21 May 2005

envisioning forgotten cities

The scariest (especially for San Franciscans, is Shadows from another place which maps the bombing of Baghdad onto San Francisco in real time.

A mapping of the first US attack on Baghdad, in March 2003, is superimposed upon San Francisco. The sound heard is from the same event. The longitude and latitude of each bombsite in SF is marked using a GPS device, the same technology used to target site in the Iraki town. These sites are mapped, chronicled and documented with photograph of what's currently at these locations.

In New York they're building a 1609 map of Manhattan Island.

Long before Frank Sinatra sang about making it there, the explorer Henry Hudson did. After three failed attempts to locate the Northwest Passage, in 1609, Hudson became the first European to find New York. And just like most tourists, he was impressed.

"The land is the finest for cultivation that I ever in my life set foot upon, and it also abounds in trees of every description," Hudson gushed in a journal entry.

Today, many agree that New York City abounds in at least one thing – development – thus its moniker, the Concrete Jungle. So, what happened to its wildlife between 1609 and 2005? That's a story arc that landscape ecologist Eric Sanderson, of the Wildlife Conservation Society at New York's Bronx Zoo, is tracing in detail in the Mannahatta Project, a 1609 recreation of Manhattan's landscape. "It's amazing what kinds of things were here," Sanderson says. "Wolves, cougars, elk, beavers. You know, beavers are on the Manhattan city seal. Well, they were here in abundance before."

And lastly, at Byzantium 1200 they're building a website that images the city at the last moment of its glory, before the Fourth Crusade decided destroying a Christian city was what crusades were all about, an event some Orthodox remember with only a little less bitterness than the Muslims recall the Crusades in Palestine.


The Memoirs of Babur
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.

In the month of Ramzan of the year 899 (June 1494) and in the twelfth year of my age, I became ruler in the country of Fergana.

Fergana is situated in the fifth climate and at the limit of settled habitation. On the east it has Kashghar; on the west, Samarkand; on the south, the mountains of the Badakhshan border; on the north, though in former times there must have been towns such as Almaligh, Almatu and Yangi which in books they write Taraz, at the present time all is desolate, no settled population whatever remaining, because of the Moghuls and the Uzbeks.

Fergana is a small country, abounding in grain and fruits. It is girt round by mountains except on the west, i.e. towards Khujand and Samarkand, and in winter an enemy can enter only on that side.

The Saihun River commonly known as the Water of Khujand, comes into the country from the northeast, flows westward through it and after passing along the north of Khujand and the south of Fanakat, now known as Shahrukhiya, turns directly north and goes to Turkistan. It does not join any sea but sinks into the sands, a considerable distance below [the town of] Turkistan.

Fergana has seven separate townships, five on the south and two on the north of the Saihun.

Fergana has seven separate townships, five on the south and two on the north of the Saihun.

One of those on the south is Andijan, which has a central position and is the capital of the Fergana country. It produces much grain, fruits in abundance, excellent grapes and melons. In the melon season, it is not customary to sell them out at the fields. There are no pears better than those of Andijan. After Samarkand and Kesh, the fort of Andijan is the largest in Mawara'u'n-nahr (Transoxiana). It has three gates. Its citadel (ark) is on its south side. Water flows into it by nine channels, but, oddly, flows out by none. Round the outer edge of the ditch runs a gravelled highway; the width of this highway divides the fort from the suburbs surrounding it.

Andijan has good hunting and fowling; its pheasants grow so surprisingly fat that rumour has it four people could not finish one they were eating with its stew.

Andijanis are all Turks; everyone in town or bazar knows Turki.

The speech of the people resembles the literary language; hence the writings of Mir 'Ali-sher Nawa'i, though he was bred and grew up in Hin (Herat), are one with their dialect. Good looks are common amongst them. The famous musician, Khwaja Yusuf, was an Andijani. The climate is malarious; in autumn people generally get fever.

Babur was descended on his father's side from Timur. His mother came from the direct line of Chingiz Khan. Transoxiana was a welter of competing and colliding states, most ruled by Timurid princes. He took and lost Samarqand , the greatest of the Tranoxianian cities and Timur's capital three times, the last in 1501 to the Uzbek khan The Uzbeks also took Fergana Babur reached the age of 22 in 1504 and established himself in Kabul. An expedition into India turned into conquest. At the battle of Panipat he detroyed the Delhi sultanate and founded the Mughal empire. He never saw Fergana or Samarkand again.

Contemporary events bring us these acnient names like Andijan and we only know them for a few weeks. Fergana was famous for its horses, which were said to sweat blood and be the best in the world. The Chinese traded and conquered along the Silk Road for mounts for their cavalry. Alexander's favourite horse, Boukephalos was tribute from a lord of Fergana and Tang courtiers wrote poems about the golden peaches of Samarkand. Andijan had its own history a long time before the Western media turned their attention there for a week.

19 May 2005

The torturers have no clothes

An argument that fails the test of civilised society
The unreliability of torture - and its often quite misleading consequence, with further damage to individual citizens - is a practical condemnation of the practice. That is not the main argument, however.

Respect for other people, respect for rights that unfortunately in today's world are too often abused or set aside, is the hallmark of a decent society. There is a golden rule: 'what you do not wish to be done to yourself, do not do to others'.

The moral argument against torture is overwhelming. The fact that today's bans and prohibitions are too much honoured in the breach is not an argument to legalise any aspect or purpose of torture. It is an argument to apply the ban more fiercely, to let the outrage of ordinary people condemn those that practise it or preach it.

I've tried to stay out of the bloginade on torture, because I thought that others were saying all that I had to say. Then along comes Malcolm Fraser, who was not my favourite prime minister when he was in office, and captures it precisely.

The issue of torture is not complex, intellectual or difficult. Torture is just wrong. Torture has no purpose except as a tactic of impunity to try and terrify the Other into submission. Torture degrades those who execute it and those who command it. Strangely, those who command torture always deny giving the command and that alone is enough to tell us the whole moral quality of torture. Torture is just wrong and we should all say that as often as we have to.

to galloway

Blogenlust | Quote of the Week
'To be accused of a lack of moral character by Senator Norm Coleman is a bit like being told to sit up straight by the Hunchback of Notre Dame.' — George Galloway, just now on Hardball

Mr. Galloway Goes to Washington
Then the Brit turned the tables on Coleman and steered the committee's attention toward 'the real Oil for Food scandal.'

'Have a look at the fourteen months you were in charge of Baghdad, the first fourteen months when $8.8 billion of Iraq's wealth went missing on your watch. Have a look at Halliburton and other American corporations that stole not only Iraq's money but the money of the American taxpayer,' Galloway said.

'Have a look at the oil that you didn't even meter, that you were shipping out of the country and selling, the proceeds of which went who knows where. Have a look at the $800 million you gave to American military commanders to hand out around the country without even counting it or weighing it. Have a look at the real scandal breaking in the newspapers today, revealed in the earlier testimony in this committee. That the biggest sanctions busters were not me or Russian politicians or French politicians. The real sanctions busters were your own companies with the connivance of your own Government.'

I think we have another Iraq War verb and I'm sure, after this, the undistinguished senator from Mnnsota would much prefer to have been merely fisked, not gallowayed.

Where there's smoke, there's, well, more smoke

Galloway takes on US oil accusers :
'As a matter of fact, I have met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld met him. The difference is Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns and to give him maps the better to target those guns. I met him to try and bring about an end to sanctions, suffering and war, and on the second of the two occasions, I met him to try and persuade him to let Dr Hans Blix and the United Nations weapons inspectors back into the country - a rather better use of two meetings with Saddam Hussein than your own Secretary of State for Defence made of his.

'I was an opponent of Saddam Hussein when British and Americans governments and businessmen were selling him guns and gas. I used to demonstrate outside the Iraqi embassy when British and American officials were going in and doing commerce.'

'You will see from the official parliamentary record, Hansard, from the 15th March 1990 onwards, voluminous evidence that I have a rather better record of opposition to Saddam Hussein than you do and than any other member of the British or American governments do.

I suspect quite a lot of time will pass before another British MP is called before a US senate committee. Galloway's opinions are not new, they're a matter of record. Galloway's successful action against the London Telegraph for the same allegations that Republican Norm Coleman tried to revive yesterday is equally a matter of record. It would accord precisely with Galloway's record if Coleman were to find himself defending a libel action.

What's amazing is the way the US media and the blogosphere have recited to a little plain speaking. Westminster systems, by their nature, use more cmbative rheotric. Galloway's impact probably says more about the regrettable rhetorical defrence that prevails in Washington than anything else. Perhaps the US Democrats should study the form, if not the content, of galloway's fulmination. It would have been nice if Galloway had done enough research to make himself aware that Carl Levin the Democrat who attended the eharing, opposed the war. The sleaziest reaction came from Coleman himself:

Coleman said he did not believe Galloway came across as a "credible witness" and warned that his staff would examine his testimony to determine whether he perjured himself. "If in fact he lied to this committee, there will have to be consequences," Coleman told reporters after the hearing.

MPs travel on diplomatic passports. Even the Blair government would have difficulty accepting prosecution of an elected MP for things said in Washington. But there will, f course, be no prosecution. Galloway charged Coleman with the 'mother of all smokescreens'. Coleman answered by blowing smoke.

18 May 2005

Not the news...

Click here. It does not take you to a BBC page.

Welcome to Wikiproxy, where any word or phrase that corresponds to a Wikipedia article gets its own hotlink and where the sidebar carries a rip of what the blogosphere is saying about the article's content. And while you're at it you get to watch the video feed of George Galloway's slightly acerbic disquisition before a stunned US Senate committee. The only trouble is that Wikipedia does not yet have an article on Wikiproxy.

El palacio no es infinito

Not quite yet, anyway...

Evidently size does not matter as much

Changes to cut giant solar tower's height
Planned modifications to a proposed green energy solar tower in north-western Victoria might mean the tower will no longer be the world's tallest man-made structure.

The tower - to be built north of Mildura - was to have been one kilometre high, producing enough green energy to power up to 200,000 households.

Enviromission chief executive Roger Davey says two new technologies may mean the tower could be made smaller, but perform better in terms of energy production and economics.

EnviroMission Solar Tower
There’s a joke to be made about giant phallic symbols built on Australian sheep farms, but not before my coffee. The 3,280-foot tall solar tower idea first tossed around a few years ago is on it’s way to actually happening, now that land in the Australian outback has been secured. When finished, the tower will effectively work like a chimney, collecting solar energy to warm air that then rises at speeds of thirty-five mph to spin a series of turbines that generate electricity. So, kind of like a wind farm without the need for consistently good kite weather.

Fortunately for my shattered sense of national ego, RMIT has a fairly cool description of the project:

The Solar Tower concept operates on a simple rule of physics - hot air rises.

An ever present large mass of air under an expansive transparent collector (seven kilometres in diameter) is heated by solar radiation (greenhouse effect) providing a continuous flow of hot air to drive electricity generating turbines located around the base of the one-kilometre tall central tower.

EnviroMission owns the exclusive licence to German designed Solar Tower technology in Australia. The Company's first project will focus on developing this revolutionary technology into the world's first large-scale solar thermal power station.

Solar Tower technology is one of the most exciting renewable energy innovations proposed for development in Australia. Development will lead the way to a renewable energy solution that will deliver positive social, environmental and economic outcomes.

And if I never read another news item headed 'Tower of Power' it will be far too soon.

Ignorance Nation

Physics or be damned! the crisis in science education awareness
In the UK, the engineering and physical science sectors account for 30 per cent of the nation's gross domestic product, 40 per cent of all investment and 75 per cent of all industrial research and development, according to a 2003 report by the UK Science and Technology Policy Research Unit. The analysis confirms the overwhelming importance of the engineering base for many manufacturing activities within the UK. These sectors account for more than 70 per cent of all Value Added Work, Employment, and Investment in plant and machinery in manufacturing. They are of even greater importance in terms of exports, accounting for more than 85 per cent of the total. We could expect similar figures for Australia.

New multidisciplinary issues are challenging science to provide answers to pressing problems. Areas such as energy production, climate change, transportation, crime prevention and detection, biotechnology and healthcare, and communications all have complex aspects that lie outside the traditional boundaries of the established academic disciplines.

Newer disciplines such as nanotechnology, biotechnology and artificial intelligence offer the potential to mitigate some pressing problems. They also offer the prospect of a bonanza to those nations willing to invest in the future of science and technology and as yet unknown applications.

Australia has neglected some areas of international science. For example, nuclear engineering no longer exists as a faculty stream within any Australian tertiary institution. If Australia ever has the need to develop better expertise in such a discipline, it will obviously have to draw on overseas resources, at uncertain cost and security risk.

The luck of the Irish or just good economic management?
But perhaps most depressing is the story of research and development, and science. In one of the nations in question, government, business and academia have forged a spirit of co-operation to engender a culture valuing research and the links between universities and industry. Ireland is now producing more science graduates than any other European nation. And Eire is blessed with more than one respected national institution charged with promoting valuable research and innovation. Enterprise Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland and the National Microelectronics Research Centre have all developed international reputations for the quality of their work and the benefits they bring the Irish economy. Enterprise Ireland, formed just five years ago, is playing an active role in promoting biotech companies in innovative projects.

The Australian Government's most notable contribution to research and development has been to abolish the 150 per cent tax concession, a move that perhaps provides a new definition for 'backward step'.

It is not too late for the Australian Government to take the high technology road that has been so often talked about. If we don't, our Irish friends may be laughing at us for many years to come.

The planet Golgafrincham creatively solved the problem of middle managemers: it blasted them in to space.
Golgafrinchan Telephone Sanitisers, Management Consultants and Marketing executives were persuaded that the planet was under threat from an enormous mutant star goat. The useless third of their population was then packed in Ark spaceships and sent to an insignificant planet.

That planet turned out to be Earth, where the arrival of the Golgafrincham B Ark rather disrupted an experiment designed to find the question to the ultimate Answer.

Golgafrincham is also famous for its circling poets.

Australia faces massive problems in adjusting to the peak oil transition, global warming, and salinity. We also have a government that neglects basic research and which thinks voluntary student unionism is a crucial education issue. We have a government of telephone sanitzers.

17 May 2005

When food production passes its peak

When the oil is gone
Suburbs will collapse into slums. Farmhand will be a more viable career choice than public relations executive. And avoiding starvation will replace avoiding boredom as the national pastime.

Those are just a few of the predictions that James Howard Kunstler makes in his new book. "The Long Emergency" paints a dystopic view of the United States in the wake of what Kunstler dubs the "cheap oil fiesta." It's a future the author insists is not apocalyptic. Calling it the end of the world would be too easy.

No, Kunstler believes the human race will survive as we slip down the other side of Hubbert's Oil Peak. But the high standard of living we've built by gorging on cheap oil will not. America, as a political entity, will be history too.

Kunstler is apocalyptic, but then so are the consequences of an oil-based world falling over the peak and down the other side. Oil is not, principally, about transport. Oil is about food.

The oil we eat
The common assumption these days is that we muster our weapons to secure oil, not food. There’s a little joke in this. Ever since we ran out of arable land, food is oil. Every single calorie we eat is backed by at least a calorie of oil, more like ten. In 1940 the average farm in the United States produced 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of fossil energy it used. By 1974 (the last year in which anyone looked closely at this issue), that ratio was 1:1. And this understates the problem, because at the same time that there is more oil in our food there is less oil in our oil. A couple of generations ago we spent a lot less energy drilling, pumping, and distributing than we do now. In the 1940s we got about 100 barrels of oil back for every barrel of oil we spent getting it. Today each barrel invested in the process returns only ten, a calculation that no doubt fails to include the fuel burned by the Hummers and Blackhawks we use to maintain access to the oil in Iraq.

David Pimentel, an expert on food and energy at Cornell University, has estimated that if all of the world ate the way the United States eats, humanity would exhaust all known global fossil-fuel reserves in just over seven years. Pimentel has his detractors. Some have accused him of being off on other calculations by as much as 30 percent. Fine. Make it ten years.

Measuring Food by the Mile

Now researchers in Britain and Germany have started to investigate the composite distances travelled by food, taking into account their ingredients and the materials for their packaging. To produce a small glass jar of strawberry yogurt for sale in Stuttgart, strawberries were being transported from Poland to west Germany and then processed into jam to be sent to southern Germany. Yogurt cultures came from north Germany, corn and wheat flour from the Netherlands, sugar beet from east Germany, and the labels and aluminium covers for the jars were being made over 300 km away. Only the glass jar and the milk were produced locally.

In counting the yogurt's environmental costs, the lorry emerged as the main culprit. contributing to noise, danger and pollution. The study found that to bring one lorry-load of yogurt pots to the south German distribution centre a 'theoretical' lorry must be moved a total of 1005 km, using some 400 litres of diesel fuel.

But there are a whole range of further hidden miles that these calculations ignore. To grow the strawberries for the jam for the yogurt, the farmer uses fossil fuels to plant, spray and harvest the fruit, and the sprays he uses have themselves been manufactured and distributed at some environmentat cost. The aluminium for the yogurt jar lids has come from mines many thousands of miles from the packaging plant. Then there is the machinery used for packaging the yogurt, which had to be brought in from Switzerland, perhaps, or Britain, to say nothing of the transport of the workers in the yogurt processing plant going to and from their homes every day. And the transport of shoppers from their homes to the shops, in order to buy the yogurt.. So the circle widens, at every point adding to the real costs of the yogurt, but which do not get added to the price and instead must be paid for in other ways at other times.

It's hard not to be apocalyptic about the prospect of collapse in the production and distribution of food. It perhaps requires a slightly more dynamic policy approach than foreign invasions or repealing environmental laws.

We do Ukraine, not Uzbekistan

The US and its 'special' dictator
If Orson Welles could remake Citizen Kane (Citizen Karimov?) Uzbekistan's Rosebud would be Khanabad. Khanabad embodies a graphic post-Cold War irony. It used to be the biggest Soviet airbase during the 1980s war in Afghanistan. Now it hosts the Americans — ostensively serving to help the 'war on terror' in Afghanistan.

The Washington-Tashkent 'special relationship' started as early as the mid-1990s, during the Bill Clinton administration. In 1999, Green Berets were actively training Uzbek Special Forces. Khanabad has nothing to do with Afghanistan: Bagram takes care of this. But Khanabad is crucial as one of the key bases surrounding Bush's Greater Middle East, or to put it in the relevant perspective, the Middle East/Caucasus/Central Asia heavenly arc of oil and gas. It's on a seven-year lease to the Pentagon, due to expire in late 2008.

So Karimov in Uzbekistan is as essential a piece in the great oil and gas chessboard as Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. Inevitably, there will be more uprisings in the impoverished Ferghana Valley that has reached a boiling point. Karimov again will unleash his American-funded army. The White House will be silent. The Kremlin will be silent (or dub it 'green revolution' - by Islamic fundamentalists, as it did with Andijan). Corporate media will be silent: one imagines the furor had Andijan happened in Lebanon when Syrian troops were still in the country. Uzbeks in the Ferghana won't be valued as people legitimately fighting for freedom and democracy: they will be labeled as terrorists. And Rumsfeld will keep cultivating a 'strong relationship' with Karimov's Rosebud.

President Bush discusses freedom in Iraq and the Middle East
Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe -- because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export. And with the spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic harm to our country and to our friends, it would be reckless to accept the status quo. (Applause.)

Therefore, the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. This strategy requires the same persistence and energy and idealism we have shown before. And it will yield the same results. As in Europe, as in Asia, as in every region of the world, the advance of freedom leads to peace. (Applause)

The Object of Torture is Torture
In January, 2004, the State Department announced that Uzbekistan had not met international human rights standards. In July the United States cut off $18 million in military and economic aid to Uzbekistan. This probably seemed harsh to Uzbekistan, coming as it did, less than two years after its president had been a guest at the White House. It was welcomed by those concerned with human rights.

Tom Malinowski who is a human rights analyst for Human Rights Watch, observed that: "This is the first time that the administration has allowed a lack of progress on human rights to have a significant impact on its relationship with a critical security partner in that part of the world."

The news is of course wonderful. We won't give Uzbekistan any more money until it quits torturing prisoners. The only thing we are presently willing to give it is people. According to a recent report in the New York Times, it is believed that the C.I.A. is sending some of the people it has captured to Uzbekistan. The people it is sending are terror suspects. Estimates are that as many as 150 suspected terrorists have been sent abroad to a number of countries, including Uzbekistan. Asked about the practice one official refused to say whether prisoners went to Uzbekistan but he did say reassuringly that: %"The United States does not engage in or condone torture." That explains why the aid was cut off. It doesn't explain why prisoners get sent there. That is probably none of our business. It should be.

Extract the Melian Dialogue:
Athenians. Since the negotiations are not to go on before the people, in order that we may not be able to speak straight on without interruption, and deceive the ears of the multitude by seductive arguments which would pass without refutation (for we know that this is the meaning of our being brought before the few), what if you who sit there were to pursue a method more cautious still? Make no set speech yourselves, but take us up at whatever you do not like, and settle that before going any farther. And first tell us if this proposition of ours suits you.

The Melian commissioners answered:
Melians. To the fairness of quietly instructing each other as you propose there is nothing to object; but your military preparations are too far advanced to agree with what you say, as we see you are come to be judges in your own cause, and that all we can reasonably expect from this negotiation is war, if we prove to have right on our side and refuse to submit, and in the contrary case, slavery.

Athenians. If you have met to reason about presentiments of the future, or for anything else than to consult for the safety of your state upon the facts that you see before you, we will give over; otherwise we will go on.

Melians. It is natural and excusable for men in our position to turn more ways than one both in thought and utterance. However, the question in this conference is, as you say, the safety of our country; and the discussion, if you please, can proceed in the way which you propose.

Athenians. For ourselves, we shall not trouble you with specious pretences- either of how we have a right to our empire because we overthrew the Mede, or are now attacking you because of wrong that you have done us- and make a long speech which would not be believed; and in return we hope that you, instead of thinking to influence us by saying that you did not join the Lacedaemonians, although their colonists, or that you have done us no wrong, will aim at what is feasible, holding in view the real sentiments of us both; since you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they canand the weak suffer what they must.

Apparently the Uzbek color revolution, is a horse of a different colour.

16 May 2005

Avez-vous des nouvelles de M le comte de La Pérouse?

Sea hero’s fate revealed after 217 years
A breakthrough came last weekend, when the 2005 expedition discovered an 18th-century brass sextant in 40 ft of water off Vanikoro, which had been aboard La Boussole. This identified la Pérouse's vessel as the one that smashed to pieces on the reef, presumably in a tropical cyclone, leaving no chance of survival. The survivors are assumed to have come from the other wreck, L'Astrolabe, which beached less violently in a coral inlet.

"We are virtually certain that it was La Boussole that broke up on the reef and L'Astrolabe was the one that ran aground," said Alain Conan, a businessman and president of the Solomon Association, who has spent the past 24 years trying to solve the mystery of la Pérouse.

Much of the enigma remains, M Conan acknowledged, but the fate of la Pérouse, an aristocratic captain who was a hero for winning battles against the British Navy in the Hudson Bay in Canada, now seems to have been established. M Conan said that it was also possible that la Perouse could have died before the ships reached the island because of the diseases that ravaged crews in the equatorial area.

Although France and England were competing for the Pacific, relations between the sailors were friendly. La Pérouse dined with Commodore Arthur Philip in Botany Bay, near what is now Sydney, in January 1788. The French ships had sailed in a few days after the British First Fleet landed to settle what was then New Holland. Philip sent la Pérouse's logs back to France for him and Sydney named a suburb after the French navigator.

The 2005 expedition, which ends this week, has failed to find la Pérouse's famed scientific treasures, but it has recovered dozens of artefacts, including a cannon, a wine glass and the foot from a skeleton believed to be that of a young French officer.

Now most Sydneysiders have heard of La Pérouse, if only as the eponymous hero of La Perouse. (There's an acute distinction between the two referents). La Perouse is probably the best place on the planet to sit n your car, eating fish and chips while a southerly buster turns the sea white before your eyes. La Perouse also has Bare Island, a fort built in 1885 to repeal the Russians. What I didn't know until a little intensive googling was at the same time Sydney was building defences to keep out the Russians, the Russians in Kamchatka were keenly aware of the imminent threat of a British descent on their shores.

In the late 17th century, Vladimir Atlasov played a decisive role in the exploration of the central part of the peninsula.

The city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky has its origins in Vitus Bering's second Kamchatka expedition to investigate Avachinskaya Inlet and select a suitable winter berth for the expedition's ships. Expedition member assistant navigator Ivan Fomich Elagin chose a small convenient bay on the east side of the inlet. Shoreline topography that turned the harbor into a natural fortress and nearness to the mouth of the Avacha River, where there was already a known Russian route to Bolsheretsk, the administrative center of Kamchatka, were the key factors in determining the site of the future port.

By the late 18th century, as a result of the Pacific Ocean expeditions of James Cook and Jean-Francois de la Perouse, the Russian government was well aware of the strategic and political importance of the port at Petropavlovsk and attempted to turn the small port settlement into a fortress. It was during this period that the city's boundaries were laid out, which determined its development right up to the 1920s. Major changes in the life of the city occurred in the early 19th century as a result of the expansion of the Russian-American Company and the organization of Russian circumnavigation expeditions, which left their mark in Petropavlovsk's history. A famous Russian "round-the-worlder" gave Russia and the world great geographic discoveries and great names. Even in the early 19th century Avachinskaya Inlet had a reputation as one of the world's finest harbors.

And, why, an astonished world wants to know, did Louis XVI, even passionate about geography as he was, spend the last minutes before his execution asking about La Pérouse?

15 May 2005

how to grease the machinery of empire

Indian Mutiny
The Indian soldiers were dissatisfied with their pay as well as with certain changes in regulations, which they interpreted as part of a plot to force them to adopt Christianity. This belief was strengthened when the British furnished the soldiers with cartridges coated with grease made from the fat of cows (sacred to Hindus) and of pigs (anathema to Muslims). The British replaced the cartridges when the mistake was realized; but suspicion persisted, and in Feb., 1857, began a series of incidents in which sepoys refused to use the cartridges.

Afghan riots bode ill for US long-term plans
The biggest anti-US protests since the fall of the Taliban are spreading in Afghanistan, kindled by an unconfirmed report that US interrogators at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, desecrated the Muslim holy book, the Koran, to insult Muslim detainees. Several hundred students protested on Thursday in the Afghan capital Kabul. The unrest followed a 2,000-strong protest on Tuesday and riots on Wednesday in Jalalabad, in which four people were killed and the Pakistani consulate, foreign aid agencies, UN buildings, and diplomatic missions were attacked. The riots were triggered by a Newsweek magazine report that said US investigators probing abuse at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay had discovered that interrogators “had placed Korans on toilets, and in at least one case, flushed a holy book down the toilet”. Desecrating the Koran is punishable by execution in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. On Thursday, protests spread to other districts in eastern Afghanistan, as well as to the Pakistani cities of Peshawar and Quetta, close to the Afghan border. Police shot dead two more protestors in Jalalabad and one in the Wardak, a province that borders Kabul. The protesters chanted “Death to America” and called for assurances that the US would not maintain a long-term presence in Afghanistan.

It's about here that Whatsisname's quote comes to mind:
Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

reviving the once and future mammal

Researchers revive plan to clone the Tassie tiger
The audacious plan to bring the Tasmanian tiger back from the dead through cloning is to be revived by a coalition of academics.

Three months after the Australian Museum said it was shelving plans to clone the tiger - or thylacine - the University of NSW's Dean of Science Mike Archer said the work was being picked up by a group of interested universities and a research institute.

Professor Archer, a former director of the museum, said researchers from NSW and Victoria were likely to take part in the program, which involves recovering DNA from preserved tiger tissue to breed a living specimen.

The University of NSW was likely to take part and the museum would be asked to co-operate.

The on again off again cloning story just seems to keep coming back. Mean while, hopeful souls continue to stagger through the wilds of Tasmanaia hoping for that one flash of stripes in the night.