Wednesday, July 27, 2011

We Have A New African State. Place Your Bets!

A front in the Third World's War is quiet for now. After decades of fighting, South Sudan is now independent. The future of Africa's newest country? I'd like to be optimistic, but it's going to be gloomy. Reasons?

  • They have oil. This is a curse to all countries that don't have industry and infrastructure, and a lot of trouble to those that do. They think they will pump wealth out of the ground and all problems will be solved. We all know it will be spent on vanity projects and sycophants.
  • They have never been a nation before. Yes, there have been some civilizations in the north, but the south has historically been the Outland between Egypt and Abyssinia.
  • The flag sucks. Standard Africa colors, standard Africa design. I'm a big believer in unique designs that people can rally behind.
  • The people who ran the war are running the government. I saw policemen with armbands identifying them as police. Too bad the armbands had "SPLA Police" on them.
  • It's Africa.

Now, there is some good as well.

  • John Garang is dead. He was leader of the SPLA for many years until his death in a helicopter crash. Sorry, but Moses can't enter the Promised Land. People who fight the wars are pretty crappy at following the laws later on. If you get your way by shooting people and blowing thing up, that's nearly impossible to undo when peace comes. Sadly, Back Up Leader is filling the shoes nicely.
  • Potentially, they are rich, rich, rich. Minerals, fertile land, water... they have it all. But so do a lot of places. If the people who inhabited the Nile ever put a few of their differences aside, it would be the dominant region of the world; they have that much.
  • They are (kind of) Christian. If your faith has helped you through decades of a war which has been fought partly because the other side doesn't like your religion, that could be something to unite, especially if the evangelicals have managed to pass on even a little of the Protestant work ethic.

Random observations:

  • The White Nile and The Blue Nile by Alan Moorehead are the histories to read for anyone interested in the area. Part of my essential reading series.
  • I think that the "Tolerant Arabs" is a little bit of a myth that the British had a hand in creating when dealing with the peoples of Empire. "Don't worry, [insert religious or ethnic minority here]! You can form a single country with the Muslims. After all, they were tolerant when the Europeans were burning [insert victim of ignorance here], blah, blah, blah... We're off to ride across the sands!"
  • When I was posting on a kind of militant (kind of. Heh.) Islamic site, I had hell trying to convince them that Western governments didn't give a crap about Christians around the world, just like Muslim governments were lukewarm to persecuted Muslims, giving the South Sudan as an example.
  • Contrary to common knowledge, borders in Africa were not totally drawn on a map in a European conference hall. It takes a big dip in Chad, but there is a rough line crossing Africa from Guinea to the South Sudan that follows the border between tropical and desert. It doesn't cross Ethiopia because that country sits on a massive plateau with a climate all it's own, but Puntland and Somaliland on the other side are also on the climate divide.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Flying And Drugs. Cut One And Double Your Chances, Rock Star

Amy Winehouse is dead. Sorry, I guess. Everyone knew it was coming. Sometimes you have to cut 'em loose. I hope we don't have any "Dead before her time" Joplin/Hendrix crap.

On the Second Chances front, why am I suddenly seeing Jason Bateman around? Looking at his bio, he's been working more or less since his Arrested Development days, but I haven't seen a Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog moment of career rebirth. Guess sometimes your star just rises again. (Giving everyone else hopes of a second career wind.)

The "News of the World" phone hacking scandal continues, with hackers claiming to have stolen e-mail from one of Rupert Murdoch's papers. Even some of the posts at left leaning websites are mentioning that "when we do it we are heroes, when they do it they are criminals" attitude to electronically stealing stuff is flat out wrong.

Now if that can only be extended to claims about the latest shooting. The facts are still coming in about the attack in Norway, so it's best to hold off until we know more. You would have thought that after the Giffords shooting people would have learned to shut up and wait. It's almost like people want attacks to take place just so they can use it as ammunition against their political opponents.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Trick Question: What Is This Man Doing?

He's changing the battery, of course.

I had a VW that had the battery under the rear seat. It made sense, because the engine was in the back. All you had to do was lift out the straw stuffed seat and there it was. You did not have to REMOVE THE TIRE. I also had to buy a package of those push-in plastic screws because you know half broke while removing the liner. It was actually a pretty easy battery to replace once the tire was off; there was even a helpful "Battery Here" message on the liner.

I wasn't the only one taking photos either. The staff of the parts store had to come out and gawk at the operation, and a few customers had to come by and tell their horror stories as well. It didn't make any sense. I couldn't see any reason why the battery couldn't be under the hood.

This is the second surprise I've had from this car. I'd bought a small freezer and since it wouldn't fit in the trunk, (it's like a Chris cubit tall and deep) the salesman was helping me strap it in. The car manufacturer was helpful enough to foresee my predicament and provide some small recessed loops for you to hook you straps into. Start tightening the strap and the whole thing pops out. Look, glue! The hole left behind was the perfect size to hook a strap to, though.

*I loved the simplicity of the Beetle. To change the motor you needed a wrench, a jack, a pile of railroad ties, and a couple of friends to pick up the rear of the Beetle and throw it over the engine.

Friday, July 15, 2011


The heat has won. The last fruit I picked consisted of three tomatoes and one cucumber. There is no potential fruit on any tomato plant, but they are growing well with abundant watering. I'm going to keep it up in the hopes that in the fall they might produce. The vines are another story. All the watermelons, cantaloupe, and cucumbers would grow overnight but then die back. Despite some huge flowers that suggested I was on the right track, no vine ever stretched more than three or four feet. All it took was one missed watering -about eight hours or so- and they were dead. Not just wilted, crunchy.

It's hurting those on a larger scale too. One farmer told me keeping one alfalfa field going under one of those rolling pivot things cost him $7,000 last month. Others may pay more, but that is a lot of money to me. The cattle that didn't burn in the fires are being trucked to market as fast as they can be loaded. No one can pay to feed and water them.

Prepare to pay more for beef. Any excuse to send prices up will be used.

Friday, July 8, 2011

I Blame Tom Wolfe

I'm not old enough to remember the Moon landings, but I remember Skylab well. I was fascinated by the capsules splashing down out in the ocean and all the ships and helicopters making a fuss to go get the astronauts bobbing around at sea. I always thought it an odd way to do things, so I was excited to hear about a new way to get everyone there and back that they were going to call the "Space Shuttle". The concept drawing looked suitably futuristic, featuring a sleek delta winged aircraft with brightly painted tail and space age numbers on the wings. They even got so far as to start building a test model called "Enterprise" (way cool for us geeks) before Congress got cold feet and canceled funding.

If they hadn't, I think things would be very different today. A fleet of fully reusable spacecraft lunching every two weeks would have given us a permanent Moon base and perhaps even a manned mission to Mars. It would have been such a safe method of transport that private funding would have built the first orbiting hotel to serve the growing space tourism industry, perhaps in conjunction with the massive space station doing scientific research, zero gravity manufacturing and building other... stuff... in space.

Wait a minute. Congress didn't cancel it. We've been stuck with that white brick deathtrap for thirty years now.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Texas Acts The Way You Want It To (The Other 99% Of The Time)

Texas executed Humberto Leal Garcia today. It has caused an international furor because Leal, who was born in Mexico and lived in the U.S. since he was two, was not notified that he could contact the Mexican consulate at the time of his arrest, as per treaty.

This is the end result of governments which ignore laws, or rewrite them, or block them in court. The Gov can't obstacle the authorities when they inquire as to the status or origin of those they detain, yet demand those same authorities know where a person is from when they start questioning him for a serious crime. If Mexico were serious about the rights of it's citizens in the U.S., it would at least make a half-hearted attempt to know their whereabouts and inform them of their rights ahead of time. The Americans can't do it for you, especially since Mexico doesn't want it to. Leal should have had a card in his pocket stating that he was a citizen of Mexico and in case of arrest, notify the nearest consulate. If he was afraid that it might give him away, then that would be a clue that he was doing something illegal and he should take steps to fix it.

If you want to be treated like every other American, then be treated like any other American. You can't switch nationalities to save your butt and expect Texas to play along.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Great Day For Humanity

Even better if you are a cow. I had no idea that rinderpest was declared extinct in the wild just last week. A close relative of measles, rinderpest was a nasty virus of cattle and buffalo that was frequently fatal and very contagious. If yours was a culture which depended on its cattle, an outbreak of rinderpest could easily spell famine. It was so dreaded that it was blamed for one of the Biblical plagues of Egypt, but modern research suggests it was another lasting gift to the world from those bringers of joy, the Mongols.

I am not very fond of foreign aid. At best it is a good way to pour money down a hole, at worst it enriches tyrants, feeds corruption, and turns whole populations into welfare leeches. I make an exception for disease control. Those dedicated people who research for years in the lab then trek to the most miserable corners of the earth facing hostility and wretched conditions on a decades long task to wipe out what naysayers call an unstoppable enemy are simply the greatest people in the world. You can be proud of what your tax money has accomplished.

And why treat a disease of animals rather that people? Frankly, it's because no herdsman cares if his cattle are autistic or not. Contrast the polio people, who had a gates of Moscow experience in Nigeria when locals decided the vaccine might keep them from having the full brood of ten children.

Anyway, another scourge is gone. A century ago, church bells would be tolling and cannons would be fired off at the news. This 4th, add it to the list of things to be grateful for.