Friday, April 28, 2006

Nepal parliament reconvenes after four years

The Nepal parliament, or at least one accepted by the majority of the people, reconvened today in Katmandu.

Ministers promised to hold elections aimed at cutting the power of the monarchy after King Gyanendra toppled the government in 2002.

Gyanendra claimed that the sitting parliament was unable to deal with the Maoist insurgency at the time, and has held autocratic power for the last four years. The king tried to deflect opposition by holding elections in which his hand-picked candidates always won.

If anything, the Maoist attacks only increased during the king's reign at the top.

The new Parliament leader Girija Prasad Koirala, 84, did not attend the session due to a bout with bronchitis.

Maoist rebels, apparently satisfied with the new situation, declared a three-month ceasefire Thursday.

With the protests over and the new ceasefire, the important tourism industry may begin to return to normal. The Himalayan nation is a magnet to trekkers and mountain climbers boasting the highest peaks in the world.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Sri Lanka bombing kills nine, 27 wounded

A bomber appearing as a pregnant woman blew herself up near military headquarters in Colombo, Sri Lanka killing at least nine people.

Sri Lanka forces stand watch as helicopters fly overhead in Colombo
Sri Lanka forces stand watch as helicopters fly overhead in Colombo (Feb. 4, 2006). Reuters photo from Yahoo News

The blast further brought a 2002 ceasefire near the brink as government aircraft attacked rebel positions of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Violence escalated recently in the most serious challenge to the Norway-mediated truce.

The Tamil Tigers are fighting for a homeland in Tamil-dominated areas. They claim that the original inhabitants of the country, the Naga kingdom, were related to present-day Tamils.

Many Sinhalis, the majority population, claim that Tamils came only in relatively recent times, mostly during the medieval period.

Sri Lanka defends strikes against Tigers

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Doubt over deal between Nepal King and opposition

Katmandu continued to witness massive protests despite an apparent deal between King Gyanendra and leaders of the opposition Nepal Congress party.

Although many proclaimed victory over the breakthrough, just as many appeared apprehensive over any agreement with the monarch.

Many insisted on the creation of a new assembly to rewrite the constitution, and called for stripping the monarchy of any true political power.

Maoists, who had for the first time entered into coalition with Nepal's political parties, rejected the negotiations as a "sham" and threatened a blockade of Katmandu and other centers unless a constitutional convention is called. They also demanded that the monarchy should be written into history.

Sher Bahadur Deuba, prime minister when Gyanendra dissolved Parliament in 2002, has reportedly nominated another former prime minister, his one-time protege and foe, GP Koirala, to take the helm.

Over the next few days or weeks, we will have to see how well the opposition coalition holds together. According to early reports, all seven political parties in the coalition have agreed to Koirala resuming as prime minister.

Power to the People -- Nepali Times

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Bin Laden releases new tape

Osama bin Laden appears to have released a new audio tape Sunday urging his followers to continue fighting against "crusader plunderers."

The tape was aired on the Sunday broadcast of the al-Jazeera television network. News analysts believe the voice and mannerisms on the tape are authentic. Previously al-Jazeera has released what world intelligence agencies believe were real messages from the al-Qaeda leader.

Bin Laden last released a taped message on January 19 when he offered a "truce" to Western powers without specific conditions. In the latest message, he urges his fighters to resist Westerners working in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Ayman al-Zawahri, al-Qaeda's second in command addressed followers less than two weeks ago praising the resistance in Iraq. Tapes of bin Laden, al Zawahri and other al-Qaeda operatives are routinely posted on Internet sites.

In the Sunday broadcast, bin Laden accused the West of meddling in Sudan's affairs to "steal the region's oil" and to aid the south in breaking away to form its own government. He also condemned the blockade of the Hamas government in Palestine.

Hamas responded saying that it had a very different ideology than al-Qaeda, but agreed that isolation of Hamas would cause tensions in the region.

Interview with Osama bin Laden's bodyguard

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Nepal king returns power to people

Bowing under the pressure of street protests, Nepal's King Gyanendra relinquished absolute rule today. In a nationwide address, he said that power would be "returned to the people from this day forward."

Observers are waiting to see if the king's announcement will appease his opponents who have been calling for an end to the office altogether.

Gyanendra said that he was committed to "constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy" indicating possibly a return to the former state of things.

Protester holds up picture of King Gyanendra in Katmandu
Protester holds up picture of King Gyanendra in Katmandu while shouting slogans

However, this would still leave the king with the ability to remove any government at will. The constitutional monarchy in Nepal invests Gyanendra and his successors with more power than in most similar royal setups.

Also despite the seeming compromise, a harsh crackdown on his opponents continued with two prominent leaders arrested on Friday.

Huge street protests proceeded Friday with some 150,000 people marching in the suburbs of Katmandu despite a "shoot-to-kill" daytime curfew. Three people were killed Friday bringing the total dead since the beginning of the strike to 14.

Many of the marchers shouted for the end of the royal tradition, and some demanded the king's arrest.

Gyanendra will have a hard time staying in power even as a constitutional monarch with such a tarnished image. The prospect of his very unpopular son succeeding him also concenrs many Nepalis. Crown Prince Paras is known in Nepal as a heavy drinker with a haughty attitude to the common people.

Nepal unsure about King's statement

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Protesters greet Hu Jintao at White House

Protesters representing the Falun Gong meditation group, Taiwan and Tibet greeted Chinese President Hu Jintao on his first visit to the White House.

One woman from the Falun Gong group heckled Hu as he addressed the press on the South Lawn of the White House.

According to reports, little progress was made on China's record US$202 billion trade deficit when Hu met with President George W. Bush. Many in the U.S. think China should do more to bring up the value of the yuan, the Chinese currency, and to control software piracy.

There are many analysts, however, who believe that any realistic rise in the yuan will have little effect on the trade deficit. Some see the situation more as one in which China has more goods that the U.S. needs, than vice a versa. One area that looks promising from the U.S. perspective is the growing appetite for car ownership in China.

Hu and Bush also discussed Beijing's role as mediator in the nuclear standoff between North Korea and the United States. Pyongyang recently has refused to join six-way talks on its nuclear program.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Bloodshed rising in Nepal, Sri Lanka

Instability seems almost contagious these days in South Asia with some degree of unrest plaguing Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India.

In Nepal, four protesters were killed and many wounded in the worse day of violence since the beginning of the general strike against King Gyanendra.

Authorities imposed a daytime curfew for Thursday with shoot-to-kill orders.

Members of the opposition Nepali Congress Party, the largest member of the coaliton against Gyanendra's autocracy, said a planned rally Thursday would still go ahead as planned.

Ten people were killed far to the south in the nation of Sri Lanka were a ceasefire between the government and Tamil rebels looked in danger of collapsing.

Norway has sent a mission in an attempt to stabilize the situation.

Combine the situation in these countries with the ongoing terrorist strikes in India and Pakistan, and its not a pretty picture. As in many other destabilized regions, poverty is a huge factor, and South Asia is one of the world's poorest regions.

Surely other ingredients like religion and politics are involved, but poverty, particularly the extreme variety, is to extremism what oil is to the world economy.

No amount of high technology, military spending or preemptive strikes can match the extremist who knows how to woo the victims of poverty.

Australian troops in Solomon Islands to quell riots

Australian troops arrived in the Solomon Islands Wednesday after riots broke out in the capital Honiara's Chinatown district.

Rioters protesting the election of Prime Minister Snyder Rini injured at least 17 Australian and New Zealand police in clashes that began outside the Parliament House.

The disturbances moved to Chinatown were Rini receives much of his support and more than 50 Chinese shop owners were evacuated.

New Zealand doubled its police presence in the Solomons in response to the unrest.

In 2003, Australia led the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) which helped calm unrest during the term of Prime Minister Sir Allan Kemakeza. An Australian Protective Service officer was killed in Honiara in December 2004.

Australian police in Solomon Islands criticized

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Mt. Merapi threatens to erupt

Indonesia's Mount Merapi volcano belched smoke, steam and lava Tuesday and volcanologists said a major eruption is possible.

Located on heavily-populated Java island, Merapi last blew its top in 1992 killing 60 people. During the 1930 eruption about 1,300 were killed.

Only 18 miles from the million-plus population of Yogyakarta and 250 miles from the capital of Jakarta, Merapi is one of 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia. Authorities are preparing for possible evacuations and relief supplies have been moved into place.

Indonesia sits in the "Ring of Fire," a region known for its intense volcanic activity. The 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora on the eastern Indonesian island of Sumbawa is believed to be the largest in recorded history.

The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the neighboring Philippines, which is also situated in the Ring of Fire, was the second largest eruption of this century and by far the largest to affect a densely-populated area.

Somce scientists even believe a mega-eruption of Mount Toba on the island of Borneo some 80,000 years ago caused the last Ice Age.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Nepal police kill protester, food and fuel runs scarce

Nepalese forces fired at protesters in a southern town kililng one and wounding five.

A general strike against King Gyanendra of Nepal's Shahi dynasty has crippled the capital city of Katmandu causing shortages of food and fuel.

Police also fought again with protesters in the capital injuring several people with rubber bullets and tear gas.

Police attack demonstrators and tourists during anti-monarcy protests in Katmandu, Nepal
Police attack protesters and supporting tourists in Katmandu on Monday. AP photo from Yahoo News.

Troops are accompanying convoys of trucks in an attempt to restore the flow of supplies into Katmandu. Prices for food have risen sharply since the strike began with vegetables increasing by five times.

Opposition leaders also called on expatriate Nepalis, estimated to number 1.6 million, to stop paying taxes and other money owed to the government as part of an all-out economic offensive.

The king, once regarded as an incarnation of the god Visnu, has been the target of many harsh slogans from protesters. Even usually staunch royalists have been reserved or even secretive lately in their support for the king.

Many protesters openly insist Gyanendra must go and no longer envision even a return to constitutional monarchy.

One thought that I have had is that Gyanendra may have assumed autocratic control to clear a path for his highly-unpopular son Paras. The crown prince was the target of angry protests by expatriate Nepalis earlier this year when he visited Austria. Many believe he was responsible for the royal massacre in some way, and during Gyanendra's coronation demonstrators mainly targeted Paras with their slogans.

A heavy drinker, Paras killed a very popular singer in an drunken accident, and was once said to have hit a policeman with the butt of his rifle when stopped alledgedly for driving under the influence.

King no longer sacred in Nepal

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Philippine President Macapagal lifts 1200 death sentences

In what may be the latest attempt to repair her damaged image, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo commuted 1,200 death sentences Sunday.

At least 11 al-Qaida linked convicts were among those whose sentences were lifted by the beleagured Macapagal.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo with husband Jose Miguel Arroyo, left, and Supreme Court Justice Reynato Puno, during funeral services for Puno's late wife on Sunday
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo with husband Jose Miguel Arroyo, left, and Supreme Court Justice Reynato Puno, during funeral services for Puno's late wife on Sunday. Malacanang Palace photo from AP and Yahoo News.

The death penalty is strongly opposed by the country's Roman Catholic Church, which lately has not been strongly supportive of the president. Indeed many bishops have been among her harshest critics.

No executions have been carried out in the country since 2000.

While the move may have helped her with some Catholic leaders, victims rights groups were incensed by the announcement.

Macapagal's recent declaration of a state of emergency to put down a purported coup attempt has been widely criticized by her opponents and in the press.

Calls for her resignation have increased since allegations of corruption in the last election. Macapagal, however, has said she is determined to finish her term and to lead the nation's switch to a parliamentary form of government.

China continues blistering growth

China's economy grew by 10.2 percent in the first quarter showing no evidence that the juggernaut is slowing down.

Worker in China rests in front of poster. China's economy grew by 10.2 percent in first quarter
Worker rests in front of billboard in Shanghai. Reuters photo from Yahoo News

The rising yuan seems to have had no dampering effect on Chinese growth and that could encourage President Hu Jintao to allow the currency to creep even higher.

U.S. legislators have claimed that the yuan is as much as 40 percent undervalued giving the Chinese an unfair trade advantage.

Even within China there is some fear that the economy may be growing too fast and that monetary adjustments are desirable to prevent overheating.

Current growth rates have exceeded government expectations, part of a regular trend and Hu expressed reservations about excessively rapid expansion.

"We are concerned about the pace of development and the quality and the effect of our growth. We are also concerned about saving our resources, environmental protection and the improvement of our people's livelihood."

China GDP posts real 10.2% growth in January-March: Xinhua

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Japan's call for a vast Asian free trade zone

More than a decade ago, when Malaysia led efforts for an expansive Asian free trade zone, Japan's reluctance to participate stymied progress.

These days it is Japan that is leading the effort. Tokyo's logic back then was that entering into free trade agreements (FTAs) with poorer nations would be to its disadvantage. Now it seems to realize that red-hot growth in the Asian region represents opportunities.

Japan's own policy of going it alone against large trade pacts like the EU and NAFTA has exposed further weaknesses in its chosen path.

Today Japan is negotiating a multilateral deal with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and bilateral FTAs with many Asian nations.

It has also called recently for a massive Asian free trade zone that would include China and India, making it geographically and population-wise, the world's largest.

Some analysts see Japan's move as a response to increasing competition posed by China's rapid growth and influence in the region. However both the Chinese and South Koreans have been sealing deals for FTAs with other nations faster than Japan, and this may have provided a wake-up call for Tokyo.

Japan's moves are a welcome sign that it wishes to integrate, at least economically, with its neighbors and that's a good start.

Japan pushes massive Asian free-trade zone

Friday, April 14, 2006

Asian Pacific Islander Americans and Immigration (HR 4437)

The Asian Pacific Islander American (APA) community is no stranger to problems with immigration law.

They have been the victims of laws that excluded them from becoming citizens, laws that prevented them from owning land and laws that prohibited them from marrying other races.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first law to ban immigration by race or nationality in U.S. history.

Approximately one million of 14 million Asians in America are illegal immigrants. About 1.5 million Asians have applications for citizenship or permanent residence.

While the proposed immigration legislation, HR 4437, looks like toast at the moment, the harshness of the bill cannot be overstressed. For example, a student on an F1 visa who dropped below full-time status or a sacked H1 visa worker could be regarded as "criminal."

Immigrants could be denied citizenship on the flimsiest of grounds through the bill's liberal interpretation of "moral character." The "criminal" immigrants could be deported even back to nations where they could be placed in grave danger because of their political status or other reasons.

Fortunately, most nationwide APA groups have come out strongly against the immigration bill, even if the APA faces have been less visible among those marching on the streets.

The Stake for Asian Americans in Immigration Reform

Japan asks China for transparency on military buildup

Japan asked China to be more open about its military buildup on Friday.

Noting that China has increased military spending by about 10 percent over the last 18 years, Japan called for more transparency on the purpose of the Chinese armed forces.

The People's Republic of China (PRC) has long been secretive about its development programs and has sought advanced technology elsewhere especially from Russia. China has purchased advanced Russian weapons systems like the Su-27 and Su-30 fighter jets, and the S-300 air defense system.

Russian Su-27 fighters perform in China
Russian Su-27 jets perform in China's Hunan province. Reuters Photo from Yahoo News

Indigneous PRC military technologies include the Y-8 AWACS command and control aircraft and the Y-8 electronic warfare plane. They also produce their own third and fourth generation fighters like the J-11, J-10 and J-7H. The J-XX project is believed to be one of the first truly indigenous leading-edge fighter aircraft developments by China.

The extent of China's technological ascent can also be seen in its rapidly-expanding manned spaceflight program.

China exports large quantities of arms to other countries including highly-lauded battlefield systems like the TY-90 mobile air defense missiles.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Nepal king calls for new elections, opposition says too late

Nepal's King Gyanendra bowing under the pressure of a general strike and mass protests called for new elections today.

Addressing the nation during the Hindu New Year, Gyanendra said that general elections will be held in April 2007.

The monarch hinted though that the Maoist elements would not be considered in any polls.

The largest opposition party, the Nepali Congress, rejected the offer. They have claimed in the past that the king has rigged the polls assuring that his own candidates get elected.

On Friday, the United Nations warned Nepal against using "excessive force" against protesters calling for an end to autocratic rule. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said he was "concerned" over events in the country and urged both sides to enter into dialogue.

Gyanendra took control of the country 14 months ago by arbitrarily sacking the elected government.

Is Katrina-hit New Orleans ready for hurricane season?

Today lots of blame was ladled out for the response to Hurricane Katrina and the preparation for a disaster that everyone knew was coming.

Lack of preparation in New Orleans was largely about poverty and race, but not entirely. There is a general lax attitude when it comes to environmental problems as compared to something sexier like terrorism.

In Sacramento where I'm at they have the country's most questionable dam holding back flood waters from the capital of the country's most economically-important state. Even the surrounding backwater delta area is extremely important as it supplies water to the more populous southern California region.

Not sure what can be done about the New Orleans levees in so short amount of time. Fixing the levees and dam here in Sacramento creeps along at a snail's pace despite serious floods that have occured over the last few decades.

One recommendation for the hard-hit Gulf region is to build new houses on piles at least three feet above the ground.

Given the last two hurricane seasons, everyone is looking to see if the trend will continue. Some meterologists are predicting a busy season and at least one very prominent weather expert thinks 2006 can be worse than last year if damaged areas suffer a direct hit:

Hurricane Expert: 'The 2006 Season CAN Be Worse than 2005'

Bird flu due in North America this fall

From all accounts, the avian influenza virus should cross into the "Western hemisphere" this fall on the wings of a migrating bird or two.

This past year has seen a rapid expansion of the bird flu into West Asia, Europe and Africa.

According to a U.N. report the bird flu shoud arrive with the fall snow goose migration into Canada and the United States. The most likely route will be across the Aleutian islands into Alaska.

Although some U.S. officials have discounted the impending arrival of the virus at least with regard to domestic poultry and people, there are some reasons to be alarmed.

Just going by the numbers, the greater the spread of the virus the more chances it has of mutating into a human-transmittable form. Genetic mutations are random events, so more infected birds means more viruses. Each time the virus multiplies, there is a chance of a mutation that could transmit among humans.

Also the variability of the virus increases as it is introduced into new species. The genetic region in the DNA where changes take place becomes more expansive as a result.

We would have to be very lucky for this not to become a human epidemic because of the vast reach of the virus. However, one hope is that this bird flu strain might not be as severe as the so-called Spanish Flu that hit during World War I.

Although the current disease contracted directly from birds is even significantly more deadly than the Spanish Flu, there is a chance that a mutation causing a human epidemic may produce a less virulent type. The impact would still be severe but not as catastrophic as in some well-publicized scenarios.

Bird Flu Will Reach U.S. and Canada This Fall, Experts Predict

China meets only half of environmental goals

China announced today that it only achieved half of its environmental goals for the period from 2000 to 2005.

Older images of Chinese making their way around on bicycles is rapidly giving way to desires by the new middle class for automobiles.

The country also depends much on highly-polluting coal to produce energy for its fast-growing economy.

Rickshaw in China, country fails to meet environmental goals
AFP photo from Yahoo Asia News

Nations in the Asia Pacific region have generally been favorable to plans like the Kyoto Protocol but their ability to meet stated goals is another question.

Rapid growth in the region and an increasingly competitive spirit among the people often hampers governmental ability to handle the resulting production of polluting by-products.

One of the more successful strategies has been to implement newer more environmentally-friendly technologies, and other methods that do not rely on curbing growth.

China meets only half of environmental goals

China announced today that it only achieved half of its environmental goals for the period from 2000 to 2005.

Older images of Chinese making their way around on bicycles is rapidly giving way to desires by the new middle class for automobiles.

The country also depends much on highly-polluting coal to produce energy for its fast-growing economy.

Nations in the Asia Pacific region have generally been favorable to plans like the Kyoto Protocol but their ability to meet stated goals is another question.

Rapid growth in the region and an increasingly competitive spirit among the people often hampers governmental ability to handle the resulting production of polluting by-products.

One of the more successful strategies has been to implement newer more environmentally-friendly technologies, and other methods that do not rely on curbing growth.

Berlusconi claims hamper new Prodi government

Silvio Berlusconi alleged massive election fraud after the apparent victory of Romano Prodi's Left coalition.

Berlusconi has been searching for about 25,000 votes from disputed ballots to reverse the poll in his favor. The fraud charges are likely to delay any new government from taking office for at least a month. The billionaire's Right coalition has mostly supported his claims.

In the end the election could be decided by expatriates whose votes still are not counted. President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi has refused to name a victor in the race saying that he would leave that up to his successor. Some believe he may change his mind in the event of a Supreme Court ruling.

The victory, if it remains so, marks the latest evidence of a resurgence of the Left in European politics. The Left's victory in Spanish elections, and the recent retreat of the French government on controversial employment "reform" are other examples.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

GMO safety under scrutiny in EU

Fortunately, the European Union is coming to grips with safety concerns over genetically-modified organisms (GMOs).

EU Commissioner Stavros Dimas brought into question the quality of GMO safety tests and said that risks were present that endangered biodiversity.

They may be a bit of an understatement considering this technology is as unnatural as splicing fish genes into a garbanzo bean using cell-invading viruses.

The EU's Parma-based agency in charge of GMO testing has been criticized over its procedures in handling products destined for the EU market.

Eight EU countries have all-out bans including Austria, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Greece while other countries have partial restrictions on GMOs. The Polish government, for example, has been considering banning planting of GMO crops.

Many states and provinces in the EU are GMO-free zones even if the biotechnology is legal in the respective country as a whole.

If the old adage 'you are, what you eat' holds true, then we must use utmost caution and indeed reject these "Franken-foods" as risks to our health and to the biodiversity of the planet.

Iran to use 54,000 centrifuges for nuclear fuel

Continuing a PR blitz, Iran said it was intent on producing nuclear fuel and would use a facility in the town of Natanz to supply a 1,000 megawatt nuclear plant.

Yesterday Iran claimed to have enriched uranium in centrifuges in defiance of a U.N. Security Council directive.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice called for "strong steps" to stop Iran's march toward nuclear power.

However, at present it seems as though the Security Council, not to speak of the United Nations itself, is divided on the issue. Many members have expressed a willingness to wait for a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency due at the end of April.

U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton said the U.S. would "look at other alternative" if the Security Council did not act.

America has already leveled economic sanctions against North Korea for that country's defiance of U.S. dictates on nuclear development.

First World Buddhist Forum in China, Dalai Lama and Karmapa not invited

As President Hu Jintao heads to the U.S., China will host the First World Buddhist Forum on Thursday and running until April 18.

China may be hoping the forum will show the country's tolerance for religion and cultural diversity, but two prominent Buddhist leaders have not been allowed to attend the event.

The Dalai Lama and the Karmapa, both having fled from Chinese-ruled Tibet to India, were not invited.

Instead China will promote their own choice for the position of Panchen Lama, an office nearly as powerful as that of the Dalai Lama. China elected its own choice for that seat, and has detained the Panchen Lama selected in the traditional ways of Tibet.

Gyaltsen Norbu, the Chinese pick, was introduced to the forum guests during a pre-event meeting with government officials. According to reports other attendees failed to publicly greet Gyaltsen Norbu in a sign that they did not recognize his right to the office.

Da Vinci Code faces new lawsuit

Russian author Dr Mikhail Anikin claims that Dan Brown, author of the Da Vinci Code has plagiarised his book, Leonardo Da Vinci: Theology In Paint.

Brown recently defeated a legal challenge by the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, a book he obviously used in writing his own novel.

The lawsuits appear aimed at getting a piece of the pie from the forthcoming release of the Da Vinci Code movie in May. Holy Blood, Holy Grail sales have shot up and Michael Baigent, one of the co-authors, recently released The Jesus Papers, which is also having brisk sales.

Brown's Da Vinci Code is currently number one on USA TODAY's best-seller list.

All the hype will undoubtedly help the box office receipts of the movie, although the legal troubles may have scratched any plans for a Holy Week release a la Mel Gibson and The Passion.

Unlike Gibson's film which was generally lauded in Christian circles, the Da Vinci Code has ruffled the feathers of folk in the Vatican and elsewhere.

Many see it as an attempt to integrate "New Age" or "Eastern" concepts of the divine female with traditional Christianity.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Dalai Lama and Chinese President visits to coincide

In what could be a great opportunity for Asia, the Dalai Lama and Chinese President Hu Jintao will both visit the United States at the same time during late April.

Although the two are not scheduled to meet, China has recently stated that it does not rule out a visit by the Dalai Lama to China. And for the Dalai Lama's part, he has over the past decade made it clear that he is seeking true autonomy rather than independence from Beijing.

The Tibetan religious leader will be attending inter-faith meetings in San Franciso before heading on a two-week trip to South America.

Hu is slated to meet with President George W. Bush and many believe that the U.S. will use the visit to pressure China on various issues.

The 70-year-old Dalai Lama fled Tibet after the invasion of 1959 and has said that he would like to return and live the rest of his days in his home country.

Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, capital of exiled Tibetan nation in March, 2006. AFP photo from Yahoo Asian News.

Iran enriches uranium, claims peaceful use

Iran claimed today that it had acquired the capability of enriching uranium enabling the country to produce nuclear energy.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared that the process would only be used for the peaceful production of energy and not to make nuclear weapons.

Iran has said it desires to operate nuclear power plants following the regulations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and under supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iranian official holds capsule of uranium gas. AP Photo from Yahoo News

The U.N. Security Council under pressure from the U.S. called on Iran to stop uranium enrichment as it felt that Iran is intent on using radioactive by-products to make weapons.

Legally the argument is weak as no hard evidence has been brought forward of any Iranian nuclear weapons program. The country is developing advanced ballistic missiles in cooperation with North Korea.

These weapons though need not be armed with nuclear warheads.

We've already seen in Iraq how such accusations of WMD programs can have no basis in reality.

While it may be hard for some to accept it is possible that the ayatollahs could simply be interested in nuclear power. They might use this power to build more non WMD weapons, but that is within their rights.

Many feel the moment of a U.S. or Israeli airstrike is not far off. But Iran doesn't seem overly worried.

They have at least two major allies -- Russia and China. The former in particular has been doing most of the work on Iranian nuclear sites. Both countries have said they would oppose U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran.

The West would probably be wiser to engage the Iranians and accept international oversight of their program. Unless real evidence, rather than accusation, is brought to the fore a consensus on action is not likely to occur. And as long as Iran has Russia and China in their corner, they are unlikely to cede to Western pressure.

Nepal unrest continues, curfew extended

Police fired on stone-throwing protesters at the mountain resort of Pokhara west of the Nepalese capital of Katmandu Tuesday.

Unrest continues as the government extended daytime curfews to quell the protests. The location of Pokhara is significant as this is an old recruiting stronghold for Gurkhas, the traditional defenders of the monarchy.

Pokhara's Gurung population has long offered its sons to Gurkha units in large numbers. The Gurung ethnic group together with the Magars, Rai, Limbu and Chettri have traditionally made up the vast bulk of Gurkha troops.

Although the king is envisioned by some Nepalis as an incarnation of the god Visnu, the recent massacre of the former royal family has tainted the monarchy.

Unlike his brother Gyanendra, the former king Birendra enjoyed some popularity especially after he ceded to street protests calling for the dismantling of the traditional Panchayat governing system.

Both sides are digging trenches with the government conducting house-to-house searches, and the seven party opposition vowing to continue the strike indefinitely.

Schools, transportation, stores and other services have been shut down by the strike.

Pakistan bombing relates to Iraq

At least 45 people were reported killed and an unknown number were injured after a bombing of a Sunni Muslim gathering near Karachi, Pakistan.

The blast follows one in February that targeted Shi'a worshippers and killed 40.

Pakistan is similar to Iraq in that both countries have deep divisions between Sunni and Shi'a followers.

Shi'ites compose about 23 percent of the population of Pakistan and are a majority in Iraq making up 60 percent of the populace.

The two groups regularly target each other's religious sanctuaries and events in both countries.

In Iraq, this religious division threatens to prevent any near-term stabilization of the government. With Iran, the world's largest Shi'a nation in between Iraq and Pakistan, the situation is even more volatile.

Ironically, after overthrowing the relatively secular Saddam Hussein, a Baath socialist, Iraq is now in danger of falling into the hands of truly sectarian Shi'ite forces.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Immigrants rally for dignity

Hundreds of thousands of people demanding rights and citizenship for illegal immigrants protested in nearly 70 cities and towns across the U.S. The national day of action was dubbed the "Campaign for Immigrants' Dignity."

The rallies come after key immigration reform legislation in Congress reached an impasse last week.

Apparently the large crowds have had an impact on the legislators. Both major parites have been courting Latinos the fastest-growing voting population in the country.

A Korean drummer, Grace Nam, performing at a protest in New York City was quoted by the Associated Press as saying: "We just need to make our voices heard. You want to live in a place where people are treated with dignity."

It's estimated that there were some 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. in 2005. In some sectors, they make up an important part of the work force.

North Korea, Iran and the Nuclear Issue

North Korea's refusal to enter into six-way talks on its nuclear program might be related directly to the nuclear confrontation between the U.S. and Iran.

The recent rumors of possible strike planning against Iran must be making their way to Pyongyang. Indeed yesterday, the official Korea Central News Agency again stated that the nation was prepared for any "pre-emptive" strike and specifically mentioned the U.S.

All the talk of attacks on Iran and even the possible use of nuclear weapons against its underground facilities only create an atmosphere of distrust, and fuel hatred against America.

Most people now realize that pre-emptive warfare does nothing to increase world security. What it has done is increase human suffering and an atmosphere of belligerence among the world's nations. The Asia Pacific region has no real interest in isolating North Korea and its people.

It doesn't take a genius to see the hypocrisy in forcing a nation not to build its own nuclear weapons, while threatening it with one's own nukes.

La Niña, El Niño and global warming

Here in Sacramento we've been experiencing a very wet winter and spring. Rivers are at dangerous levels and just to the south the San Joaquin river system is at its second highest level ever.

Sacramento is ranked as having the lowest flood protection of any major U.S. city, including New Orleans. Two major rivers meet near the downtown area and many streams run into the city from the nearby foothills. Like New Orleans much of the metropolitan area depends on levee protection.

Prolonged wet and cold weather has been blamed on the La Niña weather pattern. Both El Niño and La Niña are cyclical phenomenon that occur in the east Pacific Ocean.

La Niña involves cooler than normal waters in the tropical Pacific. However, both weather oscillations are related, and many scientists believe they are also linked with global warming.

There are two major theories that connect global warming with these patterns. One claims that the higher temperatures cause increased seawater evaporation, charging the atmosphere with greater moisture. This, in turn, results in wetter storms.

The other theory states that the weather patterns act as a type of 'pressure valve' ejecting heat from the Pacific region. As global warming means more heat, the frequency of the oscillations increases and we have more El Niños and La Niñas .

Unfortunately many countries still have not warmed up to the Kyoto Protocol to control greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Even after the Pentagon listed the weather trend, and not terrorism, as the greatest threat facing America, the world's largest polluter still refuses to go along.

Remember global warming as caused by industrial pollution is not normal or natural. For some 10,000 years, we have enjoyed relatively predictable weather patterns that have become part of our traditions. For the first time in history, humans have been able to directly effect climate to some degree.

Just a small degree, but that is enough to have major impact on the way we live.

Greenhouse gases caused primarily by fossil fuel burning trap heat in the atmosphere warming the world's oceans. The increased heat fuels tropical storms and may effect oscillations like El Niño-La Niña. It can also increase melting of polar ice caps and glaciers and possibly change the course of ocean currents. The former can increase sea levels causing coastal flooding while the latter changes normal weather patterns.

Put simply, not dealing with global warming is like playing global celebrity poker. You don't know what hand you will be dealt. However, practically any change will likely have a negative effect because it upsets the current balance and setup.

Just something to think about as another big storm heads this way.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Tiger Woods misses Masters

Tiger Woods, the world's most famous "Cablasian" failed to win his fifth Masters title after missing too many putts today. Phil Mickelson took the green jacket earning his second Masters title.

Woods has been under lots of stress lately due to the very serious condition of his father, who inspired the golfer to take up the sport.

One can't forget though that Woods made maybe his greatest shot yet when he recently lamented the lack of diversity in professional golf.

Tiger had always played seemingly to inspire pride in his father, and one thing Earl Woods had hoped for was that his son would change the status quo.

Some 10 years ago, Woods said his son "will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity." Tiger could be feeling, with his father's desperate condition, that it's time to start changing things.

Adidas sneakers flaunt offensive Asian images

Again we've seen a major U.S. corporation using negative caricatures of Asians on their products.

This time it's a new limited-edition Adidas sneaker displaying an image of an Asian man with "bowl-cut hair, slanted eyes, pig nose and buck teeth."

Adidas said the image is not offensive and the artist is part-Asian, but Asian American activist and community groups don't appear convinced.

Abercrombie & Fitch was that last major offender of this type, and their negative Asian stereotypes brought boycott actions.

It would be interesting to investigate whether products containing the offensive images actually do well on the market. After all, it's all about the money.

Here's a link to the whole story from the San Jose Mercury News:

Outcry over Adidas sneaker images

Crisis in Nepal

Protesters have violated curfews in Nepal resulting in hundreds of more arrests and at least one death.

The agitation is aimed at the country's king Gyanendra who sacked the democratic government headed by Sher Bahadur Deuba. In recent elections a new parliament was elected but many view it as a puppet regime with the king as head autocrat.

Ever since the tragic death of the former king, the country has been on shaky ground. Many believe that King Gyanendra's son Paras was actually the culprit behind that massacre rather than Crown Prince Dipendra. Prince Paras has long been disliked by the Nepalese public. His disfavor increased when he killed a popular Nepalese pop star in a car accident.

Now his father Gyanendra is matching his son's unpopularity.

With a seething Maoist insurgency spreading throughout the country, Gyanendra must respond to the people's cries for true democracy.