Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Overweight Zimbabwe Dollars Sheds 10 Zeros

Inflation running at 15,000,000 percent has Zimbabwe in a vice grip, sparking international pleas for revaluation of the currency. A billion Zimbabwe dollars does not put a loaf of bread on the table. Just over a quarter of a billion Zimbabwe dollars does buy a can of baked beans. Food on the shelves in Harare is subject to price increases several times in the same day. Carrying money in Zimbabwe is burdensome because the weight to carry that many bills render wallets and small pocketbooks obsolete. One needs wheelbarrows and a great back. There is speculation that the current ongoing economic crisis could put the president of Zimbabwe, the dastardly Robert Mugabe, in further dire political straits so soon after his sham June presidential election.

Harare is fast becoming a city of unemployed, impoverished zillionaires - struggling to spend thick wads of banknotes in empty supermarkets before the cash becomes worthless, and increasingly dependent on funds sent home by the millions of Zimbabweans who have already fled abroad.

In the subdued, seemingly half-empty capital, people wait in long queues outside banks to withdraw a maximum of a 100bn dollars a day.

In bars, the price of beer goes up between rounds.
Many people are reduced to eating one meal a day.
Beyond the inflation, the decrease in farming and one of the highest illiteracy rates in Africa are frog marching Zimbabwe to failed state status. Once, Zimbabwe was to be on the golden path of joining first world development by being prepared to meet their governing challenges. Kind of odd that the current crisis springs from the place that gave the world scouting. Once upon a time, in real life Zimbabwe also had 50 pound notes. One zero involved. Today's action was to make the equivalent of 10 billion Zimbabwe dollars the province of one. They are also bringing back coins which were stricken from the official money register almost twenty years ago. Jingling change is now real money again.
Gono said the new money would be launched with 500-dollar bills. He also said he was reintroducing coins, which have been obsolete for years, and told people to dig out their old ones.
That could be a boon for Fungai Matambo, a 33-year-old vendor of airtime for cell phones who said she has kept a large milk pail full of old coins.

"I'm very happy now," she laughed. "In the old terms, I'm a multi-trillionaire!"
But, she noted, there was little to buy in the shops.
Zimbabwe's armed forces are paid with the inflated dollars and troop anger is on the rise. The situation is fraught with enough tension that South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, flew in to continue his Mugabe protection efforts. Mugabe in a nationally televised address threatens to take an ominous emergency posture as profligate businesses take advantage to squeeze as much profit as possible out of the nation's misfortune. The almost eighty year old Mugabe's ruthlessness against political opponents is legendary.

When A Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa is the real life story told by a child of Zimbabwe that experienced the fall of Rhodesia at Mugabe's hands. Peter Godwin finds out about his Polish Jewish ancestry upending all thoughts he had about his identity.

Golden Sceptre & Pig Offerings Welcome New King

Across 500 miles (800 kilometers) of warm South Pacific waters boasting 169 islands is the archipelago under the dominion of a newly annointed King of Tonga. Only 36 of the islands are inhabited with nearby neighbors to the South in Samoa. Closer still to Fiji, where a dictator has seized control. After the fall of Hawaii's Queen Liliuokalani, Tonga remains the only surviving monarchy in the Pacific islands. Like Ethiopia, Tonga is one of the few nations never to have been a colony of Empire-hungry western nations.

Tourists know them as the Friendly Islands because a colonizer, Captain James Cook, did make a stop there during the Tu'i Tonga's or chief's receipt of first fruits during the 'inasi festival. Nobody better to share the celebratory royal pig with as the celebrations continue with 1400 specially invited guests. It is easy to miss that the prior monarch made bad economic decisions, fueling an internal debate for a more democratic form of representation amidst the beauty of the island and gentle spirits of the people. Civil service strikes and protests have erupted outside the king's colorful gates at the resplendent palace, demanding democracy.

After the current king's abdication, the western educated Oxford scholar and Crown Prince will become their 23rd monarch, King George Tupou V, on 1 August. He is an avid Anglophile after sending much of his formative years in the United Kingdom, eschewing local tailors for the Savile Row set to show off during the festivities of rugby, parades, customary fireworks, coronation balls and a concert upon ascension to the throne. A number of members of dynastic European and Asian royalty shall attend. Not sure if they will be partaking of the drinks made with narcotics though.

The King is 60 years young as he wears traditional dress and participates in a royal kava ceremony to formally welcome him as Tu'i Kanokupolu.

At a Christian coronation ceremony on Friday, King George will swear before God to perform his duties as the king and will be formally enthroned. The throne itself, a handsome gilt chair made in China, arrived in the kingdom last week on a specially chartered DHL plane.

In Tongan culture, the presentation of kava to a person acknowledges his authority. The presentation to the king was a lavish choreographed ritual in which the kava roots were hacked off, pounded with stones, mixed with water and presented to him by a female member of the royal family. Offerings of tapa cloth and food were set before the monarch.
More than 70 pigs, which had been gutted and stuffed with banana leaves, were laid out on wooden biers. Ceremonial provisions of yam, taro and tinned food were put on the grass in containers woven from leaves and later distributed to local people.

A feature of the ceremony is its flaunting of strict protocol. Because no Tongan may walk in front of a king he was accompanied by an elaborately dressed Fijian guard who wielded a spear to drive off evil spirits. There was also an arranged dispute between his two principal ceremonial assistants. And after one of the pigs had been ceremonially cut up, a Japanese diplomat who is a friend of the king presented him with the flesh as no Tongan may touch the monarch's food.

Tonga culture is fascinating. The monocle wearing King is pledging to not to have absolute
control by gingerly moving towards a more democratic and representative government. We shall see.

For the traveler, Samoan Islands & Tonga from Paul Smitz gets one up to speed quickly on the local customs and rich cultural kava history.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Smoggy Cloggy Skies for Beijing Olympics

Most people adventuring over to China for next month's Games of the XXIX Olympiad, have no idea of the magnitude of Beijing's air pollution challenges. The Olympic Village for the athletes opened in a dark cloud cover. Athletes are incorporating preparation for breathing issues into their training regimens as the head of their Olympic teams - including the USA, hand out protective face masks even as the facilities boast an acupuncture and top of the line nail salon, tea house Chinese style and produce markets. Australian athletes are being given the option of going home and not competing in the Olympics over the air pollution hazards, the Deputy Chief of Mission for the Aussies confirmed. Gold medals are at stake, even though one may not see the ceremony if standing more than a few hundred yards away. There is not a Gold Medal in asthma attacks. China would rather deal with the air pollution issue as minor, then point towards the clean up of their 100,000 tons of slimy algae as a temporary triumph in their war on water pollution. Sunday, as evidenced in the last picture above shows the worst day of air quality in the last 6 days. (Reuters photo)
Humid weather conditions and low winds have meant efforts to clear the city's notoriously polluted skies have so far had only patchy results at best.

Pollution is one of the biggest question marks hanging over the games which are due to open on August 8.

On Sunday a ceremony to open the athletes' village was overshadowed by a pall of pollution said to be the worst seen in the past month.

Around the Olympic Green area, the centrepiece for the games, visibility was reduced to about 1km.
Nothing like an urgent last minute crackdown on Chinese factories and construction projects to make a valiant attempt to hope the air clears out in less than two weeks. They so missed seeing Al's An Inconvenient truth on a pirated DVD to know that two weeks before a world event to take these types of measure is like draining the Pacific Ocean one thimble at a time. It also puts those who need the money out of work for the duration while China puts its best face forward to the world. Earlier this year, ordering everyone ride a bike or walk in Beijing was deemed a big success, but had no lasting effect on the air quality nor an increase in subway riders or other public shared transportation.

What is more exasperating is the utter denial and overindulgence in groupthink by Chinese bureaucrats as to the cause of the smog. The official word lists the gray cruddy air as fog at this time of year. Problem is the fog/smog is getting worse. It is no secret that China is one of the top three polluters on the planet, along with India & America, as they strive for first world status economically through manufacturing and exporting the goods to the world on behalf of multinational companies, many in the USA. America is encouraging this and the seeds sewn won't be clear because the air is so thick. Imagine NBC trying to get a distance shot in this for a marathon or other outdoor events involving longer ranges.

Du Shaozhong, deputy director of the Beijing city Environmental Protection Bureau, said at the weekend: “Good air quality does not necessarily mean blue sky. You might not be able to see things in a bathroom, but you would not conclude that it’s due to pollution.” He added: “We should judge whether there is pollution by scientific statistics, not by what our eyes can see.”
But the pollution readings make for grim statistics. A week ago, it looked as if the slew of drastic measures taken by the capital to try to clear the air before the Olympics open on August 8 might be having some effect. With half the cars taken off the streets, construction ordered to halt and many factories closed for miles around, the air pollution index for particulate matter – a major airborne pollutant – was at a reasonable 67.

The Beijing billboard on the bottom blocks the view in the distance. (AP)
The humidity is topping 70%, mixing the air vapor with the toxic chemicals in the air. People with respiratory issues are hearing recommendations to stay indoors and not over exert in these conditions. Now, recommendations of bans for 90% of the cars in Beijing to be ordered idle. Some Beijing residents don't quite see the problem, cough, even though in 11 days, the Olympics begin and George Bush is coming to see the Opening in a sea of smog, er, Chinese fog.

Air out or brush up on the causation and other factors in China's Environment and the Challenges of Sustainable Development. Kristen A. Day gives an early look at the issues besetting or forestalling China's ability to lower their greenhouse gas emissions.


Excuse the mess changing templates is hard...will be working on them for the next few hours as the margins are a problem.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Obama vs McCain: A Dream Nightmare Contrast

Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway/U.S. Air Force via AP
Place your bets. It's the fifth from the bottom of the class son of an admiral versus the magna cum laude son of a goat herder on the world stage. McCain's March trip to Iraq and Obama's July trip were both classified as CODEL or Congressional Delegation trips. Both men were able to speak and spend alone time with Kings or Presidents this week.

~ Could that sign be ANY clearer? ^
John McCain whines he's not Bush-lite, but he greedily and gratefully accepts anything that smacks of Bush leftovers. John McCain's fundraisers are the last of the Bush Easter Island type people. Two president Bushes branded McCain as their teed off man for staying the golf course. Many of John McCain's staffers come directly from the eighth circle of Bushworld. John McCain's take on the Iraq Debacle is straight talk from the Bush Express De-Tour. In a worthy Bush imitation mangling historical fact and substituting cowboy fantasy, John McCain touted his borrowed Bush Decider creds and said Senator Obama should go to Iraq and get schooled by Bush's favorite general and now McCain's too, General Petraeus, before saying what should happen in Iraq. After all, there was no way for Barack to live up to the forgotten images McCain garnered on his Surge & Splurge spring break to sandy Iraq.

Barack Obama needed to prepare for his trip. That involved getting Air Force O ready for the passengers clamoring to go, the notoriously fickle two-timing DC press corps. Germany received a live telecast as the Obama plane landed. Contrast Obama already flying with his new Change We Can Believe In plane. McCain's ride was still being pimped at the beginning of July. It's just now finishing airsickness rehab for the republican presumptive nominee who kinda got the nod in freaking February. Was Johnny Mac N Cheese unsure or something? In a few weeks it's gotta be repainted when he announces his VP who hopefully can provide better optics.

Next, the campaign week got buffalo butt u-g-l-y.
Then there was the comedic stylings of the aide de camps. Mr. McCain quickly fled from his scheduled photo-op atop an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico because Hurricane Dolly had the right of way and a 12 mile oil slick from a Mississippi tug crash would have so undermined his talk about his newfound joy of offshore drilling and the new sexy technology that made spills improbable. McCain's detoured plans landed him in New Hampshire with a press pool of one watching. Count em, one. From the Gulf on to Bethlehem, Penn., on Wednesday where another mishap made ones eyes bulge with camera(s) in tow to film a riveting McCain in front of the only Dairy King he would meet that day, the royalty of dieters, cottage cheese. John upped the ante by having a commemorative photographs taken in front of the only palaces he's been in a while, a local Ohio brat joint and the Fudge Haus. Brilliant moves to stage McCain and his cocktail wiener buddy Lindsay Graham there. I mean it. Especially, after the unscheduled incident with McCain tailing/stalking a grocery shopper, Renee Gould, in the market, asking her questions about the just cleared tomatoes and being (video of aisle disaster) photogged as his aide, unable to appreciate that it was not at all crowded, tripped and knocked over an applesauce display. Of course, the pictures were iconic and the future stuff of comedic genius on behalf of Team McCain. Obama had other developing issues.

Dr. Condi Rice, the all powerful SoS who can decree stuff and negotiate nothing, forbade State Department federal vassals to get extra pillow sweets, monogrammed hand towels or public transportation for the Obama entourage during the trip. O carried his own gear. So, after a sumptuous repast at a real palace, Obama takes up the gracious offer of a ride to Amman's International airport in a Mercedes Benz SL600 piloted by none other than His Majesty, King Abdullah of Jordan. Talk about passing the Commander in Chief test with flying colors, he gets a smart salute as he exits the Osprey.

But John McCain's fabo town hall in Kirby, Pennsylvania had less than a 1000 in a 1600 seat theater. His fans were there, but did not look as hopeful as say these two looked at future President McDreamy, Barack Obama, in Germany after standing for hours. Neither party has held a convention yet, which affords us all another opportunity to see how they manage or mangle the image narrative. McCain won hands glued to his 5,985th draft of the McSurge memo in the mangling contest. Barack will accept the nomination in a 75,000 seat stadium in a city on a Mile High mountain. John McCain will have a non covered pre-existing anxiety cond
ition (Barack announced he won in June at Target Arena while 15,000 stood outside apart from the 20,000 already inside) as he milks his 2% of the nomination speech in front of another Dairy Delights Aisle with his BFF, Captain Nemesis Teleprompter, egging him on a week after Barack.

Guess which one is happy, called a Hunk in Hebrew and forgot to pay Malia her allowance versus the other who just can't wait for the national nightmare to be over because as it is tough being heard when you've been put on a temper tantrum timeout by the era of the big press... One photogenic Cheneyesque completely subservient Ken doll coming right up as the republican VP nominee!

A partial list of what Obama reads, then and now, and listens to on his iPod...Buy his books for a friend or a former McCain supporter.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Maneating Bears Eat Two Security Guards

Rampaging gang of up to 30 bears eat two Russian security guards rather than their regular seasonal diet of Pacific salmon. A group of scared geologists remain huddled together at their Mount Ledyanaya wilderness camp on the seismically active peninsula trying to avoid bears. About 400 of their peers and the remaining mining company's security detail are firmly in the nyet! camp, refusing to be the next fishy replacements. Kamchatka is an extreme mountainous woodscape filled with a very hungry bear population more than 10,000 strong. In the middle of the area is a rich store of platinum being mined, making some oligarch richer at Koryakgeologia and those dispatched to explore and mine, more endangered. As of June 2008, a troy ounce of platinum sold for $2032 US. Instinct leads bears to go for the salmon run. Bad economic times lead human poachers to siphon off about 100 tons of salmon before bears can eat. Bears are trying to prepare and gain weight for winter. Plentiful in the bears environment are humans. Why does it aways start and end with human behavior? (Bear photo: Alexander Nemenov/AFP)
Kamchatka, 7,500 miles and nine time zones east of Moscow on Russia's Pacific coast, is one of the world's last truly great natural wildernesses. The remote volcanic peninsula is home to the rare Steller's sea eagle, as well as puffins and brown bears, who roam its geysers and snow-covered calderas - collapsed volcanoes.
"It's always the bear's fault," Laura Williams, the director of WWF's Kamchatka office told the Guardian yesterday. Speaking from Moscow, she said she was seeking further details of the standoff amid reports that a jeep had been sent to the region to finish the bears off.
About 10 bears have also been seen near the village of Khalino, sniffing fish remains and other garbage, agencies reported yesterday.
Bears are usually Omega 3 omnivores, focusing on roots, sprouts, loving fish, insects and the occasional smaller delectable mammal. Capable of speed and sudden fierce attacks bely their size when they weigh between 220 to 1500 pounds each and grow to the girth of the mighty American grizzlies. For the enormous Russian bears to gain weight to winterize, they need a steady diet of salmon, which has been corrupted by over development, human intervention like mining in their ecosystems, poachers and pollution. Many times the human solution, like in this case, involves killing off the bears with a 12 gauge shotgun from the safety of a helicopter. Interesting as the Volcanoes of Kamchatka, including Avachinsky, are one of the rare UNESCO World Heritage Sites where protection of the regional ecosystems are to be protected at all costs to preserve the honor of the designation they procured in 1996. The size of the area is almost twice that of Great Britain.

Seems that a more thoughtful and preventative crackdown on poachers (worldwide) would be as prudent as keeping bears, the true residents of the rare regional habitat, from harming innocent humans.

Kamchatka is an unspoiled area with villages that were economically sustained by the fur trade in past eras. It has a panorama of geological resources and natural riches contained in the wonderful travelogue and detailed book, Kamchatka: A Journal & Guide to Russia's Land of Ice and Fire from author and explore Diana Gleadhill. Kinda cool for a former librarian. Buy a great book!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Plutoids: Dwarf Challenged Planets

There are only 8 planets in our Solar System. Pluto, the former planet, unceremoniously dumped by astronomers from the International Astronomical Union (IAU) as worthy, is now out there spinning spherically in the asteroid belt. Its public humiliation led to a new word: Plutoid. Not quite a planet, not quite an asteroid, an underdeveloped planetary tweener. In 2005, scientists began naming like minded spherical satellites, Dwarf Planets. Just last month, dwarf planets evolved as a classification with an announcement of the sub-class, Plutoid. The plutoid has to be really bright to get on the list. July 11, 2008, the IAU conferred plutoid status on Makemake due to its surpassing the absolute magnitude threshold.

Now space scientists says the pockmarked Putoids have friends. They are a team of three, almost a 1/3 of the number of "real" planets. From out in the Kuiper Belt, MakeMake, the latest discovery looks like a girl's mauve bowling ball with only one finger hole. It's named after a Polynesian Fertility being, so maybe more are on the way. Being scientists there is a distinct difference between being a dwarf planet and a Plutoid. There is a PhD in lost in space to be discovered in there somewhere.

The smallest of the plutoids, Makemake was discovered in March 2005 by a team of scientists led by Michael Brown, from the California
Institute of Technology, and it was first named 2005 FY9 (unofficially known as
Easterbunny). The name Makemake was chosen later on by Michael Brown himself,
after the god of fertility from the Island of Rapa Nui (or the Easter Island).

We consider the naming of objects in the Solar System carefully. Makemake's surface is covered with large amounts of almost pure methane ice, which is scientifically fascinating, but really not easily relatable to terrestrial mythology,” Brown explained. However, the Island Rapa Nui came to mind, and a brief search through mythology brought Makemake to light. Image credit: Ann Feild (Space Telescope Science Institute)

The last full planet stop in this solar system is Neptune. That Easter Island came to ruin is somewhat Ironic. Far off the coast of Peru and Chile, Rapa Nui or as the European called it Easter Island, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to lore, MakeMake created humankind and was the chief god for the birders - before the island was denuded of trees resembling a plutoid. Don't think the Plutoids or Dwarf planets have a shot at the earthly UN designation. However it dows get to be a proud TNO or trans-Netunian Object that is brighter than bretheren like .

Take Pity on me and Pluto. Purchase the book, When is a Planet Not A Planet: The Story of Pluto. Elaine Scott explains the dwarf planet nomenclature for the pint sized among us. Those large will find the full story on Pluto and the solar system quite interesting.