Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Surprises from nature and man

So remember how I wrote about how dry Mongolia is? And how peaceful Mongolians are?

And then I left the country.

Just as we were packing up, it started to sprinkle. The drizzle turned to downpour that kept up for five days. Look at this comparison of how I saw the Selbe River compared to the shot Brian White took just a few days later:

Mongolia started to turn green again. Pasture was assured for the herds. A pleasant democratic election was a few days away. Life looked good.

So much for the idyllic. When the former Communist Mongolian Peoples Democratic Party declared victory, the rival Democratic Party cried foul and alleged voter fraud. Some people were more than a bit politically peeved -- a crowd attacked the MPDP headquarters and burned it. The riot left 400 police injured and pall of smoke -- and dread -- over Ulaanbaatar.

And now madness has set in. Someone torched the Cultural Palace and National Art Gallery, damaging the artworks students were unable to save from the flames.

I cannot tell you how sad I am to hear this latest turn in events. Both parties had defensible policies -- but different version of how Mongolia should develop its new-found natural riches.

Political anger is an emotion I understand well. I can recall my rage at Richard Nixon and the sick feeling in my stomach when I read of the Bush Administration's attacks on Constitutional rights.

I'm writing this from Charlottesville, in the Shenedoah Valley of Virginia. They know disagreement here -- locals in gray helped VMI professor Thomas Jackson "stand like a stone wall" until Phil Sheriden's boys in blue ripped through. Thousands died within a few miles of me over a political disagreement.

I know that many of the landmarks of the South were lost in the battles, as they always are in war. But to turn your anger pointedly on the cultural archive of a people who have influenced the world for 800 years or more is insane. And very sad.

Brian White is providing continuing eye-witness reports on his blog. More on-scene reports on the situation are from Radio Australia and The Associated Press.

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