The Pirates Are Back….but no Johnny Depp this time

September 18, 2008

pirates
Suspected Somali pirates captured by security forces

The popular perception of pirates held by most in the West is a mixture of the funny best exemplified by the movie franchise Pirates of the Caribbean and the downright silly, yet perfectly harmless characters in our literary history. These misconceptions can be forgiven since piracy in the First World has long since disappeared.

However, piracy is experiencing a renaissance in East Africa these days. The Gulf of Aden, the body of water where the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean meet, has become a haven for Somali pirates who prey on the international shipping that passes through the area. Since the collapse of a government in Somalia some 17 years ago, piracy has mostly gone unchecked in the area and has become more lucrative. Only yesterday, Somali pirates hijacked two ships off of the Somali coast, bringing their tally for 2008 to 30 hijacked ships in total.

A multinational naval force headquartered in Djibouti is patrolling the Gulf of Aden to ward off pirates, but the piracy has become very lucrative in recent years as Patrick Barkham explains: Read the rest of this entry »


Panic on Wall Street – Is this the end for America’s financial system?

September 18, 2008

panic
Nervous traders on the trading floor in the midst of one of Wall Street’s most historic weeks

Things are looking grim down on Wall Street. Rather than trying to explain the chaos myself, I’ve chosen two articles that will do it better than I can. Suffice it to say that what is easily noticed is that the credo in American capitalism seems to be “privatize the profits, socialize the losses” as several companies have been rescued by the United States government and more rescues are bound to come.

From The World as we Know it is Going Under:

Things got worse after the markets closed. Washington Mutual, America’s fourth-largest bank, announced that it had started the process of putting itself up for sale. The Wall Street Journal reported that both Wells Fargo and the banking giant Citigroup were interested in taking over the battered American savings bank.

And then came the announcement that would dominate all of Thursday’s market activities: Morgan Stanley — the venerable Wall Street institution and one of the last two US investment banks left standing — had lost massive amounts and was fighting for survival. Media reports were saying that it was even in talks about a possible bail-out or merger. Rumor had it that possible suitors might include Wachovia or China’s Bank Citic.

China?

Read the rest of this entry »


Did you hear the one about McCain, your wife, and the blackberry?

September 17, 2008

mccain
In his lust for power, Presidential candidate John McCain explains to the press how he likes to carry a first generation mobile phone around with him to prepare himself for when he gets the “Presidential Football” that will allow him to nuke the world

Being a world leader in technology, American politicians have constantly championed research and development in this area not only for business purposes, but also for matters of national security. Some of these politicians go as far as to take credit for inventions that shouldn’t really be credited to them. For instance, many allege that former Presidential candidate Al Gore claimed to invent the internet. This has led to cottage industry of jokes, especially in the online world. Common sense would suggest that in the future, political figures would hesitate to exaggerate their roles in technological development.

John McCain doesn’t live by those rules. Yesterday, John McCain’s economic advisor credited the candidate with the invention of the . From Wired.com:

Asked by campaign trail reporters what McCain’s experience as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee does to help him to understand the economy and lead the country through its current turmoil, Douglas Holtz-Eakin waved his BlackBerry in the air, according to The Politico.

“Telecommunications of the United States is a premier innovation in the past 15 years, comes right through the Commerce committe,” Holtz-Eakin said. “So you’re looking at the miracle John McCain helped create and that’s what he did.”

Holtz-Eakin has been mocked by the blogosphere since he uttered those words.

But there is a political dimension at play here which few realize. McCain’s reintroduction of the “culture wars” in this election through his choice of Sarah Palin as his Vice-Presidential candidate leaves McCain in a bit of a dilemma: his invention is playing havoc with the stability of the family! Professionals Choosing Blackberry Over Spouse:

How much do tech-addicted workers love their PDAs? Let’s count the ways.

A new survey found that about 35 percent of professionals would pick their PDAs over their spouses if they had to choose.

Senator McCain, your invention is destroying the family.


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A Return to Cold War Chic?

September 13, 2008

With a resurgent Russia now standing up the USA, is it time to dust off the Cold War Memorabilia? Listen to this Cold War classic while you ponder that question :)


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Sore Alba has arrived!

September 11, 2008

Sore Alba
Sore Alba plants his flag at Vodka Soda

In a galaxy far, far away …

On the distant edges of Europe the small resource rich nation sits uneasily within a larger political entity dominated by its more populous neighbour. A swelling separatist movement preaches oil-fuelled American style free markets when the suits are in town yet promises the population cradle to grave socialism when the cameras stop rolling. And while the smaller people laud their blood-soaked heroes of yore, and hail the Olympic standard bearers of last month as symbols of proud nationhood, the question is still to be answered: do they have what it takes to break away and go it alone?

Is this one of those tiny countries somewhere near Russia you’ve never heard of and have even less chance of pronouncing correctly, where centuries old stagnation of the donkey and cart variety rapidly meets ultra modern weaponry? Nah, not even close. Think closer to home. Real close to home. Place that spawned many of you moose-shaggers ancestors, and where your current head of state resides.

That’s right! It’s the United Kingdom, or more pertinently, England and Scotland, the two largest constituent nations (Ignore the Welsh, they don’t count and Northern Ireland; aw jeez, let’s really not start that up …) of said United Kingdom.

You may have heard, but it probably didn’t sink in, that Scotland not only now has its own Parliament, but is actually run by the Scottish National Party. The SNP being the lads and lassies who want to make Scotland independent. And in their leader Alex Salmond the SNP has what could well be the most gifted politicians in the western world. Barack Schmarack, Wee Eck would eat him for breakfast if the American system allowed for anything so dignified as an actual opportunity for party leaders to go at it under parliamentary privelege.

While a small but persistent majority of Scots still say they wouldn’t vote for independence in a referendum – Salmond’s planning one for 2011 – there is no denying the political wind is filling Nationalist sails. And the English? They are champing at the bit to get rid of their Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who just happens to be er, Scottish, and the man they blame for all their credit crunched troubles. Could yon bairn gan oot wi tha bathwatter like? Translation: could the English decide they want nothing to do with the Scots before the Scots decide they can live without the Sassenachs?

Does this mean anything to you? Is it at all interesting? If you in any way care and want to know more, this column will be back next week and every week after that until its humble author gets on the wrong bus on a wet Glasgow night and meets a sticky end on the point of a sharpened screwdriver. Welcome to Auld Reekie: All things Scottish, some things British and a few things by the by. Sore Alba, the newest, and bestest, and most able to handle it’s boozest, addition to Vodka/Soda.

…which is by the way is a lassie’s drink.


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Getting a Sense of Burma

September 9, 2008

Baganmyo
A Buddhist temple in the Burmese province of Bagan

Ask most people what they think of the country of Myanmar and you’ll either get one of two instant reactions. The first reaction will be a look of puzzlement since Myanmar isn’t a very well known country for westerners. The second reaction will be by those people a little more in tune with history and current events and they’ll no doubt explain to you that the country was better known as Burma prior to the military junta changing the name of the state to Myanmar.

This second group will also most likely mention three key things in recent Burmese history: the famous dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, Cyclone Nargis, which killed almost 150,000 Burmese last year, and the Saffron Revolution which attempted to take on the Burmese military junta. The officers running the country showed their paranoia to the world by not only beating and killing protestors, but also by rejecting aid for the cyclone victims out of fear of foreign subterfuge.

Why is Myanmar and its military junta so secretive and conspiratorial in its outlook? What do they fear from outsiders? Robert Kaplan takes a look at this strategically important and resource-rich country in Lifting the Bamboo Curtain. Here’s an excerpt from Kaplan’s excellent piece:

But Burma is more than a place to feel sorry for. And its ethnic struggles are of more than obscurantist interest. For one thing, they precipitated the military coup that toppled the country’s last civilian government almost a half century ago, when General Ne Win took power in part to forestall ethnic demands for greater autonomy. With one-third of Burma’s population composed of ethnic minorities living in its fissiparous borderlands (which account for seven of Burma’s 14 states and divisions), the demands of the Karens and others will return to the fore once the military regime collapses. Democracy will not deliver Burma from being a cobbled-together mini-empire of nationalities, even if it does open the door to compromise among them.

click this link to read the article in its entirety


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Are the Cities of Northern England Doomed?

August 14, 2008

North Englanders
A UK conservative think-tank suggests that cities in the North of England are declining without a chance of recovery

The conservative UK think-tank Policy Exchange has sent a shockwave through English politics by suggesting that England’s northern cities are declining without hope of recovery. Furthermore, they propose that residents of cities such as Liverpool and Sunderland move to the more prosperous Southeast of England and that government help this internal migration by building three million new homes to house these people.

The outrage is compounded by the fact that Policy Exchange is tied to UK Tory leader David Cameron and will no doubt have an affect on Tory support (what little that they do have) in these post-industrial cities.

As for these northern cities, Nigel Morris reports:

In its report, the think-tank said: “We need to accept above all that we cannot guarantee to regenerate every town and every city in Britain that has fallen behind. Just as we can’t buck the market, so we can’t buck economic geography either.”

Policy Exchange said many large coastal cities had lost their raison d’etre with the decline of shipping and raised the alarm over the future of Liverpool, Sunderland, Hull, Scunthorpe and Blackpool. It said it was unrealistic to expect the prosperous cities of Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle to regenerate less well-off neighbours such as Liverpool, Rochdale, Bradford and Sunderland. It said such places were not “doomed” and could not be abandoned, but people had to face up to the fact that they had “little prospect of offering their residents the standard of living to which they aspire”. The think-tank said all three million new homes earmarked for England by 2020 should be built in the South-east, making it easier for people in less well-off areas to move. It also called for massive building in Oxford and Cambridge, taking advantage of their high skills base and favourable location.


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