North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Abeyi residents on their own plan to choose between Sudan and South Sudan

28 months after South Sudan became an independent nation from Sudan, a disputed region between the two countries is about to decide on its own future. The Abeyi region is a rather important one for both nations as it is oil rich with implications for future wealth, which is why its status was left to be decided later. That time is tomorrow, Sunday, October 27, 2013.

Abeyi (state, province, prefecture, parish?)is an oil-rich region between Sudan and South Sudan, populated in the main by Ngok Dinka, though pastoralist Misseriya periodically graze their cattle here as well. Map from the BBC

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This map from Africa Confidential, shows the complexity of this small region, with the Sudan government having proposed a smaller boundary, the UN commission establishing a larger boundary, the Misseriya recognized to the north, the Ngok Dinka to the South, a recent series of military conflicts between the two nations in the Heglig oil fields, etc.

However, there is a problem

The referendum is not supported by either Sudan or South Sudan. Sudan, the Islamic Republic to the north wants a negotiated settlement between the two federal entities, while South Sudan says that the Abeyi peoples can't just hold a referendum on their own, rather that any such vote be supported by international monitoring and protocol (to avoid later charges of corruption and fraud). That seems like a rather nice long-term view on the part of South Sudan, even though reports indicate that the Ngok Dinka are likely to vote to join with South Sudan.

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Photo from Al Jazeera showing Dinka cattle herder

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Arab misseriya view the Abeyi region as one which they have some rights to as the region has always been one which they have grazed their cattle in, and consider the region as a "portal" between the Arab north and African south. Photo from Teatree happily admits he has no idea of who actually is a Misseriya or a Dinka in the two specific pictures shown here. Just an educated guess that lighter skin and turbans indicate Arab connections, while darker skin reflects Dinka genes and that cowboy hat is an affectation showing an affinity to South Sudan's cowboy-hat-wearing President Salva Kiir.

Nonetheless, something will happen tomorrow, a strong Dinka vote for union with South Sudan will be on the record regardless of its international acceptance, and we'll see whether the two national governments will heed the vote and move at all on the current boundary status ...

Meanwhile, both Sudan and South Sudan are continuing their efforts to inoculate their citizens against polio which has emerged in scattered pockets along the neighbors' loosely governed border regions. Let's hope that these vaccination programs continue regardless of the outcome of the Abeyi referendum ...

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South Sudan health workers walking into village to provide oral doses of polio vaccine. Photo from

Sunday, October 13, 2013

India absorbs major hurricane with effective preparation

While hurricanes and typhoons in SE Asia are annual events, the latest to hit India in the Bay of Bengal raises respect.

The Cyclone Phailin had formed in early October and was headed NW across the shallow, warm Bay of Bengal towards India. In the past the storms slamming either India or Bangladesh, which have heavily populated lowlands, have been horribly destructive and deadly due to lack of effective evacuation procedures and early warning systems.

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The path of Cyclone Phailin - image from the BBC

This time, while causing widespread damage and flooding, the government had stepped up, working to evacuate vulnerable citizens based on preliminary warnings of the storms path. From a BBC article, "We were preparing for a super cyclone, but Phailin did not turn into a super cyclone," disaster official Tripti Parule told the AFP news agency.

He said the evacuation was the biggest in India's history for such an event. ... The Indian Army's National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) said 1,200 troops had been sent to Orissa and 500 to Andhra Pradesh. "The teams have medical first responders [for first aid] and heavy cutting equipment. In the case of cyclones there is a likelihood of collapsed buildings."

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While Westerners would expect heavy equipment to be moving debris, Indian citizens don't have that expectation and simply get on with the hard work of cleanup ...

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Indians work through the aftermath of flooding and heavy rainfall. The caption of this photo from the BBC notes that the last major cyclone on India's Southeast Coast in 1999, resulted in 10,000 deaths.

While the Cyclone is now on land heading north and still dumping rains, preliminary assessments, beyond the wind and flood related damage to buildings, powerlines, communications and other infrastructure, show only 14 were lost. Hundreds of thousands were being fed and sheltered in emergency centers, and already beginning to head back home.

Bravo to India's government, volunteers, and citizens who heeded the warning calls! While disasters strike, these precautions and responses are testimony to an intelligent, effective society.

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Skirting through branches left behind by Cyclone Phailin - image from

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Emergency workers preposition supplies for housing displaced citizens - photo from

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Coastal fishermen heeded the warnings regarding Cyclone Phailin, moving their boats far inshore from the approaching storm - photo from

Side discussion: What's the difference between a hurricane, cyclone and a typhoon?

Teatree wondered about this, vaguely recalling they are interchangeable terms. Through the miracle of "search engining" he came up with this confirmation from the trusted

"Hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons are all the same weather phenomenon. Scientists just call these storms different things depending on where they occur. In the Atlantic and northern Pacific, the storms are called "hurricanes," after the Caribbean god of evil, named Hurrican.

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So, the Caribbean god Hurrican comes from an even earlier Mayan characterization of an evil force called Hurakan, who destroyed humans with great storms and floods. Image from

In the northwestern Pacific, the same powerful storms are called "typhoons." In the southeastern Indian Ocean and southwestern Pacific, they are called "severe tropical cyclones."

In the northern Indian Ocean, they're called "severe cyclonic storms." In the southwestern Indian Ocean, they're just "tropical cyclones."

To be classified as a hurricane, typhoon, or cyclone, a storm must reach wind speeds of at least 74 miles per hour (119 kilometers per hour). If a hurricane's winds reach speeds of 111 miles per hour (179 kilometers per hour), it is upgraded to an "intense hurricane." If a typhoon hits 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour) — as Usagi did — then it becomes a "supertyphoon.""

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From the nat geo website, "Typhoon Usagi killed at least 25 people after crashing ashore in southern China on September 23. Photograph from AFP/Getty Images"

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Nepal's Festival of Dasain

Let's get away from the carnage of Syria, special forces raids and immigration sinkings from Africa, and all the rest of the trouble spots that we look at with despair, and head to Nepal, where winter is fast closing in.

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Nepal is a small country, though with a population of over 27 million, strategically located between the two most populous nations on earth - India and China. Its capital is Kathmandu. The map from shows Nepal on the Indian subcontinent.

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From Wikipedia, we learn, "The mountainous north of Nepal has eight of the world's ten tallest mountains, including the highest point on Earth, Mount Everest, called Sagarmatha in Nepali." Map also from wikipedia ...

Every October in this small country nestled up into the Himalayan mountains celebrates a 10-day festival of Dasain. From, we read, "Dasain is Nepal's most colorful annual festival, featuring 10 days of bathing in holy rivers, masked dancing, kite flying, bamboo swinging displays and a final four days of spectacular celebrations. It's a wonderful festival for people but not a particularly healthy one for their animals.

Generally the first six days are not celebrated publicly, but on the seventh day, Fulpati -- the public festivities -- begin. These include a procession of government officials from Kathmandu's royal palace, accompanied by a marching band, ritualistic receptions and the placing of sacred garlands of flowers at Hanuman Dhoka Gate. The eighth day, Kalratri, is the "black night" as the slaughter of goats, sheep and buffalo begins and continues on to the ninth day, when thousands of animals are sacrificed in Kot, the courtyard outside the Taleju temple. This day also sees a rather unappetizing display of Hindus sprinkling their cars with the blood of the animals to ward off evil spirits from the Goddess Durga and to prevent car accidents.

Looks like spectacular views are all over the country ... from a blog with few words, but plenty of pics

The tenth day, Bijaya Dashami, Hindus and Buddhists go to their elders to receive tika, rice patties immersed in a red liquid, that is then placed as a spot on their foreheads. That afternoon people gather and make their way to the temple of Nardevi for the Festival of the Sword, Khadga Jatra, which represents the victory of good over evil, commemorating the legendary killing of a demon by the goddess Durga. This is also considered the luckiest day of the year for Nepalis to gamble..."

So, that's the tourist version, here's another look at it:

The festival occurs during the 7th Nepalese month of kartika (mid October to mid November, and the year starts in our April) which is a reminder that our western twelve month calendar is a construct ...

Similar to the first U.S. government shutdown in 17 years, hysterically fixated on in the Western media, this festival sees the Nepalese government shutting down for 10-15 days each year so that people can celebrate good over evil, and strengthen community ties. Not a bad concept...

Certain days stand out - 1,7,8,9,10 - here's a few excerpts pulled from Wikipedia:

Day 1: Ghatasthapana
A pot is filled with water, cow dung and barley seed and the emergence of grass from the sprouting seed later on, represents the emerging goddess Durga for the rest of the festival. The festival is first and foremost a celebration of the goddess who emerged and triumphed over the demon Mahishasura, thus saving everyone from terror.

The goddess Durga, from

Day 7: Fulpati
The day when the barley seed sprouts and grows into sacred grass, jamara


Day 8: Kalrati or Maha Asthami
This is the day when the most demonic side of Goddess Durga’s manifestations, the Kali, is appeased through the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of buffaloes, goats, pigeons and ducks in temples throughout the nation. Blood, symbolic for its fertility, is offered to the Goddesses. Appropriately enough, the night of this day is called Kal Ratri (Black Night).

from a particularly good blog post on the festival,

Day 9: Maha Navami
Ceremonies and rituals reach the peak on this day. On this day the Vishwakarma, the god of creativeness is also worshiped as it believed that all the things which help is in making a living should be kept happy. Artisans, craftsmen, traders, and mechanics worship and offer animal and fowl blood to their tools, equipment, and vehicles. And, since it is believed that worshiping the vehicles on this day avoids accidents for the year all the vehicles from bikes, cars to trucks are worshiped on this day.

Day 10: Dashami
On this day, a mixture of rice, yogurt and vermilion is prepared by the women, known as "tika". Elders put this tika and jamara which was sewn in the ghatasthapana on the forehead of younger relatives to bless them with abundance in the upcoming years. The red also symbolizes the blood that ties the family together. Elders give "Dakshina", or a small amount of money, to younger relatives at this time along with the blessings.


Interesting, exotic, and there are items in this festival that could resonate well for all of us.

Like large cities everywhere, here is Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal - the background might be exotic, but the sprawl of civilization balances it out, from