September 3, 2008
President Gul of Turkey has agreed to attend a World Cup qualifier game between Armenia and Turkey, which will be held in Armenia. Though under normal circumstances this wouldn’t be that big of a deal, Turkey and Armenia have a long history of animosity, and their mutual border has been closed since 1993. They do not have official relations with each other, so hopefully a friendly talk between the two countries’ presidents will help bridge the rift between them.
Armenia claims that the Ottoman Empire, the precursor to modern-day Turkey, committed genocide by killing up to 1.5 million Armenians. Turkey has historically hotly denied any genocide, and relations with America and Armenia reached new lows when a bill that would label Turkey’s actions in Armenia genocide surfaced in the United States Congress. The Bush administration has put that bill to rest, and, though I don’t really like the subordination of the (probable) truth to special interests, in this case I think it was wise to delay passage of the bill into the distant future.
More stable and friendly relations between Turkey and Armenia would help stabilize the volatile Caucasus region, weaken Russia’s growing influence, and possibly lead to further peace deals in the region.
September 3, 2008
President Bush has offered $1 billion in aid to Georgia, ostensibly to help displaced Georgian citizens and to help rebuild the devastated country. So far, no aid has been explicitly offered to Georgia’s military.
Vice President Dick Cheney is visiting Georgia right now in a further move to bolster the country. This high-level visit is probably the equivalent of Russian President Dimitri Medvedev visiting Cuba and offering it $1 billion in aid; American-Russian relations are continuing to deteriorate.
Watching the events of this conflict unfold can provide some insight into the structure of power between countries. Is Russia’s invasion of Georgia a sign of the old Soviet power’s resurgent strength and America’s slow fall, or will it eventually belie Russia’s enormous weaknesses and the continued influence of a rich and powerful America?
September 2, 2008
Georgia is already planning to rebuild its army, now that Russia isn’t occupying the country. For a while I was convinced that Russia was the villain in the conflict between the two countries; however, as more details come out about the war, it has become apparent that Georgia was the instigator. Russia, of course, overreacted, and it revealed the major shortcomings of the Georgian military, which offered practically no resistance to the invaders.
Therefore, Georgia claims that, besides patching together its armed forces, it needs to install much better air-defense and communications systems and to add two or more brigades to its army. Foreign critics have pointed out that, judging by Georgia’s performance in the war, it needs much more than even better equipment and more soldiers.
September 1, 2008
Google launched its new web browser, Google Chrome, today. In the 38-page comic that announced its release, Google describes in detail the various innovations it has introduced in Chrome, the most important being that each tab and plug-in is assigned its own process so it can run independently of all the other tabs, making browsing safer and more efficient. Tabs will also be located at the top of the window, and the URL box, or “Omnibox,” will apparently be even more awesome than Firefox’s “Awesome Bar.”
Google’s official blog post – http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2008/09/fresh-take-on-browser.html
The comic – http://blogoscoped.com/google-chrome/
Download browser here – http://www.google.com/chrome
September 1, 2008
Yasuo Fukuda, the 72-year-old prime minister of Japan, resigned on Monday. His resignation, after only a year in office, comes as a surprise because he took the job mainly as a caretaker after the previous prime minister, Shinzo Abe, resigned after only a year in office as well. Abe had inherited the government from the enormously popular Junichiro Koizumi, a prime minister praised for his reforming bravery and showman-like personality. Abe himself was a massive disappointment, causing his party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), to suffer one of the worst electoral defeats in its history, losing the upper house of the Diet (Japan’s Parliament) to the opposition party. Abe soon resigned and Fukuda took the job to hold over the government to the next elections. Fukuda has not proven to be an amazing prime minister himself, though I think he’s done a decent job. But the opinion polls have consistently given him approval ratings below 30%, and the deadlock in the upper house has stalled most political progress. Therefore, Fukuda’s resignation seems likely to throw Japan’s politics into further turmoil.
August 31, 2008
Soaring food prices and a new law allowing foreigners to own agricultural land have transformed Russian agriculture. Russia contains 7% of the world’s arable land, 1/6 of which (35 million hectares, or nearly 6 times more than all of Britain’s cultivated land) lies fallow. However, foreigners and rich Russians have been buying vast swaths of the Russian countryside at bargain prices. Those who bought early have already profited from rising land prices, which, though still cheap, have doubled or tripled over the past several years. More importantly, however, the companies are transforming Russian agriculture and vastly improving farm yields. In the years to come Russia will probably become an agricultural power due to the endless tracts of land that will soon be cultivated using Western technology.
Though Russia as a whole will benefit from this agricultural revolution, the companies that are engineering it are definitely in jeopardy. Some Russian government officials are already talking about a state-owned monopoly, and the Kremlin has not shown particular restraint in nationalizing companies that it believes control strategic commodities.
August 30, 2008
Here’s a very interesting article about the declining importance of the caste system in India. Chandra Bhan Prasad, a successful dalit (or untouchable, at the very bottom of the caste system), claims that India’s rapidly expanding economy will allow dalits to scrape out of poverty because the new order values education and intelligence over birth. However, there are many other factors contributing to the decline of the caste system, such as the emergence of powerful dalit politicians, the diversification of jobs, and increasing access to education.
The prospect of the death of the caste system is very exciting, because the system has existed in India for thousands of years and has resisted all-people-are-equal eras of Buddhism and Islam as well as anti-caste foreign invaders. If industrialization, economic growth, democracy, and education really do succeed in putting the caste system to rest, then something truly remarkable and historic is happening in India.
August 30, 2008
CNN posted an article titled “Stowaway Afghan spider kills family dog” about two days ago, and I am very disappointed that the article ever found its way into circulation. First of all, the “spider” is actually a solpugid (also known as a camel spider or sun spider), not a true spider, though it is an arachnid. Second of all, solpugids are not poisonous (though they have ferocious jaws), so unless the dog tried to eat it and choked on it, I do not see how a solpugid could possibly kill a healthy animal larger than a mouse.
For lots of pictures and information on solpugids, here’s this excellent site:
August 28, 2008
On September 5, Angolans will be casting their first ballots in 16 years. After decades of civil war, Angolans will be able to vote for either the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), or the opposition National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), two parties that fought against each other until UNITA joined the political process in 2002.
Besides facing its first elections in sixteen years, Angola has also experienced a huge boom since 2002 when the civil war ended. Last year its economy expanded by 21%, and this year it is expected to grow by 16%. It may soon become sub-Saharan Africa’s largest oil producer (ahead of Nigeria), and it is already China’s largest supplier (ahead of Saudi Arabia).
But, as this Economist article points out, most of Angola’s new wealth is not trickling down to the poor, and obstacles and crises almost certainly lie ahead for the country.
August 25, 2008
Here’s a very interesting article about how one Swiss family helped the CIA burrow into the nuclear network that Abdul Khan, a former Pakistani nuclear researcher, created. Khan worked in Pakistan’s nuclear bomb program and soon was making a living selling information on nukes to states like Libya, North Korea, and Iran. The Tinners, a Swiss family that acted as middlemen for Khan, helped the CIA expose his dealings. They also helped the CIA thwart the progress of other countries; for example, the information they gave the CIA enabled it to put tiny but major defects into nuclear equipment.
August 25, 2008
In an unsurprising yet alarming move, Sharif withdrew his party from its coalition with the PPP (led by Zardari) because the PPP has refused to reinstate the judges sacked by Musharraf. This spells further instability for Pakistan.
August 22, 2008
Apparently emboldened by emergency powers given to them by Prime Minister Berlusconi to fight crime, Italian city halls have passed a myriad of bizarre and outrageous laws to uphold “city decorum,” from banning sandcastles to outlawing lying down in a park. Italian newspapers have justifiably dubbed this summer “the summer of bans.”
And yes, I got this article from Reuters’ Oddly Enough section… I liked this article because it reveals such an odd trend in Italy.
August 22, 2008
Intel recently demoed a 60-watt wirelessly powered light bulb. The device transfers electricity with 75% efficiency, which, apparently, is more efficient than the power converters for laptops. Wireless power was first developed at MIT (where researchers say they can transfer energy over 3 feet with 90% efficiency), and it works by harnessing resonant induction, where resonant coils can transmit energy to each other.
For cool images – http://www.pcauthority.com.au/News/120402,intel-laptops-could-get-power-wirelessly.aspx
August 22, 2008
The Sea of Galilee, Israel’s most important source of fresh water, is drying up as a drought persists for a fourth rainy season. This article points out that as the Sea of Galilee approaches levels that may kill off the entire lake, farmers on its shore are still growing bananas and other tropical fruits that are not suited for the desert area. I think it’s kind of interesting that Israel and Cyprus, which are both in the Eastern Mediterranean, are both experiencing droughts.
August 21, 2008
According to Eugene Gholz and Daryl G. Press, the West is far too worried about impending oil disasters involving Iran and other volatile oil nations. They claim that the U.S. would be able to weather nearly any oil catastrophe without a single hitch in the oil supply. How? Well, America has accumulated 700 million barrels of oil over the decades, and that alone would be enough to run the country for 35 days. Allies in Europe and Asia have combined reserves of 800 million barrels as well. Additionally, a billion or so barrels of oil lie in private Western hands, meaning that friendly nations (including the U.S.) hold 4 billion barrels of reserve oil.
They also point out that the worst oil disruptions in history have only featured 5 to 6 million barrels-per-day declines in the world market, meaning that America and its allies would be able to survive a worst-in-history crisis without problems for 8 months – plenty of time, hopefully, to restore the oil flow.
They then focus on the threat of Iran, which apparently actually isn’t much of a threat. Even if full-scale war were to break out and Iran managed to block 30% of the traffic out of the Persian Gulf, our reserves would still last nine months, which, hopefully, would be plenty of time to knock out Iran (or wait it out – oil supplies 80% of the government’s revenues) and restore oil imports.
Note: It kind of annoys me, after reading about how America’s oil reserves could potentially save the country from disaster should an oil crisis strike, that Barack Obama would even suggest tapping the reserves just to momentarily lower gas prices. First of all, lower gas prices would just increase demand for gas and push the price up even higher after the reserves’ taps are closed. Second of all, Obama says he wants to combat global warming, yet any plans to limit carbon emissions would have to be just as painful as the high gas prices we’re experiencing now. And third of all, the reserves need to be saved for a true crisis, not uncomfortable prices.