How Many Countries Are Out There?



Connecting the Past and the Future

Turkey realizes ‘Ottoman dream’ with rail tunnel linking Europe to Asia | Al Jazeera America.

A train tunnel linking Europe with Asia opened today in Istanbul.

The engineering feat spans 8 miles to link Europe with Asia some 66 yards below the Bosporus  Strait. Called the Marmaray, it will carry around 1.5 million subway commuters daily throughout Istanbul, Europe’s biggest city, and serve high-speed and freight trains. 

The project has led to criticism of Prime Minister Erdogan; many call his extravagant projects “pharohic,” a reference to the mega-projects of Egypt’s kings.

Another issue is the tunnel’s ability to withstand earthquakes – it lies 12 miles from the Anatolian Fault.

The Marmaray, which Yildirim has described as the “safest structure in Istanbul,” is a free-floating structure designed to withstand a 9 magnitude earthquake. In the event of one, interlocking floodgates have been engineered to seal off each section.

We’ll see how that works, because a large earthquake is predicted to strike within the next generation.

the project also uncovered a Byzantine port with 13 shipwrecks, and other objects that date back 8,000 years.  that’s a long time, and shows the importance of the area as the crossroads between Europe and Asia.

The finds nearly doubled the project’s duration and prompted UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural arm, to voice concern about threats to the peninsula, a “world heritage” site.

To honor the finds, the government will open an “archaeological park” at the Yenikapi subway station to showcase relics.

Maybe I’ll get to ride it next summer if I make it to Turkey, hopefully without an earthquake trapping me in the tunnel.

It’s a Small World


Sulfur Dioxide from the Kliuchevskoi Eruption over the Midwest United States – Wired Science.

A volcano erupted on the Kamchatka peninsula last week. Volcanoes release more than just lava – many different gases and ash are expelled into the atmosphere.  The map above shows that just one week later,

the plume [is] over parts of Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and eastward. So, if you’re in that part of the country, you can look up and know that somewhere above you are particles of sulfur dioxide from the eruption of Kliuchevskoi.

These aerosols spread rapidly across our planet.

 Sulfur dioxide (converting to sulfuric acid droplets in the atmosphere) can heat the upper atmosphere by absorbing solar radiation and thus end up cooling the lower atmosphere by blocking that light. 

What affect would a large-scale eruption have on Earth?  And are we ready for it?

I Was Here! but I didn’t see the mummies…

Archaeologists described the find as “one of the most important” in 30 years of excavation

BBC News – Ancient mummies found in Lima suburb.

As excavations resumed at Huaca Pucllana, an ancient religious center in Miraflores, 2 mummies at least 1,000 years old were found intact.

The child is believed to have been an offering to the gods and may have been buried alive after the adult’s death.

The complex is pretty large, and sits in the middle of a wealthy suburb of Lima.  We drove past it when I was there in March; unfortunately we didn’t have time to tour it.

The complex is from 2 different groups – the older Wari, and more recent Lima Culture.  There’s a nice little museum, too.

My pictures:




The Trinity River, Watering 1/2 the People of Texas


Reused Wastewater Key to Trinity Rivers Survival | The Texas Tribune

Reused Wastewater Key to Trinity Rivers Survival | The Texas Tribune.

“Every drop of water that’s being consumed in Houston has been through the wastewater treatment plants in Dallas and Fort Worth,” said Andy Sansom, director of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University.

With the drought and growing population, this practice should become more common.  When I lived in west Texas the wastewater was recycled for use on the golf course, parks, and sports fields.  That ought to be the norm – why are we using drinking water for grass?  But of course, that will be expensive to implement – it means new pipes, pumps, and infrastructure that won’t come cheap.  But then again, neither is water.

“The preliminary results are that the ecology of the Trinity is surprisingly good,” Clingenpeel said. A key reason for those results, he said, is that a large proportion of the river’s flow downstream is from treated wastewater, which is so clean that the basin now supports species such as darter fish that are sensitive to pollution and would not have survived in the river in the past. 

But there are dark clouds on the horizon, including those cast by an invasive species – the zebra mussel.

A growing concern for communities that rely on the Trinity’s waters is the recent discovery ofzebra mussels in the river in Denton County, prompting fears that the invasive species will spread downstream. In other parts of the state, zebra mussels have clogged pipes and restricted the flow of pumped water, prompting water providers to spend millions to combat the problem.

Another problem could be competition between Dallas and Houston for the Trinity’s water – leaving Galveston Bay “high and dry.”

“In peak drought periods, it would reduce the levels below the minimum levels necessary for ecosystem health,” said Luke Metzger, the group’s director. “I think that in general, we need to be exhausting our potential for conservation before we consider projects like this.” 

How can the needs of people be balanced against those of the ecosystems dependent upon the water?  And, is there a difference?  If we destroy the Bay’s ecosystem, won’t we be destroying our future?

It’s Not China Any More

Daily chart: Empty stomachs | The Economist.

When I was little my parents would urge me to clean my plate by saying “think of all the starving children in China.”  Well, they’re not in China anymore.

The Global Hunger Index, devised by the International Food Policy Research Institute, a think-tank based in Washington, DC, tracks the progress in combating hunger and undernourishment, which includes the quality as well as the quantity of a diet.

And hunger and malnourishment have shifted.

While the overall world index has decreased by 34% since 1990, some 19 countries—with a total population of 1.6 billion—are classified as having “alarming” or “extremely alarming” levels of hunger. Most are in Africa and Asia, where natural disasters and climate change make places there particularly vulnerable to food scarcity.

The good news is that more people are getting what they need to live.  The bad news is that there are still over a billion and a half people who don’t get enough to eat.    Is this the result of global policies, or local problems?  and  What can we do about this?  Can we help?

You’re Fired

BBC News – Malawi’s Joyce Banda sacks cabinet amid corruption row.

Several officials have been caught allegedly with money hidden under their beds and in their cars, reports the BBC’s Raphael Tenthani from Malawi.

Last month, top finance ministry official Paul Mphwiyo, who was seen as an anti-corruption crusader, was shot and wounded, our reporter says.

We saw her speak last last month –  she was amazing.  I hope she can keep up the fight against corruption in her country – that’s its only hope.  The people are the ones who should benefit, not corrupt politicians.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Ms Banda said she had appointed a special team, made up of police and government officials, to do a financial audit across all government departments.

Our reporter says the shooting of Mr Mphwiyo opened a can of worms with the media awash with reports of unscrupulous civil servants conniving with businessmen to fleece the government of millions of dollars through dubious contracts.

What will happen next?  Can the president really change decades of corruption?  We hope so, for the sake of the people.

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