China launches its first aircraft carrier

But it’s used and has no planes. China bought the vessel in 1998 from Ukraine and had it refurbished – few details of its capabilities are known. But, from Reuters, “defense experts say it lacks the strike aircraft, weapons, electronics, training and logistical support it needs to become a fighting warship.” And so it will stay in the training fleet until they figure out how to land a plane on it.

The response has largely been mocking, from the Brisbane Times, ”if it is used against America, it has no survivability. If it is used against China’s neighbours, it’s a sign of bullying.” And those neighbors are the ones in the crossfire. Japan has disputed territory with China in the East China Sea and the Philippines are arguing over a shoal in the South China Sea.

Still, it is a sign of the rising military power of the Chinese – after all, only 9 countries have an aircraft carrier. Seven of them only have one, Italy has two, and the United Kingdom only uses theirs for helicopters. So the launch could be a symbol of pride, that the Chinese are equal to the other powers. But they have a long journey ahead to challenge the United States and our 11 aircraft carriers.

 

Continue reading China launches its first aircraft carrier

Visit Wales and its 641 castles – a mixture of gothic, medieval, and Victorian styles

With its rolling hills and numerous royal conquests, there’s no place where history comes alive in such a lush setting as it does in Wales. Everywhere you look, the evidence of kings, queens, conflict and empire call to you. There are more than 600 castles – 641 to be precise – so even without trying you’ll come across a few. Even the country’s young capital has one – right in the heart of the city. Cardiff Castle mixes medieval and Victorian gothic architectural styles to thrilling effect.

These proud battlements are a historical legacy that is testament to a tumultuous past, and to the indomitable spirit of the fighting Welsh – these castles were built for a reason.

When the Romans withdrew, the separate Welsh kingdoms were left to squabble and spar for centuries until the Normans landed in the 11th century. But the Welsh proved unwilling subjects even then. It was not until Edward I – the famous subduer of William “Braveheart” Wallace – launched his war of subjugation two centuries later that Wales finally fell to England’s boot.

Edward consolidated his victory with the impressive castles you can still visit today. Most are in excellent repair, with walls as solid now as when their first stones went in the ground.

Beaumaris – the biggest castle Edward built and a truly imposing military fortress. It is located on the island of Anglesey, separated from mainland Wales by the Menai Strait, which is home to Prince William in his duties as a Royal Air Force search-and-rescue pilot.

William is most intimately connected to the most majestic of the Unesco castles, the stunningly preserved Caernarfon Castle. This is where his father, Prince Charles, was invested as the Prince of Wales – and where, one day, William is likely to follow suit.

 

Keep reading: The Guardian – Discover the proud history of Wales

 

 

Continue reading Visit Wales and its 641 castles – a mixture of gothic, medieval, and Victorian styles

China’s military continues to grow – spending tops $100 billion for the first time

China announced an 11.2% increase in its defense budget for 2012.

For the first time, China’s defense spending will top $100 billion

At a news conference Sunday, Li Zhaoxing, a spokesman for the congress, announced the $110-billion budget, while stating that the spending “constitutes no threat to other countries.’’

“You can see that we have 1.3 billion people with a large land areas and a long coastline, but our outlays on defense are quite low compared to other major countries,” said Li.

By way of comparison, the U.S. Congress has approved $662 billion in Pentagon spending for next year.

Last year at this time, Beijing announced a 12.7% increase in military spending, resuming double-digit expansion after a more modest 7.5% increase in 2010.

Adm. Robert Willard, U.S. commander for the Asia-Pacific region, told the Senate Arms Services Committee last week: “They continue to advance their capabilities and capacities in all areas.”

via LA Times

China's military continues to grow – spending tops $100 billion for the first time

China announced an 11.2% increase in its defense budget for 2012.

For the first time, China’s defense spending will top $100 billion

At a news conference Sunday, Li Zhaoxing, a spokesman for the congress, announced the $110-billion budget, while stating that the spending “constitutes no threat to other countries.’’

“You can see that we have 1.3 billion people with a large land areas and a long coastline, but our outlays on defense are quite low compared to other major countries,” said Li.

By way of comparison, the U.S. Congress has approved $662 billion in Pentagon spending for next year.

Last year at this time, Beijing announced a 12.7% increase in military spending, resuming double-digit expansion after a more modest 7.5% increase in 2010.

Adm. Robert Willard, U.S. commander for the Asia-Pacific region, told the Senate Arms Services Committee last week: “They continue to advance their capabilities and capacities in all areas.”

via LA Times

The Reunification of Korea – a brief history

1910 – Japan forcibly “annexes” Korea and ravages the country. Often banning the language, forcing Japanese names, labor camps, and, during World War II, a sex-slave trade.

1945 – World War II ends and Korea is split into two governing zones, the North by the Soviet Union and the South by the U.S. A problem results with much of Korea being pro-communist. As a result no unification is set in motion.

1948 – The U.S. has made South Korea strongly anti-communist while North Korea has become strongly communist.

1950 – A war breaks out to see if one can conquer the other. The North invades the South but is stopped when the U.S. intervenes. Only to find China and the Soviet Union intervening when the South invades the North. All sides are weary of fighting from World War II and agree to a peace that changes nothing, after three years of war and 450,000 Koreans are dead.

1972 – North and South Korean representatives meet and agree to forge a peaceful reunification. The agreement is disbanded the following year after achieving no results.

1990 – Another agreement is attempted but collapses over the issue of North Korea’s nuclear facilities.

1991 – The Soviet Union collapses and the new Russia cuts off foreign aid to North Korea. China steps in with foreign aid but eventually reduces the amount and North Korea experiences a decade of economic trouble. Many millions die of starvation and the economy is thought to have shrunk by half.

1994 – Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter visits North Korea and encourages both sites to rekindle talks. A meeting is scheduled, then later abandoned as Supreme Leader Kim Il-Sung dies and Kim Jong-Il takes over.

1998 – The South Korean government creates the Sunshine Policy which proposes support and cooperation instead of sanction and threats. It also encourages the people of South Korea to show unity with their northern neighbors and takes active steps to avoid anti-communist propaganda.

2000 – Both sides sign another agreement for a peaceful unification. A strong part of the talks involve economic cooperation and aid sent to North Korea. At the time, the South Korean population is double that of the North and the economy is about 15 times larger.

2002 – Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the U.S. labels North Korea part of an “Axis of Evil,” and the North cuts off any cooperation with the South for many months.

2006 – North Korea detonates a nuclear bomb underground as a test and test fires several of their larger missiles.

2007 – The United Nations hosts a series of talks between the North and South to further the agreement of 2000. It is held in Beijing and China plays a heavy role.

2008 – The Sunshine Policy loses favor as a new political party is elected with harsher views of North Korea.

2009 – North Korea detonates another nuclear bomb underground as a test.

2010 – A South Korean ship is sunk by a torpedo, blame is placed on North Korea. Later in the year, North Korea fires 170 artillery shells on a South Korean island as a protest against South Korean military exercises.

2011 – Kim Jong-Il dies and his son Kim Jong-Un takes over power.

Juche – it means shop local if you're a North Korean Communist

The Juche Idea is a political thesis of Kim Il-sung, the founder of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which says that the Korean masses are the masters of the country’s development.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, Kim elaborated the Juche Idea into a set of principles that the government uses to justify its policy decisions. Among these are independence from great powers, a strong military posture, and reliance on Korean national resources.

The name comes from juche, meaning “main body” or “mainstream,” and is sometimes translated in North Korean sources as “independent stand” or “spirit of self-reliance.” It has also been interpreted as “always putting Korean things first.”

According to Kim Il-sung, the Juche Idea is based on the belief that “man is the master of everything and decides everything.”

via Wikipedia

Juche – it means shop local if you’re a North Korean Communist

The Juche Idea is a political thesis of Kim Il-sung, the founder of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which says that the Korean masses are the masters of the country’s development.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, Kim elaborated the Juche Idea into a set of principles that the government uses to justify its policy decisions. Among these are independence from great powers, a strong military posture, and reliance on Korean national resources.

The name comes from juche, meaning “main body” or “mainstream,” and is sometimes translated in North Korean sources as “independent stand” or “spirit of self-reliance.” It has also been interpreted as “always putting Korean things first.”

According to Kim Il-sung, the Juche Idea is based on the belief that “man is the master of everything and decides everything.”

via Wikipedia

Jimmy Stewart takes his oath to fight in World War II (photo)

March 22, 1941: A group of 41 men, including actor Jimmy Stewart, in the foreground wearing the solid black tie, takes the oath to enter the Army. Stewart was the first top-ranked Hollywood star to enter military service during the United States’ mobilization before World War ll.

via LA Times 130th Anniversary

 

10 years after 9/11, have we changed?

It’s been 10 years since 9/11.

Amid the celebrations and acts of unity, I want to reflect on how the world has changed. More specifically how we have changed, and will that prevent another attack from happening.

What really caused 9/11?

There are so many explanations, if I miss one please tell me, but here are the ones I look to: oil, the Middle East, our military but more specifically our geo-political strategy, and our security around the world.

Oil

U.S. oil consumption has remained steady since 2000 when it was 19.7 million barrels of oil/day. In recent years a slight dip has occurred maybe due to the recession or due to structural changes (improved car MPG), and is now at 19.2.

Which is very good news. Not only have we handled our economic and population growth without increasing our demand, we have even reduced it. Economist call this “demand destruction”, one of my favorite terms.

It is quite possible that we have turned the corner on fossil fuels (or reached “peak oil”). If so, one of the main sources of terrorist funding, recruiting, and anger may be fading away.

 

The Middle East

Then we can look to the Middle East, where all 19 hijackers were from. The vast majority of them (15) were from Saudi Arabia, which backs up the oil topic. The remaining ones were from Lebanon, Egypt, and two from the UAE.

It’s great that we took down the Taliban in Afghanistan, even though it is not in the Middle East (South-Central Asia). They were bad and needed to go. Their replacement is not perfect but a whole lot better, with room to grow, unlike the Taliban.

The Arab Spring changes everything, though.

Before the uprisings, there were no democracies in the Middle East (only 26 in the rest of the world). Many of the new governments are on track to change that, but remember that even in our own past, the road is rocky and violent.

The good news is that three evil, violent, and obnoxious dictators are out of Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. Eight other countries had major uprisings and six more had minor ones, with multiple reforms across the board.

All in all, it looks to be a general improvement.

Military Presence

The cult of Al-Qaeda was formed due to one very important factor, one that Osama exploited to no end. We have our military in several countries.

From our point-of-view this is a rational geo-political strategy to protect our interests. In the early days, we also protected the people from dictators and warlords.

Then at some point we started supporting more corrupted leaders than reformers. When one is bad, several is more than enough to cause hatred.

Which explains the opposing point-of-view. We often crossed that fine line between bully and protector, and usually for our own oil interests.

Yet, the situation hasn’t changed, in fact, it’s gotten worse. We now have our military in more places than ever, with many long term contracts in place to keep it there.

This is a problem and will not go away and was recently highlighted by crazy guy #1 in Iraq, Moqtada Al-Sadr’s statement, (paraphrasing): “don’t kill the Americans, they are leaving.”

Security

It’s hard to travel when everyone hates you. I went to Europe in 2004 and so many of those wealthy, pacificist, socialists hated us. They had signs up about our “invasion” of Iraq.

Now imagine how people in Muslim countries feel. It’s gotten to the point that if we are not giving money to a country, they hate us (and some still hate us when we do). We have to build monumental fortresses just to have embassies. Our checkpoints are becoming comedy acts of creative bomb making.

US Embassy, El Salvador

Where else can we possibly stick a bomb when traveling?

The only good news is that, for some reason, foreigners like Obama.

I don’t really get it. Maybe it’s that he’s not white. Maybe it’s because he was against the Iraq war and talks about removing troops. Or, maybe it’s just because Bush labelled so many as enemies that it became us-or-them.

Who knows.

The good news is that foreigners still like him after he announced the troop increase in Afghanistan. If he gets re-elected then he can do more international rock-star tours and keep building up that goodwill.

Then maybe I can travel abroad and not get the evil eye from everyone.

But then again, if a Tea Party-er gets elected we might start calling everyone extremists and enemies. It would be great if they added ‘isolationism’ to their pseudo-retro movement.

Conclusion

I think everything begins and ends with oil. If we are truly past peak oil then things are getting better. We can stop (or decrease) the use of our heavy hand in the Middle East to maintain our oil supply.

Our military can draw down and our goodwill will go up. Which will take years of course, but it will mean our state of affairs is getting better.

We just have to keep making those hard decisions to get us off oil, though, with shaded solar parking lots, maybe it’s not so hard after all.