Thursday, April 29, 2004

Country of the week #4

My son and I are doing a Jr detective based on the geography of certain countries. Each case is in a different country, and the case we are working on now is in India. India, I decided, is too big of a country (people, size, culture, history) to do with just one country of the week article, but I'll handle it superficially and then get it again some other time.

The Indus and Ganges River systems have housed civilizations for over 5000 years. Hinduism and Buddhismm have been running around since before Christ was born, and the Persian and Greek empires only grazed the surface of this area. The Muslims and Ottomans came through the area in the 8th and 12th centuries, so Islam has a long history here. In the 19th century, the English has established control of the area. It was the richest country ever controlled by a European power.

Mohandas Ghandi and Jawaharlal Nehru eventually led the Indians to independence in 1947 through some of the largest peaceful protests in the worlds history. The constitution was ratified on January 26, 1950, which is a national holiday (Republic Day).
India was split into two nations, one primarily Hindu and the other, Pakistan, primarily Islam. In 1971 there was a war between the two countries which ended up splitting Pakistan into two nations, the east part becoming Bangladesh.

India has the gamut of physical geography. From arid deserts in the west near Pakistan, to Jungles near Bangladesh and China, to large plains of agriculture. From flat plains to some of the tallest mountains in the world. The country is about one third the size of the United states, but has 4 times the population.

India is another secular (sort of) democracy, with three branches of government and a constitution. In the executive there is a President (Abdul Kalam) and Vice President and there is a council of Ministers with a Prime Minister (Atal Bihari Vajpayee). The President is the constitutional head of state, and the Prime Minister is to aid and advise the president on all matters, but since the president who "shall, in exercise of his functions, act in accordance of such advice." In other words, I think the Prime Minister is in charge and the President is just a day to day operations guy. In effect I think that is a lot like most public corporations these days. The president of the company is day to day stuff and the CEO is the real head of the company, but makes more "policy" like decisions.

The legislature has two houses, the Rajya Sabha (Council of states) and the Lok Sabha (House of the People). The Rajya Sabha represent the states (like senate) and are elected by the legislatures of each state. The Lok Sabha are elected directly by the people of India. The more heavily represented political parties in office are the Bharatiya Janata (BJP) alliance and the Congress Alliance. Not sure what each party represents, but there are well over 20 political parties in India.

India also has a judicial system that is appointed by the president, but is independent from the executive branch.

The constitution declares India a sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic, and secures the rights of freedom of religion, expression and status, among other things. Despite the call to religious freedom there is much persecution in India for anyone who is Muslim or Christian. Pay attention to the reports of Government action and legislation. There have been movements in the past to push more Hindu culture into this "Secular" democracy, and it will probably continue.

The EU is advocating that India gets a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

There were just elections there and they are still counting the votes. The BJP, or Hindu Nationalists, who are currently the majority and the Prime Minister, are hoping for a mandate to expand the capitalization of the country. It looks like it might be a pretty tight race though.

You though China was where it was at in the new age of globalization? Check out India, on line to become the most populous country in the world and one of the biggest economic powers in Asia.

India wants to be a part of the peace process in the Middle East, but now England and the US are pressuring them to send troops to Iraq.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

WMD Alert. The conventional wisdom is that there are and weren't WMD in Iraq and that the President was going on bad intelligence that there were. In this way we seem to have led the world wrongly into the invasion of that country.

But wait! There have been discoveries that people are really not paying attention to. There is a good article over at Insight on the News by Kenneth Timmerman detailing exactly what we've found and why that should be adequate enough to satisfy the premise that there were weapons and weapon programs there that violated UN resolutions and international agreements.
Tons of pesticides and other chemicals and biological agents, which while they can be used for agriculture, when found in great quantities on a military arms depot, usually signifies that they are not. A line of unmanned drones that could travel well beyond the permissible limit. Scud missile propellant manufacturing. 120mm mortar shells filled with an as yet to be determined liquid (money quote: "If it wasn't a chemical agent, what was it?" Hanson asks. "More pesticides? Dish-washing detergent? From this old soldier's perspective, I gain nothing from putting a liquid in my mortar rounds unless that stuff will do bad things to the enemy.") Read the whole article.

My question is, why isn't Bush defending himself against remarks that he misled the nation and took us into Iraq because of a lie (or less harsh, because of bad intelligence). There's plenty of evidence that while what the press' definition of "stockpiles" hasn't been found, enough has been found to justify what was said. I thought that same thing when I actually saw what David Kay said in his report to Congress when he stepped down. Considering the intelligence that I've seen reported, in hindsight, I might have given the order to go too. I might have used WMD as my primary excuse also, as it seemed pretty convincing at the time. Remember that most countries and the former Democratic president were convinced. Most of the weapons we thought they had are still classified as unaccounted for. Not imaginary, but missing. The UN verified that the components to make these weapons was received by Iraq, but are now unaccounted for.

The story I posted the other day (below) about Syrian weapons stored in Sudan sounds like and interesting twist to the story and may answer a few questions about the "unaccounted for" part.

All and all there were far more reasons to go than just WMD, and still far more good things that have come as a result. The most recent good thing is the exposure of the UN's Money for Oil scandal, which is only happening because we went in there and found all this documentation showing the links. Actually we freed the Iraqi people, who are raising the issue again, as they were before we invaded. We just refused to listen at all before last year.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

UNScam. It's been called many things (one blogger had a contest to name it. UNRON was one name), but how come it's not getting more press? It is getting a little press, but not what it deserves. The fact is now becoming more and more apparent that the UN Oil for Food (Oil for Mansions) program was wide spread and that, as this article by James Morrow of the Australian points out, "it's a who's who list of high-profile anti-war and anti-sanctions voices, all revealed to be shills for Saddam."

Read the whole article. There's more. Much more.
Perhaps because of all the DIY international lawyering engaged in by the world press corps in the run-up to Iraq's invasion, many journalists are reluctant to admit that the UN they put so much faith in was many times more corrupt than they could imagine the Bush White House being.

Or maybe they just don't want to admit that so many of the anti-war voices they used to support their stories were bought and paid for with money belonging to the long-suffering, if little-mentioned, Iraqi people.

Instapundit has been covering this with gusto. So have other bloggers. Look around.
Where have all the WMD gone? Perhaps here. Sudan has ordered the removal of Syrian scud missiles and weapons of mass destruction out of their country. Wonder where the Syrians got that stuff? There's was a report that the Syrians have been secretly flying the weapons into Sudan. Sudan is worried about the US figuring it out and not lifting sanctions.
New bible alert. Here's a report from World Mag.
Move over, New International Version (NIV, Zondervan) and English Standard Version (ESV, Crossway); here's the newest evangelical-produced Bible on the block: the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). A team of 100 translators, editors, and biblical scholars sought to avoid "slang, regionalisms, or changes made specifically for the sake of political or social agendas"—a slap at "gender-neutral" language in some modern Bible versions (including an NIV makeover due next year, Today's New International Version).

Monday, April 26, 2004

Update on South Africa. Here's a great article from Christian Science Monitor about democracy in Africa in general. I'm a bit skeptical about their conclusions about America's response to all this and whether or not they will continue to encourage democracy in the light of Oil deposits and terror (CSM things perhaps not).
Good read, and maps too!
Polygamy. Now it had to happen eventually. Here is an article about the recent suits being tried to justify polygamy as legal according to the Lawrence v. Texas ruling by the Supreme court. The polygamists seem to have some good arguments here, whereas before Lawrence they were stuck one shut. Justifying a polygamous marriage may not be the same thing as what was decided in Lawrence, because it just said that whatever adults do sexually in the privacy of their own home cannot be infringed upon. The pro-polygamy lawyers argue that since it is part of some religions (Mormons, et al) to discriminate would be an infringement on their 1st amendment rights regarding free practice of religion.
Of course the government doesn't have to recognize any marriage past the first one. Anyway, read the article. We all knew that once Lawrence came down that polygamists would be next.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Country of the Week.
Since they just had national elections this past week, I think South Africa will be a great CotW. A variety of indigenous tribes lived in the area of South Africa when Europeans discovered it in the 1400s, including the Mapungubwe, and the Khoisan. Portuguese sailors Batholemeu Dias and Vasco de Gama sailed around it about 1487. Some sailors surveyed the coast, and some set up trade with the natives, but the land was not subject to any permanent settlements until the Dutch came in and set up a "refreshment station" represented by the Dutch East India Company in 1652.

The Dutch settlers ended up having many confrontations with the Khoikhoi over the land about 20 years after that. By the mid 1700s all their land was taken and they were absorbed into the Dutch world as indentured workers. Copper is first discovered by the Dutch in 1760. After that the Dutch continue to expand and run into the AmaXhosa people, and begin a series of wars with them as well.

The British start to settle at the Cape in 1807 and eventually drive the Dutch in to the mainland. In the interior, what had been a number of scattered tribes, united in many cases only by language, started to amalgamate into larger kingdoms, often very brutally, the largest of them being the Zulu under the leader Shaka. Even after his death and the re-organization of tribes, the result was larger communities of people and the older, smaller chief led clans were gone.

One reason for the downfall of the Zulus was the Battle of Blood River, where 464 Boers, in 1838, defeated over 10,000 Zulus, which the Boers commemorated annually after that as a sign from God. Another battle, later in the 1800s between the British and the Zulus along the Natal coast, east of the Cape resulted in the same, although it was a particularly difficult battle for the British, who lost thousands of men.
What resulted was that there were two British colonies, the Cape and Natal, and two Boer colonies: Orange free state and the Transvaal. For a while the Brits were fine with this, as they were not interested in anything that far into the interior. But once they realized the mineral deposits located in the Transvaal, they made efforts to bring that land under the crown. This led to the Boer war. Imagine if you will 45,000 plain clothed Boer militia vs. 450,000 British troops. The Boers fought hard but couldn't accomplish what the Americans did over 100 years earlier. All of South Africa became a British colony in 1900.

About this time is when the Apartheid state came into being. The bulk of laws to this effect were enacted in 1910, although it wasn't called apartheid until after WWII. Soon after 1910 the blacks formed the African National Congress, although it was very unorganized. In the 1970s the ANC became militant, causing South Africa to become an almost militant state until the late 1980s, when President de Klerk declared that Apartheid had been a failure. A major reason for this backing off of the policies of Apartheid was that the economy had become such a mess because of years of international embargoes due to the Apartheid issue.

You all know the rest of what happened. De Klerk unbanned the ANC and Nelson Mandela was elected president. The AmaXhosa (Xhosa) are represented by the ANC, but the Zulu were represented by the Inkatha Freedom party, which was quite a bit more violent in reaction to Apartheid policy. In 1999, Mandela's vice president, Thabo Mbeki was elected president.

The ANC completely captured the vote again this week, but there are some changes brewing. The ANC is under some flak for the sad state of South Africa, which is still partially due to the after affect of sanctions in the 80s. But they are also not dealing (or even recognizing) a pretty bad Aids problem there.

Analysts say it's only a matter of time before people lose their devotion to the ANC for freeing them from Apartheid and expects it to generate results. In the mean time the old africaans National party is losing ground, but the predominately white Democratic Alliance is gaining ground. The papers call it that, but I have also heard of an African Christian Democratic Party, and am not sure if this is the same thing or not. The ACD party is also gaining ground.

The Government of SA is pretty similar to most democratic nations. There is a president (no “prime minister”), a judicial system and a congress consisting of two houses, the National assembly who are elected by popular vote, and the National Council of Provinces who are elected by the provincial legislatures. Note that in the course of my CotWs that many democracies work this way, as did the US before the 20th century. The Senate was not popularly elected.
Another interesting tidbit, for those who are unaware, is that the different branches of government are not in one place. The President resides in Pretoria, near Johannesberg, the legislature resides in Cape Town and the Judicial branch operates in Bloemfontein.
Worst Train Wreck in History. The worst train wreck in world history was in India in 1981 when a cyclone blew a train off its tracks and into a river, killing over 800 people. That was over-shadowed this week in North Korea, where a train carrying explosives, actually exploded and destroyed much of the surrounding area.

It was in Ryongchon, bordering China, and it is estimated to have killed or injured 3,000 people and destroyed two buildings and about 1,850 apartments and houses. Now that was a big bomb. The bomb was reported as the type used in mining, but also in the article is that NK leader Kim Jong Il passed through the town hours earlier. Is there more to this story than it appears?

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Judicial interference. Now I haven't been watching this closely, so I'm glad World Mag has been. Some of you may have heard of the case in Fresno where a Lutheran church revoked the membership of some people and then those people sued to get their memberships back. This would have been amusing, if the judge hadn't sided with the deposed members!
Now, you can debate the Establishment clause all you want on issues like 10 commandment monoliths and public funding of faith-based organizations, but you cannot argue that the clause does not cover this circumstance, and that the judge is smoking something here.
Let me say that, after reading this article, that both sides do have some issues that need to be resolved and neither side is completely clear of blame. But the verses sited in the article are clear on what should be happening and what should not be. This should never have gone to a public arena. Biblically these things STAY in the church.
I agree with the deposed members that there is one part of Matt 18 that calls for the dispute to be taken before the body (usually considered the entire church) before excommunicating. The church didn't do that. But beyond that I don't see a problem in what they did. The deposed have, according to the article, not been very ready to sit down and discuss their gripes.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Gay Marriage. A county circuit judge in Portland made a ruling on gay marriages yesterday. Which is odd, really, because I was under the impression that everyone was waiting until the Oregon Supreme Court heard the case and made a ruling before doing anything else. My impression here is that someone got lawsuit happy and couldn't wait.

But here's the thing. The article states that both sides are happy with the interim ruling. Well, I'm not really. The judges opinion that this matter should be up to the legislature is correct, but then he ORDERS them to convene in special session to resolve this in the NEXT 90 DAYS!? Isn't this stepping over the bounds of judicial authority?

His ruling that, while the legislature could define marriage as between a man and woman, but legal rights must be given to gay couples in the form of a civil union or something, is a little different, but not much so. I still think that this is not a constitutional matter. I.E. I don't think that the constitution speaks to this issue either way. The legislature certainly has the right to create civil unions, or to declare that gays can marry, but the courts are the wrong place to be deciding this.
Country of the week.
Our other neighbor to the south. Mexico tends not to get much attention from us, except in the negative. Which is a shame, because things are a happenin' down there. Now, nothing is happening on the earth shattering realm of the war in the middle east or the presidential election up here, but it's worth keeping in touch with the great brown south.

Now it's really unfair of me to say Mexico is brown (But about as accurate as calling Canada predominantly white). The land around the border with the US is mostly dry and arid, but Mexico gets greener as you get south, until you are in the Yucatan, which is far more vegetated.

Mexico's government is similar to ours. They have a president, who at the moment is Vicente Fox (I'll get back to him), who is elected every 6 years. They have a two-part congressional body. The Senate has 128 people, although only 96 are elected. The other 32 are allocated to parties by percentage of each parties popular vote. They have a Federal Chamber of deputies, which has 500 seats. 300 are elected and 200 are allocated by percentage of party vote.
They also have a supreme court, who are appointed by the president with consent of the senate.
There are several political parties, most notably the institutional Revolutionary Party (RPI) and the National Action Party (PAN). The RPI has held the Presidency since the Mexican revolution in 1910. That changed in 2000, when Fox was elected as the first non-RPI candidate in history. Some say it was the first fair vote in this countries history.
2006 is going to be quite a mess for the Mexicans as they vote for the entire Senate, Chamber and the Presidency in one shot.

Just for kicks, remember that Cinco de Mayo (1862) is NOT the Mexican Independence day. It is a celebration of the defense of their independence. Their actual independence from Spain was achieved on Sept 16, 1810.

Mexico and the US have a pretty good long standing relationship, despite the tension caused by illegal aliens, drug/border issues, and water rights issues. Since NAFTA ten years ago the economy has been steadily getting better. Things are still pretty dire, but heading in the right direction.

The Mayor of Mexico City has been an overwhelming favorite to become president in 2006, but last month a scandal erupted involving his financial secretary that might depose him from his office.

A devastating flood in northern Mexico, in the state of Coahuila near the US border killed at least 50 people and displaced thousands last month. The tributary of the Rio Grande swelled up to 25 feet.
Zoinks! I just found out that someone is actually reading this blog! Holy postings, Batman. I guess I better keep up on this now. It is encouraging to know that I'm not just talking to the air here. If there is anyone else looking at this blog, let me know. Send me an Email if you have a comment. Use the link over on the left.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Good Morning. Yes, I know I'm not keeping up on this blog very well lately. Last week was chock full of stuff that kept me away. I have been following the news pretty well and other blogs, but have not had the time to write. Yesterday is just one example: Work was busy with this new project we are on. I get home from work at 6, we eat dinner and then take the kids swimming. We get home at 9 and I read a story to Phillip, do the dishes, read to myself a little and then hit the hay. No time.
This morning started out the same. First thing after getting ready to go I find that my bike tires are low. In an attempt to pump them up, I find that the seal on my pump is wearing out and I can't get the tire pressure up enough. So I'm riding to work in the rain and side swipe a bus that decides to nose into the bike lane. Busses are the vehicles that, while large, I can usually count on to be courteous to bikers. Not so this one.
Well, I do have a country of the week in the works. I'll try to post that this morning. I'm doing our other neighbor to the south. Another country we know lots about, and yet little.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

9/11 Commission. Despite the politics being played on both sides of this issue, about who was at fault for 911, I think that all would like an objective look at what went wrong with the intelligence community before hand and an objective look at what needs to be done to solve it. That's not going to happen with the crew of commissioners running the investigation.

One of the main complaints about the intelligence community prior to 9/11 is that there was a wall preventing cooperation between the FBI and the CIA. Guess who put that wall there. 9/11 commissioner Jamie Gorelick, who was once the deputy attorney general under Clinton. In a time when fundamentalists (Al-Qaeda, were beginning to attack us on our own soil (WTC bombing '93) the DOJ made information sharing significantly worse.
Anyone think this commission is a big waste of time except for me? I certainly hope it's not, but evidence is growing that it is.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Iraq misinformation. In this time of great events throughout the world that have importance in our lives as Americans, especially where we have significant investment, such as Iraq, media and journalist failures and slanted reporting can and do cause more damage than just affecting a Presidential election. That's why it's always a good idea to go to the source. Winds of Change is a great blog for this, with their Winds of War report every week, and their geo-organized links to the right on the page. Read this report discounting media hype that Shi-ites have turned against us.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

WMD. Interesting post from the Scotsman on what Charles Duelfer, the directory of the Iraq Survey group is saying about Iraq's ability to produce WMD on short notice. This should not surprise anyone who really listened to what David Kay was saying about how he thought Iraq was even MORE of a threat than we originally thought. It's even less of a surprise than that. Read this article several weeks ago in World that summarizes and interview with Rolf Ekeus, the first and longest serving UN weapons inspector in Iraq. He said the same thing.
Hat tip to Winds of Change.
Random Posting. I have been pretty busy, and blogging has been light (by me, not everyone else). The Rice testimony has been getting lots of attention and the recent attacks in Iraq are front page news. I've been coaching soccer, swimming with the kids and working. Work is busy.
The only real break has been a viewing my wife and I had of the movie Runaway Jury, staring John Cusak. Ok, it also stars Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman, but I rented it because of Cusak. What can I say, I have an unreasonable devotion to Cusak movies ever since Better off Dead. He's had some bad ones, but also some great ones.
I expected this to be a tense thriller with corruption and lots of people with self serving ideals and lots of money grubbing. I was pleasantly surprised. I don't want to give the ending away, but I didn't get the twists and turns until the very end. My first impression was, "Hey, they're making a boring legal process look exciting!" but then was prepared to be disappointed at the ending. Not so. I recommend this movie.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

ACLU. One of the reasons I don't trust the ACLU anymore is that I feel like they would go after a republican administration no matter what the cause. This article from the AP (through Yahoo) talks about a lawsuit they are planning that challenges a list of travelers that can't fly because the Government suspects them of being a threat. It's no surprise that some people get on that list by mistake, or that some people have names similar enough to match names on that list. But these are the risks you take when you want to increase security during a time of War. Yes, war.

I feel like the ACLU here is criticizing the gov't for doing this:
"Many innocent travelers who pose no safety risk whatsoever are stopped and searched repeatedly," the ACLU said in a statement issued Monday.
but wouldn't the ACLU get on the government's case if they searched by profile? Security constantly checks innocent people now as a part of random checks, which is stupid when you see grandma's and parents getting frisked at the gate.
These people that are listed wrongly aren't getting put in prison, they just don't get to fly airlines. It's really a conspiracy to promote Amtrak!

Friday, April 02, 2004

Country of the Week

In the interests of expanding my knowledge of geography, and all of you (whoever is reading this blog), I would like to start a Country of the Week. I'll pick a country of the week and talk about it generally, what the government, people and land is like, and specifically, what's going on currently.

Since this isn't a published rag, and I'm not getting paid for this, I reserve the right to pick more than one a week, or less than one, depending on my time or interest.
To start this crazy crusade, I'll pick a country close to home.
Now the reason I do this is because of the constant complaint I get from Canadians that we Yanks don't know as much about the great white north as they know about us. This is partially defendable in that we are the most powerful (and therefore most talked about, covered and important) nation in the world, and most international people know lots about the US.

The first place anyone should look to find out information about a country is the CIA World Factbook, which has all the descriptive data you could want, like the size, population, yadda, yadda.

It's important to know how the country is governed and who governs. In the US we all know the three branches of government and generally who resides there, especially the President. But quick, can you name the prime minister of Canada? Any of the major political parties in play up there? How are the members of the senate or house of commons selected? You neither?

The Canadian government is similar to ours, but different in some surprising areas. The Prime Minister is similar to our President. Currently this is Paul Martin of the Liberal party. He entered this spot when Jean Cretien vacated the spot recently, before the natural end of his term.
Interestingly, the government web site still lists the "Sovereign" of Canada as her majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Governor General (traditionally appointed by the Sovereign) as Adrienne Clarkson. The Governor General is a ceremonial position, like that of the Queen, and usually chosen by the PM

For a really good look at how the Canadian Government is set up I recommend (as does this site written by a Canadian Senator, Eugene Foresy. Key quote from the front page:
"We cannot work or eat or drink; we cannot buy or sell or own anything; we cannot go to a ball game or a hockey game or watch TV without feeling the effects of government. We cannot marry or educate our children, cannot be sick, born or buried without the hand of government somewhere intervening."

Sheesh, and I thought we spent too much time thinking about our government.

Anyway, the Only real elections that Canadians have on the National front is the parliamentary elections, that is to elect members of the house of commons. The majority party in this house will usually determine who becomes PM and the PM selects the rest of the cabinet. The PM does not have to be re-elected, and terms are kind of a loose thing up there anyway. There are generally elections every 5 years for the house, but the PM can call for elections before then (and the Governor General can say no. It's all so confusing, but fascinating at the same time). There are 5 parties with seats in the house. The Liberal party has the majority (41%), and the Canadian Alliance party is the major opposition party (26%). Other parties are Bloc Quebecois, New Democratic Party, and the Progressive Conservative party.
The senate, unlike our senate, is appointed by the PM. It's function is similar, to review legislation from the House of Commons.
The Supreme Court of Canada is similar to ours. There are 9 members (one is Chief) and they are appointed by the PM.

Some of the issues that face Canada currently are the same as here in the US. Terrorism is something they have to deal with too.
British Columbia is pleading for the Canadian Govt to come in and save them from an avian flu that is decimating the poultry industry in the Fraser valley.
My favorite headline regarding that was: "Pressure mounts to kill more BC chickens."
Always interesting are the US and Canada trade disputes over timber. The US and Canada are still fighting over timber imports to the US from the north. The WTO just ruled in favor of the Canadians, but NAFTA still has yet to rule on it.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Bill Nye the Science Guy. Great article about Bill Nye, overview of his career and what he's doing now. If you haven't seen his show, you should. Great nod to MapQuest in his quip about NASA going to Mars instead of the Moon first. He may be a quirky guy peddling science to kids, but he is also an Engineer (B.S. Cornell) who studied under Carl Sagen and worked for Boeing for a while. He also made the suggestion of putting sundials on the Mars probes to calibrate their clocks. Read the article.