Thursday, October 26, 2006

Sudan Part Two

Crossposted at Daily Kos

In our last Atlas Lesson, we looked at Sudan, its physical geography, Darfur, and an overview of the history of the ongoing genocide. Today, we'll discuss that topic that makes the world go round: Oil, and what it means for this war-torn nation.

Make the jump!

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As we can see in this map, Sudan's oil wealth is concentrated in the southern states of the nation. It is also here that the Second Civil War, which only ended a year ago, took so many lives due to war, disease, and famine. Up to 6 million internal and external refugees exist as well.

Due to this war and continued warfare in Darfur, US Businesses have been banned from doing oil exploration and operations in Sudan. In addition, a Canadian company (Talisman Energy) was sued, and then pulled out of Sudan as well. As a result the main actors in the oil game in Sudan are Asian, primarily Chinese. This is an important point to remember as it will come up again and again as we cross the world with the Dkos Atlas Series.

Across the southern part of the nation, and across Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan, tens of millions of people live in poverty. 80% of the Sudanese workforce is dependant upon agriculture and 40% of the total population lives below the poverty line. Nevertheless, the Sudanese economy is growing in leaps and bounds and grew 7% in 2005. It is predicted to grow 12% in 2006.

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Behold Khartoum, Sudan's sprawling capital city. Note that the outskirts (not easily seen in this image) are home to internal refugee camps.

This is funding all sorts of gross displays of wealth.

To understand Sudan's standoffishness toward the world, especially the Western world, consider the Ozone café.

Here young, rich Sudanese, wearing ripped jeans and fancy gym shoes, sit outside with scoops of ice cream as an outdoor air-conditioning system sprays a cooling veil of mist. Around the corner is a new BMW dealership unloading $165,000 cars.

"Tell people you only live this life once," said Nada Gerais, a saleswoman.

While one of the world's worst humanitarian crises continues in Darfur, all across Khartoum bridges are being built, office towers are popping up, supermarkets are opening and flatbed trucks are hauling plasma screen televisions through thickening traffic.

Despite the image of Sudan as a land of cracked earth and starving people, the economy is booming, with little help from the West. Oil has turned Sudan's economy into one of the fastest growing in Africa - if not the world - emboldening the nation's already belligerent government and giving it the wherewithal to resist Western demands to end the conflict in Darfur.

American sanctions have kept many companies from Europe and the United States out of Sudan, but companies from China, Malaysia, India, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are racing in. Foreign direct investment has shot up from $128 million in 2000 to $2.3 billion this year - despite an American trade embargo.

Please note, that there are some reports that American oil firms are finding ways to circumvent the 1997 US Ban on doing business with and in Sudan.

Marathon Oil, based in Houston, TX, is a partner in the French Total Corp., which holds oil leases in a southern area marked by fierce fighting throughout the war. The Associated Press reported recently that Marathon, a major contributor to the Bush re-election campaign, has resumed payments to the Khartoum government and will be part of Total's operations in the oil fields.

Here's an aerial photo of Khartoum, taken this year. At the confluence of the White and Blue Niles, you can see a cleared space on the point of land there. This will be the home of luxury office and residential towers, named Almorgan.

Phase I : Almogran Central Business District A brand new 160-acre Central Business District (CBD). This state-of-the-art, prime commercial real estate will act as a hub for Eastern Africa’s modern business market. Almogran is located on the junction between The White and the Blue Nile. The CBD has been carefully master planned to create a dynamic and livable business environment, with pedestrian-friendly tree-lined streets, a river walk, and a mix of business, commercial, and residential properties. All of this comes together at the only place in the world where it is possible to have a spectacular view of the three Niles.

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In addition, according to Wikipedia, Khartoum will also get luxury villas for the nouveau riche including a golf course.

Phase II : Almogran Residential Estate To the south of Almogran CBD, along the banks of the White Nile, lies a 1500-acre residential development featuring a variety of carefully planned neighborhoods of luxurious villas, townhouses, and apartments, complete with supporting neighborhood shops, schools, and recreational and leisure facilities. The development includes an 18-hole signature golf course and resort, public parks and gardens, with preservation of the Sunuut Forest Reserve.

It's located just to the south of the cleared space for the new luxury office towers.

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If and when Americans are given access to Sudanese oil I imagine many a Texas oilman will play a few rounds. Perhaps our esteemed leader will do the same when he leaves the White House in 2009? Nauseating thought. For the record, there are little blue info dots in Google Earth. They indicate that this new shining luxury city will be standing tall around 2010.

In addition, the Sudanese are planning their own version of the Aswan High Dam along the mainstem Nile River that will flood the valley between the 4th and 5th Cataract. It will generate electricity for a rapidly modernizing and growing nation.

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Note: A Cataract is a word derived from a Latin word meaning Waterfall. However Cataracts are more like rapids. Many of the Nile's Cataracts were formed due to a geological uplift known as the Nubian Swell. fHere's an image of the region to be flooded.

One may state, “Well, it's good that this African nation is moving forward. It's good that they're modernizing.” But the same New York Times article gives us this gem:

The wealth is hardly evenly shared, and much of Sudan, like Darfur, remains desperately poor. But overall the country's gross domestic product grew 8 percent in 2005, according to the International Monetary Fund, and is predicted to increase by 12 percent this year, largely because Sudan has substantially increased its crude oil production to 512,000 barrels a day - a drop compared with Saudi Arabia or Iran, but enough to bring billions of dollars to a country that until recently was one of the poorest on earth.

The boom is also strengthening the government's hand at home. Bashir has been on an infrastructure binge, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into roads, bridges, power plants, hospitals and schools, projects that tend to boost any government's popularity. (Bashir seems to need it, with many people across the country, not just in Darfur, openly rebelling against his rule).

Bashir, an army general, seized power in 1989 through a military coup, and one of the biggest beneficiaries of these boom times has been his troops. El-Mahdi said that more than 70 percent of the government's share of oil profits is spent on defense. A government priority is to manufacture guns and ammunition domestically, in case an arms embargo is ever imposed.

Emphasis being mine, we can infer that line means we'll be seeing more burned villages like Gumbanga.

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The sad thing is things may not even change. World Bank officials seem to be impressed with the Sudanese economic recovery, even if it comes on the death of 400,000 human beings, their villages burnt, their families and clans scattered to the desert sands and winds, their children deprived of any opportunity to share in the new wealth and new towering, glittering city springing up at the confluence of the Blue and White Nile. And it seems the Sudanese are doomed to continue to repeat the past four decades. They're not going to invest any money in Darfur (however, continue reading.) Instead, they're going to continue to develop the White and Blue Nile Valleys.

Still, Sudan had already learned to rely on the East, and because of oil exports, the economy had gained a stable momentum of its own. Inflation is now 6 percent; investment and development are reaching beyond downtown Khartoum to Sudan's central agricultural belt, an area rich in wheat and cotton that has traditionally been the engine of the national economy, and to Juba, the main city in the south.

But Sudan is a huge country, Africa's largest, at nearly 1 million square miles, or about 2.6 million square kilometers. Enormous swaths of territory in every direction are neglected, and growing class differences could sow further unrest. Rebel groups in Darfur and other areas, eager for a share in oil profits and power, pose another problem.

(Images from the article, also in the New York Times, can be found here at Sudan Watch.

But what if Darfur had oil?

Let's revisit our map of Darfur and region again.

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As we learned in Part One, Darfur is comprised of three states. North Darfur, West Darfur and South Darfur. As we can see in the map of oil concessions, there are some oil concessions in South Darfur State. And of the three states, South Darfur is the most stable. It also has the best climate out of all three states, being on the border between the Sahel and the tropical zone. The genocide is concentrated in West and North Darfur.

Mattes pointed out in comments that there is oil elsewhere in Darfur. From an article:

Until April 2005, it was said that whatever oil deposits existed in Darfur were confined to its southeastern corner. However, new seismographic studies brought a surprise. On April 19, 2005, Mohamed Siddig, a spokesman for the Sudan Energy Ministry, announced that a new high-yield well had been drilled in North Darfur -- several hundred kilometers northwest of the existing fields. Seismographic studies indicated that a huge basin of oil, expected to yield up to 500,000 barrels of crude per day, lay in the area. This Darfur discovery effectively doubled Sudan's oil reserves.

It is so hard to get good, accurate information out of Sudan because of the near fascist nature of its central government, and frankly, they don't want people seeing the horror they're perpetuating. But it raises an interesting, shocking, and horrifying question: Could all this not be because of ancient tribal hatreds or political manipulations, but all for oil? And the money spent on burning these villages, murdering their inhabitants and livestock and scattering the survivors into the desert is coming from the same UN Members who chastise the Sudanese government for what they are doing, the same money being spent on building a glittering shiny city to wow the world with.

Forgive my cynicism, but this stinks. Seems the Sudanese are just as cynical, and that stinks.

"The Americans are not a threat but if the international community lines up against us, that is a different issue," said Osama Daoud Abdellatif, chairman of the DAL Group, a conglomerate that owns the Coke factory, the Ozone café and other businesses. "Everything has been going so well, but Darfur could spoil the party."

I'm not even sure where to begin on what I can do, but I will do something.

This is the end of today's lesson. I apologize for its briefness. We'll finish up Sudan however, in our next installment which will also be a lesson on Rwanda and why Never Again really must mean those two simple words. Then we shall move on to the Horn of Africa, where Ethiopia is currently flexing its muscles against Eritrea and Somalia, Somalia is really 3 or 4 weak nations, and poor Djibouti is stuck in the middle of all of this and has the good (or not so good) role in being on the front lines in our War on Terror.

I am hoping that you are all enjoying this series, as I am enjoying putting it together.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


DKos Atlas: Sudan, Part One

Crossposted at Daily Kos

I've always loved geography. From the moment my mom gave me the old National Geographic Atlas I was hooked on maps. Coupled with a healthy love for meteorology and other Earth Sciences it's been a match made in heaven. I love geography so much that I even majored in it for undergrad. And my future degree or degrees will definitely be in the field of geography

Having said all that, it makes me sad, actually angry, about the sad sad state of American geographic education. And having said that, I've decided to do my small part to help rectify this sin. Make the jump, and have your first geography lesson on a very hot spot of the world: Sudan and its three federal states in Darfur.

Sudan, as we all know, is home to Darfur, a region wrecked by war and genocide. Kossack Alegre has been leading the fight about Darfur and sadly, her diaries have not received the notice that they need. I got to thinking, “Maybe people aren't commenting because they don't know anything about Darfur. They don't know the geography. They don't know where it is.” Thus was born DKos Atlas.
The Basics by the Numbers:

41,236,378 (July 2006 est.) - note that the UN estimates a population of 37 million (wikipedia)

Total fertility rate:
4.72 children born/woman (2006 est.)

noun: Sudanese (singular and plural)
adjective: Sudanese

Ethnic groups:
black 52%, Arab 39%, Beja 6%, foreigners 2%, other 1%

Sunni Muslim 70% (in north), indigenous beliefs 25%, Christian 5% (mostly in south and Khartoum)

Arabic (official), Nubian, Ta Bedawie, diverse dialects of Nilotic, Nilo-Hamitic, Sudanic languages, English
note: program of "Arabization" in process

definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 61.1%
male: 71.8%
female: 50.5% (2003 est.)
-CIA World Factbook

Physical Geography: By the Numbers:

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Northern Africa, bordering the Red Sea, between Egypt and Eritrea

Geographic coordinates:
15 00 N, 30 00 E

total: 2,505,810 sq km
land: 2.376 million sq km
water: 129,810 sq km
Area - comparative:
slightly more than one-quarter the size of the US

Land boundaries:
total: 7,687 km
border countries: Central African Republic 1,165 km, Chad 1,360 km, Democratic Republic of the Congo 628 km, Egypt 1,273 km, Eritrea 605 km, Ethiopia 1,606 km, Kenya 232 km, Libya 383 km, Uganda 435 km

853 km
Maritime claims:

territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 18 nm
continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation

tropical in south; arid desert in north; rainy season varies by region (April to November)

generally flat, featureless plain; mountains in far south, northeast and west; desert dominates the north
Elevation extremes:

lowest point: Red Sea 0 m
highest point: Kinyeti 3,187 m
Natural resources:

petroleum; small reserves of iron ore, copper, chromium ore, zinc, tungsten, mica, silver, gold, hydropower
Land use:

arable land: 6.78%
permanent crops: 0.17%
other: 93.05% (2005)
Irrigated land:

18,630 sq km (2003)
Natural hazards:

dust storms and periodic persistent droughts
Environment - current issues:

inadequate supplies of potable water; wildlife populations threatened by excessive hunting; soil erosion; desertification; periodic drought
Environment - international agreements:

party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography - note

largest country in Africa; dominated by the Nile and its tributaries
CIA World Factbook

Sudan's physical geography plays a big part to its internal conflicts. In the north is desert. In the equatorial south are swamps and other arable lands. Between the two is the Sahel, a region of not quite grassland but not quite arid desert area that stretches across the continent of Africa. Recently, the Sahara has steadily been growing south, eating into the Sahel. The Sahel is an interesting region to be sure.

Sudan lies west of the Great Rift Valley. Eventually, in several tens of millions of years, the Great Rift Valley which runs the length of East Africa will open up into a new sea.

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Even though Sudan is not on the plate boundary, there are several fairly recent volcanic zones, including Jebbel Marra in the Darfur region.

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Summit Elev: 3042 m
Latitude: 12.95°N
Longitude: 24.27°E
The most prominent feature of the vast Jebel Marra volcanic field, located in the Darfur province of western Sudan, is the youthful Deriba caldera. The 5-km-wide, steep-walled caldera, located at the southern end of the volcanic field, was formed about 3500 years ago at the time of the eruption of voluminous airfall pumice and pyroclastic flows that traveled more than 30 km from the volcano. The Jebel Marra volcanic field covers a broad area of the Marra Mountains and contains early basaltic lava flows overlain by thick sequences of pyroclastic-flow deposits. The northern part of the volcanic field displays trachytic lava plugs and spines forming residual inselbergs and young basaltic scoria cones and lava flows. Ash eruptions at Deriba caldera may have continued into early historical time (Burton and Wickers, 1966), and fumarolic activity has been observed on the flanks of a small pyroclastic cone within the caldera.

Sudan is also dominated by the Nile River. In the northern areas of the nation, the Nile is the only freshwater available. At the border of Sudan and Egypt the Nile spreads out due to the impoundment of the Aswan High Dam several hundred miles to the north in Egypt.

The Nile is actually two rivers. The White Nile, which stretches all the way into East Central Africa and the Blue Nile, which rises at Lake Tana in Ethiopia. They meet (called a confluence) at Khartoum. The meeting is dramatically shown in this image. The clearer, bluer waters of the Blue Nile mix with the murkier grayish waters of the White Nile. The area between the river south of Khartoum supports the nations agricultural industries. With so little of the nation able to be farmed due to the climate, every bit that is able to be is used. This has sparked conflict innumerable as we shall see and discuss.

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The map above is the area south of Khartoum between the Blue and White Nile rivers

A Brief History

Sudan has a very long and varied history, stretching back beyond the days of the Ancient Egyptians and the Pharaohs. Humanity settled in the Nile Valley long long before those days. Empires rose and fell. However for the sake of brevity we're going to discuss Modern Sudan.

The British are to blame here, one could say, as Sudan was a major East African colony of theirs. They ruled the Sudan as two seperate entities: North Sudan and South Sudan. South Sudan, largely home to black African Christians, was ruled as English speaking. Southern Sudan religion is also largely an amalgamation of Christianity and Animist traditions. The central city is Juba . North Sudan, culturally (though not necessarily) Arabic in nature and Muslim, was ruled as Arabic speaking. Until independence, this is how Sudan was run.

When independence came, civil war broke out. The Northerner's were wealthier, and the Southerners felt they would be dominated by North Sudan. This is what ended up happening, and the first civil war lasted from independence in 1956 to 1972. 500,000 people died. Grievances were not assured, however and situations grew worse as the Arabic speaking north continued to dominate southern affairs, instituting Sharia Law, banning political parties, and the like. A second civil war broke out in 1983 and it lasted until 2005. Two million people died, and 4 to 6 million people were left as refugees within Sudan and out into its borders, spreading instability to neighboring nations. The South won, so to speak, as they have gained the autonomy they desired. It remains to be seen if they will remain part of Sudan, or secede and form a new nation.

Note: Much of Sudan's oil wealth lies in the southern part of the nation. .

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Sudan is still not stable even after this civil war. There remains the question and problem of Darfur.

What, and where, is Darfur?

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Darfur (Arabic: “Home of the Fur”) is comprised of Sudan's three western states bordering the nations of Libya, Chad, and the Central African Republic. Wikipedia's Darfur article, from which much of this section is drawn among other areas on the internets, explains the physical geography and climate better then I could.

Darfur covers an area of some 493 180 km² (196,555 miles²)—about three-quarters the size of Texas, more than half the size of Kenya or slightly smaller than France. It is largely an arid plateau with the Marrah Mountains (Jebel Marra), a range of volcanic peaks rising up to 3000 m (10,100 ft), in the center of the region. The region's main towns are Al Fashir, Nyala, and Geneina.
There are four main features of the physical geography. The whole eastern half of Darfur is covered with plains and low hills of sandy soils, known as goz, and sandstone hills. In many places the goz is waterless and can only be inhabited where there are water reservoirs or deep boreholes. While dry, goz may also support rich pasture and arable land. To the north the goz is overtaken by the desert sands of the Sahara. A second feature are the wadis, seasonal watercourses ranging from small rivulets that flood only occasionally during the wet season to large wadis that flood for most of the rains and flow from western Darfur hundreds of miles west to Lake Chad. Many wadis have pans of alluvial deposit with rich soil that are also difficult to cultivate. The west of Darfur is dominated by the third feature, basement rock, sometimes covered with a thin layer of sandy soil. Basement rock is too infertile to be farmed, but provides sporadic forest cover that can be grazed by animals. The fourth and final feature are the Marrah Mountains, volcanic plugs created by a massif, that rise up to a peak at Deriba crater where there is a small area of temperate climate, high rainfall and permanent springs of water.
The rainy season is from June to September, transforming much of the region from dusty brown to verdant green. As much of the population of Darfur is agricultural, the rains are vital. In normal years, millet, a mainstay crop is ready to be harvested by November. Once harvested, the dry stalks may be fed to domestic livestock. In the far northern desert, years may pass between rainfall. In the far south, annual average rainfall is 700 mm and many trees remain green year-round.[1]

Wadis, for the record, are just like Arroyos in the Southwest or gullies and gulches in Appalachia. It's the Arabic equivalent of the concept.

Darfur is home to several tribes, however the tribe that Darfur is named for is the Fur. They number roughly 500,000 and live a sedentary lifestyle in the areas of the region that are best suited for agriculture. This has led to many a conflict, as we will see.

Some History in Darfur

I could gloss over this section and simply state “this is something outsiders just can't understand,” but that would not bring help and justice to the people of Darfur. Bear with me, and take close notes.

Darfur is fairly isolated. It has also been largely ignored by governments, be it the Egyptians, the British, or even the Sudanese after independence.

At one time Darfur was an independent region. The Keira Dynasty ruled the area under the Islamic Sultanate of Darfur. The British-Sudanese colonial government ended the dynasty and absorbed the region in 1916.

Since then, noone has paid any real attention to Darfur. The British and later Sudanese devoted their national resources and efforts to those living in the valleys of the Blue and White Nile, a grievance held by the Sudanese living in the South as well.

After independence, certain politicians and certain political parties used Darfur as their issue, pitting the residents against the central government to gain their electoral votes while not doing a damn thing to help the residents out themselves. We know this tactic well. It's what's the matter with Kansas.

They (the party in question being the Umma Party) pitted the black residents of Darfur against the largely Arab residents living in the Nile Valleys near Khartoum, where much of the nation's resources were being spent. In short, the politicians in Khartoum pitted African versus Arab, and traditionally, this was not the way things were done. But it worked. And Libya made it worse by manipulating the situation with a dream of a pan-Arab state stretching across the Sahel in Africa. Continued manipulations by Qaddafi, Chadian leadership (which has almost always been weak since its independence) and Sudanese leadership in Khartoum put Darfur in the middle, with militias and other groups being used for proxy wars against the others.

This structural inequity, complete with internal and external political manipulation, has built and built through the 1970s and 1980s (even as the central government was increasingly distracted by war and famine in the South), and the Central government also preferred certain tribes over others. They generally did not prefer the dominant tribe in Darfur, and when a famine broke out in the mid 80s in Darfur (a famine that killed many, many more across east and central Africa), 95,000 Darfuris died. Some walked to Khartoum and were promptly declared non citizens and expelled to refugee camps.

One point of confusion about this conflict, used often to bash Muslims as evil, is that this conflict is about Arab Muslims and Black Christians. This is not entirely true, as more often then not the Janjaweed militias are Black Muslims and their victims are also Black Muslims. What the effects of the proxy wars between Chad, Libya and the central government in Khartoum along with the manipulations of the political parties have had is they've created situations where some of the locals see themselves as Pan Arab revolutionaries, or reactionary “Anti-Africans.” And the Sudanese government used this to its advantage, in very much the way the Republicans use their own fundamentalist base to discriminate against America's gay population.

As we can see, this picking and prodding at this scab of local hatreds grew infected and like a big nasty pus-filled zit, it blew up in the face of the Sudanese government.

Darfur Aflame

In 1991, one of the main opposition groups in the civil war entered Darfur. In reprisal, the Sudanese government (with their Janjaweed backers) burned Fur villages in reprisal. This was one of the first instance of what would, in 12 years time, become a genocide.

In 1994, the Darfur region was divided into the three federal states you see today. This was, in much the way our congressional districts are gerrymandered, designed to ensure Islamist candidates and further marginalize the Fur tribe.

This oppression came to a head in 2003, when the Justice and Equality Movement and Sudanese Liberation Army began attacks. In that year, on the 25th of April, the JEM and the SLA attacked a base at al-Fashir (the capital of the state of North Darfur), killing 75. The attack stunned the leadership in Khartoum. Shortly there after the SLA and JEM continued their victories against the Sudanese Army. And then the reprisals were launched.

The Junjaweed, simmering in their stew of hatred for Africans (even though they were and are African themselves!) and revved up in their revolutionary fervor for Pan-Arabia, were unleashed on the Darfuri population. This was not the first time the Sudanese government had unleashed the Junjaweed militias. They had done the same in 1996 with another revolt, and also had used them in the southern oil fields during the civil war with the same results we see in Darfur this very day. To date, 400,000 have been estimated to have been killed in this dry region in the west of Sudan. Hundreds of thousands more displaced internally and externally to the neighboring nation of Chad (causing instability in that country as well.) Some are living in large camps, documented by USAID. Here's the city of Al Junayah in West Darfur, near the Chadian border. A large camp is located to the north and east of the city.

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You can see in the following images the destruction. Villages burnt to the ground, soon to return to the sands of the Sahel.
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the circles you see are huts that have been burned. Only the foundations remain. A larger version of the Selenyi village image can be seen here. These images are available in Google Earth.

A full size map of the scale of villages destroyed is available here.

Proper Credit must go to the following sources:
The CIA World Handbook for statistics
Wikipedia's extensive articles on Sudan and Darfur
USAID Sudan's images of aerial photos of refugee camps
The University of Texas's Map Library, a site that makes me drool every day.

Now, go see what you can do to help Darfur.

Saturday, October 7, 2006

battlestar galactica

Best. Show. On. Television. If you're not watching you're missing out on some darn good television.

Last night's two hour season 3.0 premiere was excellent and visceral.