Friday, July 29, 2011

Africa: Chad

Chad, officially known as the Republic of Chad, is a landlocked country in Central Africa. It is bordered by Libya to the north, Sudan to the east, the Central African Republic to the south, Cameroon and Nigeria to the southwest, and Niger to the west. Due to its distance from the sea and its largely desert climate, the country is sometimes referred to as the "Dead Heart of Africa".

Chad is divided into multiple regions: a desert zone in the north, an arid Sahelian belt in the centre and a more fertile Sudanese savanna zone in the south. Lake Chad, after which the country is named, is the largest wetland in Chad and the second largest in Africa. Chad's highest peak is the Emi Koussi in the Sahara, and N'Djamena, (formerly Fort-Lamy), the capital, is the largest city. Chad is home to over 200 different ethnic and linguistic groups. Arabic and French are the official languages. Islam and Christianity are the most widely practised religions.

Beginning in the 7th millennium BC, human populations moved into the Chadian basin in great numbers. By the end of the 1st millennium BC, a series of states and empires rose and fell in Chad's Sahelian strip, each focused on controlling the trans-Saharan trade routes that passed through the region. France conquered the territory by 1920 and incorporated it as part of French Equatorial Africa.

In 1960, Chad obtained independence under the leadership of François Tombalbaye. Resentment towards his policies in the Muslim north culminated in the eruption of a long-lasting civil war in 1965. In 1979, the rebels conquered the capital and put an end to the south's hegemony. However, the rebel commanders fought amongst themselves until Hissène Habré defeated his rivals. He was overthrown in 1990 by his general Idriss Déby. Recently, the Darfur crisis in Sudan has spilt over the border and destabilised the nation, with hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees living in and around camps in eastern Chad.

While many political parties are active, power lies firmly in the hands of President Déby and his political party, the Patriotic Salvation Movement. Chad remains plagued by political violence and recurrent attempted coups d'état (see Battle of N'Djamena (2006) and Battle of N'Djamena (2008)).

Chad is one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world; most inhabitants live in poverty as subsistence herders and farmers. Since 2003, crude oil has become the country's primary source of export earnings, superseding the traditional cotton industry.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Africa: Niger

Niger (Nye-jer) officially named the Republic of Niger, is a landlocked country in Western Africa, named after the Niger River. It borders Nigeria and Benin to the south, Burkina Faso and Mali to the west, Algeria and Libya to the north and Chad to the east. Niger covers a land area of almost 1,270,000 km2, making it the largest nation in West Africa, with over 80 percent of its land area covered by the Sahara desert. The country's predominantly Islamic population of just above 15,000,000 is mostly clustered in the far south and west of the nation. The capital city is Niamey.

Niger is a developing country. It consistently has one of the lowest ranks of the United Nation's Human Development Index (HDI), currently 167th of 169 countries. Much of the non-desert portions of the country are threatened by periodic drought and desertification. The economy is concentrated around subsistence and some export agriculture clustered in the more fertile south, and the export of raw materials—especially uranium ore. Niger remains handicapped by its landlocked position, desert terrain, poor education and poverty of its people, lack of infrastructure, poor health care, and environmental degradation.

Nigerien society reflects a great diversity drawn from the long independent histories of its several ethnic groups and regions and their relatively short period living in a single state. Historically, what is now Niger has been on the fringes of several large states. Since independence, Nigeriens have lived under five constitutions and three periods of military rule. A majority live in rural areas, and have little access to advanced education.

Niger is a landlocked nation in West Africa located along the border between the Sahara and Sub-Saharan regions. It lies between latitudes 11° and 24°N, and longitudes 0° and 16°E. Niger's area is 1,267,000 square kilometres (489,191 sq mi) of which 300 square kilometres (116 sq mi) is water. This makes it slightly less than twice the size of the US state of Texas, and the world's twenty-second largest country (after Chad). Niger is comparable in size to Angola.

Niger borders seven countries on all sides and has a total of 5,697 kilometres (3,540 mi) of borders. The longest border is with Nigeria to the south (1,497 km/930 mi). This is followed by Chad to the east, at 1,175 km (730 mi), Algeria to the north-northwest (956 km/594 mi), and Mali at 821 km (510 mi). Niger also has small borders in its far southwest frontier with Burkina Faso at 628 km (390 mi) and Benin at 266 km (165 mi) and to the north-northeast Libya at 354 km (220 mi).

The lowest point is the Niger River, with an elevation of 200 metres (656 ft). The highest point is Mont Idoukal-n-Taghès in the Aïr Massif at 2,022 m (6,634 ft).

While most of what is now Niger has been subsumed into the inhospitable Sahara desert in the last two thousand years, five thousand years ago the north of the country was fertile grasslands. Populations of pastoralists have left paintings of abundant wildlife, domesticated animals, chariots, and a complex culture that dates back to at least 10,000 BCE. Several former northern villages and archaeological sites date from the Green Sahara period of 7,500–7,000 to 3,500–3,000 BCE.

Niamey, Niger's capital and economic hubThe economy of Niger centers on subsistence crops, livestock, and some of the world's largest uranium deposits. Drought cycles, desertification, a 2.9% population growth rate, and the drop in world demand for uranium have undercut the economy.

Niger shares a common currency, the CFA franc, and a common central bank, the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), with seven other members of the West African Monetary Union. Niger is also a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA).[10]

In December 2000, Niger qualified for enhanced debt relief under the International Monetary Fund program for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) and concluded an agreement with the Fund for Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF). Debt relief provided under the enhanced HIPC initiative significantly reduces Niger's annual debt service obligations, freeing funds for expenditures on basic health care, primary education, HIV/AIDS prevention, rural infrastructure, and other programs geared at poverty reduction.

In December 2005, it was announced that Niger had received 100% multilateral debt relief from the IMF, which translates into the forgiveness of approximately $86 million USD in debts to the IMF, excluding the remaining assistance under HIPC. Nearly half of the government's budget is derived from foreign donor resources. Future growth may be sustained by exploitation of oil, gold, coal, and other mineral resources. Uranium prices have recovered somewhat in the last few years. A drought and locust infestation in 2005 led to food shortages for as many as 2.5 million Nigeriens.

Monday, July 25, 2011

It Shouldn't Be Allowed...Same Names, Different Countries

All right, I'm only joking.

But things can get confusing sometimes. Someone asks where you from and you say London, everyone automatically assumes, England. But it could just as easily be London, Canada or London, South Africa.

There's a Washington, Pennsylvania, as well as Washington State, and Washington, where are politicians are supposedly working.

Here's a project - check out a list of the top 20 cities by population in your state, and see how many of the cities/towns have duplicates in other US states.

What set me to thinking about this... I saw the headline and thought...Cleveland doesn't have any volcanoes!
TRCB News: Signs Of Cleveland Volcano Eruption In Alaska

Through a satellite some images of the Cleveland volcano, which is situated in Alaska, have been captured. According to scientists, there are signs of the first big eruption of this volcano in ten years. After observing the signs of volcano eruption, an eruption advisory has been issued by the Alaska Volcano Observatory. The Cleveland Volcano has a height of nearly six thousand feet and it is located at a distance of nine hundred and forty miles from the south-west of Anchorage.

According to the observatory, the advisory has not just been issued on an assumption. It is based on the thermal anomalies which are detected by a satellite. The signs of volcano eruption include the measurements, known as thermal anomalies, which indicate that the Cleveland Volcano can erupt any time. As judged from the signs of the expected volcano eruption, the ash clouds will spew up to twenty thousand feet above the sea level.

These signs warned the international air travel because the Cleveland Volcano lies below the flight path of a commercial air line. According to a scientist-in-charge at Alaska Volcano Observatory, this flight path is in between Asia and North America.

The last major eruption of this volcano occurred in the year 2001 and at that time the ash blasted more than five miles in the sky. It spilled lava from summit crater. Since then the Cleveland Volcano has experienced many smaller eruptions. Now there are signs of another major eruption.

As shown by the satellite images, the signs for an eruption of the volcano are clear but the flight patterns of the airlines have not been changed yet. May be this is due to heat emissions of the Cleveland, as stated by Steve McNutt, who is a scientist at the observatory of University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Friday, July 22, 2011

At Least 80 Are Dead in Norway Shooting

Norway, officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy occupying the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, as well as Jan Mayen, the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island (is not subject to the Antarctic Treaty).[note 1] Norway has a total area of 385,252 square kilometres (148,747 sq mi) and a population of about 4.9 million. It is the second least densely populated country in Europe. The majority of the country shares a border to the east with Sweden; its northernmost region is bordered by Finland to the south and Russia to the east; in its south Norway borders the Skagerrak Strait, across which Denmark is situated. The capital city of Norway is Oslo. Norway's extensive coastline, facing the North Atlantic Ocean and the Barents Sea, is home to its famous fjords.

Anders Behring Breivik from his Facebook Page

From The New York Times: At Least 80 Are Dead in Norway Shooting

OSLO —Norway suffered a pair of devastating attacks on Friday when powerful explosions shook the government center here, killing seven people, and shortly after a gunman stalked youths at an island summer camp for young members of the governing Labor Party, killing at least 80.

The police arrested a Norwegian man in connection with both attacks, the deadliest on Norwegian soil since World War II.

The explosions in Oslo, from one or more bombs, turned the tidy Scandinavian capital into a scene reminiscent of terrorist attacks in Baghdad or Oklahoma City, panicking people and blowing out windows of several government buildings, including one housing the office of the Norwegian prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, who was unharmed.

The state television broadcaster, citing the police, said seven people had been killed and at least 15 wounded in the explosions, which they said appeared to be an act of domestic terrorism.

Even as the police locked down a large area of the city after the blasts, a man dressed as a police officer entered the youth camp on the island of Utoya, about 19 miles northwest of Oslo, a Norwegian security official said, and opened fire. “He said it was a routine check in connection with the terror attack in Oslo,” one witness told VG Nett, the Web site of a national newspaper.

Of the at least 80 people killed on the island, some were as young as 16, the police said on national television early Saturday.

Terrified youths jumped into the water to escape. “Kids have started to swim in a panic, and Utoya is far from the mainland,” said Bjorn Jarle Roberg-Larsen, a Labor Party member who spoke by phone with teenagers on the island, which has no bridge to the mainland. “Others are hiding. Those I spoke with don’t want to talk more. They’re scared to death.”

Many could not flee in time.

“He first shot people on the island,” a 15-year-old camper named Elise told The Associated Press. “Afterward he started shooting people in the water.”

After the shooting the police seized a 32-year-old Norwegian man on the island, according to the police and Justice Minister Knut Storberget. He was later identified as Anders Behring Breivik and characterized by officials as a right-wing extremist, citing previous writings including on his Facebook page.

The acting chief of police, Sveinung Sponheim, said Mr. Breivik, who is not known to have any ties to Islamic extremists, had also been seen in Oslo before the explosions. The police and other authorities declined to say what the suspect’s motivations might have been, but many speculated that the target was Mr. Stoltenberg’s liberal government.

“The police have every reason to believe there is a connection between the explosions and what happened at Utoya,” the police said. They said they later recovered explosives on the island.

Mr. Breivik had registered a farm-related business in Rena, in eastern Norway, which the authorities said allowed him to order a large quantity of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, an ingredient that can be used to make explosives. Authorities were investigating whether the chemical may have been used in the bombing.

A Facebook page matching his name and the photo given out by the police was set up just a few days ago. It listed his religion as Christian, politics as conservative. It said he enjoys hunting, the video games World of Warcraft and Modern Warfare 2, and books including Machiavelli’s “The Prince” and George Orwell’s “1984.”

As the investigations continued, the police asked people to leave the center of Oslo, stay indoors and limit their cellphone use. They also said they would initiate border checks.

The attacks bewildered a nation better known for its active diplomacy and peacekeeping missions than as a target for extremists.

In Oslo, office workers and civil servants said that at least two blasts, which ripped through the cluster of modern office buildings around the central Einar Gerhardsen plaza, echoed across the city in quick succession around 3:20 p.m. local time. Giant clouds of light-colored smoke rose hundreds of feet as a fire burned in one of the damaged structures, a six-story office building that houses the Oil Ministry.

The force of the explosions blew out nearly every window in the 17-story office building across the street from the Oil Ministry, and the streets on each side were strewn with glass and debris. The police combed through the debris in search of clues.

Mr. Stoltenberg’s office is on the 16th floor in a towering rectangular block whose facade and lower floors were damaged. The Justice Ministry also has its offices in the building.

Norwegian authorities said they believed that a number of tourists were in the central district at the time of the explosion, and that the toll would surely have been higher if not for the fact that many Norwegians were on vacation and many more had left their offices early for the weekend.

“Luckily, it’s very empty,” said Stale Sandberg, who works in a government agency a few blocks down the street from the prime minister’s office.

After the explosions, the city filled with an unfamiliar sense of vulnerability. “We heard two loud bangs and then we saw this yellow smoke coming from the government buildings,” said Jeppe Bucher, 18, who works on a ferry boat less than a mile from the bomb site. “There was construction around there, so we thought it was a building being torn down.”

He added, “Of course I’m scared, because Norway is such a neutral country.”

American counterterrorism officials cautioned that Norway’s own homegrown extremists, with unknown grievances, could be responsible for the attacks.

Initial reports focused on the possibility of Islamic militants, in particular Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami, or Helpers of the Global Jihad, cited by some analysts as claiming responsibility for the attacks. American officials said the group was previously unknown and might not even exist.

There was ample reason for concern that terrorists might be responsible. In 2004 and again in 2008, the No. 2 leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, who took over after the death of Osama bin Laden, threatened Norway because of its support of the American-led NATO military operation in Afghanistan.

Norway has about 550 soldiers and three medevac helicopters in northern Afghanistan, a Norwegian defense official said. The government has indicated that it will continue to support the operations as long as the alliance needs partners on the ground.

Terrorism specialists said that even if the authorities ultimately ruled out Islamic terrorism as the cause of Friday’s assaults, other kinds of groups or individuals were mimicking Al Qaeda’s brutality and multiple attacks.

“If it does turn out to be someone with more political motivations, it shows these groups are learning from what they see from Al Qaeda,” said Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism researcher at the New America Foundation in Washington. “One lesson I take away from this is that attacks, especially in the West, are going to move to automatic weapons.”

Muslim leaders in Norway swiftly condemned the attacks. “This is our homeland, this is my homeland,” said Mehtab Afsar, secretary general of the Islamic Council of Norway. “I condemn these attacks, and the Islamic Council of Norway condemns these attacks, whoever is behind them.”

Monday, July 18, 2011

India and Pakistan

Pakistan is the country in white in the map above, India of course is to the southeast.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bombay = Mumbai

Many countries in the Far East that were colonized by Europeans (over the will of the original inhabitants) changed the names of various cities as soon as they became in control of their own destiny.

In India, for example, one does not speak of Bombay anymore, but rather of Mumbai.
Mumbai ( Moom-by)), formerly known as Bombay, is the capital of the Indian state of Maharashtra. It is the most populous city in India, and the sixth most populous city in the world, with a population of approximately 20.5 million. Along with the neighbouring urban areas, including the cities of Navi Mumbai and Thane, it is one of the most populous urban regions in the world. Mumbai lies on the west coast of India and has a deep natural harbour. As of 2009, Mumbai was named an Alpha world city. Mumbai is also the richest city in India, and has the highest GDP of any city in South, West or Central Asia.

The seven islands that came to constitute Mumbai were home to communities of fishing colonies. For centuries, the islands came under the control of successive indigenous empires before being ceded to the Portuguese and subsequently to the British East India Company. During the mid-18th century, Mumbai was reshaped by the British with large-scale civil engineering projects, and emerged as a significant trading town. Economic and educational development characterised the city during the 19th century. Governor Gerald Aungier is considered as Father of Bombay.

It became a strong base for the Indian independence movement during the early 20th century. When India became independent in 1947, the city was incorporated into Bombay State. In 1960, following the Samyukta Maharashtra movement, a new state of Maharashtra was created with Bombay as capital. It was renamed Mumbai in 1995.

Mumbai is the commercial and entertainment capital of India, generating 5% of India's GDP, and accounting for 25% of industrial output, 70% of maritime trade in India (Mumbai Port Trust & JNPT),[9] and 70% of capital transactions to India's economy. Mumbai is home to important financial institutions such as the Reserve Bank of India, the Bombay Stock Exchange, the National Stock Exchange of India and the corporate headquarters of numerous Indian companies and multinational corporations.

It houses some of India's premier scientific and nuclear institutes like BARC, NPCL, IREL, TIFR, AERB, AECI, and the Department of Atomic Energy. The city also houses India's Hindi (Bollywood) and Marathi film and television industry. Mumbai's business opportunities, as well as its potential to offer a higher standard of living, attract migrants from all over India and, in turn, make the city a potpourri of many communities and cultures.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Naval base explosion in Cyprus kills at least 12

Cyprus (Sigh-prus) is a Eurasian island country in the Eastern Mediterranean, east of Greece, south of Turkey, west of Syria and north of Egypt. It is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and one of its most popular tourist destinations. An advanced, high-income economy with a very high Human Development Index, the Republic of Cyprus was a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement until it joined the European Union on 1 May 2004.

The earliest known human activity on the island dates back to around the 10th millennium BC. Archaeological remains from this period include the well-preserved Neolithic village of Khirokitia, which has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, along with the Tombs of the Kings. Cyprus is home to some of the oldest water wells in the world, and is the site of the earliest known example of feline domestication.

At a strategic location in the Middle East, Cyprus has been occupied by several major powers, including the empires of the Hittites, Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Rashiduns, Umayyads, Lusignans, Venetians and Ottomans. Settled by Mycenean Greeks in the 2nd millennium BC, the island also experienced long periods of Greek rule under the Ptolemies and the Byzantines. In 333 B.C., Alexander of Macedon conquered the island from the Persians. The Ottoman Empire conquered the island in 1571 and it remained under Ottoman control for over three centuries. It was placed under British administration in 1878 until it was granted independence in 1960, becoming a member of the Commonwealth the following year.

In 1974, following 11 years of intercommunal violence, using an attempted coup d'état by Greek Cypriot nationalists[23][24] and elements of the Greek military junta with the aim of achieving enosis (union of the island with Greece) as a pretext, Turkey invaded and occupied the northern portion of the island, resulting in the partition of the island, Turkey's objective since 1955. The intercommunal violence and subsequent Turkish invasion led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Cypriots and the establishment of a separate Turkish Cypriot political entity in the north. These events and the resulting political situation are matters of ongoing dispute.

The Republic of Cyprus has de jure sovereignty over the entire island of Cyprus and its surrounding waters except small portions, Akrotiri and Dhekelia, that are allocated by treaty to the United Kingdom as sovereign military bases. The Republic of Cyprus is de facto partitioned into two main parts; the area under the effective control of the Republic of Cyprus, comprising about 59% of the island's area, and the Turkish-controlled area in the north, calling itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, covering about 36% of the island's area and recognized only by Turkey. Naval base explosion in Cyprus kills at least 12

AT least 12 people were killed and 60 injured yesterday after a massive explosion ripped through a naval base.

The building in Cyprus was blown up when a bush fire spread to the base and set light to 2,000 tons of confiscated Iranian gunpowder stored at the munitions dump.

Two Cypriot navy sailors, two soldiers and five firefighters were among those killed.

The blast was felt for miles and caussed widespread damage to homes in nearby villages. Shocked President Dimitris Christofias described as “a catastrophe of biblical proportions”.

Shockwaves could be heard 40 miles away in the capital, Nicosia.

The island’s main electricity generator – the Vasiliko power station – was also badly damaged.

It was expected to be offline for at least a day but police said a fire there had been contained.

Mr Christofias said: “We were devastated by this event, not so much by the material damage, but by the loss of human lives and the injury of many of our compatriots.”

A motorist who was near the Cypriot National Guard base at the time of the blast said it felt like “a bomb had been dropped on the car”.

Officials say investigators have ruled out sabotage.

Defence minister Costas Papacostas and National Guard chief Petros Tsalikides resigned after the tragedy at 6am at the Evangelos Florakis Naval Base, which is near the village of Mari in Larnaca District on the island’s southern coast.

The gunpowder had been stored in containers after being confiscated in 2009 by Cypriot authorities from a ship sailing off its coast.

The vessel, the Cypriot-flagged Monchegorsk, was snared by US warships and was suspected of taking the explosives from Iran to Gaza.

A Cyprus Electricity Authority spokesman said the island’s two other power stations would try to cover demand while Vasiliko was down.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hindu temple yields billions in long-lost treasure

Montreal Gazette: Hindu temple yields billions in long-lost treasure
Armed commandos cordoned off a medieval Hindu temple in south India on Monday after gold coins and precious stones worth billions of dollars were found in its vaults.

The chief minister of southern Kerala state, Oommen Chandy, said local authorities needed to take precautions and had set up a three-tier security ring involving 100 armed police.

Surveillance will be in place around the clock, and security forces are setting up a special control centre and looking at bringing in cameras.

"The treasure will be kept in the temple itself and Kerala police are taking over its security from temple staff," said Chandy, who valued the discovery at 500 billion rupees ($11.2 billion U.S.) on Saturday.

Five vaults of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in the Keralan capital Thiruvananthapuram were opened last week, yielding enormous quantities of gold and silver jewelry, coins and precious stones.

A sixth was set to be explored on Monday.

Retired Kerala High Court judge C.S. Rajan, who is part of a seven-member team named by India's Supreme Court to monitor the treasure hunt, estimated Sunday that the valuables could be worth up to a trillion rupees ($22 billion U.S.).

"Its antique and archeological value has not yet been taken into account," he stressed.

A seventh vault reinforced with iron walls would be opened only after fresh instructions from India's top court, he said.

K.N. Panikkar, an eminent India historian, said the treasure was most likely a combination of gifts donated by devotees to the shrine and the wealth of the erstwhile Hindu royal family from the local kingdom of Travancore.

"The king ruled in the name of the temple and so one can say it is the accumulated wealth of the temple and the maharajah's own collection," Panikker told AFP in Thiruvananthapuram.

The Times of India said one tonne of gold coins - some dating back to the era of French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte - as well as sacks full of diamonds and golden statues were among the artifacts discovered in the temple.

The national conservation agency, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), said it was stunned by the findings.

"Right now we are working in absolute darkness and we only know that fabulous treasure is pouring out," ASI Director-General Gautam Sengupta told AFP.

"No archaeologist has ever experienced vault after vault being opened and treasures being discovered like this," Sengupta said in New Delhi, adding that many of the Hindu shrines across India were "very rich."

The discoveries have catapulted the Hindu shrine, renowned for its intricate sculptures, into the league of India's richest temples.

It was built hundreds of years ago by the king of Travancore and donations by devotees have been kept in the temple's seven vaults.

Since India achieved independence from Britain in 1947, a trust managed by descendants of the Travancore royal family has controlled the temple.

Shashi Bhushan, a Keralabased historian, told the Mint business newspaper that the treasure was likely to be "the proceeds of trade" from the state in southern India, which was a centre for spice trading.

The Supreme Court recently ordered that the temple be managed by the state of Kerala to ensure the security of its valuables.

Until now, the Thirupathy temple in southern Andhra Pradesh state was believed to be India's richest temple, with offerings from devotees worth 320 billion rupees (about $7.18 billion U.S.).

Saturday, July 9, 2011

12 things you may not have known about the Appalachian Trail

CNN Travel: 12 things you may not have known about the Appalachian Trail
Editor's note: Michael Ryan is an assignment producer with He, along with two buddies from childhood, John Vertal and Marty Raffay, hike a section of the Appalachian Trail each year -- and still remain friends.

(CNN) -- The length of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail is constantly changing. In 2010 the Appalachian Trail was officially 2,179.1 miles long. This year it's 2,181. In 2004 it was 2,173.9. The added distance is due to upgrades and repairs. (Not because your group had to backtrack a half-day because one of you left the keys to the vehicle parked at the end of the section in the vehicle parked at the start of the section.) The Appalachian Trail stretches from Springer Mountain, in north Georgia, to Katahdin, in central Maine, crossing 14 states and five national parks. The route is marked by white blazes on trees, posts and rocks.

It's possible to hike the Appalachian Trail without a tent. There are more than 250 garage-size shelters "roughly a day's hike apart" along the length of the Appalachian Trail, according to Brian King of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the nonprofit corporation that leads efforts to maintain the trail. That's a shelter about every 8 miles on average. They're free. So "thru-hikers," people who walk the full distance in a continuous hike, often leave the tent at home, saving as much as 5 pounds from their backpacks. That's good, because that "day's hike" can be up to 30 miles, since shelters are built near sources of fresh water, King said.

What's in an Appalachian Trail hiker's backpack?

You won't see nearly as many animals as you'd expect. That's because most can hear, see or smell you long before you hear, see or smell them, and they'll flee. In the case of bears, wild pigs, raccoons and snakes, that's good. On hikes from Georgia through Connecticut, I have seen hundreds of birds, chipmunks and squirrels, spiders, a few deer, two wild turkeys as big as a washer and dryer, a wild pig, the backside of a bear running into the brush, and a rattlesnake lying across the trail warming itself in the morning sun. (Hint: It's less upsetting for all involved to hike around a timber rattler than to try to encourage it to move on by bouncing even a small stone off it.) Not wearing your glasses increases the number of animal sightings. But keep in mind that while without your glasses a tree stump can look like a bear, a bear also can look like a tree stump.

But you might experience mice -- and it will be your fault. They congregate at shelters to feast on scraps left by hikers who don't follow the No. 1 rule of the Appalachian Trail: Leave no trace. And don't think that stowing your food in your pack means it's safe. We were awakened one night by a mouse that had gnawed through the pocket of a backpack and was wrestling with the wrapper of a snack bar inside. That's why shelters have ropes to hang packs up and away from small critters. Some also have "bear boxes," lockers that keep food safe from larger beasts. The alternative is to hang your food in a stuff-sack from the branch of a tree.

It's hard. Literally. Most of the Appalachian Trail is strewn with rocks. That makes sense, since the Appalachian Trail, for the most part, follows the ridge of the Appalachian Mountains. Still, it seems there are more rocks on the trail than off the trail. A running joke among our hiking group was that if you lose the trail, look for rocks; it'll be there. There are rocks you must climb over, rocks that stick out from the ground to slam your toes into or trip over, irregular rocks that force you to use foot and leg muscles to maintain balance with each step and rocks covered with mud or muck that are as slick as ice. It's a good idea to stow anything breakable, like a smartphone, at the top or to the back of your pack to keep it from breaking when you fall on your rear end.

Downhill is worse than uphill. Hiking uphill carrying 20-30 pounds is strenuous, especially when it's a half-mile climb up large rocks. You've sweated out so much salt and potassium that you're experiencing the onset of hyponatremia, a condition in which you have difficulty using your muscles and may even experience some confusion (different from "Why am I doing this? What was I thinking?" which are coherent thoughts). Resting and a salty snack with water help. But on a steep downhill, your knee takes more impact. After some distance, each step is painful. Trekking poles and walking slowly can ease some of the discomfort. But knee damage is possible.

An estimated 12,000 people have hiked the full length of the Appalachian Trail since it was completed in 1937. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy's King says it usually takes from five to seven months. The numbers are derived from sign-in sheets at either end of the trail and at conservancy headquarters at the unofficial midway point in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, as well as from "ridge runners," who keep an eye on logbooks at shelters in their area. But there is no requirement to sign in or out, and many don't. "So who knows what the variable is?" King said. Those who have hiked the Appalachian Trail "know they've done it," King said. Hikers usually are known by "trail names" they give themselves or earn, like Marty "Wounded Knee" Raffay (See "Downhill is worse than uphill").

Detailed maps, books and other information about the trail are available through the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website.

The trail is maintained by volunteers. Last year some 6,200 volunteers, led by members of 31 official Appalachian Trail maintaining clubs, worked 210,000 hours repairing trails, painting blazes and maintaining shelters, privies and wells, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. The conservancy is staffed by 44 paid workers year-round and 12 to 15 seasonal workers, King said. Volunteers often give up some of their vacation so hikers can use some of theirs on the Appalachian Trail.

"Trail magic" comes from" trail angels." Trail magic is an unexpected act of kindness or generosity. It can be as simple as a day hiker giving a thru-hiker a candy bar or as grand as volunteers setting up a grill near a road crossing and passing out hot dogs. The little things are missed most. Anne Sharp, aka "Margolo," and Travis Olson, aka "Chaco Taco," are thru-hiking with Willett, a German shepherd, unofficially aka "Dog Quixote" (he occasionally chases imaginary threats in the woods, Sharp said). "We feel an immense appreciation for the simple experiences we rarely get these days," she e-mailed from the Appalachian Trail somewhere in New England. "Drinking coffee from a mug, having a chair to sit on, dry clothes after a storm. ..."

Follow "Margolo," "Chaco Taco" and Willett's thru hike.

One day hiking is better therapy than a year of visits to the shrink. After an hour of wisecracks ("Are we there yet?" "Oh, good, more rocks." "Did you bring the beer?") as the day's hike begins, we settle into a quiet time alone in the woods with our thoughts. (Are we there yet? Oh, good, more rocks. I wish I had a beer.) It's also better than a day in the gym. At my weight, 127 pounds soaking wet (which is what I was after a 16-mile hike in 14 miles of rain), carrying a 30-pound pack burns about 450 calories an hour.

You can trap thru-hikers with beer. "Samurai" was planning to catch up with some buddies at the next shelter when he ran into our group at the Wiley Shelter near Webatuck, New York. We had just come back from a 6-mile round-trip excursion into town to buy, um, supplies. Instead of hurrying to his friends, he spent the next few hours sitting with us around the "backpackers' TV," roasting marshmallows and singing Irish pub songs. If a shelter is near enough to a road and to a town, it's not unusual to see a pizza delivery or two. That's why a smartphone with GPS is essential; you can use it to find towns near the trail and supplies.

The world is your toilet ... as long as it's a "cathole" at least 6 inches deep and 200 feet from a trail, campsite or water source. Please pack out the paperwork or file it away at the site and cover it all with dirt. Remember: Leave no trace. Most shelters have privies. The more pleasant of these are composting outhouses, which require users to do a bit of yard work before use. They work by adding a handful of dirt after each visit. The dirt, called "duff," is the layer of soil and mold just beneath the layer of leaves on the forest floor.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Crowds go wild as South Sudan marks its independence

From Wikipedia:
South Sudan is a landlocked country in East Africa. Juba is its capital city. It is bordered by Ethiopia to the east; Kenya, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the south; the Central African Republic to the west; and the Republic of Sudan to the north. South Sudan includes the vast swamp region of the Sudd formed by the White Nile, locally called the Bahr al Jebel.

The country was initially part of the British and Egyptian condominium of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan and became part of the Republic of Sudan when independence was achieved in 1956. Following the first Sudanese civil war, the Southern Sudan Autonomous Region was formed in 1972 and lasted until 1983. A second Sudanese civil war soon developed and ended with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005. Later that year southern autonomy was restored when an Autonomous Government of Southern Sudan was formed. South Sudan became an independent state on 8 July 2011 following a referendum held in January 2011 in which nearly 99% of voters opted for separation from the rest of Sudan. It is now the world's newest independent state and is currently recognized by two countries.

Unlike the predominantly Muslim population of Sudan (who are Arabs), the South Sudanese (Africans) follow traditional religions, while a minority are Christians . Roman Catholic missionaries began work in Sudan in 1842; there are now some 2,009,374 South Sudanese practicing Roman Catholicism. The majority of Christians in South Sudan are adherents of either the Roman Catholic or Anglican churches (represented by the Episcopal Church of the Sudan) but there are several other small denominations represented. Speaking at Saint Theresa Cathedral in Juba, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit, a Roman Catholic, stated that South Sudan would be a nation which respects the freedom of religion.

Modern day
South Sudan's population is predominantly Christian. Amongst Christians, most are Catholic and Anglican, though other denominations are also active, and animist beliefs are often blended with Christian beliefs. In recent years Christian churches have grown, often as a sign of resistance to the Arab-Muslim north [35]; this however is typically characterized as racism, rather than religious persecution, between the predominantly Arab North and the non-Arab/"African" South

The Telegraph: Crowds go wild as South Sudan marks its independence
Fireworks lit the sky and packed cars drove around the South Sudan capital with drivers honking and passengers waving their new flag from the windows.

Standing next to the city's flashing countdown clock, which read "free at last," 27-year-old university student Andrew Nuer said: "We have struggled for so many years and this is our day - you cannot imagine how good it feels."

South Sudan's independence comes exactly six months after a referendum that saw southerners vote almost unanimously to split with their former civil war enemies in the north.

For decades, until a peace agreement was signed in 2005, southern rebels fought two wars with successive Khartoum governments for greater autonomy and recognition, a conflict that left the south in ruins and millions of people dead.

Among the revellers was South Sudan's information minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, who told Reuters: "It is already the ninth so we are independent. It is now."

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mekong dam plans threatening the natural order

Where is Laos?

The Australian: Mekong dam plans threatening the natural order
UNLIKE the Three Gorges dam on the Yangtze, dams on the Mekong River seldom attract Australian attention. Yet a planned dam at Xayaburi on the Mekong in Laos has become central to a debate about the river's future, while the dams China has already built on its section of the river are a subject of long-standing controversy.

Matters have not yet reached the point captured in Mark Twain's quip that "whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over," but disagreements among the six countries through which the Mekong flows - China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam - have become sharp and could become sharper.

With the exception of Burma, each state has its own view of how the Mekong can be exploited.

Since the 1980s, China has brought four hydro-electric dams on its section of the Mekong into commission, is currently building another and has plans to construct at least three more by 2030. One of the operational dams at Xiaowan is the second-biggest constructed in China and it, with the other completed dams, will soon be able to alter the flow of the Mekong, reducing floods downstream in the wet seasons and preventing the river from falling too sharply in the dry.

These seem desirable developments, but this is misleading. Floods play a positive role, particularly in spreading sediment over the downstream agricultural areas, most notably in Vietnam's Mekong Delta. Altering the Mekong's flow will negatively affect fish catches since fish spawning is linked to existing pattern of flood and retreat.

Though it may be some years before the full effects of China's dams are apparent, there is no doubt many will be negative. But dams below China would, if built, have an almost immediate and dangerous effect in a region that is home to 60 million people in the Lower Mekong Basin.

As early as the 1950s, there were plans to build dams on the Mekong in Laos and Cambodia, but none came to fruition. Now, with commercial backing, proposals exist for no fewer than 11 hydro-electric dams - nine in Laos and two in Cambodia. Dams in Laos and Cambodia could export hydro-electric power to earn foreign exchange as well as extend electricity coverage throughout their own territory, but two major problems would result from these dams. In both countries, fish are a staple of the diet, with no less than 80 per cent of the Cambodian population's annual protein intake coming from fish caught in the Mekong River system.

Dams would block the large-scale migration of fish in the river, an essential part of their life cycle, for there is unanimity among scientists that there are no ways to mitigate the barriers to migration formed by the dams.

Fish catches would be devastated and there is no alternative protein sources to replace them.

The other major drawback that would follow the construction of dams in Laos and Cambodia is the fact they would restrict the flow of water over agricultural areas linked to the river, particularly in Vietnam's rich Mekong Delta. This is an area already under threat from saltwater intrusion and predicted sea-level rises.

These negative judgments about possible dams on the Mekong have been known for many years and were highlighted in a major environmental assessment released by the Mekong River Commission last year.

Yet in the face of scientific evidence and opposition from NGOs, civil society groups and academics, the Laos government appeared determined to build a dam at Xayaburi and announced its intention to do so last year. To its undoubted surprise, the government in Vientiane found that both Cambodia and its long-time ally, Vietnam, were opposed to its plan, both making their opposition clear at a meeting about the dam in Phnom Penh in April.

Following the meeting, it appeared construction of the Xayaburi dam had been put on hold until October, but now it seems the Laos government has opted to proceed with the dam in defiance of its neighbours.

If so, Laos has not only elected to disregard the views of Vietnam, it also makes the possibility of its actions leading to the construction of other dams on the river below China more likely.

The future scenario is of the Mekong ceasing to be a bounteous source of fish and guarantor of agricultural richness, with the great river below China becoming little more than a series of unproductive lakes.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Gaza-bound ship tries to flee Greece

It's interesting.... Greece itself is falling apart.... the countries where most of these activists come from are falling apart... and they want to go to Gaza...

Why are the Palestinians trapped in the Gaza Strip? Because that makes them instant martyrs for the surrounding Islamic countries - who WILL NOT LET THE PALESTINIANS IN. Read up on it, most of the people in the surrounding countries have nothing but contempt for Palestinians... but are still using their "plight" to demonize Israel, rather than themselves.

But, this geographic entry is about Greece and Crete.

The Alb., top left in the map above, is Albania.

CNN World: Gaza-bound ship tries to flee Greece
Athens, Greece (CNN) -- One of the ships in a Gaza-bound flotilla blocked by Greece tried to flee on Monday and was stopped by the Greek coast guard.

Greece called for the immediate arrest of the ship's captain.

The Canadian ship, the Tahrir, issued a statement earlier saying it was "casting off from Greece."

"The Tahrir is leaving port in Crete, and we are breaking through Israel's Gaza blockade which now extends to Greek ports," organizer David Heap said in the statement.

The ship's official Twitter feed carried a tweet from a journalist on board, Jim Rankin, saying kayakers were blocking the coast guard, and the Canadian boat had left the harbor.

Minutes later, the ship tweeted, "We got about 5km (3.1 miles) away from shore. Greek authorities have taken over the boat and appear to be heading back to port."

Rankin tweeted that no one was injured in the Greek takeover of the boat, and delegates were "non violent in blocking wheel house."

The Greek coast guard issued a statement saying, "The Tahrir tried to leave the port of Agios Nikolaos in Crete without permission. The coast guard has intercepted the ship and it is now being taken back to the port. As a result the prosecutor's office has already asked for the immediate arrest of the captain. It is not clear if this will be extended to other passengers on board. There are an estimated 40 people aboard the ship."

The Tahrir is one of 10 ships trying to head to Gaza despite Israel's maritime blockade.

A story from 29 May 2011:Egypt-Gaza border opening leaves Palestinians disappointed
RAFAH, Egypt — Mufid al Masry, 46, was so excited about his first trip to Egypt that he couldn’t sleep the night before he set out for the Rafah border crossing, which Egypt’s ruling military council ordered opened Saturday under new hours and fewer restrictions for Palestinian travelers.

So when Egyptian border guards rejected him, citing security concerns, Masry grew belligerent as other Palestinians at the terminal watched in sympathetic silence. An officer ordered him to stop shouting, which only made Masry angrier.

“I’ve been locked in Gaza for the past seven years and just wanted a breath of fresh air!” he said. “If you were locked up for seven years, wouldn’t you be yelling like me?”

The Egyptian government’s decision to permanently open its border with Hamas-controlled territory was heralded – or feared – as a sign of a new Egypt, one willing to risk U.S. and Israeli rebukes to provide a lifeline to Gaza’s 1.5 million residents and to break from the policies of toppled President Hosni Mubarak.

But Saturday’s landmark opening of the Rafah crossing ended with a fizzle.

By dusk, just 400 Palestinians had crossed into Egypt, and another 30 were turned back because their names appeared on a security “blacklist,” according to a senior Egyptian border officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to make public statements. About 150 Palestinians returned to Gaza from Egypt.

The numbers weren’t much different from a normal day when the crossing was open, sporadically, under Mubarak’s rule. And despite the council’s announcement that the border would receive travelers from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., local officers said they didn’t have the manpower to keep the station open past 5 p.m.

To many Palestinians familiar with the crossing, it was business as usual: long waits, uncertain chances of passage, and condescending Egyptian guards. They dismissed the military council’s announcement as little more than propaganda to convince detractors that the Mubarak era was over.

“It’s no honor to enter Egypt!” a Palestinian man at the border taunted the officer who turned him back. The officer grew enraged, and started shouting at other Palestinian travelers.

Dr. Said Batran, 48, a Palestinian-Danish surgeon, has flown to Egypt from Denmark six times in the past two months, all to no avail, because he wasn’t able to pass through the Rafah crossing.

This time, he brought his sister, Latifa, 58, who lives in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria, and they said their reason for travel was urgent. They needed to check on their mother, whose leg was amputated because of a blood clot, and their sister, who’s struggling to raise her 11 children since their father was killed in recent fighting in Gaza.

“Our sister cries day and night, but we can’t do anything for her. She can’t come here and we can’t go there,” Latifa said.

They sat under a shade tree, waiting for their names to be called for entry.
“1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 …” Batran counted, flipping through his passport to show how many Egyptian visas he had. There were 19 in all, since 2006. “I never succeeded.”

Among the lucky 400 who passed with little complication was a political activist who gave his name as Abu Nader. Unlike the desperate travelers who cited medical and business reasons they should be allowed into Egypt, Abu Nader said he just wanted the thrill of new environs.

“I want to cross into Egypt to shave and have dinner. Why not, if the border’s open?” Abu Nader, 42, said.

Mohamed Zorob, his wife and young daughter were among those who crossed in the other direction: from Egypt to Gaza. They’re all Palestinian residents, but Zorob has business in Egypt and holds an Egyptian passport, so even before Saturday he didn’t face the same obstacles as others.

Still, he recalled, in the old days there was a mad scramble to Rafah when it opened every few months. The tight border control led to a proliferation of black-market visas that could help Palestinians’ chances of crossing.

“Before, if you didn’t have a permit, you’d look for someone to bribe,” Zorob said. “They could get you a Malaysian visa for up to $1,000 or $2,000 and you could pass that way.”

With the new rules in place, his family faces no restrictions and he has the proper permits to travel back and forth, a luxury he acknowledged that few other Palestinians enjoy.

“Now I can go to Egypt for a weekend,” Zorob said.

Under the new rules, which are basically the same as those Egypt followed before 2007, Palestinians without a visa can stay for a month if they meet certain criteria. Women and children face no restrictions, but Palestinian men between the ages of 18 and 40 must get a permit saying they need to cross into Egypt for education or medical reasons.

Men over 40 are exempt from the restrictions, unless their names are flagged as security risks. Some Palestinians complained that the list was compiled by the old regime, and shouldn’t be heeded.

Egyptians are still banned from crossing, except by special government permission and generally only if the applicant has family ties to Gaza. Foreigners such as American or European aid workers also require special permission to cross, including a letter from the embassy of their home country.

Majdi Abu Dakka, 43, a lawyer from Gaza, expected no problem crossing Saturday. He’s above the age restriction and had an Egyptian visa, which shouldn’t even have been necessary under the new rules. But, once again, he was held up at the crossing, his temper rising as each hour ticked by.

Just as Abu Dakka was about to despair, an Egyptian border officer approached him with a smile.

“You’re OK,” the officer told him, gesturing for him to join the arrivals line.
Abu Dakka didn’t budge.

“You can go, you can go,” the officer repeated, nudging him.

Abu Dakka nodded and stood firm, clearly enjoying the chance to move in his own time.