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Saturday, April 25, 2009

The African Country of Zimbabwe is Suffering, and Getting Worse

The African Country of Zimbabwe is Suffering, and Getting Worse

Although the size and beauty of Victoria Falls makes it one of the seven natural wonders of the world, there’s little else of beauty in the African country of Zimbabwe.

With an average lifespan of about 45 years, Zimbabwe has the lowest life expectancy rate of any country in the world, currently experiences 80 percent unemployment, and in 2008 had an inflation rate calculated at 11.2 million percent. Men, women, and children are being exploited commercially for sexual purposes, and neighboring South Africa and Botswana are going to great lengths to prevent Zimbabwean refugees from entering their countries.

Dates, facts, and points of interest about the Republic of Zimbabwe include:

* 500,000 years ago, human remains from that date

* 200 BC Khoisan tribe earliest settlers

* Shona, Nguni, Zulu tribes rule

* Early 1500s Portuguese explorers make contact with Shona-dominated states, begin trading for gold

* 1850s First British explorers, colonists, and missionaries arrive

* 1889 British South Africa Company, under Cecil Rhodes, drafts charter to promote commerce, colonize region

* 1896-97 Shona, Ndebele tribes stage unsuccessful revolt against British

* 1923 Becomes self-governing British colony named Rhodesia

* 1965 White-ruled Rhodesia declares independence from Britain

* 1980 Multiracial elections held; Blacks in power under leadership of Robert Mugabe; country renamed Zimbabwe

* 2002 Mugabe orders all White commercial farmers to relinquish land without compensation

* 2005 In what many believe to be retribution against dissenters, Mugabe razes urban slums and shantytowns, leaving 700,000 homeless

* 2008 Presidential challenger Morgan Tsvantirai, citing violence against his supporters and inability to hold a fair election, withdraws from race; Mugabe wins another term

* 2009 Deal arranged where Mugabe remains as president, Tsvantirai as prime minister: Mugabe’s political party retains majority in parliament; he appoints all Cabinet members; and Mugabe maintains control over military

A landlocked nation just north of South Africa, Zimbabwe is slightly larger than the state of Montana, and the home for about 11.4 million people, nearly all of them of African descent.

Even with inflation spiraling out of control and millions of Zimbabweans living off of foreign humanitarian assistance, about 90 percent of the nation’s adult population is literate, having an average nine years of schooling.

South Africa is Zimbabwe’s chief import and export partner, but sales of platinum and cotton out of the country and the importation of machinery and transport equipment into Zimbabwe have been stalled by Zimbabwe’s impossible inflation rate and inability to pay debts.

Although Mugabe defends his 2002 decision to place the land back into the hands of the African majority, many outside nations say that action was pivotal in pointing Zimbabwe’s economy, where two-thirds of its labor force is agriculture based, on a downward trend.

With South Africa protecting its borders with armed patrols and Botswana having erected electric fences, people living in the African country of Zimbabwe have little hope of escaping what looks to be the hellish conditions they live in.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

American President: Theodore Roosevelt, and Much More

American President: Theodore Roosevelt, and Much More

The words, American President: Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919,) conjure up images of the 26th president of the U.S. who, during the Spanish-American War, earned lasting fame as the colonel who led the Rough Rider Regiment’s foot charge at San Juan Heights, Cuba.

But limiting this versatile leader’s legacy to those two events is like painting the Grand Canyon in black & white.

What other American leader wrote more than 35 books; served as police commissioner of New York City, governor of New York state, and assistant secretary of the Navy; gave a 90-minute speech with a fresh bullet in his chest before seeking medical assistance; won the Nobel Peace Prize; and negotiated a treaty that led to the construction of the Panama Canal?

Facts, dates, and events concerning the life of Theodore Roosevelt include:

* Born October 27, 1858 in New York City

* 1880 Graduates from Harvard magna cum laude

* 1881 Youngest man ever elected to New York State Assembly

* 1882 Publishes first book, The Naval War of 1812, which becomes required reading at Naval Academy

* February 14, 1884 Both mother and wife die same day, separate illnesses

* 1895 Becomes police commissioner of New York City

* 1897 Appointed assistant secretary of the Navy

* July 1, 1898 Battle of San Juan Heights; leads the charge on foot

* November 8, 1898 Elected governor of New York

* 1900 Elected U.S. vice president

* 1901 Age 42, Roosevelt becomes youngest U.S. president when McKinley dies of gunshot wound

* 1903 Signs treaty with Panama to build Panama Canal five days after Panama secedes from Colombia

* 1905 Establishes National Forest Service

* 1905 Gives away deceased brother’s daughter, Eleanor Roosevelt, in marriage to her distant cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt

* November 8-26, 1906 Becomes first U.S. president to leave country while in office; visits Panama Canal project

* December 10, 1906 Wins Nobel Peace Prize for role in ending Russo-Japanese War

* 1909 Leads Smithsonian hunting expedition to Africa

* 1912 Delivers 90-minute speech in Milwaukee before seeking aid following assassination attempt that permanently left bullet in his chest

* 1919 At age 60, dies in sleep from blood clot

Roosevelt’s credits go on and on like those flashed on the big screen after Gandhi or Gone With the Wind.

He founded the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the Boone and Crocket Club, wrote in excess of 150,000 letters, and expanded the powers and responsibilities of the presidency. In addition, Theodore Roosevelt, who reportedly hated being called “Teddy,” help transition the U.S. from a stance of political isolationism to one geared toward bringing order and social justice to American industry and commerce.

Theodore Roosevelt also is heralded by historians as a man who successfully mediated international disputes involving Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and Morocco.

Toss this man’s resume in one place, and it’s evident that the phraseology, American President: Theodore Roosevelt, fails to capture the true essence of this multi-talented man.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Siege and Battle of the Alamo

The Siege and Battle of the Alamo

Were it not for the bloodthirsty bent of Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the siege and battle of the Alamo wouldn’t be immortalized today with the defiant cries “Remember the Alamo” and “Victory or Death.”

Had Santa Anna not overruled his advisors by storming the well-fortified, besieged Alamo on March 6, 1836, and massacred about 200 fighters for Texas independence--when those holed up in the converted mission were near starvation--history would have looked at the event differently.

Some pertinent dates, events, and personalities associated with the Battle of the Alamo include:

* 1830 U.S. settlers far outnumber Mexicans in Texas

* October 2, 1835 Texans win first battle of Texas Revolution, at Gonzales

* December 5-9 300 Texans conquer 1,200 Mexicans at Siege of Bexar, in San Antonio; majority of Texan volunteers head home

* January 19, 1836 Famous frontiersman James Bowie and company of volunteers arrive at well-fortified Alamo

* February 2 Bowie and beloved fort commander James Clinton Neill inform governor by mail, “We’ll die in these ditches” before surrendering

* February 8 Tennessee’s Davie Crockett and U.S. volunteers arrive at Alamo

* February 14 Neill leaves Alamo due to family emergency; replaced by 26-year-old Lt. Col. William B. Travis

* Immediate dissention about who’s in charge: resolution leaves Bowie in charge of volunteers, Travis in charge of regular army

* February 23 13-day siege begins when Santa Anna’s troops reach Alamo

* Santa Anna sends courier to demand surrender; Travis responds with cannon blast

* Mexican artillery batters walls of Alamo, but cannons remain intact

* February 24 Travis assumes full command when Bowie is bedridden by pneumonia, pleas for reinforcements in famous “Victory or Death” letter

* Mexican troops continue to arrive; 32 U.S. troops sneak into Alamo, upping Texan contingent to about 200

* March 2 Declaration of Independence from Mexico signed in city of Washington, about 100 miles NE of Alamo

* March 6 Santa Anna, now 2000 strong, storms Alamo … less than two hours later, all 200 Texas fighters, including seven initial survivors (possibly including Crockett,) are killed … estimates of Mexican deaths vary greatly, though about 600 seems likely

* April 21 Texas wins independence at Battle of San Jacinto

* 1845 Republic of Texas becomes 28th state

Many serious historians refute the claim that the victims at the Alamo were living without hope on a suicide mission. Those fighters knew their only realistic hope was the arrival of reinforcements, and Travis sent out letters daily pleading for help. Exasperated by the lack of support, Travis wrote in one letter, “If my countrymen do not rally to my relief, I am determined to perish in the defense of this place, and my bones shall reproach my country for her neglect.”

Traditionally considered a symbol of patriotic sacrifice, the siege and Battle of the Alamo helped deter Mexican General Santa Anna long enough for Texans to regroup, then win their independence 46 days later.

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Facts About Chile, an Atypically Shaped Nation

Facts About Chile, an Atypically Shaped Nation

Of all the facts about Chile that jump into one’s mind, the most striking has to be its unusual shape. Chile stretches about 2,880 miles north-to-south along the southwestern shores of South America and protrudes, at its widest point, a mere 150 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean.

Much of Chile’s slender land mass, which totals nearly twice the size of the state of Montana, is in view of the towering Andes Mountains and includes extreme environmental changes ranging from possibly the driest place on earth, the Atacama Desert in the north; to the thickly populated central valley marked with vineyards and forests; then to the cold southern region that includes the southernmost city in the world, Punta Arenas.

Interesting facts about the Republic of Chile include:

* Originally, Chile was under control of Inca Indians in the north and the nomadic Araucanos Indians in the south

* 1540-41 Spanish begin conquest of Chile; found Santiago, now the nation’s capital and largest city

* 1879-1883 Fights Peru and Bolivia in War of the Pacific; victory earns title to Antofagasta, until then Bolivia’s only outlet to ocean

* 1891-1925 Parliamentary dictatorship

* 1944 President Juan Antonio Rios, originally pro-Nazi, sides with Allies

* 1970 Salvador Allende becomes first president in a non-Communist country freely elected on a Marxist platform

* 1973 Allegedly with CIA assistance, Allende is killed in military coup

* 1973-1990 Augusto Pinochet becomes brutal dictator; government report in 2004 says nearly 28,000 people were tortured and 3,200 killed or discovered missing during his reign

* 2006-present Socialist Michelle Bachelet, subjected to torture, prison, then exile during Pinochet’s dictatorship, is Chile’s first female chief of state

* More than 50 active volcano peaks in Chilean Andes, with earthquakes and tsunamis other natural hazards

* With population of 16.6 million, about 70 percent of them Roman Catholic, Chile has a 96 percent literacy rate

* Copper, much of it from North Chile, accounts for one-third of government revenue

The Republic of Chile claims to have more bilateral or regional trade agreements (57) than any other nation; and its primary export partners are China, the U.S., and Japan, while its primary import partners are the U.S., China, Brazil, and neighboring Argentina.

It’s not surprising that a country 19 times longer than it’s width at its widest point has multiple climate zones. Those range from the nearly rainless Atacama Desert in the north to the southern coast which receives more than 100 inches of rain annually. Terrain ranges from sea level to the 22,540-foot peak of Ojos del Salado, South America’s second highest mountain.

In addition to its long, narrow mainland, Chile claims ownership over several islands, including the Juan Fernandez Islands and Easter Island, located 415 miles and 2,300 miles into the Pacific Ocean respectively.

Anyone researching facts about Chile likely will come to the conclusion that, in large part because of its unusual shape, diversity is a cornerstone of its personality.

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Composer Peter Tchaikovsky, Possibly Russia's Finest

Composer Peter Tchaikovsky, Possibly Russia’s Finest

The life of Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), though he achieved incredible fame during his lifetime, was replete with tenuous personal relationships, periods of low self-esteem, and times of nervous collapse.

Still, the author of such musical masterpieces as Swan Lake, The Overture of 1812, and The Nutcracker learned how to balance his overly sensitive, self-critical soul and his incredible talent to produce some of the greatest ballets, symphonies, and concertos ever written.

Some key dates, events, and facts regarding the life of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky include:

* Born May 7, 1840, in Votkinsk, Russia

* Age 7 through 19 Tchaikovsky takes piano lessons from respected teacher, Rudolf Kundinger, who tries to dissuade him from a musical career

* 1859 Becomes clerk at Ministry of Justice, St. Petersburg

* 1863 Leaves Ministry of Justice to study music full-time at St. Petersburg Conservatory

* 1866-1878 Teaches at Moscow Conservatory; writes symphonies and operas, including Romeo & Juliet and Swan Lake

* 1877 Student Antonina Milyokova hints at suicide if Tchaikovsky won’t marry her; short, disastrous marriage follows; he attempts suicide by drowning, fails, and suffers nervous breakdown

* 1878-1890 Nadejda von Meck, widow of wealthy railroad engineer, provides Tchaikovsky with yearly allowance that allows him to quit teaching and compose full-time; though the benefactress and composer agree to never meet in person, their correspondence is ongoing

* 1881 Writes Joan of Arc, opera

* 1882 Writes The Overture of 1812

* 1888 Writes The Sleeping Beauty, ballet; conquers inner fears and goes on European conducting tour

* 1891 Highly successful U.S. conducting tour of his own works, including opening ceremonies at what’s now Carnegie Hall

* 1892 Writes The Nutcracker, ballet

* 1893 Writes Symphony #6, Pathetique, which Tchaikovsky considers to be his finest work

* November 6, 1893 Death caused by cholera

Described at times as morbidly shy, Peter Tchaikovsky often is considered to be a man who compensated for his inability to communicate socially through his musical genius of creating melodies and mastering the world of musical drama.

Tchaikovsky lived an unusual life where nervous depression was intertwined with his uncanny talent as a composer. He suffered from insomnia, headaches, and hallucinations; and many of his works were extremely avant-guard for his time. Even Swan Lake, considered today to be a masterpiece, was panned both by critics and audience at its premier.

The gifted Russian composer sometimes was obsessive in his reactions to rejection. Responding to what Tchaikovsky considered to be an unwarranted refusal to consider his works in St. Petersburg, the composer moved permanently to Moscow in 1866 and never again asked that any of his work be performed in St. Petersburg.

Composer Peter Tchaikovsky didn’t limit his grudges to the city of St. Petersburg. Of his teacher, Anton Rubinstein, whom Tchaikovsky felt disrespected his work, Tchaikovsky once said, “I have always regarded him as the greatest of artists and the noblest of men, but I shall never become his friend.”

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