Monday, July 29, 2013

Japanese Constitution

After World War II, the victorious Allies were able to divide and decide the political fate of the Axis Powers and their conquered territories. This includes the USA drafting Japan's new constitution post-war, which Japan accepted with only minor revisions. In the 60-70 years since, the foreign-drafted constitution has seen very few changes.


One enormous change to Japan's political structure, as outlined by the new document, switched Japan to a parliamentary system while retaining the emperor. However, the emperor became merely a figurehead with no real power.

Also shockingly, the constitution forbid Japan to wage war, a provision that has stood unchallenged since its formation. The document detailed that "Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes," a seemingly permanent restriction on the right to wage war.

In a similar vein, the constitution stated that "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained". This stood until 2005, where it was moderately amended to allow a defense force.

Most of the American bill of rights was transferred to the Japanese constitution as well, including 39 articles on "basic human liberties" such as adult suffrage, unions, and marriage and property rights for women. However, the UN has raised some complaints about the enforcing of these articles. 

And how has such a restrictive document formed by a foreign power governed a developed country for so long? Despite Article 96's assertion that amendments can be added to any part of the constitution, the actual process is arduous. Two-thirds of each house of the Diet must approve of the proposed amendment before a referendum can be held. In that referendum, a majority needs to ratify the amendment before it can be added. This certainly contributed to how no amendments have been added since the constitution's conception, though existing amendments have been revised once or twice.


Time will only tell if this constitution continues to uphold Japan or if it will see further and more extreme revisions. The Japanese Liberal Democratic Party consistently lists constitution revision as part of its platform. For however the constitution was formed and for whatever reason it was formed, it has stood largely uncontested for several decades.

 Sources: Wikipedia, PBS,

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ferdinand Magellan

Ferdinand Magellan, born in 1480 in northern Portugal, led the first expedition around the earth and named the Pacific Ocean (peaceful sea). He convinced Charles I of Spain (Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire) to fund an expedition to find the 'East Indies,' or the "Spice Islands," where Indonesia's modern day Maluku Islands are located.


Magellan was an avid explorer even before his famous journey. He sailed to India and the far East, amongst other places. However, he was wrongly accused for trading illegally with the Moors and he also quarreled with King Manuel I of Portugal over funds for a journey to the Spice Islands. He therefore sought employment and allegiance with Spain over his native country. The two Iberian countries competed fiercely during the Age of Exploration.

Ferdinand Magellan

The 5 ships, the Trinidad, San Antonio, Concepcion, Victoria, and Santiago, set off in September 1519. Only one returned in September 1522, with only 18 of the original 270 crewmembers, Magellan not among them. He had been killed in an altercation with Filipino natives when he stopped at the Island of Mactan. His journey for the Spice Islands brought him many places around the world, including Chile and Guam. When the lone shipVictoria returned, it was commanded by Juan Sebastián del Cano. 


 Along with being credited as the first to circumnavigate the earth and naming the Pacific Ocean, he also discovered what is now called the Strait of Magellan and named the Tierra del Fuego. Additionally, Magellanic Clouds in space are named such as his crew is believed to be the first to view them. 

Sources: Wikipedia,,, Enchanted

Monday, July 15, 2013

Sino-Soviet Relations

When asked to name former and existing communist nations, the USSR and China jump to mind. And the ideological battle behind the Cold War was, fundamentally, capitalism vs. communism. But that might provide a united image unfitting of the relationship between the top Cold War communist powers. The relationship has been much more up and down.

In 1937, when World War II broke out on the Asian front, the USSR and China formed a non-aggression pact. China had been undergoing a civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists, though the fighting postponed once Japan invaded Manchuria. Throughout China's civil war, the USA had been funding the Nationalists while the USSR funded the Communists. In 1949, the Communists took control of the country. China and the USSR now had the "Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance." Reportedly, Stalin did not like Mao when the two met, but the leader's less-than-friendly relationship did not appear to interfere with international relations. 

The two nations held a close relationship through shared ideology as well as mutual benefits- the USSR had continued control of naval bases such as Luda while China received military supplies and economic and technological aid. The USSR showed its support for China by boycotting UN meetings as long as the UN recognized the Republic of China (Taiwan) instead of the People's Republic of China. China also led the brunt of the Communist fighting during the Korean War, in which Communist North Korea invaded non-Communist South Korea. This period following the war marked the closest  China had ever been with a foreign country.

 However, following Stalin's death, a rift began to form. Khrushchev, once in power, began a process known as de-Stalinization to condemn the previous leader's actions, and he began forging closer relations with the Western powers. A number of further issues irritated the Chinese government, including the Soviet's lack of involvement with the Sino-Indian war and its empty promise to share nuclear technology with China. Following the extremely radical Great Leap Forward, a Communist economic strategy that ended in disaster and famine, all Soviet officials withdrew from China. Conflicting territorial claims on top of everything else led to the two nations to armed clashes.

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The two severed diplomatic ties in 1966, and did not resume them until 1987. In the 1980s, still wary of the Soviet Union but dismissing the USSR as an immediate threat, China offered to resume relations once 3 conditions were met: Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, Soviet support for Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia, and Soviet military presence on the Sino-Soviet border and in Mongolia. The USSR refused to discuss these conditions for the first half of the decade. 

Around the time that Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko died, allowing new leadership to surface in the USSR, Sino-Soviet relations were improving. On the issue of economics and borders, the two countries were becoming much more open and friendly. Delegation exchanged resumed regularly. Gorbachev further mended the rift with his promise to hold discussions with China "at any time and at any level."


Sources:,, Country,

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Oktoberfest is a German festival- an ode to beer, of sorts- taking place in Munich (in Bavaria). The 2013 Oktoberfest lasts from September 21st until October 6th. With over 6 million people in attendance each year, it is the largest fair in the world.

The traditions started with the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810. There were celebrations by the fields, later named Theresienwiese, or "Theresa's Fields." One of the activities was horse racing, and the decision to repeat the horse races led to the tradition of Oktoberfest. Horse racing traditions ended in 1960, save for the 200th anniversary in 2010.

The History of the Oktoberfest

From 1939 to 1945, there was no Oktoberfest. From 1946 to 1948, there was only an Autumn Festival. 

The dates of Oktoberfest were rearranged in 1994 so that October 3rd, the date of the reunification of Germany, could be included in the 16-day festival each year. The festival features many German foods such as Schwinshaxe and Knödel. 

The festival, since 1950, has opened the following way: the mayor of Munich taps the first keg of Oktoberfest beer at noon, accompanied by a twelve gun salute, with a cry of "Ozapft is!" ("It's tapped!") The first beer is then given to the Minister-President of Bavaria.

Since 2005, beer tents have been restricted to quiet music until 6:00 pm, when loud pop music is then played. Authorities have also gone back and forth throughout the years on the sale and use of tobacco products within enclosed spaces during Oktoberfest.

Oktoberfest popularized the stereotypical image of German clothing such as lederhosen from males and dirndl from females.


Sources: Wikipedia,,

Monday, July 8, 2013

Economic Freedom

All countries ranked by the yearly Index of Economic Freedom are sorted into the following categories: Free (100-80), Mostly Free (79.9-70), Moderately Free (69.9-60), Mostly Unfree (59.9-50), and Repressed (49.9-0).

The only countries not ranked in 2013 were Afghanistan, Liechtenstein, Iraq, Somalia, Kosovo, Sudan, Libya, and Syria.

The economically freest country in the world, for the 19th consecutive year, was Hong Kong, which is actually a special autonomous region of China. With a score of 89.3, Hong Kong led the only 5 countries that were categorized as free. The others, in order, were Singapore (88), Australia (82.6), New Zealand (81.4), and Switzerland (81).

The world's average economic freedom score is only 59.6.

So where do the nations lie on this ranking system? Many Western European nations (the Nordics, the UK, Ireland, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria), Canada, the United States, South Korea, and Japan fall under Mostly Free. Also within Europe and Asia were Lithuania, Estonia, Taiwan, and Macau. Some Middle Eastern nations with a Mostly Free ranking include Bahrain, the UAE, Qatar, and Jordan.

Within the Moderately Free nations were other European nations (Spain, Portugal, Belgium, France, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Latvia), several Central South American countries (Mexico, El Salvador, Peru, Uruguay, Colombia), some Asian countries (Thailand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia), some African countries (South Afria, Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda, Namibia, Madagascar), and some Middle Eastern countries (Israel, Saudi Arabia).

The Mostly Unfree countries include nations such as Russia, Greece, India, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Yemen, many Asian nations (China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Laos, the Phillipines), and many African nations (Egypt, Seychelles, Mali, Kenya, Central African Republic, Nigeria, Malawi, Niger, Cote d'Ivoire, Nicaragua, Burkina Faso).

The Repressed Nations include very few European nations (Belarus, Ukraine), some Central and South American countries (Haiti, Cuba, Ecuador), But the five least economically free nations in the world by the 2013 index were Eritrea (36.3), Venezuela (36.1), Zimbabwe (28.6), Cuba (28.5), and lagging far behind in last place, North Korea (1.5).

Some of the factors measured include Rule of Law, Limited Government, Regulatory Efficient, and Open Markets. The world average has remained largely the same since 1995. However, average Trade and Fiscal freedom have increased.

Bar Graph of United States Economic Freedom Scores Over a Time Period
The United States Economic Freedom Score

Bar Graphs comparing United States to other economic country groups
More US Freedom scores


Friday, July 5, 2013

Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the United States, stands out from other presidents for his humble origins- he was born in a log cabin to illiterate parents. Until he was 17, he had not mastered the basics of math, grammar, or reading.

Lincoln, in his attempt to show his support for the unity of the country, ran under the National Union Party rather than the Republican Party for his second term. He also chose a Southerner as his running mate- Andrew Johnson.


Naturally, when Lincoln was assassinated, Johnson rose to power. He oversaw the reconstruction of the nation following the Civil War, and he chose a decidedly lenient and Southern-sympathetic approach. He pardoned those who took oaths of allegiance, though he required wealthy men to get special Presidential pardons.

He allowed many Confederate generals to stay in power and did very little about "black codes," regulations severely restricting the freedom of former slaves. Radical Republicans in office adamantly tried to combat Johnson's easygoing Reconstruction policy. Despite Johnson's veto, Congress managed to override him and pass the Civil Rights Act of 1866 as well as the 14th amendment in the defense of freed slaves.

The Congress, fully opposed to the President, eventually attempted to impose several restrictions on him, including the Tenure of Office Act. They claimed that Johnson had violated this act with the dismissal of Secretary Stanton, and attempted to impeach him. Johnson was acquitted by just one vote. His presidency ended in 1869, leaving a legacy that would cause him to be consistently ranked amongst the worst US presidents (in sharp contrast to his predecessor, Abraham Lincoln).

Sources: Miller Center,, Wikipedia

Monday, July 1, 2013


Deutsch: Kugelmugel im Prater, in Wien
Deutsch: Kugelmugel im Prater, in Wien (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
For Monthly Micronation Monday, we explore a micronation within Austria named Kugelmugel (roughyl meaning Spherical Hill).

Kugelmugel's Flag

The story starts with artist Edwin Lipburger, who clashed with authorities over his permit to build a ball-shaped house. He built it in the countryside in 1984, only for the authorities to move the 7.68 diameter house into Vienna Prater park.

Kugelmugel's seal

Lipburger declared Kugelmugel to be its own Republic, stating his address as 2 Anti-fascism Square, printing his own stamps and refusing to pay taxes. The Austrian president pardoned Lipburger, saving him from a jail sentence.


The house in the park is now enclosed by barbed wire and serves as a tourist attraction. Outside the structure, Lipburger has put up a long "Shit List," including Mayor Zilk, who forged demolition papers for Kugelmugel.


Sources: Wikipedia, Atlas-Obscura,, List of

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