Friday, November 28, 2008
To see this sport played competitively, one has to watch Asian and European players. Another sport that’s best appreciated in similar manner is badminton. In Asia and Europe, table tennis and badminton are taken seriously.
When I was in high school, I was a pretty good table tennis player. My classmate happened to be the national champion and although he did beat me in straight games I did give him a good workout. That’s how I knew that I was a decent player. The national champion told me so. ;-)
At any rate, look at the two videos below. The first one is for laughs and you’ll see why. The second one baffles me. Is he playing table tennis with a nunchaku for real? A nunchaku is a deadly weapon but in the video the man wields it like a racquet. Enjoy the videos!
Monday, November 24, 2008
Back in September I reported what was then the most serious piracy incident—the hijacking of MV Faina, a Ukrainian-owned freighter that happened to be carrying 33 Russian T-72 tanks. The US Navy promptly dispatched the USS Howard and Russia followed by sending the missile frigate Neustrashimy (Fearless).
A few days later, on 2 October, I provided an update. (1) I simply had to repeat what the New York Times reported:
In a 45-minute interview, the pirate spokesman explained what the pirates wanted (“just money”) to why they were doing this (“to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters”) to what they had to eat on board (rice, meat, bread, spaghetti, “you know, normal human-being food”).IMPOTENCE
He said that so far, in the eyes of the world, the pirates had been misunderstood. “We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits,” he said. “We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas. We are simply patrolling our seas. Think of us like a coast guard.”
Well to my disbelief I have to report that the MV Faina is still in the hands of the pirates. It has been surrounded by four US warships and the Russian warship for the last six weeks. I am at a loss for a rational explanation for the impotent behavior of these major powers.
There are currently 14 warships in the Gulf of Aden. Eight of them come from the combined task force of the coalition that is fighting the war in Afghanistan. NATO has four. Russia has one. And India has one. (2)
NAVIES HAVE THEIR HANDS TIED
ABC News recently reported that most of the navies have declared that shipping companies must protect themselves:
There is no consensus among the world's powers, however, to go after the pirates despite the fact that the ships that have been captured are anchored in clear view off the coast of Somalia.But so what? I wonder why President Bush hasn’t made a decision. This is so unlike him. The presidential elections are over. His administration will be in power for just two more months. (The presidential inauguration of Senator Obama is scheduled for 20 January 2009.) Does he intend to hand over this problem to his successor?
The U.S. Navy said Wednesday that it’s not about to use its military might to free a giant oil tanker or any other ship captured by Somali pirates because if naval forces recover one ship, they would have to recover them all.
Besides, a Pentagon official asked, what would they do with all the captured pirates?
The U.S. Fifth Fleet has dozens of ships patrolling the pirate-infested waters off the Somali coast in the Gulf of Aden and in the Indian Ocean. They have been joined by warships from several other nations trying to create a safe corridor through the busy shipping lanes. (3)
This impotence can only make the pirates bolder. Thugs like them only understand one language and that is the language of power. Apparently while they don’t understand the lack of action, they’re not wasting time pondering this. Since the MV Faina incident, about 15 more vessels have been hijacked.
According to the same ABC News article, 95 ships have been attacked so far this year and 39 have been captured.
A TIMELY EXCEPTION
Last week, on 19 November, Wednesday, the only Indian warship took offensive action at the first opportunity. (4) The INS Tabar first saved two merchant vessels on 11 November and followed it up on the 19th by destroying one of the mother ships of these Somali pirates.
INS Tabar encountered the pirates’ mother ship with two speed boats in tow and there were about 20 pirates on board the ship, it is learned.Congratulations to the Indian government and its navy for setting a good example.
“This pirate vessel was similar in description to the ‘Mother Vessel’ mentioned in various piracy bulletins. INS Tabar closed in on the vessel and asked her to stop for investigation,” a Navy spokesperson said.
But the pirates threatened to blow up the warship if it sailed closer to their mother ship, despite repeated calls from INS Tabar to stop and let the Navy personnel to inspect the ship, he said.
The Navy noticed that pirates were roaming on the upper deck of the vessel with guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers in hand, and they continued the threats and subsequently fired upon INS Tabar.
In their retaliatory action in “self-defence,” INS Tabar opened fire on the mother vessel of the pirates. “As a result of INS Tabar's guns booming, fire broke out on the pirate vessel and explosions were heard, possibly due to exploding ammunition that was stored on the vessel,” he said.
THE LARGEST INCIDENT YET
Today, the Swiss news website, swissinfo.ch, reported that:
Somali pirates holding a Saudi supertanker after the largest hijacking in maritime history have reduced their ransom demand to $15 million (10 million pounds), an Islamist leader and regional maritime group both said on Monday.Hopefully this will prod the powers to finally take action. The cry has been building:
The November 15 capture of the Sirius Star—with $100 million of oil and 25 crew members from Britain, Poland, Croatia, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines—has focused world attention on rampant piracy off the failed Horn of Africa state. (5)
Tom Barnett of ScrippsNews—a major US media conglomerate—wrote an op-ed (opinion-editorial) that plainly said “when piracy threatens global commerce, great powers need to fight back—collectively.” (6) I might add that the US navy should be able to do it by itself if the President ordered it. After all, if the US can invade two countries, surely it can exterminate several thousand pirates.
Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky of the Russian Navy was quoted by the Russian News & Information Agency (Novosti) as saying that warships from all of the Russian Navy fleets will be involved in measures to fight piracy in the Horn of Africa region. (7)
And back to the good-example-maker, India. Outlook India claims that India has been given the UN’s blessing to take on the pirates:
With international maritime nations identifying Somalian waters as the source of increasing piracy threats, India today said the UN Security Council has granted it permission to “suppress” the sea brigands there.As my daughters would say, "whatever!" Let’s see what happens next.
“So far India’s encounter with the pirates has been in the international waters. Our desire to fight piracy through the UN route has been conveyed and confirmed through the UN Security Council via the UN Permanent Representative of Somalia in UN,” Ministry of External Affairs Secretary (East) N Ravi told reporters here.
Navy officials, on their part, said the UN has given permission to navies operating in that area to take action against pirates, as enshrined in the UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolutions 1814, 1816 and 1838.
They said the go-ahead came after the Transitional Government of Somalia approached the UN welcoming action against pirates in their territorial waters. (8)
(1) “PIRACY UPDATE - 2 October 2008.” Retrieved from http://philosophytoastronomy.blogspot.com/2008/10/piracy-update-october-2-2008-when.html on 22 November 2008.
(2) “FACTBOX: Foreign ships off Somalia.” Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUKTRE4AK4M020081121 on 22 November 2008.
(3) “Shipping Companies Must Protect Themselves.” Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/print?id=6292014 on 23 November 2008.
(4) “Indian Navy Sinks Pirate Ship in Gulf of Aden.” Retrieved from http://www.outlookindia.com/pti_news.asp?id=635226 on 23 November 2008.
(5) “Somali pirates want $15 million for Saudi ship.” Retrieved from http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/swissinfo.html?siteSect=105&sid=10005525&ty=ti on 24 November 2008.
(6) “Barnett: Fight the pirates.” Retrieved from http://www.scrippsnews.com/node/38139 on 23 November 2008.
(7) “Warships from all Russian Navy fleets to fight piracy off Somalia.” Retrieved from http://en.rian.ru/russia/20081123/118473138.html on 23 November 2008.
(8) “India gets UN nod to take on piracy in Somalian waters.” Retrieved from http://www.outlookindia.com/pti_news.asp?id=636464 on 23 November 2008.
Friday, November 21, 2008
10 legs. 9 months. 8 competitors. And 37,000 nautical miles. It started at the port town of Alicante, Spain and will finish at the port city of St. Petersburg, Russia.
The race began 40 days ago and is expected to finish in late-June of 2009.
All eight racers finished the first leg safely (from Alicante to Cape Town, South Africa) and had departed from Cape Town six days ago.
The race began in 1973 and was known back then as the "Whitbread Round the World." In 2000, Volvo became the primary sponsor and renamed it the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR).
The boats are essentially giant surfboards because of the way they perform. These are huge vessels, 70 feet long (21 meters), and manned by 11 maniacs. The maniacs come from Britain, Russia, China, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Uruguay, etc.
From the official website:
After looking at these videos, tell me if you don't fall in love with the sport!
During the race the crews will experience life at the extreme: no fresh food is taken onboard so they live off freeze dried fare, they will experience temperature variations from -5 to +40 degrees Celsius and will only take one change of clothes. They will trust their lives to the boat and the skipper and experience hunger and sleep deprivation.
The race is the ultimate mix of world class sporting competition and on the edge adventure, a unique blend of onshore glamour with offshore drama and endurance.
It is undeniably the world’s premier global race and one of the most demanding team sporting events in the world.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Earlier, I explained the concept of marginal analysis. Although marginal analysis is an economic concept, it can be applied to many situations-war included.
The question I want to answer is this: are we getting our money’s and lives’ worth in the ongoing war in Iraq? In other words, after $350 billion (although estimates vary widely) and the lives of 4,500 troops, what has America really accomplished? Has America received the benefits it expected? What, in fact, are those benefits?
On March 9, 2008, MSNBC.com reported that a Nobel Prize-winning economist (J. Stiglitz) reported that the US government is burning through $12 billion a month to fight that war.
I recently concluded that this was a totally unnecessary war. And before I proceed, note that this entry discusses contemporary US politics. And politics, as my second favorite uncle said, is one of those topics where the discussion never ends. (The other is religion.)
VOICES OF DISSENT
Shortly after the US invaded Iraq, various politicians—most of whom come from the Democratic party—described the Iraq War as a “war of choice” or phrases to that effect. (President Bush belongs to the opposing party-the Republican party.) Various political commentators echoed the same observation.
USA Today reported on August 26, 2004 that:
“Iraq was a war of choice, and the United States is bearing virtually all of the cost,” according to John Podesta. Mr. Podesta was the chief of staff of former President Clinton. He now heads the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. He is, unquestionably, a liberal Democrat.
Boston Globe reported on September 9, 2004 that:
CINCINNATI —— Senator John F. Kerry, campaigning at the same site where President Bush laid out his case against Saddam Hussein two years ago, yesterday called the Iraq war a “catastrophic choice” that has cost $200 billion while inspiring terrorist groups and yielding “the most incalculable loss of all”—more than 1,000 US military deaths.
“George W. Bush’s wrong choices have led America in the wrong direction in Iraq, and they have left America without the resources we need so desperately here at home,” Kerry said, in a bluntly worded attempt to contrast his views on Iraq with the incumbent’s war policy. “I call this course a catastrophic choice that has cost us $200 billion because we went it alone, and we’ve paid an even more unbearable price in young American lives and the risks our soldiers are taking. We need a new direction.”
TIME WILL TELL
For my part, I withheld judgment about the wisdom of waging war in Iraq until I read Scott McClellan’s book. Scott’s book explains his belief that the Bush administration fabricated evidence to justify the assault on Iraq.
Who is McClellan? He’s the former Press Secretary of President Bush. Mr. McClellan was a loyal worker for the president since 2000. He became the Press Secretary-the official mouthpiece of the White House-on July 2003 until he resigned on April 2006. In June 2008, his book, "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception," was published.
I found the book credible. I don’t think Mr. McClellan had an axe to grind. Instead, I think his conscience was weighed down by his knowledge and he wrote it to both clear his conscience and to inform the American people of his belief that the president deceived the American people. It was this book that clinched the case and convinced me that America did not have to invade Iraq.
According to the Washington Post (October 10, 2004), the rationale behind the invasion was...
In announcing 19 months ago that the United States was poised to invade Iraq, President Bush told the nation:I looked for corroborating evidence and found it in the official press release by the White House on October 7, 2002:
But the argument that the United States faced a moment of maximum peril in early 2003 from Iraq has been greatly weakened by the release last week of the comprehensive report of chief U.S. weapons inspector Charles A. Duelfer. Click on any of these links: Link-1, Link-2, or Link-3.
- Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised...
- The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder.
The report found that the 1991 Persian Gulf War and subsequent U.N. inspections destroyed Iraq's illicit weapons capability, leaving it without any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
Saddam Hussein hoped to someday resume his weapons efforts, the report said, but for the most part there had been no serious effort to rebuild the programs.
- Tonight I want to take a few minutes to discuss a grave threat to peace, and America’s determination to lead the world in confronting that threat.
- The threat comes from Iraq. It arises directly from the Iraqi regime’s own actions-its history of aggression, and its drive toward an arsenal of terror.
- Eleven years ago, as a condition for ending the Persian Gulf War, the Iraqi regime was required to destroy its weapons of mass destruction, to cease all development of such weapons, and to stop all support for terrorist groups.
- The Iraqi regime has violated all of those obligations. It possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons. It has given shelter and support to terrorism, and practices terror against its own people. The entire world has witnessed Iraq’s eleven-year history of defiance, deception and bad faith.
- We also must never forget the most vivid events of recent history. On September the 11th, 2001, America felt its vulnerability—even to threats that gather on the other side of the earth. We resolved then, and we are resolved today, to confront every threat, from any source, that could bring sudden terror and suffering to America.
- Members of the Congress of both political parties, and members of the United Nations Security Council, agree that Saddam Hussein is a threat to peace and must disarm. We agree that the Iraqi dictator must not be permitted to threaten America and the world with horrible poisons and diseases and gases and atomic weapons. Since we all agree on this goal, the issues is: how can we best achieve it?
ONE OF THE UNIQUE THINGS ABOUT AMERICAN DEMOCRACY
America is unique in the sense that its leaders must convince its people that its military action is justified. America’s military power is such that it can win practically any war. Its military’s weakness-if that’s what it should be called-is the American people’s attitude towards any military action. The American people must support it since public attitude will ultimately support or undermine the might of the military.
I thought the president did a fine job during his first term but he really screwed up his second. Most of that screw-up revolves around the war in Iraq.
I also think that he capitalized on the trust that he had built after he led the post-9/11 America. I believe that the evidence supports the deception. And I am discouraged to acknowledge that the president did what many others have done before him—betray the public trust.
Next, let’s see if marginal analysis can determine the benefit of waging the war in Iraq. It can. And the conclusion is terrible. I would like to submit a suggestion. It’s an illegal suggestion unless Congress can be convinced to change the law. It’s a pragmatic suggestion that makes a lot of economic sense. By that, I mean that the cost-to-benefit ratio will be low and that's a good thing. We want the most bang for the buck. It should cost considerably less than a hundred million dollars. Compared to the war effort, this is a simple operation. The beauty of it lies in the likelihood that it will deliver most or all of the benefits that were originally expected.
What are those benefits anyway? Answering that question will require answering two more. Who should own these expectations—the American people or the government? And what benefits does an aggressor typically derive from a victorious war?
To be continued in a few days...