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Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page

Gridlocked: Fixing DC With the Help of the World

In Uncategorized on June 25, 2010 at 2:05 am

Rush hour in DC begins around 4 am and is politely described as "drivers' hell".

Last week, I had the opportunity to witness first-hand the traffic debacle that is Washington DC. I woke up late, missed my bus to work, and had my dad drop me off at work after calling in late to his own job. What I saw en-route convinced me that if DC is anything like other American cities, we as a country absolutely NEED to transition to an efficient means of transportation and become less dependent on cars. So here is my effort to make sense of WHY DC has such a bad traffic situation, and what we can do to make it somewhat tolerable and efficient.

A little background about this area first. The current area called the District of Columbia, formerly known as Washington County, has been in existence since the mid-late 1700s.  DC was designed to be a partially planned city—the area bordered by the Potomac river, Western, Eastern and Southern avenue was designed to hold all the baroque-style federal buildings and the seat of the three branches of government. The architectural plan was put together by Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a French architect, and Benjamin Banneker, an African-American mathematician.  The location made commercial and political sense—it combined the port towns of Georgetown, Maryland and Alexandria for wheat and tobacco shipping; it also was a resulting compromise between Alexander Hamilton, who wanted the northern states to pay for the Revolutionary War, and Thomas Jefferson, who wanted the capital to favor southern agricultural interests. Since then Washington has expanded steadily outwards, with the wide streets growing steadily narrower due to inventions like streetcars, railways and automobiles.  What we ended up with, thus, were elaborate buildings designed for much fewer government employees, a vast intersecting street system (that expanded into states and double-letter alphabets as the city expanded: for a detailed explanation of DC’s confusing street system click here) and a historically influential African American population that has shaped the city’s cultural evolution.
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Kyrgyzstan: Strike Four for “Never Again”

In Uncategorized on June 17, 2010 at 2:29 am

It's not all ethnic-- economic, political and social factors all contribute to the recent crisis in Kyrgyzstan.

My first introduction to the recent Kyrgyz conflict was the Washington Post’s Express headline on my way to work last week. Horrifying pictures, dramatic official testimony, the whole bit. It caught me somewhat off-guard, since I didn’t know much about Kyrgyzstan except sheep eyes are considered a delicacy there, and the country was formed after the breakdown of the Soviet Empire. So here’s my effort to understand Kyrgyzstan and its ongoing cultural clashes.

Some background on Kyrgyzstan the country first. Historically, the population has been nomadic in nature. Now they’re still a mostly-mountainous country with a huge agricultural sector and relatively little industry. They’ve been dominated by Russia ever since 1876. During the Russian Revolution of 1916, Kyrgyzstan lost almost 1/6th of its population during protests. The area, called the Ferghana Valley, was split years ago by Joseph Stalin into Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The country formally gained independence after the dissolving of the Soviet empire in 1991. As with most newly-free countries, they’ve had some political strife–a natural result of dealing with the establishment and operations of an independent government. During the first 15 years, the country was governed by Askar Akayev, who was ousted after protests during Spring 2005. Then came Kurmanbek Bakiev, who tried to consolidate power by dismissing media critics and ousting political opponents. After protesting his 2009 re-election, the country elected Roza Otunbayeva to power, and he’s still in office today.

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EmbrOILed: the leak and what needs to be done about it

In Uncategorized on June 6, 2010 at 4:31 am

NOBODY loves an oil spill. Especially one that releases over 30 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

So, we’ve all heard about the recent BP oil spill. What with Jon Stewart making fun of it, the fake BP Twitter account and almost every news network jumping on the bandwagon criticizing the company for its mismanagement of the crisis, it has already received more publicity than any other event this last month. But while most of this is recirculated information, I wanted to figure out exactly WHAT went wrong, WHY it happened, the history behind the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and some innovative solutions of curing this environmental disaster. So here’s a blog outlining the lesser-known aspects of the “worst oil spill in history” (the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill was about 11 million gallons) and what needs to be/is being done about it.

First things first. Exactly what happened? Well, late in the evening on April 20th 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico caught fire. The Deepwater Horizon was an exploratory rig built about 18,000 feet under the ground to get to oil and gas. Scientists suspect that a surge in pressure caused the oil and gas to ignite, leading to the explosion. Almost 126 people were on board, and most of them were rescued by the US Coast Guard or rescue boats. Eleven workers died during this incident, but, broadly speaking, their deaths have been eclipsed by the fact that the rig is still releasing crude oil from underneath the ocean floor into the Gulf, threatening flora, fauna and humans in the region. Read the rest of this entry »