largely deserted streets [the French were banned from driving in the capital while the summit was going on] before stopping in front of Le Bataclan, the concert hall were scores of people were killed in the terrorist attacks on Nov. 13.” He placed a white rose on the street atop “the mound of flowers and candles already there then, after a few minutes of silence with his hands folded before him, Obama walked away, briefly placing  hand on the shoulders of French President Francois Hollande and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo,” the Post reported.

Chinese Lose Top Secrets to US Through a Former High Official


ling Jihua

Ling Jihua stole very serious secrets from China while a government official there.

Before losing his job as the Chinese equivalent of the White House Chief of Staff, Ling Jihua stole close to 3,000 of his country’s top government and military secrets. He passed those secrets to his brother, Chinese defector Ling Wangchen, a California resident, who has passed them along to American intelligence officials, The Washington Free Beacon and Asia Times have reported.

The secrets cache includes details about Chinese nuclear weapons, including how they are armed and the codes that would be used to launch attacks with them. There’s also a good deal of information about China’s leaders and the places they work, including the Beijing compound known as Zhongnanhai. Those and other details are said to have considerable value to the U.S., which has been unable to obtain them independently. Particularly valuable are some secrets that can be used to target Chinese leaders through cyber intelligence operations, the web sites noted.


Ling Wangchen, an avid golfer, is an executive with a a golf management and financial firm called Asian Pacific Group, according to the Los Angeles Times. The company owns golf courses in California and Nevada, the paper said.

Ling has a $2.5 million home in Loomis, near Sacramento. He’s lived there since 2013, but dropped from public view last year, shortly after his brother was arrested on corruption charges. He’s reportedly being harshly interrogated in connection with charges of stealing state secrets, having illicit affairs, taking bribes, and using his position to benefit relatives, The Free Beacon reported in the lengthy article later published by Asia Times.

U.S. government officials have admitted that Ling is being held and closely protected in a secret place. Intelligence agents became aware some months ago that “covert Chinese agents” are looking for him with the possible intent of killing or kidnapping him.

It’s no wonder Beijing is upset with him: It appears that the documents he’s handed over represent the U.S.’s greatest intelligence coup against China in 30 years. During that time, said Michael Pillsbury, a China specialist with the Hudson Institute, defectors have been the main source of information about the business of both business and government in China, but none until Ling revealed such a range of top-grade secrets.

“This is an intelligence windfall,” a top U.S. government official has been quoted as saying.

While it generally remains pretty closed-mouth about Ling and other types of information he may be able to reveal, the government hopes he might have knowledge of agricultural, industrial and media purchases in the U.S. that could be part of China’s grand plan to “co-opt the U.S. economy,” according to John Tkacik, a former China specialist with the State Department.

“But the most important intel he could provide,” Tkacik said, “would be on the inner workings of China’s global financial strategies, the extent to which the Chinese have infiltrated … global financial markets both with human assets and network penetrations, and have used these tools to fuel their incredible accumulation of wealth.”

Meanwhile, because China was so successfully ‘infiltrated’ by Ling Jihua, a major purging of top officials is underway there, and 72 of 85 officials who worked in 19 offices under Ling have been replaced, and at least 55 people were under investigation by last fall, according to two Hong Kong-based dissident Chinese magazines. Qianshao and Chenming published some details on the Ling case last November.  London’s Sunday Times reported on their reports and got some details confirmed by U.S. officials.

Ling Jihua is believed to have been a main source for corruption investigations that resulted in the downfall of China’s top security official, Zhou Yongkang, as well as two senior military officials, The Beacon said.

That web site said as chief of the secretariat of the Party’s Political Bureau, Ling had access to “the most sensitive details available exclusively to senior Chinese leaders.” He is believed to have secreted out some 2,700 of those documents during a month-long period in mid-2012 when he was transitioning from one position to another in the government.

He and his brother had intended to use the documents as leverage to prevent prosecution of Ling Jihua, but they’d agreed the documents should be released to the U.S. if he was.