Saturday, February 28, 2009

Greed and Investment


I posted this on my daughter's blog first but she thought it was good so maybe its worth repeating. I wrote this during some down time while in Vail for a week of skiing.

Readers, have any of you ever heard a member of Congress or a President say that we need to raise taxes to pay off the national debt? I am guessing you haven't because I have never heard it nor read about it happening and I am old. And you probably never will. Surpluses start to happen when the economy is doing well because the increased flow of money and therefore taxes is what creates surpluses. Which is what happened just before Bush the Younger and his "Greed is Good" boys arrived on the scene.

The GOP always digs up the old saw that deficit spending (not that it is necessarily a good thing) puts a mortgage on future generations and our children that will cripple them with a burden that will cause the most unimaginable (yet undefined) grief.

It is a mantra of conservative thought except when they are in control and doling out tax cuts for the rich.

It is also a big, smelly, pile of shit.

What we are doing now is investing in the future. Investing. I believe this is a core of the capitalistic system to promote growth.

Thanks to the "Greed Is Good" boys ruining the investment system, the federal government must come to the rescue. I shudder to think what out future would be if the GOP was still in control.

The only thing they know to do is to repeat the ideas that got us to where we are now.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Huh?


In this photo made available by Bridges TV, Muzzammil Hassan, and his wife Aasiya Hassan of Orchard Park, near Buffalo, pose in an undated photo. Police say Hassan beheaded his wife after she filed for divorce. Hassan, chief executive of Bridges TV in Orchard Park, launched the network in 2004, to improve the image of Muslims in the media following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. (AP Photo)

Muzzammil "Mo" Hassan is accused of beheading his wife last week, days after she filed for divorce. Authorities have not discussed the role religion or culture might have played, but the slaying gave rise to speculation that it was the sort of "honor killing" more common in countries half a world away, including the couple's native Pakistan.

"If a woman breaks the law which the husband or father has placed for the wife or daughter, honor killing has been justified," said Shahram, who was a regular panelist on a law show produced by Bridges TV. "It happens all the time. It's been practiced in countries such as Pakistan and in India."

Religion poisons everything!


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Darwin-Evolution is no longer a theory, its a fact.

The map above shows the journey of my ancient ancestors beginning about 50,000 years ago from the Northern Rift Valley (Ethiopia, Kenya, or Tanzania) of Africa, the origin of all present day Eurasian humans (anyone not born in Africa).

Skeletal remains suggest modern man evolved in Africa about 200,000 years ago and began moving out of Africa about 60,000 years ago.

I participated in the National Geographic project to help plot the migration by sending in samples of my DNA. The "Y" chromosome is passed directly from father to son from generation to generation. From time to time, the "Y" chromosome can mutate naturally (which is usually harmless) producing a marker that then is passed down to sons and their sons, etc.

In most cases there are more than one mutation event which means that any of these markers can be used to determine your particular branch of the tree. They are called haplogroups, since every individual who has one of these markers also has the others.

When geneticist identify a marker, they try to figure out when it first occurred, and in which geographic region of the world. By tracking the lineages, a picture of how small tribes of modern humans in Africa diversified and spread to populate the world.

i belong to the R1b haplogroup. Today about 70% of men in southern England belong to the R1b haplogroup and over 90% in parts of Spain and Ireland.

Marker M168

There were approximately 10,000 humans when the ice age temporarily retreated. The African Ice Age was characterized by drought rather than cold and when the ice began to melt a period of warmer temperatures and a moister climate turned part of the Sahara into a savanna. Also about this time there was a significant leap forward in modern humans' intellectual capacity. Language emerged, weapons and tools improved, and group planning and cooperation gained.

The first migrants from Africa took a coastal route that ended in Australia. Others later went from Siberia across what was then a land bridge to Alaska, to what is now Canada and the US. My lot, part of the second migration from Africa, followed grasslands and animals to the Middle East.

M-89: Moving Through the Middle East

The next marker, found in 90-95% of all non-Africans, comes from a man from the Middle East, 45,000 years ago. About 40,000 years ago the climate shifted again and became colder and more arid. Drought returned to Africa and for the next 20,000 years, the Saharan Gateway was effectively closed giving my ancestors two options: remain in the Middle East or move on. Retreat back to Africa was not an option.

Some migrated from Iran to the steppes of Central Asia. These semiarid grass-covered plains formed an ancient "superhighway" stretching form eastern France to Korea.

M-9: The Eurasian Clan Spread Wide and Far

My next ancestor, born about 40,000 years ago was part of the Eurasian Clan which dispersed gradually over thousands of years. Seasoned hunters followed the hears eastward along the Eurasian steppe. Eventually their path was blocked by the mountain ranges of south Central Asia located in present day Tajikistan. Here the tribes split into two groups. Some moved north into Central Asia and others moved south into what is now Pakistan and Indian subcontinent. Most people native to the Northern Hemisphere trace their roots to the Eurasian Clan. Nearly all North Americans and East Asians are descent ants.

M-45: The Journey Through Central Asia

My next marker comes from a man from the Eurasian Clan, 35,000 years ago, that moved north onto the game rich steppes of present day Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and southern Siberia.

Eventually, the glaciers began to expand again forcing my ancestors to follow the herds of game north. In order to exist, they learned to build portable animal-skin shelters and create weaponry and hunting techniques that would prove successful against the larger animals they encountered.

M-207: Leaving Central Asia.

Next, 30,000 years ago, a group head west towards the European subcontinent. Then they split into two groups, one continuing to Europe, the other making it as far as India.

M173:The First Modern Europeans

Humans continue to evolve used bone, ivory, antler, and shell as part of their tool kit. Jewelry was produced. My ancestors were able to better compete for scare resources against the Neanderthals, About 20,000 years ago the climate changes again with expanding ice sheets forcing a move to the south, including Spain, Italy, and the Balkans. And about 12,000 years ago they moved back north as the ice receded.

M-343: Direct Descendants of Cro-Magnon

I am a direct descendant of the people who dominated the human expansion into Europe, the Cro-Magnon. The cave paintings of the Cro-Magnon are far more intricate, detailed, and colorful than anything prior.

If my ancestors came from Africa, why do I have white skin? With less sun,
skin became whiter so more melatonin could be absorbed in order to stay healthy. Evolution at work.

Sadly, the genetic traces of my ancestors' group ends between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago, though more details may be known as a result of extra information participants are invited to contribute about themselves. So there is still a gap between knowledge gained from genealogy and that from genetic searches. But that doesn't detract from the vital contribution the inter net has made to resolving the most fascinating of problems - who we really are.

If you are interested, go to www.genographic.nationalgeographic.com.

For a little over $100 you can learn your ancient history and add to the knowledge base of the continuing human migration.


Monday, February 2, 2009

Harbin, China Miscellaneous Photos

All along the highways and main streets, street workers are seen clearing snow from the berm. As always, drivers are expected to avoid them.
Snow sculpture contest taking place.

Ice sculptures can be seen thoughout the city. This is next to the Russian Church, St Sophia.
This is looking down the Zhongyang Street.

St. Sophia Church
Lots of lighted displays in the city.

At the ice festival.


Outside the Shangria La Hotel.
The ice palace bar.


Harbin-Ice and Skiing--Part IV

The following night we go to the Ice Festival which is the highlight of the trip. This is the entrance.

There are slides to the left which I choose to try. But it was so cold; I had to pull myself down the chute.

An occasional snow sculpture was on display. Here the Russian influence can be seen.


Here is a short video that better captures the experience.
video

The final day we journey to a ski area about 30 miles away. On the way were go through a small town where these small 3 wheel cars are rampant.


Charlie Wood and I rent some equipment and our host buys us a lift ticket for 2 hours. Yes, just two hours, but this was the perfect amount of time. The temperature was -10F so after 2 hours, a warm up was going to be necessary anyway. Most of the equipment was old. The most of the skis were the straight sided and long. Charlie and I were getting outfitted separately or I would have advised him to rent the good stuff which they had in limited numbers.


The lift for the two slopes to the right is visible. In the center are poma lifts.

Here the trail map for the area. The two slopes to the right were serviced by a slow, two person lift. The area to the left was serviced by another lift, but it was not running probably because there was not enough business. There was only about 10 people total that skied on the slopes to the right as most of the skiers were novices.



The facility was new with a hotel attached, but the Chinese have a lot to learn about running a successful ski operation.


We left Harbin for Beijing where we spent two nights getting rested and massaged before the long trip home. Professor Zhang kindly treated us to dinner one night. The last night we had hamburgers at the Outback Steak House.

Harbin--The Russian Influence--Part III


The next day the International Workshop for AIDS/HIV Prevention in Heilongjiang Province begins.

Here is Judith beginning her talk.


After the workshop we go to our customary banquet, but this time it is at a special place. We ate in a building with a long Russian past. Construction of the building began in 1903 and at various times it was used by the railroad construction engineers and later Russian officers after the Japanese-Russian war (which the Russians lost).


We were given a booklet of pictorial history of the building, but it is not in English and efforts to find out its history in the Internet were futile.



Black bread is a specialty in the area due to the Russian influence and it was served at our dinner as an appetizer. No where in China have I ever seen a piece of bread unless it was set out in one of the western hotel breakfast buffets. So, as Chinese cities go, Harbin is very unique. Also this is the first time we didn’t eat at a round table. All the top health officials were present, including the president of the local hospital research center. Since a round table was missing there was a lot more movement to the toasting procedure. As is the custom the host gives the first toast, then priority of status dictates the following toasts. At some point there seems to a slight loll in the toasts so the guests can join in, which is only the polite thing to do.

On the way back to our hotel we stop and see the magnificent Russian Orthodox Church, St. Sophia. The loudspeakers were playing balalaika music.



We briefly walked down the famous Zhongyang Street. It is the longest business street in the country and is the main shopping district. There are ice sculptures spaced throughout the street. Below is a cello player and in the background, the Modern Hotel can be seen. The Modern Hotel was first built in 1906 and is of typical architecture during the French King Louis XIV period in the renaissance.



Here is another European building along the street.





Harbin, The Ice City Part II

The snow sculptures are across the river as are the ice sculptures. The snow sculptures are in Sun Island Park.

This is the kind of day it was. Have I mentioned that it is cold here?? Although difficult to see, there is a graceful cable suspension bridge under the sun.

There are moderate, large, and monster size sculptures to see. Photography is difficult due to the gray day and lack of contrast of the sculptures. Most of the photos have been adjusted to provide more contrast.



While touring the grounds we were treated to a small parade consisting of a band and Xmas characters that played Jingle Bells and other secular Xmas tunes as they hustled around the grounds.


We did stop for hot tea in this house with the red lanterns. Never has tea seemed so welcomed. There is a huge sculpture of a father winter in the background. It is about 3 stories high.



As you can see, the sculptures were quite detailed and impressive. The young English speaking woman on the left was our guide and facilitator for all our trip. Did I mention that it was cold?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Ice City-Harbin, China January 2009

Some History

Harbin originally a Russian-built railway outpost carved out of the wilderness on the banks of the Songhua River is the northernmost major city in China and capital of Hei Long Jiang Province. It is the country's coldest province, with winter temperatures that hover, on average, around -15°F (-26°C). Like many border regions, it is an amalgamation of clashing extremes, home to one of China's roughest mountain ranges, some of its most fertile soil, its largest oil and coal fields, its most pristine wilderness, and most of its few remaining nomad groups.

The city was founded in 1897 as a camp for Russian engineers surveying construction of the eastern leg of the Trans-Siberian railroad. Demand for labor and the city's laissez-faire atmosphere quickly attracted a diverse population of outcasts from Latvia, the Ukraine, and Poland, as well as Manchuria. Many Jews migrated here and their influence can be seen in some of the old buildings in the city. At its height, one of the most bizarrely cosmopolitan cities in Asia -- cold, dirty, rife with speculation and venereal disease, architecturally vibrant, and a model for ethnic and religious tolerance. For a while it was referred to as the “Paris of the Orient”.

The town fell under Japanese control during World War II and was finally recaptured in 1946 by the Russians who gave it back to the Chinese in a few months. In fact, these three countries have been taking turns occupying the area for many years.

Most original foreign residents fled at the end of World War II. The city has begun to recover some of its former face, however, as trainloads of Russian merchants and prostitutes flood back to take advantage of China's new economic momentum.

Since 1985, Harbin has been host to the Harbin Snow and Ice Festival held during the month of January, it is China’s original and greatest ice artwork festival, and one of the largest of its kind in the world.

We fly into Beijing and check into the Raffles Beijing Hotel as we have done several times previously. Several special rates can be found on their Internet site as they aggressively try to attract guests. The hotel is centrally located between the Forbidden City/Tienanmen Square and a major shopping area on Wangfujing Street and our favorite massage place. Here is a photo of the lobby.

The next morning we taxi to the airport and fly to Harbin and check into the Sangria La Harbin Hotel into a room overlooking the Songhua River. Judith arranged to have the hotel car pick us up making the trip comfortable and stress free as the driver made our way on snow covered roads that had been treated with ashes to help traction. I realized that the temperatures at Harbin would render road salt useless.


I took this photo through the hotel window. The sun seems to be trying vainly to stay above the horizon. It is as cold outside as this photo portrays.

Later, the ice festival buildings and grounds can be seen with the lights turned on.

As you can see the festival covers several acres, with tall structures and lots of lights. Later we go for a brief and cold visit.

That evening we sign up to eat at the Ice Palace. The Ice Palace is a small restaurant constructed entirely of ice which is accessed off the back door of the hotel. The meal is a hot pot which requires that various meats and vegetables be placed into the boiling mixture of exotic broth and cooked until done. The problem was that use of chop sticks is not possible with a thick pair of gloves and our hands got quite cold. It helped when they brought a heated stone, but that too became cold before dinner was over. In fact toward the end of the meal, the still unused food was frozen to the plates.


This is fine hotel with larger rooms and we stay for 4 nights. After we are settled off we go to see the snow sculpture part of the Winter Festival.