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Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012: IS DOOMSDAY UPON US?

This could be a very interesting year, which, if you believe in Chinese prophesies, is a dangerous curse.  But I'm not Chinese, so let me approach this coming Year of the Dragon (if you were born in 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988 and 2000, this is your year), the mightiest of Zodiac signs, without fear and some courage.  Dragons live by their own rules, are successful, driven, unafraid of challenges, willing to take risks, passionate and do things in grand fashion.  Hmm...while I'm known to make fun of astrology, that actually sounds like me, confirming that I am, indeed, a dragon.  

Thanking you in advance, I write this ginormous expectation of the Year 2012 in my man cave, noting that the Occupy Movement, advocating shared sacrifice, has amazingly captured the sense of the masses, unafraid of any private sector and governmental blowback in this period of the new normal to win the future without trickeration  (I just did not have the heart to use baby bump and pet parent, but thank the Lake Superior State University for these 2012 Top 12 List of Banished Words):

January     Romney (yeah, I did predict Paul just last week, but I can't
                    believe Iowans are that out of touch with reality; on the other
                    hand, they did pick Huckabee four years ago) and Obama
                    (did you know he was even on the ballot in 2012?) prevail in
                     the Iowa Caucus
                 Bullfighting banned in Catalonia
                    (Barcelona, but this is shows a cultural anti-reaction to a
                   "Spanish" practice)

February   Elizabeth II will celebrate her 60th Year as Queen

March       Vladimir Putin will be elected president of Russia, essentially
                    switching jobs with Dmitry Medvedev
                 BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) will meet in
                   in Delhi, and, who knows, might add Indonesia to 
                   become BRIICS

April         Kim Il Sung will not descend from Heaven
                    (he was born a century ago)
                 Beach Boys begin 50th Anniversary Tour in New Orleans

May          Nicolas Sarcozy will retain the French presidency (at one time
                    Dominique Strauss-Kahn was supposed to be the opponent)
                  Barack Obama will not propose the 10% Simple Solution to
                     Peace at the Chicago G8 Summit
                  World Expo in Yeosu, South Korea

June          World Hydrogen Energy Conference in Toronto
                   (my first WHEC was in Toronto 1984)
                 Rio+20 gathering in Rio (UN Conference on Sustainable
                   Development)

July            30th Summer Olympics in London, with the USA
                     prevailing over China on gold medals
                   Foie gras banned in California (forced feeding is the reason,
                      and, anyway, has abnormally high cholesterol and prices)

August       Mars Science Laboratory to land on Mars
                  Could this be the month that:
                      -  CERN confirms the "God Particle"?
                      -  LLNR attains net positive on laser fusion?

October      Xi Jinping will replace President Hu Jintao in China
                  Could this be the month of the new Godzilla movie?
                    (there have already been 28 different versions, and
                     the 29th, made in the USA, should be anti-nuclear)
                  U.S. unemployment at 7.9?

November  Obama will be re-elected to second term
                     (reasons: assassination of  Osama bin Laden, Occupy
                     movement, surviving Republican will be a Mormon),
                     and especially so if Ron Paul runs as an Independent              
                     

In general for 2012:

  -  The most inflammatory crisis could well be Israel eliminating much of Iran's nuclear bomb efforts.

  -  No Peak Oil unless the above occurs and Iran blockades the Strait of Hormuz.

  -  No detectable (by humans) Global Warming.  There will never be a crisis.  At some point it will just be too late.

  -  The European financial crisis with their PIIGS will only get worse.

  -  All idled nuclear facilities in Japan will be restarted, and Germany may reconsider terminating nuclear power in 2020.

  -  Hugo Chavez of Venezuela will not survive (health or re-election), and neither will Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

  -  Zuckerberg’s law of sharing (annual doubling of social media information) will continue.

It is today 2012 for Samoa (Western, not the American one), which just skipped a day, and being near the International Date Line, placed itself on the western side.  Sydney, Australia already celebrated the New Year:


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In the Indian Ocean, Cyclone Thane, the strongest storm this year, reaching a speed of 90 MPH, yesterday struck Tamil Nadu, killing at least 46 people.  Much further south and west, Cyclone Benilde, now at 125 MPH, will weaken and head towards Mauritius and Reunion.




Friday, December 30, 2011

2011: IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR

Frank Sinatra had several good years, as he reminisced in song.  When he reached his autumn period, there was some mention of aged wines.  Well, in many ways, in this season of my life, I was re-born, and certainly enjoyed wines...and scotch and beer and martinis...to initiate...what...I'm not sure.


In February, I golfed 198 holes just at the Ala Wai Golf Course.  This is the so-called busiest course in the world, and just getting starting times can be difficult.  I've lost count, but when I return to this venue later this afternoon, I go with my monthly card already filled.

But all was not perfect for Sinatra.  Good comes with some bad.  I landed at Narita Airport on March 12, only hours after that 9.1 earthquake and tsunami.  It was a nightmare trying to find my way with a bunch of suitcases to the Tokyo Westin Hotel.  Over the next few weeks I traveled throughout Japan, but never quite got to Fukushima.  In these week of crisis, I first escaped to Beijing, but then, got a little closer in Seoul, and returned to Tokyo.  I also experienced a 7.1 and another 7.0 earthquake.

The nuclear catastrophe, however, inspired me to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where I learned something totally unexpected.  All that radioactive Uranium and Plutonium with half lives of hundreds of thousand years are "gone," yet both cities are thriving.  How can that be?  What it is, and this after considerable discussion with my virtual network, is that the longer the half life, the less the radioactivity danger.  An Atomic Bomb does catastrophic damage through the explosion and heat, but that dreaded Plutonium-239 has almost no radiative health effects, and you can even eat it (mind you, I wouldn't breathe small particles, as I wouldn't also for asbestos)...and survive.  The isotopes of Fukushima, however, have very short half lives, and therefore are very radioactive:  Iodine 131 (8 days--which means 1000 days later, or seven half lives, the radiation has largely abated) and strontium/cesium (30 years--meaning it would take almost 4000 years to become relatively "safe").  Mind you, seven half lives mean that 1/128 of the radioactivity still remains.  The Japanese government essentially is saying, though, that the danger abates at five half lives, or, in the case of strontium/cesium, people can return after 360 years (where 1/32 of the dangerous radioactivity still remains).  Of course, what they will do is skim off and cart away the hot layer, and with rain "helping", let the people from much of the contaminated region return "soon."  That would not be smart.

So far, not a particularly good year.  Much of May through September involved a lot of golf and more wine.  There is something about peace of mind and freedom to do almost whatever you want in Hawaii that might well exceed climbing Mount Everest or winning the lottery.  It all depends on your goals.  

On 3October2011 I started my around the world journey.  I broke my record with 24 different alcoholic drinks between Honolulu and Bangkok.  Incredibly enough, I arrived alive and the next day was back to normal.  However, I underwent part one of my life-changing epiphany:  it occurred to me that 24 drinks (note that in the photo above I was on my 24th and looked okay) in that period was crazy.  You will note that while the rest of my trip was not close to the lifestyle of anyone into Alcoholics Anonymous, there was a definite improvement. 

The trip continued, the highlights being the cuisine at eight Pellegrino Best 100 Restaurants.  I participated in an Occupy gathering and was ketchupped in Stockholm, was bitten by a spider in Rio (which, nevertheless, is the greatest city in the world), tangoed in Buenos Aires, and returned to San Francisco.  Plus, there is cumulative value to just talking to taxi drivers, tour guides, government officials, company executives and friends  in Bangkok, Tokyo (and a dozen other cities in Japan), Zurich, Amsterdam, Stockholm, London, Rio, Buenos Aires, Lima, Cuzco, Las Vegas, Reno and San Francisco.  I posted HuffPos entitled:



The highlight, though, had to be Machu Picchu, for I completed my tribute to Pearl.  I will now move on with the rest of my life, my Epiphany 2.  This 43 days around the world adventure will probably never be exceeded, yet, that doesn't stop me from thinking about one final extravagance next year to hit more Pellegrino Best 100s, only go to places I will enjoy (these global missions were laced with ordeals, for like getting to Machu Picchu, India was painful to experience just to arrive at the Taj Majal, and vaccinations, assorted security dangers and general deprivation associated with Africa were only marginally worth the sacrifice so that I could spread Pearl's ashes on Mount Kilimanjaro), while minimizing lectures and HuffPos.  I might even abandon this blog.  I seem not be making much of a positive difference for Planet Earth and Humanity, as no one even comments.  I continue to be amazed and really disappointed that 250 people daily click on this blog site (go to right column, click on Visitors and then on VISITOR CHART), and I get almost zero comments.

But tomorrow, you will be astonished, entertained and otherwise enhanced by my predictions for what could be a fateful year for you:  2012.  I can already predict that next year will be the most monumental one of your entire life.

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The American stock market was the only major venue in the plus this year.  China and Russia were down by 21% or so.  The Dow Jones Industrials fell 71 to end the year at 12,216, +5.5% for year.  Even the S&P was slightly up, and we were the only major stock market to actually increase this year, unlike China and Russia, down by around 21%.  Gold rose $5/toz to $1563, while oil ended the year at $99/barrel (WTI) and $108/barrel (Brent).

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

IF NOT RENEWABLE ENERGY...THEN WHAT?

When you see this type of sustainable energy growth:

you feel good about the recent progress.  Combined with the fear of a warming Earth, there is thus a measure of public support for all the renewable energy subsidies.  Yet, my deep understanding of the field casts a totally different light on the reality.

Since I retired twelve years ago, I have grudgingly come to a personal conclusion, as expressed in a range of postings over the past couple of years, that the totality of green energy options is insufficient to maintain the world economy.  With Fukushima virtually eliminating fission power (although there might be something to thorium), and the double hammer of Peak Oil and Global Warming looming, it troubled me that the world was thus left with only three options:

1.  Fusion:  which I suspect is at least 50 years away from commercialization.

2.  Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC):  capable of providing a major supplement through a Blue Revolution.

3.  Acceptance that lifestyles will only decline, and, maybe even cataclysmically.

Here are the problems:

    a.  A population of 1 billion is sustainable.  However, Planet Earth now is home to more than 7 billion people.

   b.  Federal government subsidies for the renewables have focused on mostly intermittent technologies which produce electricity, only one third the current demand.  

    c.  The prime government support for transport is for plug-in electric cars, a sub-optimal choice, for a fuel cell car can take a vehicle five times further and the lithium battery is the final one.  Of course, hydrogen is far too expensive and lobbyists have prevented the development of the direct methanol fuel cell.  Plus, very little is being done about sustainable aviation fuels, where the most promising pathways will probably only reduce costs to $3/gallon in a decade (oil will need to cost more than $150/barrel for this to work), and more probably, $4/gallon (which can only compete with crude north of $200/barrel).

This feeling was substantiated today by an e-mail from Chuck Helsley, a former colleague who is now heading Fusion Power Corporation.  Click on the analysis by the Porter Stansberry, who somewhat convincingly argues that the Sun and winds are grossly insufficient to meet the needs of the whole world.  Of course, Ted Trainer published a book four years ago entitled, Renewable Energy Cannot Sustain a Consumer Society.  

The three options mentioned above do not give me much comfort.  First, while our Sun and all the stars do well with fusion, after more than half a century of R&D, we have not yet attained net positive and I have no confidence in magnetic confinement, especially the only major effort in France, ITER.  Mind you, Chuck's company is touting heavy ion fusion, and his team "promises" success within the decade, where the products will be electricity plus liquid fuels.  I'm afraid, though, that as sound as their concept may be, the politics of reality will only delay progress for many, many decades.  

About option 2, it was just about a third of a century ago when I helped draft the OTEC bill that became law, just about the time that net positive was attained in Hawaii by Lockheed.  Yet, today, there is exactly zero megawatt of OTEC electricity.  Strange as it may seem, I nevertheless remain optimistic that recent activity, buoyed by reports showing the potential could supply all the energy we currently use, plus the availability in the upwelled deep ocean water of phosphates (some say that terrestrial farming will seriously decline when we use up all the available phosphate fertilizers), omen well for the Blue Revolution.  But this is a blue sky longshot, considering that no major company nor any national government has endorsed the effort.

Which then leaves option 3 as our most probable future.

So do we give up and only educate the public to accept the inevitable?  I say no!  There will be Peak Oil, maybe not next year, but within a decade or two for sure.  Petroleum prices will skyrocket.  Global Warming?  I think this is serious enough that a severe carbon tax will happen, someday.  All the while, let us continue to develop all the renewables, for it will be the wide-ranging assortment of sustainables that will be needed to ameliorate the decline.

Finally, as we found a way to spend a couple of trillion dollars on the Middle East Wars, a similar sum can be identified to accelerate fusion and the Blue Revolution.  Do I have any hope that global sanity will soon prevail to maximize progress?  No.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

BIOFUEL TRENDS

I write about biofuels regularly, and earlier this month posted on algal fuels.  In short, not enough government investment has gone into this field and I think realistic commercial markets are still in the future.  Everything, of course, depends on Peak Oil and Global Warming.  If nothing significant happens, biofuels will continue to waffle around for another decade.  Keep in mind that the Chicago Mercantile Exchange has petroleum at $93/barrel in December of 2020.  But the Feds and pioneering companies will hopefully pick up the progress with more R&D because the only sure thing about the price of oil is that oil economists are always wrong and they continue to get surprised by politics and crises.

Someone who should know, Jim Lane, editor and publisher of the Biofuels Digest, provided eleven hottest trends in 2011.  I'll only list a few here (you can click on the article):

  1.  Aviation biofuels begin take-off.  Lane is hopeful; I'm dubious about any early commercialization (read my posting indicated above)...but applaud any long-term research.

  2.  Biogas deserves more consideration.  Not sure what he would do with the methane or any higher order hydrocarbon gas, for natural gas remains relatively "cheap."

  3.  Australia is perking up with Solazyme and Quantas (renewable jet fuel using Danaliella salina), SARDI with nannochloropsis and chaetoceros, etc.  I continue to be perplexed, though, why all the focus is on terrestrial applications, where water is a problem, land is expensive and an environmental backlash will be inevitable.

  4.  Warburg Pincus will invest "up to" $355 million on green-black technologies.  Go ahead click on this.

  5.  Brazil and sugar cane.  I've always been negative on converting any food product into energy, and I have had qualms about Brazilian ethanol for a long time.  I would not be surprised if Brazil begins to shift from bioenergy to bioplastics, simply for economic reasons.

  6.  Finally, D.C., the military and bio jet fuel come together.  This all makes sense.  I'm ecstatic, except for one problem.  Any bio jet fuel today is far too expensive to even pretend that this is the quick answer.  Yes, someday, I hope.  But we need a whole lot of developmental work, across the board, to get close to $3/gallon ($126/barrel--which means oil at $150+ to compete, because free enterprise is not free).  A few billion dollars a year will be required over the next decade to insure for success.  Unfortunately, most the early hype has not come with billion dollar investments.  I'm not optimistic unless there is a dramatic adjustment in funding priorities.

The August issue of Scientific American reported on biofuels, mostly produced from terrestrial feedstocks.  The title?  The False Promise of Biofuels.   Just two details provided:

1.  In the U.S. the biofuel ethanol used 40% of the corn produced, jacking up food prices.

2.  If corn ethanol were to provide all the transport requirements, required would be a farm three times the size of the continental USA.

Ethanol is finally being recognized as a dumb decision, but, guess what, the next stage would be to dissociate and ferment cellulose to produce more ethanol, a time consuming, and, therefore, costly process.  Nowhere in the article is it even hinted that the more efficient gasification and catalysis of biomass into methanol should be considered, where this alcohol would be directly used in a fuel cell, a technology that can take a car five times further than one powered by a lithium battery system.  Methanol is the only liquid capable of being directly fed into a fuel cell without a reformer.  Well, in the response section, the first question asked was why don't they ferment the biomass into methanol.  Crazy!

But, you say, there is no direct methanol fuel cell for vehicles.  Correct!  Why?  The Farm Lobby has effectively prevented the U.S. Department of Energy from developing this pathway for fear of affecting their ethanol boondoggle.  I have a half dozen HuffPo's (articles in the Huffington Post) on just this issue.  Here is the first one.

What a country!  And we are the only supreme power on Planet Earth.  Can you imagine where we would be if government was not broken, people worked together for the good of the whole and we had more sensible spending priorities?

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The Dow Jones Industrials fell 140 to 12,151, but are still plus 5% for the year.  Shanghai (China), in comparison, is minus 23%, Japan - 19% and Germany -16%.  Gold is crashing, down an additional $36/toz to $1553.  The WTI oil dropped below $100/barrel, while the Brent Spot is at $108/barrel.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

COUNTRY #196: French Guiana

Welcome, country #196:  French Guiana.  You thought the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Republic of the Congo were confusing, be careful with #196, for there are:

  -  French Guiana,
  -  Spanish Guina,
  -  British Guiana (now called Guyana),
  -  Dutch Guiana (now Surinam), and
  -  Protuguese Guina (now Amapa).

To totally discombobulate you, the Guianas are the French, British and Dutch countries combined.

Anyway, this posting is only about the French version:


French Guiana (FG) is slightly smaller than Indiana, and like Reunion, a French overseas department, so therefore uses the Euro.  Columbus visited in 1498, but the French first settled here in 1604.  The population now is in the range of a quarter million and French is the spoken language.

As the country is near the equator, this is the primary launch site of the European Space Agency.  Kourou is just west and north of the capital Cayenne.

You might say that FG is to the French as Australia is to the British, a dumping ground for convicts.  Remember, Devil's Island, Papillon, Dustin Hoffman, Steve McQueen?  It's on the map above, but ceased operations 60 years ago.  Most convicts then died from malaria.

As a tourist you can listen to Caribbean music during a Carnival while drinking French wine.  However, you must show proof of a yellow fever vaccination, and are advised to also take diphtheria, tetanus, polio, rabies, typhoid and hepatitis A& B shots.  Dengue is common, and, whoops, there is  Chikungunya here.  I can see I'll never go there.

However, if you insist on going, there are no travel alerts.  The standard of living is the highest in South America.  You will no doubt eat some some variety of creole food, which I tolerated in Reunion and enjoyed in Louisiana.  There is even a Best Western hotel in Cayenne.









What can you see there?  Turtles:

The sunset from the Novotel (Nancy Stelsslinger):


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Monday, December 26, 2011

IS 3D ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF MARKETING HYPE?

In a word, yes!  For example, exactly one year ago I purchased a SONY Bravia 3D set.  In January the SONY Hawaiian Open (a golf tournament) was televised in 3D.  This was fabulous.  There was a commercial where a porpoise jumped out of the screen, my hand by reflex action moved to protect my face.  Fantastic!

That was the last live televised program I saw in 3D.  Worse, the 2012 Sony Open probably will not use 3D.  Yes, you can play a Blue-Ray 3D DVD, but they are expensive and, well, it's just a movie.


Certain major sporting events, like the London Olympics (above), will be televised in 3D, but might not be broadcast as such.  Australia has already taken down it's 3D transmitters.  I would say that 3D television has been a gross failure.  Yes, other suppliers now are selling cheaper goggles, and if the price of the set is not much more with 3D as without, okay, buy it, for there are three pluses:

  1.  There is an option to see any regular program in quasi-3D.  Not bad, actually.

  2.  Someday, 3D programming will improve.  When?  I keep getting told any month now.  That was a year ago.

  3.  The 3D effect will improve.  Some day, no goggles.  Great!  I'm now stuck with the old system.

So I thought I would see how 3D was doing in movie theaters.  I stopped going to animated films a long time ago so went to see: 

  -  The Darkest Hour went wrong everywhere.  Dumb title (there was nothing significant about an hour), vapid performances, almost invisible aliens, predictable sequences and mediocre 3D.  Mind you, if you can afford it, 3D is better than 2D.  But is it worth those extra few dollars, plus the need to wear dark glasses?  Eveything occurs in Moscow, much of which was badly damaged, but they left the Kremlin unscathed this time (as opposed to Mission Impossible 4).  Interesting that the Tomatometer had a score of 20%, while 71% of the audience liked it.  I don't understand this.  Someday this could actually become a campy re-experience.  Oh, I think they are planning to make a second one, maybe to be called The Shiningest Hour when Humanity recovers and re-conquers, like in Independence Day.

  -  Hugo was okay, maybe even a top 10 film this year, but, again, the 3D was marginal.  Rotten Tomato gave this flick a 94%/84% rating.  Not only did Martin Scorsese direct it, but Johhny Dep was the producer.  You'll recognize a number of actors, but Jude Law is on screen for all of a minute.  You might recognize certain real-life characters, such as Django Reinhardt, Salvador Dali and James Joyce.  This Paris story is, no doubt, mostly about Georges Melies, you know, that early French filmmaker who directed Le Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip to the Moon), the first science fiction film.  You only have a few days to see this Hugo, as it is sure to be dropped soon.

Ben Kingsley (below) is a dead ringer for Georges Melies (above):



By the way, on 6April2012, just about a century after the Titanic sank, James Cameron will re-lease his 1997 movie in 3D.  Now how did he do that?  Apparently, re-production electronic magic today can convert any 2D film into 3D.  Titanic once held the box office record with $1.8 billion, only to be replaced by the 3D Avatar (which you can watch in 3D if you have the right goggles), also from Cameron, which now has worldwide revenues of $2.8 billion.

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The Dow Jones Industrials slipped 3 to 12,291, with the Orient down and Europe up.  Gold fell $17/toz to $1589, while the WTI crude is at $101/barrel and the Brent Spot at $110/barrel.

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WHY ARE PEOPLE SO RELIGIOUS?

I've long felt that the greatest immorality of religion, at least the christian versions, is that they promise something, like an afterlife, without any proof or credibility.  Why people even believe this stuff inspired me to write a chapter on this subject in my book two, SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity.  Only yesterday I linked my blog to the:


which was a tongue in cheek treatment of the subject.  

However, to quote from Rheophilia:

It's very simple: Numerous scientific studies have confirmed that people who are religious live longer, healthier, and happier lives. They are more successful financially; their marriages are better and more nurturing; they are more optimistic, less stressed out, and more satisfied with the direction of their lives. Moreover, religious people experience what they consider miracles. What's not to want for yourself?

While the best as I can determine is that a rheophile is an animal that prefers to live in fast moving water, I guess that term above is just a whimsical blog name.  I picked that explanation because it best captures what is good about religion.  Certainly makes a good case if true, and, in fact, my book does suggest that much of this is, actually, scientifically sound.

The December issue of Scientific American, no less than by Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, includes a column entitled, Sacred Salubriousness, provided some additional details supporting this contention.  Quoted is Roy Baumeister, co-author with John Tierney, of a new book, Willpower, where indicated is the act of self-control underlying the behavioral mechanism that produces all this goodness.  My HuffPo on The Stanford Marshmallow Test reported that delayed gratification was the key to success, at least for academic achievement.  No doubt, this same character trait would lead to living a healthier lifestyle and thus a longer life, plus general prosperity and happiness.

And what offers the ultimate delayed gratification?  Such as an afterlife?  Religion!  As have various surveys, the CIA Factbook indicates that around 90% of the world population have a religion.  Amen.

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

MERRY CHRISTMAS

Again as yesterday, when I opened my eyes, I saw:


I awoke to not exactly a White Christmas, and, well, I had to rush to get my camera (but rainbows hold up for many minutes), and a great start to December 25 in Honolulu.

Three years ago I provided the "true" story of Christmas.  I'm all for companies profiting during this period and long ago accepted the crass commercialization of what this holiday has become.  However, sociologically, this particular day offers families an opportunity to improve relationships, children to be nicer and happier than normal, charity to raise to new heights and the NBA to kick-off a short season.

Some positives:

  -  Wars are ending

  -  The last time I checked, the USA was the only major stock market in the green (+6%) for year, and the unemployment rate of 10.1% two years ago is at 8.6% and declining

  -  Aside for that snowfall in Denver the other day, the weather is good and, like Honolulu, not white at all, which is great, because that means the temperature is moderate (DC, London and Paris at least 50 F today)

I can go on and on, but let me just say, Merry Christmas!  And, by the way, 2012 is a Leap Year, so only 366 days until Christmas.

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

COUNTRY #195: The Democratic Republic of the Congo

Welcome, country #195:


DRC POPULATION: 71,712,867


«  Previous Country | Next Country  »   Back to Flag Counter Overview
 Background
Established as a Belgian colony in 1908, the then-Republic of the Congo gained its independence in 1960, but its early years were marred by political and social instability. Col. Joseph MOBUTU seized power and declared himself president in a November 1965 coup. He subsequently changed his name - to MOBUTU Sese Seko - as well as that of the country - to Zaire. MOBUTU retained his position for 32 years through several sham elections, as well as through brutal force. Ethnic strife and civil war, touched off by a massive inflow of refugees in 1994 from fighting in Rwanda and Burundi, led in May 1997 to the toppling of the MOBUTU regime by a rebellion backed by Rwanda and Uganda and fronted by Laurent KABILA. He renamed the country the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), but in August 1998 his regime was itself challenged by a second insurrection again backed by Rwanda and Uganda. Troops from Angola, Chad, Namibia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe intervened to support KABILA's regime. A cease-fire was signed in July 1999 by the DRC, Congolese armed rebel groups, Angola, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zimbabwe but sporadic fighting continued. Laurent KABILA was assassinated in January 2001 and his son, Joseph KABILA, was named head of state. In October 2002, the new president was successful in negotiating the withdrawal of Rwandan forces occupying eastern Congo; two months later, the Pretoria Accord was signed by all remaining warring parties to end the fighting and establish a government of national unity. A transitional government was set up in July 2003. Joseph KABILA as president and four vice presidents represented the former government, former rebel groups, the political opposition, and civil society. The transitional government held a successful constitutional referendum in December 2005 and elections for the presidency, National Assembly, and provincial legislatures in 2006. The National Assembly was installed in September 2006 and KABILA was inaugurated president in December 2006. Provincial assemblies were constituted in early 2007, and elected governors and national senators in January 2007. (Continued below.)


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First, don't confuse this Congo (see map below--a really large country) with the Republic of the Congo, where the capital is Brazzaville.  Ever wonder what happened to Zaire?  From 1971 to 1997, the Democratic Republic of the Congo was called Zaire.  Stanleyville became Kisangani and Leopoldville was renamed Kinshasa, the capital.  French and various African languages are spoken here.

You want screwed up elections?  Their presidential balloting occurred on 28November2011.  President Joseph Kabila began his new term in office on 20December2011, but opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi swore himself in two days ago.  The official results are still not official.


When you think of the Congo, of course, gorillas (in various countries of the Congo Basin):


But there are more:


Yes, Africa's most active volcano, Nyamuragira, is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The State Department, however, has an advisory about this country.  In short, don't go.

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