Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Japan Welcomes African Leaders

Stark contrasts abound with development minded, economic powerhouse Japan invites Africa's leaders with abundant resources to sit down and chat at the Fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD IV). Actually, the conference is really in the suburb Yokohama in the Minato Mirai 21 district and is only the fourth since 1993. Japan, a closed society, yet first world nation needs to procure resources. The African continent is replete with all manner of resources. Dictators and some well meaning naive African leaders have in the past too quickly signed away mineral rights, water distribution and natural resource development to China and other nation states with positive cash flows, leading to trade inequities. Japan needs to get in line as the price of oil soars or remains unstable. Japan needs more oil and a stream of resources to continue fueling the economy at its current rate. Japan is facing its own debt challenges which have rocked the government in recent months. Hence, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda extends the hand of friendship and a basket of aid to counterparts in Africa.
Under the theme "Toward a Vibrant Africa: A Continent of Hope and Opportunity", the meeting is to focus on boosting economic growth, ensuring human security and addressing environment and climate change issues in Africa.

Asia-Africa cooperation, intra-Africa cooperation and public-private partnership are important for the development of the nations. The meeting will serve as a platform for broadening the development partnership.
Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Koumura said prior to the meeting that the conference was expected to adopt the "Yokohama Declaration" outlining guiding principles and approaches to African development among the TICAD stakeholders, as well as the "Yokohama Action Plan and the Yokohama Follow-up Mechanism" laying out a road map for action-oriented initiatives with measurable targets.

Japan, at one point in history, has depicted all manner of black folks, among others not ethnically Japanese, with the worst connotations based on race as fully noted by the UN in a 2005 report. Japan now needs Africa's abundant resources to maintain its current quality of life. Africa's leaders, plagued by a surfeit of government workers on the take/dole/corruption path, underscores a desperate need to engineer a means of making money rather than spending it on government to build sustainable economies. All of which, in either case, affect the environment.

In a few weeks, Japan will host the Great 8 summit in July after a failure this weekend to get those self same countries off the dime to announce a global environmental package. Geopolitical discussions are on the table as Japan seeks more direct influence at the UN. Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Liberia, Ethiopia, Angola are among the countries with 39 African heads of state attending the conference. Japan is putting staggering amounts of yen on the table in loan and grants in exchange for development rights which is right in keeping with what the World Bank endorses. The enormous amount of debt each nation is racking up in these deals needs careful consideration. Longtime Africa Champion, by way of Ireland and the south of France, Bono, is ecstatic to see the aid promises, but wants decidedly more done for Africa, especially on the food and agricultural fronts.

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete noted that only about two percent of Japanese imports were from Africa.

"Mr. Prime Minister (Fukuda), this must change. What remains to be seen is increased trade and investment, and more development of the Japanese private sector on the African continent," he said.

Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi of Zimbabwe, which faces intense international criticism, charged that foreign aid policies were slanted to serve political ends.

"The structure of lopsided power distribution in the United Nations system, particularly in the Security Council, is replicated in the development institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund," Mumbengegwi said.

Much remain to be done as the value of goods to be traded will be a contentious topic. From Paul Collier comes a book that rips open how the world manages to keep a billion people from the bottom rung of the economic ladder from Asia to Africa. The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It springs from a life time of analysis from a former personage at the World Bank. Staving off a humanitarian crisis is not for the faint of heart and this book chronicles 50 failed states, especially those that sold their natural resources on get rich quick schemes.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Jupiter Has New Red Baby Spot

Imagine a the largest planet in our solar system developing a rash since 9 May. A new red spot or planet pimple glowed on gaseous Jupiter's enormous surface visible to the extraordinary eighteen year old Hubble space telescope. Named Great Red Spot, the largest of the three spots being almost three times the size of Earth, really it is an anticyclonic storm that never sleeps, became known to planet watchers since 1665. Red Spot, Jr was spotted in 2006 from formations first spotted in 1938. This latest spot as yet without a boring Jupiter name like Baby Spot, was white with an oval appearance, but suddenly turned bright red after too much solar UV radiation. Who knew Jupiter needed sunscreen? Ominous things are happening on Jupiter's surface. Giant Spot is on a head-on crash course to demolish Baby Spot by August of this year. Note to NASA: please ensure Jupiter's "event" occurs before you have the Hubble maintenance crew out there fiddling with the antenna. Don't become the Heidi happening in space - in the 1960's a football game was tense and in its last moments, but not finishing on time so some TV network genius decided to switch to the movie Heidi rather than see the outcome of the game.

Moreover, the color of several bands on the planet has been changing since the upheaval began, said Christopher Go, an amateur astronomer in Cebu, the Philippines, who joined de Pater's team two years ago. Go alerted the astronomical community in early 2006 about the color change of Red Spot Jr.

"Lately, the red color of the Oval BA has faded a little bit, while the Great Red Spot may have turned dark red," Go said.

The UC Berkeley team will work with the amateur astronomy community to investigate the possible origin of this turbulence, which is not

The Great Red Spot and Red Spot Jr. are squeezed between bands called shear flows, where the flow above each storm is moving westward and the flow below is moving eastward. Since the shear flow in each band is slightly different, and the storms are different sizes, Red Spot Jr. drifts slowly eastward toward the Great Red Spot while the Great Red Spot drifts slightly westward toward Red Spot Jr. In late June, this storm will pass the Great Red Spot, as it does every two years.
Theoretically does this mean there is a climate change issue on Jupiter? It takes almost twelve earth years for Jupiter to make it once round the sun and its 317.8 times the size of our home planet. Tangerine and Chocolate clouds layers filled with ammonia change colors potentially based on the Suns ultraviolet lights are the uppermost clouds. This makes Jupiter an astronomer/photographer's dream. No one can definitive say why the bands of clouds change colors. Winds reaching 100 mph in certain zones making a Jovian weather report filled with possibilities of storms that can last a couple hours or a few Earth centuries, especially at the equator. Through all of this, the hardest working telescope in space, Hubble, spotted the latest baby red spot.

The advent of yet another red spot in Jupiter's turbulent atmospheremay support the idea that the planet is undergoing climate change.

Fluid-mechanics professor Philip Marcus of the University of California predicted in 2004 that rising temperatures would destabilize Jupiter's jet streams and give rise to more vortices.

NASA has colorful Jupiter on the brain. Juno is scheduled to take off in August 2011 to complete due diligence on what really is at the core of the planet, its gravity and magnetic fields and what is happening with the polar magnetosphere. Solar powered Juno will be in an eleven day fixed polar region orbit after arriving at Jupiter "custom's counter" sometime in 2016.

How does one get to deep space considering the time involved and the multitude of things that could go wrong. failure will always be a necessary part of space. Part of the learning originates with the use of robots and mechanical engineering to launch into space. Use Earth's gravity like a bumper on a pool table and off goes personkind's latest robotic explorer before manned flight. Space Invaders: How Robotic Spacecraft Explore the Solar System by the prodigious Michel van Pelt makes for absorbing reading.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Barack Obama's A Team

When Obama wrote Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance it burst forth as an authentic life journey without attempts to shield his pen from immortalizing the rough stuff. That particular book was also written without artifice or the ambition of national politics. I remember seeing the book on the shelf of a now defunct Los Angeles Crown Book store. I inspected the jacket and the contents as a voracious nonfiction reader - I seek footnotes - thought what an interesting book and how do you say that name properly. With rapt attention I had read Nathan McCall's book, Makes Me Wanna Holler: A Young Black Man in America and wanted another book from a black man, so much the better he was bi-racial, showing a journey to share with my nephew CJ. What a difference a decade makes.

Barack Obama spent his intervening time on family, friends and thinking about the best ways to make a difference. Now he stands before America and her territories asking for our votes to become the 44th president of United States of America. No way did Barack become the presumptive nominee without a cadre of close friends, adoring family and political operatives that understood his unique gifts and glaring flaws. It is that Obama political dream team about whom much shall be written in the coming years. They/We beat the biggest Democratic machine in 40 years with little more than one man's inspiration derived from the knuckleball school of hard knocks, hallowed classrooms of the Ivy League and hard to come by street cred on the Southside of Chicago.

The team surrounding Obama is clear. No Drama. There are homemade T-shirts that sell stating End the Drama - Vote Obama. All fights amongst the campaigns senior aides remain contained within the family walls. Seems everybody is a consigliere. However, the de facto Obama rules mean treat political competitors with class, but they are not at all above causing opponents some drama moments. Obama's Dream Team is a mix of operatives from Chicago, southern states, the beltway's cynical circles, African Americans, the wealthy and/or educated elite and cheap green eye shade types more comfortable with a spreadsheet than supporters. One most excellent supporter, foreign policy adviser, Pulitzer Prize winner and stellar Harvard prof Samantha Power resigned her unpaid campaign position after calling Hillary a monster on the record.

Valerie Jarrett in Philadelphia, in March 2008, at one of the most momentous speeches on race as she, fellow Obama supporter Marty Nesbitt and Michelle cried as Obama gave an oration worthy of angels.The detail oriented, tough as nails Valerie Jarrett hired Michelle first and met Barack later prior to the couple being married in Chicago. Michelle is giving a multitude of deep thought to what she could do as a potential First Lady for women and children.

Jarrett's role as an honest broker in the campaign stems from her deep friendship with the candidate and his wife. Barack Obama met Jarrett in 1991 when she was Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's deputy chief of staff and was interviewing Obama's then-fiancee for a job in City Hall. The three have been close ever since. A lawyer, Jarrett got her start in city government as a deputy corporation counsel for finance and development.

After serving at Daley's side, Jarrett was a commissioner in the city's Planning and Development Department and went on to chair the Chicago Transit Board, which oversees the city's public transportation system.

She is also a member of the University of Chicago's board of trustees and chairs its Medical Center Board. She is vice chair of Chicago 2016, the committee spearheading the city's bid for the Summer Olympics. Jarrett oversaw the Chicago Stock Exchange until stepping down last year to become CEO of Habitat Co., a real estate development and management firm. Some have mentioned her as an eventual mayoral candidate.

David Axelrod a veteran of the seminal Harold Washington for mayor campaign, is a veteran wordsmith, former reporter and savvy political operator. He's got great eyes with incredibly long eyelashes, but he's not exactly a killer presence on the TV. He's appreciated more for his political messaging craftsmanship and strategic leadership away from the klieg lights that favors fast talkers and empty rhetoric. Axelrod had one presidential campaign under his belt with John Edwards in 2004. With several high profile aides in Camp Obama, his nickname at HQ is "Ax". That could have all manners of meaning and permutations.

Obama's political strategist, David Axelrod, was in New York at a fund raiser Tuesday night, a rare evening away from the pressures of the campaign trail. Axelrod and his wife, Susan, are supporters of Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy, and they were honored at a dinner raising money to fight the disease that robbed their daughter of
a chance at a normal life.

Long before he was married, Axelrod was a young journalist who wrote a political column for the Hyde Park Herald on Chicago's South Side. I inherited the column when he moved on to the Chicago Tribune. He's been advising candidates since 1984 when he went to work for the campaign that put Paul Simon, an Illinois Democrat, into the United States Senate.

Another David, Plouffe, is the money man and treats donations as if they were his own precious. Cheap is a descriptor he is proud of as a fear of running out of money dooms many a worthy candidate. Plouffe was adamant that would not be the reason an Obama campaign would flounder. He kept his word. Most of Barack's supporters recognize his name at the bottom of many emails from the campaign. What most don't know is David is barely forty and shies away from any spotlights even after having been a part of the Beltway political circuses in past years.
As Obama's campaign manager, Plouffe is widely credited with running one of the most impressive presidential nominating operations in recent memory. He is known for his discipline and for his ability to maintain a steady course through a campaign's inevitable ups and downs. "He is the most focused, talented operative I've ever worked with," says Democratic lobbyist and Clinton supporter Steve Elmendorf. "He never gets distracted by any of the chatter or Beltway stuff," adds Elmendorf, who, as then-House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt's chief of staff, hired Plouffe to be his deputy in 1997.
An interesting hard hitting national security specialist and foreign policy scholar on the O - A Team is Susan Rice. Yep, in an Obama administration there would be another Dr. Rice who is a black female with strong ties to Stanford. She too, is barely over 40, African American, dedicated and focused on global challenges likely to consume an Obama Administration's international agenda.

Rice has been a critic of the war in Iraq and she said in September 2007 that the troop surge is not achieving “its intended and stated objective of giving the Iraqi political factions the space that is necessary to resolve their political differences.”

Rice also categorizes global poverty as a factor in U.S. national security. In 2006, Rice warned in The National Interest that poverty “dramatically increases the risk of civil conflict” and “prevents poor countries from devoting sufficient resources to detect and contain deadly disease.” Rice has repeatedly said the Bush administration should devote up to 0.7 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, a target set as part of the UN’s Millenium Development Project, to overseas development assistance by 2015.

There are many others on the Obama team making significant and meaningful contributions to getting this incredibly talented man elected. His next truly momentous addition to his team will be the announcement of his selection of VP that will be ready on day one to assume the presidency. Very glad it won't be his former competitor who jumped the shark this week.That jumped into my head when Hillary Rodham Clinton evoked RFK's assassination in June as a durable reason for continuing her political charade. Today means more than tomorrow as Barack Obama shifts his thoughts to winning against a man that survived torture as a POW and embraced the policies of the worst president in American History.

My father has a saying that shall stay with me for the remainder of my life: Live for Today, for Tomorrow is not Promised. As time permits, more profiles in the coming months as they are an interesting group meshing together to take a campaign that began with one man's thoughts on Hope & Change to electing him president of the United States. Barack's team is ensuring his legacy permeates his policy for Today as America is on the cusp of entering a new era in the hands of a man of the Joshua generation. He chooses to enter unafraid and so shall I. Barack is living for today and as his mentor said in 1980, Hope Lives, the Cause Shall Endure and the Dream Shall Never Die.

Obama's former aide from the primaries, who my bet will return, Dr. Samantha Power offers up a compelling
biography of a dedicated global citizen who wanted to get something done in the most adverse of circumstance. The story of his life is contained in her stellar biography, Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

It's May: Royal Wedding Saturdays!



Wedding Planning etiquette is quite the issue when two European royal dynasties had heirs to the throne getting hitched on Saturdays a week apart. The Windsor family is mega wattage with the 11th in line to throne, Peter Phillips marrying his Canadian bride, Autumn Kelly. Her Majesty, the Queen of England attended the wedding. Well, since the Event was held at her smaller home, Windsor Castle, which has been around since William the Conqueror started building it in 1066. There was a Royal reception featuring the Prince of Wales and the Princess of Wales that goes by the more politically correct Duchess of Cornwall at Frogmore House about a mile away and still part of the Royal real estate holdings. (Peter Phillips & Mrs. Autumn Phillips)

A few hundred kilometers away today was the Scandinavian Royals celebrating the nuptials of Denmark's Prince Joachim to Marie Cavallier. Attendees included Sweden's & Norway's royals at the eight hundred year old Mogeltonder Church in a picturesque Danish village with less than a thousand people, scene of many a Dane royal event. Former royal personages, prior Greek Queen Anne-Marie who is the younger sister of the groom's mother, Queen Margarethe and sister-in-law to former French citizen, Prince Henrik. Schakenborg Castle, the Prince's digs, is where the reception was held a coterie of 300 guests. His first marriage had taken place at Fredensborg Castle scene of royal festivities for Europe's longest reigning monarchy. Now, Her Royal Highness Princess Marie received the use of a royal tiara from her mother-in-law, the Queen.

Joachim's 32-year-old bride wore an off-white gown with a three-meter-long train designed by David Arasa and Claudio Morelli from fashion house Arasa Morelli.

Cavallier, now Her Royal Highness Princess Marie, held her veil in place with a tiara belonging to her new mother-in-law.

The new princess, whose background is Roman Catholic, has become a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark and has taken Danish citizenship.

"I think she is beautiful," said Hanne Schoenneman, a resident of Moegeltoender. "She seems happy and positive and straightforward."

In a multitude of irony, the English Princess Royal's soon-to-be daughter-in-law glided down the aisle in St. George's Chapel to Jeremiah Clarke's Prince of Denmark's march wearing one of Princess Anne's tiaras. Something borrowed, check that off the list. Prince Phillip official consort/husband to the Queen of England is by birthright a prince of Denmark who renounced those royal titles upon his marriage to QEII. Meanwhile, Prince William was in Kenya for a friend's wedding leaving his on-again-off again-back on again girlfriend, Kate Middleton, to represent him at his cousin's royal wedding. Prince Joachim had his own plethora of Crown Princesses and Crown Princes, including attending his second wedding to a French citizen along with his two sons from his first marriage on the 73rd anniversary of his grandparents marriage, King Frederik and Queen Ingrid. (Pay attention there will be a test later...) Prince Felix son of Prince Joachim was considerably overwhelmed with the pageantry and promptly fell asleep halfway through, but his father the groom wept when he saw his bride. Wonder what the former James Bond, Roger Moore, thought of that as he sat in the pew as this wedding took place.

She was attended by six bridesmaids
: Zara Phillips,
her new sister-in-law, Jacqueline Aubie, a friend from Canada, and Susannah Toynbee, a friend from England, each wearing dresses by Vera Wang; and children Stephanie Phillips, Peter's half-sister, Jessica Kelly, Autumn's half-sister, and Rosie Bush, Peter's god-daughter.

Ms Holford, the wedding gown designer, said: "Autumn was incredibly composed but slightly nervous. She was also very excited. … She has been very enthusiastic and so easy to work with.

"She had definite ideas about the style she wanted: one that would befit a society wedding but also reflect her own style."

Interesting that each bride has taken on the religious faith of their new country and royal family. Great jewels, and interesting family trees make royal watching a refined sport.

Royal Note: Author Jerramy Fine left a gracious note and a link to her just released book, Someday My Prince Will Come: True Tales of a Wannabe Princess chronicling her hopes, dreams and the interference of reality on her way to snagging and snogging an English prince. The book details her real life encounters with royal members of the House of Windsor.

The Scream Delights Again

High dungeon Drama and good old fashioned sturm & drang surrounds the viewer to feel the raw power of angst and despair coupled with the majestic history of a blood red sky from the 1883 volcanic eruption of Krakatoa is contained on four canvasses the same subject matter are pieces of Norwegian artistry. Stunning in its inception by a tormented eighteenth century painter, Edvard Munch, his works of the same piece in multi-media formats of pastels, earning him a place in the pantheon of world artists was stolen (again) from an Oslo museum then damaged by the thugs thieves, later found in a closet, gets carted off to the chagrined rescue curators who are forced to leave a left corner irreparably damaged for fear of further desecration before a royal show where the world can now pay homage anew.

Madonna (1894/1895) and The Sick Child (1907)
The Scream (1893-1910) is part of a collection of works by Munch meant to memorialize life, love, fear, death and melancholy in a series he tilted, The Frieze of Life. His other works with arresting names include Despair, Anxiety, The Sick Child, Ashes (1894) and Love and Pain. After returning from Germany, the artist suffered hallucinations, gulped spirits by the bottle and produced a legacy of work that delved into the inner soul. After months of intensive treatment after his deep embrace of Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, he found his Happy Place and less trauma inducing subject matter to paint. Then the Nazis proclaimed his work as degenerate having Munch's art removed from German museums. Wonder what he would think of his visage being on the 1000 Kroner note in Norway today. Edvard passed on to the next life in January of 1944, at the age of 80, but not before leaving this stirring quote:
"From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity."
—Edvard Munch
The city of Oslo received all of Munch's bequeathed art and from the museums with his collections have come some of the most brazen art thefts. On the opening day of the 1994 Winter Olympiad in Lillehammer, Norway four thieves took a precious copy of one of Munch's paintings of The Scream. Classical art that becomes a signature piece for modern culture is a rare feat. Then in 2004, the unthinkable occurred - his "Madonna" (1894-1895) and pastel version of "The Scream" were stripped from the wall, unceremoniously walked off the property into a waiting vehicles pictured here. Yikes, that's millions of US dollars in his grubby hands.

Each time the paintings are recovered by police, sometimes years later, but at a terrible cost. After the exhibit, "The Scream and Madonna Revisited" concludes on 26 September, "Madonna" will have further restoration work.

Some 440 people, more than double the average number of visitors this time of year, came to see the unveiling of "The Scream" and "Madonna", another Munch masterpiece stolen in the 2004 robbery, a museum official told AFP.

"The Scream", which is perhaps the most famous depiction of existential angst, depicts an individual on a bridge, hands clasped around the head and mouth wide open in an apparent yell of despair, against a backdrop of waves of red, yellow, blue and black.

Now in paperback is an award-winning biography, Edvard Munch: Behind The Scream from accomplished wr
iter, Sue Prideaux. She draws heavily upon Munch own diaries which do not shy away from that which bedeviled his human soul and erupted onto the canvas. So famous is The Scream artwork, it has even shown up on episodes of The Simpsons and in animé worldwide.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Alps Low Snow Turns Skiers into Hikers

Slalom and downhills on the mighty European Alps were once a given based on their massive amounts of snowfall. Current snowlines compare to some guys' receding hairlines. Started early, no one except regulars appreciated the change and then all of a sudden, a massive patch that calls attention to the barren area from casual observers at a skiing reuinion outlines what was once dense with nature's covering. For twenty years the Alps were staving off baldness. Now comes economic devastation for the expensive sport of European skiing (tourism) dependent on an annual abundance of snowpack or fresh powder for the five diamond downhiller, half pipe surfin' snowboarders and the more intrepid cross-country skiers. The ski season typically runs from December to April while the summer brings out the mountain bikers, glider fanatics and the hearty that can withstand the cold mountain lakes for a dip or a sail. Mont Blanc reigns supreme as the highest point in the mountain range.
The future of winter tourism in the region is looking grim. "I don't believe we will see the kind of snow conditions we have experienced in past decades," says Christoph Marty at the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research in Davos.
Climate Change is having a devastating effect on alpine skiing with ski operators seeing epic declines in business. In Geophysical Research Letters, the study author, Christoph Marty states the most recent winter was passable with the proviso as long as it was above 1200 meters or 3900 feet. The higher elevation one goes to ski, the more difficult and expensive it is for tourists and snow aficionados to access. North American ski slopes are not experiencing the same level of consistent decline of the annual snows, but they are relying on artificial snow more. Skiers will always be the experts to speak about snow quality though.

The warning comes four years after a study for the United Nations Environment Programme predicted that more than half of resorts in France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Austria could be forced out of business over the next five decades as the snow line rises.

It was based on temperatures increasing by between 1.4C (2.5F) and 5.8C (10.4F) during this century.

The latest research, which paints an even bleaker picture, is the first to take in 10 years of new data from 34 stations between 200 and 1800 metres above snow level.

Danger is manifest in the melting snow. Snow packs and glaciers are necessary to storing a nation's or regions fresh water supply. The Swiss Alps is home of the Aletsch Glacier, the largest in the mountain range that supplies hydroelectric power and feeds the Rhone River. And like the witch in the Wizard of Oz - it's melting. Many resorts resort to manmade snow or snow cannons which use ungodly amounts of water and fossil fuels to attract skiers and boarders. It is the same principle as a golfer standing on an exquisitely designed beautifully green 18-hole course in the middle of a 100° F desert. Both examples exist as a testament to somebody's economic ego rather than conservation or land management. More people are dying in alpine avalanches as further instability of the snow from melting is exacerbated by winds which aide in triggering avalanches. Last years deaths due to avalanches are small compared to the 1951-1952 season dubbed the Winter of Terror, in which hundreds perished in 649 avalanches in three months.

Skiers chase the best powder. This leaves a good part of the Alps vulnerable for more than one reason. Climate change is redistributing natural elements in its own way affecting tax revenue for nations, diminishing livelihoods for ski operators and making high quality skiing in the Alps more dangerous and a massive environmental challenge.

That said, here is the latest for skiing upon pre-publishing hopeful snowfall projections for the best of what Europe can offer for resort. Off-piste, you are on your own though. Top 50 Ski and Snowboard Resorts in Europe 2008-2009 from the author duo of Pat Sharples and Vanessa Webb.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Michelle Obama Says Hola in Puerto Rico

Since the 1898 invasion during the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico is an archipelago under the dominion of the United States of America. As such, the commonwealth along with other territories and entities like the District of Columbia, Guam, US Virgin Islands have unique roles in selecting US presidents. There are elected people running around DC nominally representing their people in the House of Representatives, but they absolutely get no committee chairmanships, electoral college votes or federal senators. Hawaii, which became state number 50 in 1959, still has vigorous protests about the American overthrow of their Queen Liliuokalani and it annexation. Native Hawaiians recently overtook the palace to demand sovereignty. In the case of Puerto Rico, no votes for them in US presidential general elections. However, during party primary campaigns, those citizens do have pledged delegates and get to colorfully announce their choice at each of the late summer party conventions.

This year an eighteen month quest for the Democratic Party's nomination winds up or down in Puerto Rico. Voting in Puerto Rico is not monolithic due to urban and rural concerns, education, ethnic mixes where a mix of citizens are direct descendants of African slaves and/or those with Spanish heritage from the days of Christopher Columbus. Puerto Rico's Governor, Anibal Acevedo Vila, is an ardent Obama supporter with federal investigations hanging over his head. Puerto Rico has 63 precious Democratic delegates at stake on their tourist laden island south of the Bermuda Triangle that are an airplane hop, skip or a boat ride from Haiti and other hot spots in the Caribbean.

Off and on, domestic island battles rage at varying temperatures of high drama between Puerto Rico's own political parties as to whether to become a state, usually split among the main two PNP/NPP or Partido Nuevo Progresista de Puerto Rico (statehood) or declare independence PIP/PDP Partido Popular Democrático de Puerto Rico(sovereignty) . Puerto Rico did not escape the red blue media gerbil divide either. There is also a much smaller party of independents that use the color green. Into this primordial primary soup presidential candidates, well Democrats, and their top surrogates, find themselves gingerly wading or storming the beautiful beaches for votes this year.

An elegantly ruffled Michelle Obama was in Puerto Rico making the case for the fave soon to be nominee, Barack Obama. Chelsea Clinton bravely went to Puerto Rico to stump for her Mom after previously trekking to Hawaii where all things political were decidedly for the guy born there, Obama. My niece and nephew were also born on Oahu at the humongous coral pink Tripler Hospital. Both Mrs. Obama and Chelsea toured a hospital in San Juan. A sensitive US Navy denied and rejected Chelsea's bid to use the Viques base as a backdrop.

In the city's colonial district, Michelle Obama greeted the steering committee for her husband's campaign. She said only Puerto Ricans should decide whether the island will continue its commonwealth status, become a U.S. state or opt for independence.

"That's an issue that should be decided by the voters here. Self-determination is a critical part of democracy," Michelle Obama told a local TV reporter.

Much of Puerto Rican politics revolve around the island's relationship to Washington, with islanders about evenly divided on the issue.

Meanwhile, an insipid Tennessee GOP decides Michelle is the candidate to viciously attack rather than Barack. No sweat, fresh from Puerto Rico, Michelle, along with hubby Barack beat the Eugene, Oregon heat ordering chocolate for her and a mint chip and green tea combo for him of ice cream.

After traveling in Puerto Rico and a host of states, Michelle looks forward to going home. It will never be the same. She has to move in 9 months to a larger residence.

We can brush up on the history of Puerto Rico from this hard bound one volume book on the island's history. From authors César J. Ayala and Rafael Bernabe comes Puerto Rico in the American Century: A History Since 1898 to help us become much more knowledgeable.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

God, Extra Terrestrials & The Vatican

An official announcement in the Pope's paper of record, world famous L'Osservatore Romano, has science fiction aficionados and fervent worshipers in God's universal Church not only in hyperdrive that UFO's are worthy of discussion, but mindwarping up to, if a life form is on board from deep in outer space, they too are the inspired Divine work of God. Heads are exploding all over the universe and in the Geek/Faith blogosphere. Alien implications in this throw open the doors to testing beliefs, examining Faith and unbinding an awesome God from just spending an emotional investment on the two legged praying monotheistic masses on the third rock from the Sun. Scientists already know there are hundreds of extrasolar planets or galaxies in the universe with the potential or the recently discovered elsewhere in space common molecule, methane, to replicate Earth's atmosphere and sustain forms of life. It never meant that development in those other areas followed anything near Earth's evolutionary path documented by Darwin.
It has also made for some lively discussions between liberal and
conservative theologians. Rev. Christopher Corbally, vice director of
the Vatican Observatory, said he has been bombarded with e-mail from
colleagues pondering whether God could have created more than one world
and whether other beings could be granted redemption via a Christ-like

If God created human beings in his own image, how could there be others
who don't look like us? Little green men, Corbally noted, certainly do
not fit the popular image of God.

"It's a fun way to catch people's imagination," he said jubilantly.
"How wonderful it would be to have other life beyond our own world,
because it would show how God's creation just flows out without abandon.

"We are always trying to restrict God's creativity, putting theological
difficulties in the way. But I don't think God bothers with theological

Gene Roddenberry, the originator of all things Star Trek, wrote and produced with the iron rule that alien forms must always walk upright on two legs, limiting imaginative ET species that may have other means of mobility or visages. He wanted the concept to tie in some measurable way to what was familiar on Earth. From the papal throne came edicts that led to Crusades, royal excommunications, burning of witches, the Inquisitions and the trials for heresy in denying the Catholic Churches belief system.

It took, a now enshrined outside the Uffizi in Italian marble, Galileo over 400 years to get his good name back on the bright side of the flat Earth believers and the Church after his trial for daring to mention the Earth's rotation was part of an orbit around the Sun, not the other way around. Now smash those two belief systems together in a particle accelerator and you have the Church is okey-dokey with alien life forms from another planet no matter what type of cosmic car they have souped up or the color of their beings as we all came from the same God. Top it off with the Vatican having its own Observatory with savvy scientist priests searching the Heavens and making scientific peer reviewed contributions. Science and the papacy making efforts and progress towards common cause after scientific Battles of the Millenniums is truly a new paradigm requiring its own field of study. Cue the Twilight Zone Music...

Now the Pope's Jesuit astronomer is the lead guy, Father Jose Gabriel Funes, with adamant conviction that science is utterly compatible with the Church. The kicker is that this observation and explanation have been part of the Church's opinions on ET phenomena for a good while. That next science panel at a Vatican conference on science and the cosmos ought to be a doozy worthy of must-see TV. Charles Darwin's seminal Origin of Species will celebrate 150 years of existence and the Vatican is hosting a Rome conference on evolutionary theory. Wrap your head around that one and get a serious supply of popcorn because the Church is re-looking at the challenges of evolutionary theory and some fundamental beliefs in creationism.

In his L’Osservatore interview, Fr. Funes echoed that, declaring that “As there exist many creatures on earth, so there could be other beings, also intelligent, created by God. This doesn’t contradict our faith because we cannot put limits on the creative freedom of God.”

In asking whether little green men might be guilty of original sin, we are obviously in the realm of “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.” But the theologian astronomers don’t blink. Fr. Funes said he was sure that, if aliens needed redemption, they “in some way, would have the chance to enjoy God’s mercy.” Consolmagno was more explicit: there’s no problem in getting the Son of God to every planet with ETs because, as Christians accept every Sunday during the Holy Eucharist, “Christ is truly, physically present in a million places, and sacrificed a million times, every day at every sacrifice of the Mass.”

There have been some world class donnybrooks over evolution. Trials of the twentieth Century and the absolute uproar over the unscientific intelligent design weirdness plus a notorious anti-science bent from the Catholic Church in the past. It is mindbogglingly interesting to see the Vatican tread with papal soft shoes where no Pope and the priests has gone before. It makes one really wonder what is buried in the Vatican Archives as Extra Terrestrials leaped into the discussions and collective consciousness of philosophers and the imaginative centuries ago. The Middle Ages was, in part, about making people conform or die to the autocratic patriarchal theology of the times while what is considered modern now marries space aliens to one of the largest Faith traditions on the planet. We do indeed, live in interesting times.

Get up to Earth speed on the bones of the evolutionary science and the opposition in these great books. For alien perspectives look to the best of Science Fiction. In paperback, The Origin of Species from Charles Darwin, the Pulitzer Prize winning Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion from Edward J. Larson, from Edward Humes, the highly praised Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion and the Battle for America's Soul plus from the Catholic perspective and a decade old respected treatise, Did Darwin Get it Right? Catholics and the Theory of Evolution from George S. Johnston.