North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Ukranian revolution continues ...

The last two weeks in Ukraine have been dramatic and well covered in the world media. It isn't often to see a capital city torn up, dozens killed, the pro-Russian President ultimately leaving for a more friendly and secure headquarters in the country's east, and a stunning reversal where a former Prime Minister is suddenly released from prison with Parliamentary approval after languishing on trumped-up charges for nearly two and one-half years.

Click in image for full picture
Destruction in Ukraine's capital city Kiev was well documented - streets torn up for the stones to throw, but later plenty of gunfire that ended up killing more than 70 citizens - both protesters and police. Photo from

With the drama paralleling the two week run of the Olympics in Sochi, Russia in terms of media coverage and world interest, Teatree assumes that the Ukranian developments represent just the latest chapter in a long running history of tension, with a return to some sense of normalcy still to be seen.

Click in image for full picture
Ukraine's modern boundaries, it must be emphasized, are just the current version of a land who has been sliced and diced among several larger empires over the past several hundred years. Today's Ukraine also has a population of just under 46 million people, noticeably less than the 52 million residing in 1991 when the Soviet Union broke apart. For further reading, probe the European traditions of Lviv, the major city in Western Ukraine, with that of Kharkviv, a major city in Eastern Ukraine. Graphic from

As Canada's National Post reported Saturday, "KYIV, Ukraine — Hours after her release from prison, former Ukrainian prime minister and opposition icon Yulia Tymoshenko appeared before an ecstatic throng at the protester encampment in Ukraine’s capital Saturday, praising the demonstrators killed in violence this week and urging the protesters to keep occupying the square.

Her speech to the crowd of about 50,000, made from a wheelchair because of the severe back problems she suffered in 2 1/2 years of imprisonment, was the latest stunning development in the fast-moving Ukrainian political crisis.

Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko speaking to Kiev crowd after her release from prison. Interesting to think that she has come from a prison in Kharkviv, while the ousted president Yanukovych is headed there for relative security. Photo from

Only a day earlier, her arch-rival, President Viktor Yanukovych, signed an agreement with protest leaders that cut his powers and called for early elections. Parliament, once controlled by Yanukovych supporters, quickly thereafter voted to decriminalize the abuse-of-office charge for which Tymoshenko was convicted.

Yanukovych meanwhile appeared to be losing power by the hour. He decamped from Kyiv to Kharkiv, a city in his support base in eastern Ukraine, while protesters took control of the presidential administration building and thousands of curious and contemptuous Ukrainians roamed the suddenly open grounds of the lavish compound outside Kyiv where he was believed to live.

In Kharkiv, Yanukovych defiantly declared that he regarded parliament’s actions as invalid and bitterly likened the demonstrators who conducted three months of protests against him to Nazis. “Everything that is happening today is, to a greater degree, vandalism and banditry and a coup d’etat,” he said. “I will do everything to protect my country from breakup, to stop bloodshed.”

President Viktor Yanukovych, appearing to have lost political support in the nation's capital has moved to a more secure city just miles from the Russian border Photo from

Finally, on Sunday, the Ukraine Parliament (invalid according to President Yanukovych) also stripped Yanukovych of his position, and appointed an interim president until elections could be held - possibly by May. The new leadership promptly indicated their preference to orient the country towards the EU, with neighborly relations with Russia, and a new government will likely be installed in the next few days.

Photo and caption from NBC news, "Newly elected Speaker of Parliament Oleksandr Turchynov speaks during a session of the Ukrainian Parliament in Kiev, Ukraine, 23 February 2014. Ukraine's parliament voted to appoint its speaker Oleksandr Turchynov as interim president and he will temporarily take over the duties of Viktor Yanukovych, whose whereabouts remained unknown."

Ukraine since the breakup of the Soviet Union

Since the Soviet breakup in 1991, the politics in the Ukraine have coalesced around a sizable pro-Russian segment and the majority wishing to orient towards Western Europe. In 2004, after more than a decade of decline and uncertainty, an Orange Revolution briefly brought to power western leaning leadership, including Yulia Tymoshenko, but in 2010, after further stagnation and unsure leadership, Viktor Yanukovych won a disputed election and quickly created an oppressive state leaning towards Russia, then engineered charges and a trial that placed his major rival Tymoshenko in prison.

As a BBC article describes those years, crucial economic decisions were made regarding the country's dependence on Russian natural gas as well as Russian military presence at its bases on the Crimean peninsula. These agreements set the seeds for further tensions. "In 2006, Ukraine was forced to agree to pay almost twice the former price for Russian gas after Russia briefly to cut supplies in a move that sparked alarm in western Europe as well. In January 2009, Russia again cut gas supplies in a row over unpaid fees."

A visual from a UK Telegraph article noted that one of the first items Yanukovych negotiated in 2010 on his ascendance to power was an agreement to allow Russia continued use (to the year 2042) of its Crimean Peninsula navy bases. In the graphic, the pipeline symbolizes the Ukrainian need for Russian natural gas, and Russia's linked interest in secure naval bases. The Crimean peninsula itself has a particularly complicated history - belonging to several entities over the years, and even unique within Ukraine as an autonomous oblast (equivalent to more familiar province, state, or prefectures).

The Ukraine tension but the most recent of several legacy issues of the former Soviet Union

The Soviet Union could be compared to other former empires that have broken up. Once broken, there are legacy regions still in play for decades to come - in the past we've discussed Kaliningrad, an exclave of Russians south of the three Baltic nations. In addition to the turmoil in Ukraine on Russia's southern border, there are two other recent hotspots. One happens to be just a few miles to the southeast from now-famous Sochi Russia, in the small country of Georgia. Here, the northwestern most province called Azbhakia has moved towards association with Russia. Further to the east, still in Georgia, is South Ossetia, also now in the Russian sphere of influence. In the latter case, Russian military might was a determining factor in a short conflict in 2008 resulting in South Ossetia's current status as in partnership with Russia.

Click in image for full picture
Interestingly, Sochi Russia, site of the 2014 winter Olympics, is just miles from a breakaway province of Georgia, which has been given recognition and support by Russia. South Ossetia is further to the east. Graphic from

Click in image for full picture
The Black Sea - Yalta, where Stalin, Churchill, Roosevelt framed the ending scenarios and agreements for a post WWII Europe; Sevastapol Ukraine, site of major Russian naval base; Sochi, Russia, winter Olympics, 2014; Azbhakia, Georgia, supported by Russia as in its sphere; Ukraine, split down the middle, and even Moldova's eastern slice on the other side of a river - Trans-Dniester, treats itself as independent and pro Russian.

Trans-Dniester (literally "across the Dneister" river), is an example of an impoverished enclave of a half million, longing for the shelter of Mother Russia's arms. (A common description, not Teatree's characterization.) Graphic from

Random thoughts

It occurs to Teatree that Ukraine as just one example of ethnic/historic tensions where disparate forces work to pull apart a modern nation. And, in point of fact, there are also many examples of small regions around the world isolated from former association with past empires.

Much of Africa is the most common example, where dozens of countries still struggle with ethnic tensions - the legacy of arbitrarily imposed borders by European colonizers 130 years ago. Ukraine is one of several remaining trouble spots of the recent Soviet Empire. Another striking example is the Falkland Islands just off the coast of Argentina. Argentina declared sovereignty over those islands in 1982, the islanders objected, and the UK said no as well, resulting in a short war between the two countries. To this day, the population of just a little over 2000 remains a part of the United Kingdom at their own preference, much to the chagrin of Argentina, and possibly a headache for the UK.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Meanwhile in Rio de Janeiro ... and Seattle

World unrest continues: the death toll in Syria after less than three years is now approximately the same as that of the Iraq war that stretched over eight; the Boko Haram take out another village in Nigeria, Ukraine remains divided, while Egypt simmers. US Secretary of State is in Indonesia, pleading for action on climate change, while garbling a message over the issue. As several articles note regarding his peptalk, "Kerry described those who do not accept that human activity causes global warming as "shoddy scientists" and "extreme ideologues", and said big companies and special interests should not be allowed to "hijack" the climate debate." One thought we were to accept that the science is settled, and what does he mean by using the term hijacking. Is this a new term synonymous with the arguments offered by other side of said debate? (Teatree wonders).

So, where should we look for a bright spot?

How about the blocao dog festival in Rio de Janeiro, which is one of several pre-Carnival celebrations. What is it? A chance for dogs to celebrate, or be celebrated. Brazil - what a country of extremes ...

Click image for full picture
Brazil, population 200 million, and this major city with a population alone of 6.5 million - graphic by

The "blocao" dog festival (11th annual this year) is known to be the most pet-friendly event of the 500 "blocos", events known for their rapturously festive and drinking parties. Only pictures can suffice:

Click image for full picture
Smartly dressed ... photo from

Click image for full picture
Friends forever ... photo from

Note the hot dog on the daschund ... photo from

Lots of excited looks, beady eyes, big teeth. Photo from

Apparently, this is an inclusive event ... Photo from

Click image for full picture
Happy ... AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo

Not to be outdone - Seattle hosted its 2014 Cupid Undie Run on February 15. "The Cupid Undie Run is a 1 mile-ish fun run through the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, WA. Hundreds of participants stripped down to their underwear to raise money for the Children's Tumor Foundation."

Click image for full picture
Only rain - hardly an event breaker in the US Pacific Northwest. Many questions arise: Are there hints here of an upcoming St Patrick's day run, or is this just Seattle green? Are there that many tutu's out there? ... photo by Jousha Lewis / KOMO News (Seattle)

Click image for full picture
Nacho-loving man questions need for sunglasses carried by fellow runner. photo by Jousha Lewis / KOMO News (Seattle)

Click image for full picture
Big marks for the guy to the right who de-haired a heart shape on his chest ... photo by Jousha Lewis / KOMO News (Seattle)

Click image for full picture
Umbrella seems out of place (and does Teatree spot angel wings in the back?)... photo by Jousha Lewis / KOMO News (Seattle)

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Switzerland wrestles with immigration

Switzerland is a mountainous country set in the middle of Western Europe, maintaining a studied, though cordial, distinctiveness from its neighbors for the past several hundred years. Today, for example, Switzerland is not a European Union country, and in World War II and I, maintained an armed neutrality that irritated allied forces, yet provided some space for safe havens, and lines of communications between the belligerents.

Switzerland, with a population of around 8 million, is prosperous, respected, and intriguing to Teatree as each citizen, statistically, reportedly consumes more than 19 lbs of chocolate per year. Factoid and photo from

Click on image for full picture
Switzerland is also one of the most visited countries of the world due to its storied mountainous terrain. Photo from

According to a Reuters article, "Swiss voters on Sunday narrowly backed proposals to reintroduce immigration quotas with the European Union, Swiss television reported - a result that calls into question bilateral accords with the EU and could irk multinational companies. While neutral Switzerland is not a member of the EU, its immigration policy is based on free movement of citizens to and from the EU, with some exceptions, as well as allowing in a restricted number of non-EU citizens.

That pact on free movement of people, which came into force 12 years ago, was signed as part of a package of agreements with the EU, some of which could now be in danger of unraveling, to say nothing of the effect on a globally oriented economy that employs large numbers of foreign professionals."

Click on image for full picture
A poster against the ‘mass immigration initiative’, in Lausanne Switzerland, depicting the fear than unlimited immigration would undermine Swiss "alpine culture." Photo from

The article continues, "In a nail-biting vote, 50.3 percent backed the "Stop mass immigration" initiative, which also won the required majority approval in more than half of Swiss cantons or regions, Swiss television said. The outcome obliges the government to turn the initiative, spearheaded by the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP), into law within three years.

It reflects growing concern among the Swiss population that immigrants are eroding the nation's distinctive Alpine culture and contributing to rising rents, crowded transport and more crime. Net immigration runs at around 70,000 people per year on average. Foreigners make up 23 percent of the population of 8 million, second in Europe only to Luxembourg."

So, the margin of the win was razor-thin, reflecting perhaps more of the torn-nature of the Swiss over the issue than a clear direction. According the Reuters article, "The provisions of the initiative require the restriction of residence permits for foreign nationals, including cross-border commuters and asylum seekers, according to quotas, the government said in a statement. These limits will now need to be defined at a legislative level ..." But the specifics are left for discussion, and three years into the future for implementation.

Immigration and borders are stressed around the world

The multiple issues of national identity, culture, assimilation, and border control are not limited to the Swiss. The US has long been embroiled in the concerns over Mexican and Central American immigration along its southern border.

The irony behind America's current debate over illegal immigration. Graphic from un-named facebook source ...

Illegal immigration is usually one where a country resists inflows into its national space, the most graphic exception was during the Soviet Union, where citizens within the workers paradise were closely watched to prevent their leaving.

In this famous picture, East German soldier, Conrad Schuman, leaps to freedom in West Berlin in August 1961. Photo from

Click on image for full picture
Far from elections and effective governance, the latest surge of immigration is into Chad from the horrific violence in neighboring Central African Republic. Here, Muslim citizens chaotically gather into convoys to leave their CAR homeland under Chadian armed escort. They are suffering retribution for the brief but savage misrule by a now-deposed Islamic leader who brutalized Christians in the CAR during much of 2013. Photo from

The examples of border tensions are everywhere - Australia and Southeast Asia neighbors; North Africa to Southern Europe, Eastern Europe to Western Europe, etc. Borders and visions of greater freedoms or flight from persecution do not mix well.

Click on image for full picture
Another surge of immigration (or in this case, emigration from the Syrian civil war) creates the danger of permanent refugee camps. Here, Syrian refugees in a Turkey camp, protected by, one assumes, Turkish soldiers. Photo from

Assuming there is a reasonable responsive governance to begin with, Teatree tends to side with stronger border controls linked with generous legal immigration quotas. The absence of which places illegal immigrants at risk in any country where though they contribute to the specific nation's economy, yet they are "second class" - without access to the full complement of citizens rights: voting,citizenship papers, social security benefits, etc.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Erratics, eruptions, and a festival

Around the world in Italy, Scotland, and Indonesia. Three anecdotes that illustrate the our amazing world.

Italy's erratics on the move.

In northern Italy's rocky region of Alto-Adige, one must watch out for erratics on the move.

Alto-Adige is one of two autonomous provinces in Northern Italy (up against the Alps) that due to historic ties with Austria (country immediately to the north), have some additional governance powers that other Italian provinces do not have. Graphic from

Awesome mountains loom high over picturesque Italian villages. Photo from

Click on image for full picture
A huge boulder from the mountain behind, came plowing through the forest, just missing a house and trampling a vineyard. (What is also interesting is the larger boulder just in front of the new one with a groove, that apparently came down the hill 15 years ago ... It seems the residents of this house might be living on borrowed time.) Photo from the BBC

One of Indonesia's 130 volcanoes erupts

Click on image for full picture
The archipelago nation of Indonesia is comprised of over 18 thousand islands, sporting 130 active volcanoes. Graphic from

Mount Sinabung, northwest of Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, is the latest to erupt with deadly force. Graphic from

Click on image for full picture
The volcano, already covered with new ash, is erupting regularly. Photo from

Closer in, the villagers have been evacuated. Photo from

Unfortunately, villagers were allowed to return to their residences too early, so when the latest eruption took place, several lives were lost, and others fled for their lives. Photo from

Scots on Shetland Island have their festival

With the gloom of winter firmly entrenched, the intrepid Scots of these tiny island celebrate their Viking heritage at the end of January. Up Helly Aa, taking place in Lerwick, Scotland, has marches, processions, eating, and burnings. What's not to like?

Lerwick, Scotland, in the Shetland Islands (hint look to the far north of the graphic.) Graphic from

Click on image for full picture
Fire processions... photo from

Marches - photo from

Click on image for full picture
General fun, frivolities and healthy sandwiches ... photo from

Click on image for full picture
Culminating in a burning of a Viking gallery where 1000 "Vikings" cast burning torches into the vessel. Photo from