Friday, May 15, 2009

Jordan Leads at World Economic Forum

(Dead Sea in high winds with salt deposits Photo courtesy of M. Disdero)
His Highness, King Abdullah, is the annual host of the World Economic Forum in his kingdom at the Dead Sea at the King Hussein Convention Center. Her Highness, Queen Rania of Jordan, put it best that some of the highest young minds were appearing at the lowest spot on the Earth at the Summit she addressed before the advent of the WEF. Jordan is a sovereign entity clearly engaging in the world community to forge Peace in the Middle East. Navigating world opinion and exhorting peace in the Middle East does not come easy with the changes in leadership in Israel, America and other republics that bring wildly divergent agendas to the table with each trip to the ballot box. (Preparation at the Convention Center before the WEF/Reuters photo)

Benjamin Netanyahu will never be among my favorite political retreads. He does/did/does/did/does have the right granted to him by the Israeli people to form a government and shop his hawkishness on the world stage. In an effort to make it clear where the United States stands, Leon Panetta, Director of the embattled CIA and its controversies made a trip to put things in as clear a manner as possible to Bibi about Americas expectations and the path to peace and no surprises in Iran. Prior, King Abdullah had a contentious direct meeting about Palestine with Netanyahu that bodes ill for a two state solution and peace in the region. Sharing a cup of tea between friends and allies in the president's private dining room just off the Oval Office was a much more amicable way to promote peace.

First American meeting of a Head of State for President Obama as he has tea & a formal meeting with His Majesty, King Abdullah on April 21, 2009.
The World Economic Forum meets each January in Davos with a May meeting. This year it is in Jordan. Israel's President, Shimon Peres had a heated run-in with Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğ
an on stage in Davos over the relentless bombing of Gaza. Against this recent history, Jordan steps up to forge a new step forward out of two thousand plus years of history for all to live in a state of peace. The King is clear that 57 recalcitrant members of the United Nations need to get with the inevitable program and acknowledge Israel's right to exist with a 57 state solution to bring more security to the region. The ministers of the Organization of the Islamic Conference are meeting next month in Syria which leaves a perfect opportunity to re-opening the dialogue to get Muslim countries to support a full solution rather than trying to piecemeal it all together one country, nation or kingdom at a time.
"I was encouraged that in all my conversations in Washington it was clear that people know inaction is not an option," Abdullah told the opening meeting of an international economic gathering in Jordan sponsored by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum.

"The new American commitment has now opened an opportunity to change the direction of events," Abdullah told the business executives and government officials gathered at the meeting, which is being held along the shores of the Dead Sea.
Business deals shall reach agreement in the shadow of the World economic Forum. Royal Dutch Shell PLC is partnering with Jordan to explore their shale reserves. Therein lies the economic rationale for peace in the region - fossil fuels will reign supreme for many decades to come and a good portion of the developed world knows that peace in the region opens up new channels of economic prosperity. Other business agreements are being finalized at the Dead sea resort in Jordan as all of the decision makers convene in one location. Photo courtesy AP

Dancing at the Dead Sea: Tracking the World's Environmental Hotspots from Alanna Mitchell takes a look at places in the world and their reactions to to the changes in climate. The Dead Sea holds many keys based on the amount of salinity in the sea.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Cinco de Mayo, Courtesy of the French

(City of Puebla, Mexico. North view, toward the Malinche Volcano)

East of Mexico City lies the landlocked state of Puebla, now formally named Heróica Puebla de Zaragoza. On May 5, 1862, La Puebla de los Angeles, Town of the Angels, hosted the scene of an arrogant Napoléon III and the Imperial French Army's comeuppance by a poorly supplied yet tenacious Mexican Army. At the time, America was a two nation country dragging the southern part back into reunification one bloody battlefield at a time with no real interest in Mexico's internal strife. Besides, America considered France a friend. The people of Pueblo harbored no such illusions. The whole American friendship thing exited with the idea that an emperor or monarchal rule went against what the young war torn nation had fought against before the French republicans lopped off Marie Antoinette's head. Mexican men & women fought off a better supplied Second Empire army that had a disticnt advantage of twice as much manpower to thwart the colonization of central Mexico. It took six years before France threw in the towel when they went in expecting an early crushing of dissent victory after installing Emperor Napoleon's puppet as a Mexican Emperor, the soon to be executed Archduke Ferdinand Maximillian of Austria by Benito Juarez's order.

Photo of escaramuza - women in the Mexican Revolution - courtesy Nelvin C. Cepeda/Union Tribune
In a turnabout induced by time and immigration, Cinco de Mayo is now very popular in the United States but remains a regional phenomenon in Mexico. Pueblo's battle did not decide the outcome, but what a morale booster that Emperor Napoléon III and the 8,000 French soldiers could be beaten by the few people under the command of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín. The Execution of Maximillian I (and only) of Mexico was captured by the renowned Spanish painter, Édouard Manet in a painting of the ame name. In the 21st century, Cinco de Mayo captures the American imagination while giving those of Mexican descent a means to celebrate a part of its rich heritage.

French interventionism, the first time, went under the anglicized rubric of the Pastry War (1838 -1839) goes by the name, Primera Intervención Francesa en México, in Spanish. The word croissant does not imediately conjur up images of Mexico, but entire battles and many nations including the Republic of Texas became charbroiled over a French baker demanding payment for a ruined shop in Mexico. A French blockade ensued with Americans eventually aiding the Europeans resulting in eventually bringing the venerable Santa Anna out of retirement.

Cinco de Mayo is now also a cause to celebrate Mexican cuisine and drinks. In a spirit of patriotism the Chiles en nogada uses the three colors of the Mexican flag. Food influences allow people to go forward presenting each with treasures from their own culture. The margarita enjoys a variety of flavors, yet for a few of the orange flavored liqueurs a mexico product with a French label Patrón Citrónge, or the imported Cointreau , blue curaçao produces the stunning blue margarita. Yum. Add a little mariachi music and the celebration is ON!

It was setting my teeth on edge that the most prominent authors on Cinco de Mayo were An
glo. So after looking here is a great history for the younder set, Cinco de Mayo:Yesterday and Today, from Maria Christina Urrutia and Rebecca Orozco.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mars, Microbes, Rovers & Kepler

Science is enjoying a renaissance capturing a broken 5 year old Spirit valiantly struggling in the Martian 2009 Spring, million and half year aged microorganisms  making Antarctica's Taylor Glacier look like its been socked in the nose, staining the ice and snow red.   Mars is full of iron deposits and so is Antarctica, but no correlations can be drawn just yet.  But oh the possibilities.  In Antarctica, seawater teeming with life became sequestered as sea levels rose and majestic glaciers formed and gained mass.  Now those same ice mountains are melting and behold, microbes unleashed for the first time from their salt laden frozen blocks.  Yet, the Phoenix Lander Mission to a lopsided Mars found mineral deposits in the soil after baking the samples in the space-age TEGA ovens, leading to the estimation that a veggie such as asparagus could likely grow in the region. 

No oxygen in the microbial finds, but life was proceeding apace with one species continuing to split cells and multiply.  Blood Falls, an evocative name that describes the glacier nosebleed is annually a scene of wonder and speculation among the scientific communityWhere else in space is this replicable and mars is one f the first places everyone is considering in the realm of the possible for a bacterial colony like this to exist. (Image Benjamin Urmston)
Mikucki refers to the subglacial pond as "a unique sort of time capsule from a period on Earth's history," but it also has lessons for scientists studying Mars, an entire planet that is in many ways a time capsule too. Mars, like Antarctica, was once warm and wet, but the slow loss of its atmosphere also meant the loss of much of its moisture and surface heat. Still, the place was warm and wet long enough for life to have taken hold — life that would have then had to retreat into underground water deposits and make the same kind of hurry-up adaptation Mikucki's microbes did. Similar adaptive metabolism could be in evidence on the Jovian moon Europa, where a layer of surface ice may cover a globe-girdling ocean.
Now Kepler, the planet hunter, has reached its field of study with all the areas gridded for Scientists.  The first pictures came the second week in April.  Kepler's mission is to spot other planets that have possibilities similar to the planet EarthMeanwhile Hubble is still sending back the most amazing pictures of stars in varying stages that are just poetic to see.  Hubble remains without peer and this is the final mission to service the telescope.  As STS 125 gears up on the launch pad, the unusual scene of Shuttles Atlantis & Endeavor being prepped side by side is apparent in this image from NASA.


The Rover twins are in various stages of health.  A Martian windstorm cleaned off Opportunity's solar panels leaving the rover to break new ground.  Spirit the wheel-challenged Rover, that discovered the silica, is temperamental when responding to NASA.  Independently, Spirit rebooted its system.  There is no template to say how many times this can occur.  Meanwhile, there's news an earth-sized exoplanet has been spotted in a HZ or Habital Zone in the Gliese system less than 22 light years away.  The true test if when we can ascertain there is liquid water.  We need more powerful telescopes to see that what is in our Milky Way's obscure places.   Science is being treated with more deference now that facts are overwhelming all the naysayers.

(From Kepler courtesy NASA - First Light - The field of study - millions of stars)
Today is Earth day, and those fortunate few who have ridden into space say there is nothing like the view of our shared planet from space.  preserving our existing globe while exploring all that is within out scientific reach in space is the best of all worlds.  Many Thanks to my former senator, the late Gaylord Nelson, for making Earth Day possible and environmental activism probable!

Beyond Earth Day:  Fulfilling the Promise with Gaylord Nelson, Susan M. Campbell and Paul Wozniak.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Antarctic Ice Bridge Buckles Then Breaks

Ancient Antarctic snow an d ice bridge in the coldest place on Earth could no longer support its weight and fight off warmer air simultaneously. The Laws of Physics intervened, separating two chunky islands of ice, Charcot and Latady, while preparing for the shrinking Wilkins Ice Shelf to drift untethered from the continent holding the magnetic South Pole. The western region of the land mass is heating with all undue speed, rendering past scientific models obsolete as to when the shelves would actually melt.
The shelf, which was originally the size of Jamaica, is located on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula, which thrusts up from the continent toward the southern tip of South America.

Originally covering about 13,000 sq km, the ice shelf lost 14 per cent of its mass last year alone, the statement quotes a scientist Angelika Humbert of Germany's Munster University as saying.
Glaciers are gliding to their doom. As ice melts; sea levels rise, storms become more intense and eroded places become flooded are a few of the impending calamities facing the world as climate change becomes more real. Scientists are doing a hair raising freak out in a methodical toned down Spock/Data manner that is just not hyped up and dramatic enough to get the public and media's attention. Ice melting is happening faster than butter on a hot plate. When that happens, horror movies starring weather apocalypses will reign supreme on the nightly news with video of the living nightmare of all caught in the latest event. Antarctica is much larger than continental Europe with the islands of the UK thrown in as seasoning and its ice is breaking off, like giant crumbs, into the sea.
"The rapid retreat of glaciers there demonstrates once again the profound effects ourplanet is already experiencing -- more rapidly than previously known -- as a
consequence of climate change," U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement.

"This continued and often significant glacier retreat is a wakeup call that change is happening ... and we need to be prepared," USGS glaciologist Jane Ferrigno, who led the Antarctica study, said in a statement.

"Antarctica is of special interest because it holds an estimated 91 percent of the Earth's glacier volume, and change anywhere in the ice sheet poses significant hazards to society," she said.
For the most part anybody trumpeting that it will make it easier to get oil or other natural resources missed reading in full the 1959 Antarctic Treaty. Scientific research gets a big thumbs up with welcome signs and a ice post office for 4000 international scientists. Military maneuvers and mining is just a flat out NO as the ecosystems and area are meant to be preserved. Rookeries of penguins make their homes in Antarctica with whales making the trek each year trailing certain countries opportunists harpooning behind them, cough, Japan. Antarctica is broken up into claim areas with some nations reserving the right to name a claim later. That doesn't matter much when cubic meters of ice the size of larger Caribbean islands are falling into the ocean because all will feel the effects as more ice melts or destabilizes other pieces.

Third time is the charm and maybe, the curse of an adventurer. A thrilling, yet terrible adventure story that lets you feel the killing cold conditions and the most terrible decisions are in the phenomenol and classic book, Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing. It's a real icy barnburner of a read that won't let you abandon book.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

China's Two Face Policy

China, China, China. With over 5 millenniums years worth of experience in the political arts, yet the lesson seems lost again about saying one thing and doing another. The Peoples Republic of China's political wunderkinds are having a collective communist mind melt over being exposed in a Pentagon report to Congress detailing their military aims and growing capabilities. China wants a more flowery emphasis placed on their economic prosperity and growing private sector. In light of their boom and owning the loan papers on a multitude of US debt, China is making a loud case to increase their role in the International monetary Fund (IMF). Popcorn & MRE's all around, this is going to take armies of diplomats to hash out between two nuclear superpowers with space satellites. (Reuters)

After 5 Chinese ships hemmed in a US warship, USNS Impeccable in the South China Sea, plowed through A Tibet-belongs-to China annex anniversary without the number killed last year by the military and rolled over the Dalai Lama's freedom rhetoric, more joint military exercises with Russia, obligatory perennial warnings to Taiwan & an interfering USA that they will backup a One China policy at the point of really big guns and missiles, now with the cyber warfare the Canadians caught from deep inside the land of one time zone happening to 1295 computers in over 100 countries, pulling the camouflage over a hypersensitive world's eyes is tough to brazen out. Canada's report from The Information Warfare Monitor, "Tracking GhostNet: Investigating a Cyber Espionage Network" does not attribute the malware directly to the Chinese state. The US military already had suspicous hacker activity attributed to the Chinese at the Pentagon almost eighteen months ago. Those magisterial moments during the 2008 Olympics are over. It leaves China unencumbered by world community threats to showcase its military might on center stage. Only the US military preemptively released their annual assessment on the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the Dalai Lama's office raised suspicions about being hacked.
Computers -- including machines at NATO, governments and embassies -- are infected with software that lets attackers gain complete control of them, according to the reports. One was issued by the University of Toronto's Munk Centre for International Studies in conjunction with the Ottawa, Canada-based think tank The SecDev Group; the second came from the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory.

Researchers have dubbed the network GhostNet. The network can not only search a computer but see and hear the people using it, according to the Canadian report.
"GhostNet is capable of taking full control of infected computers, including searching and downloading specific files, and covertly operating attached devices, including microphones and web cameras," the report says. (Internet map - portion)
Tuesday, President Obama leaves Washington DC for the G-20 Summit hosted in a protest-ready and poorer London after already having words with China's Ambassador to the US over US Naval ships in international waters. The Chinese ambassador made sure the press knew there were concerns about the US currency amidst a global crisis. Warfare, cyber and otherwise, is definitely practiced economically. China is spreading the wealth around and making more inroads and cyber tracks in the Western Hemisphere. France & China have a frosty relationship after President Sarkozy took a meeting with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. Meanwhile, Thailand is pretty pissed about their computers while Austrailia is defending its ties at home with China. This summit will be like a giant Hollywood party where people were married to each other, divorced and married former friends while everybody is ensuring all is truly cordial because the cameras are on.

President Hu Jintao will warmly greet President Obama. The pictures will be pretty and the words carefully chosen to convey maximum strength on both sides as they speak as if at a tennis match. China will hear about the lack of government safety control in their manufacturing and food production environments, the US will get slammed over the health of the Dollar, return serve on the artificial price pegging of the Yuan with a volley back on the stupidity of Iraq, followed by the human rights issues in Burma and Darfur with pointed questions about China's designs on Latin
America, followed by talks about climate change with the US saying new rules. And that's just Secretary Hillary Clinton's part in the meeting. President Obama will hear much mutterings on the scale and scope of the US military industrial complex's sales of armaments and delivery systems. China claims they are nowhere near able to keep up on that military scale. Um, yeah... just the end user better hope they have some quality control in the stuff they get from a booming China.

Mixing modernity with the mastery of the ancient eastern tradition makes for compelling reading about China's geopolitical growth spurts. Ralph D. Sawyer chronicles the inside political gamesmanships Chinese generals do on each other and other nonconventional means of projecting military might. China is not adverse to using every tool at their command and this China expert shows us how many means and methods they have already used in The Tao of Deception: Unorthodox Warfare in Historic and Modern China.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Pope Benedict's African Adventure

His Holiness is creating firestorms everywhere he puts his red loafered feet in Africa and that was before his rant against witchcraft and sorcery in Angola and his plea to get Catholics to help convert those who practiced such nonsense. Memo to Pope Benedict XVI: you are urging people to convert from sorcery to believe in a Man that was born of a Virgin, turned fishes and loaves of bread into enough to feed the masses and rose from the dead to walk the Earth before ascending into Heaven. The condescending approach may not be the best introduction to Catholicism while leaving out the Church's participation in the Crusades and the Inquisition, but it confirms the suspicion that this pope seems zone and tone deaf. I think he was still stunned by President's Biya's wife with her Mount Kilimanjaro of curled hair greeting him at the airport.
On Tuesday, Benedict’s visit began in Cameroon, where, among other issues, he dealt with the church’s competition for souls with Islam. On Friday, he moved to oil-rich Angola, his second and last stop, where he immediately spoke out against corruption and the disregard of the poor by the wealthy.

On Saturday, at St. Paul’s, he addressed the accommodations of faith bysome Africans who mix their Christianity with animism living “in fear of spirits, of malign and threatening powers.”

The pope asked rhetorically: “Why not leave them in peace? They have their truth,
and we have ours.” He then answered that there was no injustice in presenting the ways of Christ to others, granting “them the opportunity of finding their truest and most authentic selves” and offering them “this possibility of attaining eternal life.”

Human rights groups may well appreciate Benedict’s decision to raise the issue of sorcery. In parts of Angola, Congo and the Congo Republic, thousands of children are accused of witchcraft and are cast out of their homes, blinded or killed, according to advocates for the youngsters. (Photo of Baka Pygmies)
Well, the Pope certainly isn't winning every friend and influencing everybody on the continent as he lists what is wrong with Africa at each stop. In many cases, he is being greeted warmly and does have parts of his message that emphasize Christian charity that people are their brother's keepers. Eradicate corruption was the Holy See's message of the day for war weary Angola, formerly colonized by the Portuguese, on Friday. His exhortations to give to the poor while speaking to large enthusiastic crowds of the impoverished living on roughly $2 per day while remaining undereducated is a bit depressing.

Pope Benedict is an ultra conservative celibate guy who told other people not to practice safe sex with condoms in sub-Saharan countries where AIDS is decimating families. That pronouncement to the press, flies directly in the face of common sense and buttresses the worst leaders in Africa who continue to deny the extent of the problems caused by AIDS. The pope's remarks were so intemperate that the Curia back in Rome watched in horror some of the condom pronouncements while wringing their prayer beads about whether this will cripple his four year old papacy. It is kind of odd that the one thing President Bush got right was his approach to Africa and providing the funds to back up AIDS activists among others. Meanwhile, other papal mistakes continue to fester. (Photos courtesy of NYT/Joäo Silva)
The pope has admitted making mistakes over the lifting of the excommunication of a holocaust-denying bishop, saying the church will make much greater use of the Internet in the future to help avoid such controversies.

In a letter to church leaders, Pope Benedict XVI says the church should have been aware of the views of Bishop Richard Williamson.

"I have been told that consulting the information available on the Internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on.
Some sort of edict on using teh Google is in the offing at the Vatican.

Putting Aretha Franklin's Inauguration chapeau to shame, the next morning on his first stop in Cameroon, the president's wife decided to embellish her lady bountiful lacquered red gold curls with a jaunty little pink and white
ode to Christianity top hat atop matching ensemble that put all the other hats in the vicinity to shame. The Pope needed his Mega Pontiff hat he uses for Mass at the Basilica to reign supreme over this confection. The president and the pope are wearing virtually the same official ceremonial outfits as the day before. The pope did get a gift from Baka Pygmies of a turtle that promptly got a seat in first class with the entourage before leaving Cameroon. Unfortunately, moments of humour came to an abrupt halt as the trip moved on to Angola.

Saturday's horror was the stampede that left two people dead right before his Angola address as 30,000 people slammed against the closed gates trying to get into the Luanda stadium in a stifling heatwave. Sunday, a Papal Mass for a half million was prayed for a population that is regarded as almost 60% Catholic. The pope, distressed by the deaths, offered his prayers for the perished and his warm wishes for those recovering. He also mentioned the "clouds of evil" that hung over Africa. Angola, was the final stop in Africa before he and the popemobile head back to Rome where a discussion of how the trip went will be the topic as a trip is set for the Middle East in May. (AFP photo)

Personal testimonies are the means to reach the human heart. Included in this seminal book, 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa from Stephanie Nolen are the origins and pathology of the African AIDS epidemic and who is claimed by the disease that seems without end or mercy.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Water Works in Turkey

Twenty thousand strong of the world's most water delegates filed into Istanbul's host facility to debate the use misuse of one of Earth's most precious resources, blue gold, known as water. From 18 March through the 22March, the fifth World Water Forum (WWF), sponsored by World Water Council is given the watered down sobriquet of Bridging the Divides for Water for the approximate 150 countries, principalities, kingdoms and nations in attendance. The conference name does not paint a dire enough image for the mind's eye to the degree of disease and devastation that is happening from the lack of fresh water, the lack of toilets, the lack of media attention on a crisis just as severe as the world fight to fend off potential global financial bankruptcy. That just might be because the forum sponsors is a business think tank that provides corporations procuring water rights, like Nestlé, with research papers. (photos AFP)

A UN report, released to coincide with the forum, paints a grim future for the planet's fresh water supplies.

The forum will also host an increasingly determined opposition movement which is questioning international water policies and warning of the dangers of private, corporate control of the world's water resources.

"Water is a political issue," said Daniel Zimmer, the associate director of the World Water Council, an international body representing the water industry, and the organisers of the forum.

"But politicians need to understand why they should care more about water," he said.

A report from the UN, "Water in a Changing World", delivers a punch to the stomach and leaves the throat quite dry clearly stating that 50% of the world will live in an area of acute water shortage by 2030. Water is everybody's national security nightmare and the tinder blocks are set in motion for the problem to grown exponentially. This is not a UN official event even though Prince Albert of Monaco, Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, are attending.

Tension is high at the forum in Turkey, because the forum's mission is under attack - is it about conservation or exploitation of the existing water supply, especially since distribution and the control of it is up for grabs in so many areas. There are counter-forums and panels, like those from the Polaris Institute, within the forum setting that make it clear group think will not be the issue. Turkey is sensitive to the topic after experiencing a severe drought over the past year. No surprise that protests and subsequent arrests by Turkish police after using tear gas marked the first day of the forum. The UN's point person on water, Maude Barlow, objects to the mantle of the UN being improperly used to tout the forum or as she calls it, the tradeshow, for water companies to peddle their wares to politicians and others. She sides with the protesters even with armored up police.

By 2050, population estimations are to go to 9 billion people. Currently with a count of 6.7 billion, people and businesses are pitted against each other in whether water is a human right or a Darwinian capitalistic tool to be manipulated by the markets. Exploitation of aquifers,irreplaceable underground water, is pushing the world to peak water. There is no more once those are empty and they are being drained like swamps the world over. T. Boone Pickens perfected the exploitation process with the munificent ancient Ogallala Aquifer in the US and its rampant in Bangladesh and India. Mix in more droughts and flooding in populated areas as well as farmland and a sense of urgency to address water holistically is profound. The point of view from which this conference emanates is what is causing massive suspicion acted out in protests. Maybe its fitting that the brand new refurbished facility,Sütlüce Culture and Conference Centre that is hosting the business conference on water is a former slaughterhouse.

Not shy about profound criticisms, water activist Maude Barlow spells it out in crystal clear terms what is happening with the water supply and the businesses that are trying to control it as commoditized profit production in Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water.