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Monday, December 2, 2013

THAILAND, CROATIA, SAN FRANCISCO AND CHINA

By now you no doubt have realized it is December.  This week I'll largely be focusing on what's happening around the world, so let me begin with:

1.  Thailand:  they're rioting again.  Only four have died so far, but the danger is escalation.  It was five years ago that both Bangkok airports were shut down by the opposition group.  It took two weeks to gain normalcy if you wanted to fly out.  I barely left in time, which influenced a future trip here to depart by way of the Orient Express to Singapore.  Why are all these countries of Southeast Asia so different?  I've been to this part of the world at least 25 times, maybe even close to 50, so I'll share some insights later this week.  For now, be cautious about visiting Bangkok today.  And if you do go, avoid wearing red or yellow t-shirts.

2.  Croatia:  while people of the same sex could for first time officially tie the knot in Hawaii today, Croatians voted yesterday, resoundingly, to ban gay marriages.  Why?  Nearly 90% of them are Catholics.  The USA and Hawaii numbers are less than 20%.

3.  San Francisco:  mercury poisoning?  While there are contrasting reports, the general conclusion is that the Gold Miners 150 years ago released so much mercury that this poison is still flowing into San Francisco Bay, and will for another 10,000 years..  If you thought panning for gold was the only way, nope, around the world up to 15 million gold miners in 70 countries get their gold by amalgamation:  that is, mercury can capture specks of gold.  Most of the mercury used today goes towards this operation. 140 countries two months ago signed the United Nations Minamata Convention to regulate the use of mercury.  It was 57 years ago when more than a thousand died from mercury poisoning in this Japanese city.  Those living in and around San Francisco, as for example, Yuba City, if you're alive, no need to worry, especially with recent reports that San Francisco Bay might be getting cleaner, after all.


4.  China:  Jade Rover is on its way for a Moon landing around the middle of this month.  Great, 54 years after the Soviet Union accomplished this feat.  Call it what you want, but China did have a "controlled" crash on the Moon in 2009.  We quickly forget, but the USA experienced FIFTEEN consecutive failures from 1958 to 1964 to land on the Moon.  The Soviet Union also was the first to send a human into orbit in 1961, but the space race might well have been a big part of why the country fell apart to end the Cold War.  China plans to send a man to the moon around 2025, and Russia has re-entered these sweepstakes.  Amazingly enough, movies notwithstanding, they have never sent a human mission to the Moon.  We, thankfully, have no plans to return anytime soon.  There are, though, some signs that we might be upgrading our Mars effort.  With sequestration in the offing?  I hardly think this should be a priority.  But India's Mangalyaan (means Mars in Hindi) left Earth's orbit yesterday on a 10 month journey to map the Martian weather system:


While some wish them well, for it certainly is a thrifty attempt, many others wonder why such a waste of money.  If our future survival was at stake, as during Cold War, sure, take charge.  For now, it is fine, and maybe even smart, to let China, Russia and India test their national budget with these expensive space hardware experiments.  Yet, there is that imaginative delusion many have, that idyllic romance of space, for 100,000 applied to participate in the Mars One project to colonize the Red Planet on a one-way adventure:


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