Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Somali Coastline is Now Pirate Central

The Somali coast of East Africa has been the center of piracy for over 12 years. A cruise ship was the last target. It escaped but a legacy of fear and worry for this coast is forcing a call for denominating it a "combat zone".

Just recently a Sebourn cruise ship, the Seabourn Spirit with 302 passengers, of whom 18 were British, was attacked off the coast of Somalia by pirates in two 25 foot inflatable boats. They attacked at high speed with rocket propelled grenade launchers and automatic weapons. It was felt that this was an act of piracy rather than a terrorist attempt.

The result of this attack was a loungeful of safe passengers, a crew who had been specially trained to repel people trying to gain entrance to the ship and a captain and bridge crew who first tried to run the pirates down at high speed, discharged a sonic "bang"; then changed course and outdistanced them.

Sebourn is a Carnival owned subsidiary. Carnival Cruise Lines is their worldwide headquarters based in Miami, Florida. It must have been a frightening time for the tourist-passengers and used the crew to their utmost; but it was not the first or the worst of the piracy off the Somali coast of East Africa over the past decade plus. Somalia has had no recognized government in 14 years.

The Times noted that,

"Numast, the maritime union, will meet the Chamber of Shipping in London this week to demand that the waters off Somalia, where there have been 25 attacks on shipping since March, be designated a combat area.

Such a declaration would give crew members the right to refuse to sail there, force shipowners to recruit extra staff for security duties, entitle crews to danger money and guarantee seafarers insurance cover."

The International Maritime Bureau has requested international shippers to maintain their craft at least 50 miles offshore. The pirates have become more invasive with one attack 120 miles from the coast. Ship owners have been advised to install electric fencing to repel boarders.

Citation for The Times article is at Sean O’Neill , The Times

Somalia has tuna resources and a rich eco-system offshore. However it has had no government since the fall of President Siad Barre's regime. The abyss left by the anarchy which was NOT solved by the UN/US entrance to bring "relief" to the population. Instead the warlords who destroyed that relief attempt now control the Somalia coastal patrol who have discovered that coastal patrol is easily turned to vessel seizure, kidnapping for ransom and outright piracy.

"With the breakdown of civil society, Somalia has degenerated into a no-man's land subject to clan or Islamic Shari'ah law. Owing to continuing unrest in the south, a central government is unlikely to evolve soon. In its place, a decentralized federation of regional political entities has emerged, including the self-proclaimed but unrecognized Republic of Somaliland in the northwest, the self-proclaimed Puntland State in the northeast, Jubaland in the south near Kismayo, and a future Banadir regional administration around Mogadishu when warlords Hussein Aideed (son of late General Farah Aideed) and Ali Mahdi settle their differences. Years of internal conflict have damaged infrastructure in the fishery sector and rendered ineffective any previous oil spill response capability, aids to navigation, and search and rescue capacity in a region of high tanker/cargo traffic to and from the Suez Canal through the Gulf of Aden and calling at Mombasa, the East African shipping hub..."

During this year a ship carrying a World Food Programme load of supplies into the chaos of Somalia was taken by the pirates. Her crew was held hostage for over 14 weeks. A rescue vessel sent to provide supplies to the kidnapped ship was also taken.

" Andrew Linnington, of Numast, said. 'We are now seeing ships stolen to order. Pirates will board a ship, cast the crew adrift, or sometimes kill them, before installing their own crew and sailing the vessel to a port where it is re-registered and renamed.

'Ships are very prone to attack. They are slow moving and cargo ships are low in the water, making it easy for pirates to climb on board...'"

The above quotes are from The Times of London

Further the political situation is so deteriorated in relation to the needs of maritime traffic that,

"With the breakdown of civil society, Somalia has degenerated into a no-man's land subject to clan or Islamic Shari'ah law. Owing to continuing unrest in the south, a central government is unlikely to evolve soon. In its place, a decentralized federation of regional political entities has emerged, including the self-proclaimed but unrecognized Republic of Somaliland in the northwest, the self-proclaimed Puntland State in the northeast, Jubaland in the south near Kismayo, and a future Banadir regional administration around Mogadishu when warlords Hussein Aideed (son of late General Farah Aideed) and Ali Mahdi settle their differences. Years of internal conflict have damaged infrastructure in the fishery sector and rendered ineffective any previous oil spill response capability, aids to navigation, and search and rescue capacity in a region of high tanker/cargo traffic to and from the Suez Canal through the Gulf of Aden and calling at Mombasa, the East African shipping hub. ..."

The list of vessels that have been subjected to illegal actions is long and fascinating albeit frightening. These ships are noted among others:

January, 1988: 2 ships, Bulgarian and a Syrian were captured. The crews were returned on payment of $110,000.

April, 1998: 2 Frenchman were finally released to the international community for $50,000

December, 1998: Four Ukrainian tourists from a yacht were captured. The returned to their home after a month without possessions or the yacht.

April, 1999 : A commercial ferry with a crew of 21 was abducted when it had mechanical problems. A ransom of $6.5 million was demanded; reduced to $15000 for the hostages. The ship was later abandoned and found drifting off the coast of Mombasa.

March, 1999: 2 fishing vessels from Taiwan and Ukraine taken with 50 people.

Also noted was the MV Ming Bright which was shelled hitting its superstructure and some containers but the crew escaped before they could be boarded.

And this is only an abbreviated list. See a full story at Somali Pirate Attacks.

Pravda reported in 2003 the escape of the tanker Monneron after an attack on the way to Mombassa.

" two boats with pirates approached the tanker at a distance of fifty metres and demanded that the ship stop. Three people in one boat and four in the other were armed with automatic weapons and grenade-launchers.

The crew of the tanker hid in the inner premises of the craft, and its speed was increased to the maximum. The captain immediately contacted the anti-pirate centre in Kuala Lumpur by phone and informed it of the incident. For their part, the specialists of the centre informed the command of the French naval force in Djibouti. All the ships, which were in the area of the incident, were also informed of the attack of the pirates.

The assailants fired three shots at the tanker from grenade-launchers and pursued the tanker for nearly an hour but the Monneron managed to escape. None of the crewmen was hurt."

The report is archived at: Tanker Escapes Pirates

Yesterday, 7 November, 2005 NUMAST, the international maritime union called for a UN force to guard shipping off the coast of East Africa:
"NUMAST – which represents some 19,000 shipmasters, officers and other maritime professionals – says the threat to maritime trade, lives, safety and the environment is so great in some hotspots that naval protection is essential.

It wants a United Nations-coordinated force of ships, backed up by aerial surveillance, to be deployed off the coast of east Africa to deter attacks on shipping. Without such a deterrent, NUMAST says there will be a growing risk of substantial loss of life or a major environmental disaster."

See NUMAST website where you can also look up your old shipmates. The site also offers some "shipcams" with views from bridges from ships at sea.

It is also a note that, like the humanitarian invasion of Somalia; some "small wars" remain unwinnable; the hearts and minds of the people untouched and the overall situation unchanged.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Miami travelogs

Don't neglect the Miami travelogs at Expatriate Diaries Laguna Bacalar Mexico accessed on the right with the other links or at:

Expatriate Diaries; Miami

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Bilingual bookstore_Miami

A multilingual city and multilingual editions. Seen in Books & Books, Coral Gables, FL.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

America Speaks More than English

Recent AP and NY Times articles noted that a growing number of library systems in both large and small population areas are beginning to offer multi-lingual services. The New York Public Library seems to have at least 7 languages on its website.

Other areas -- no longer relegated to the South, Southwest and California -- are feeling the growth of Spanish speaking and other communities. If we are not careful America could turn into a melting pot. As the Spanish speaking and even reading population grows some public libraries have added more services in Spanish -- books, movies, periodicals.

Some localities with critics of immigration and the use of the languages of their origins have begun campaigns to counter these new services for the immigrant community. Denver, for instance, has a Republican Representative who has publicly asked if the library there was switching to Spanish instead of English materials. He voiced his worries -- and those he says are his constituents fears == that America cannot be divided by languages and that the use of any language other than English will alienate the native population and makes for tension in the community.

A local radio talk show moderator was involved in a protest because people had found sexually graphic pictures in Spanish language comic books (which were later removed from the library. I know these 5 peso comics here in Mexico hung in every papeleria and news stand. They are staple reading for the poorer and older population who do not read well nor much. My elderly Mayan gardener/guard used to always have one to look at under the light at the large door to the property while he waited for me to return and guarded my wife. They gave him a lot of pleasure and, at 75 or so, I doubt turned him into a sexual fiend.

In Denver there is a 15% Spanish speaking population. The adult services supervisor of the library said that the library brings materials to the people in whatever language is appropriate. It is that which libraries exist to do.

I grew up in a Cuban barrio and I hope that the Tampa Public Library had books for the non-English speakers. Books and magazines and movies are important. Knowing the backwardness of Tampa; probably not. In those days in the South even foreign language classes in public schools were fought since "If English was good enough for Jesus; it is good enough for our children." I remember that quote from much earlier days but it does not seem that much has changed.

One. Public Libraries in the United States have no business being censored.

Two. Reading materials and other services should benefit the community as a whole no matter what language it speaks.

Three. English is our national language but those who are so paranoid of losing control of the country because people will begin speaking Spanish must remember that there is room for different cultures and different languages. Remember, too, that it works both ways. America has failed at teaching multilingualism to its young people. In a complex world with myriad international contacts and businesses; it is time to actually begin early to bring a number of languages to the schools.

This was loosely based on an Associated Press report from the 5th of September.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Blogcritics Pick of the Week

My commentary on James Fenimore Cooper's The Pathfinder was chosen by the editors of Blogcritics as a Pick of the Week. Neat!.

The post is here two posts previous (below) or at The Pathfinder: Action, Adventure and Romance

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Painful Medicine

We believe in our medical system as progressive, technologically advanced, always available and ready to relieve pain and danger. We may worry about the soaring costs, fat insurance company executive salaries, and unwillingness to provide the country with a health care safety net. But we still have faith that the doctors will still give us some "medicine" to cure the illness and take away the pain.

They used to come to your house to do it but we cannot hope for the moon. They used to give you some of their time and concentration rather than forming groups and seeing 3 people at a time: a few minutes with one, run out, a few minutes with another. It would be nice to feel special but we cannot hope for the stars either.

The fact is that American medicine is now being overseen and sometimes controlled by businessmen (HMOs) and cops. In an article on "Pain Management" from George Mason University,

The question is, what are the 10-20 million Americans who suffer chronic pain to do? The only non-narcotic painkiller left, aspirin, remains an option. However, long-term use of painkilling doses can lead to potentially fatal gastrointestinal bleeding. Some 16,000 people die each year from bleeding related to aspirin and other NSAIDs.

That is a lot of people, a lot of pain (which is difficult to quantify) and very few medications left for the average person. There are also people with an intense allergy to aspirin; even fewer alternatives for them. This present round of worries comes after the big loss in court suffered by Merck, the maker of Vioxx. The drug makers of COX-2 drugs like Vioxx and Celebrex have been linked to "an increased risk of heart attack and stroke". Later the NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as Advil and Ibuprofen were found to increase these risks were seen as part of the genre of medication to which belong the Vioxx and Celebrex meds. Since it is a tiny risk factor, we won't mention that people allergic to aspirin are usually allergic to NSAIDs.

So no Vioxx, no Advil, no aspirin. At least for the little aches and pains there is Tylenol (acetominophen). Nope.

And now, the last hold-out, Tylenol (acetominephen) has been linked with kidney problems and with a significantly increased risk for high blood pressure in women in an analysis of the Nurses’ Health Study.

The New York Times reported on the $253 million suit won against Merck but noted that Merck, Novartis, and GlaxoSmithKline continue to invest in these cox-2 drugs and hope to prove their safety. Click over to the David Nalle post on Blogcritics on The Vioxx Verdict. Mr. Nalle's article is less a polemic about the state of pain medication than a reasoned discussion of this high an award and the future for Merck as well as the drugs themselves.

See $253 Million for the New York Times Business section take on the Merck decision and the state of the industry.

Aspirin and Tylenol are not even strong enough painkellers to be classed for more than "mild" pain. What, then, is left? The answer is opoids. Opium derivatives.

"Unfortunately, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has recently gotten into the anti-opiate act, with director Nora Volkow claiming that medical education misleads doctors into believing that there is little risk of addiction when prescribing opoids for chronic pain because those who use them for acute pain treatment are not likely to become addicted.

In an interview with Psychiatric Times (7/05), Volkow said that "5-7%" of chronic pain patients given opioids become addicts. That means, of course, that over 93% do not, which many would see as a low risk. But other studies have found the risk to be lower than that claimed by Volkow. The risk for people without a prior history of drug problems, for example, has been found to be less than 1%. Furthermore, the risk of accidental addiction declines with age, which, given that many pain patients are middle aged or older, is an important consideration in considering any potential risk for accidental addiction. None of that, however, is mentioned in the Psychiatric Times piece."

Do note that the prescriptions of physicians are being controlled by an agency led by a Nora Volkow . She doesn't appear to have an M.D. or Dr. attached to her name but has the power or influence to help create painful medicine -- the present situation where "50% of dying patients in the U. S. are still under-treated for pain"-- at least according to the World Health Organization.

Note that quotations were from a release from George Mason University at Pain Management. I was led to this article by the excellent science site (similar to Blogcritics arts, culture and politics site), SciTechDaily

Other studies have shown that the vast majority of people who need pain medication for severe pain do NOT develop an addiction. If you are suffering a heart attack, believe me, morphine in huge doses is wonderful to stop the pain that is enough to kill by itself. But the morphine itself is unpleasant and nauseating and will forever remind me of the intense pain that caused me to take it. Addiction tends to require some pleasure associated with the subject -- morphine, nicotine, caffeine, fast food...

The fact is that opium derivatives do the job. A number of years ago when Jackie Kennedy Onassis was dying of painful cancer, the papers reported that she received enough painkillers to die without suffering. Essentially because she was rich, famous and an American icon. One should not have to be that rich nor famous to be kept from suffering needlessly.

It is time to reexamine our national priorities. We really cannot afford to have foreign wars and this artificial war on medications and recreational drugs at the same time. The nation's resources, veracity and safety are compromised by using valuable resources to watch physicians, cause recreational drugs to be so expensive that people kill for them, castigate older, sick people for looking for alleviation of suffering. Further, this "war" is totally non-productive. Billions have been spent and nothing has been produced except fear, pain and death. It is time to fight terrorists, if fight we must, and stop fighting the medical profession and the people it tries to serve.

Check the post with its comments at: Painful Medicine.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Pathfinder:Adventure, Romance and Action

James Fenimore Cooper (of The Last of the Mohicans fame is great fun. Yes, fun and romance and adventure and excitement. He is a bit out of fashion like black and white movies from the thirties but that doesn't mean that you wouldn't be missing a great experience by reading him.

Granted there are dated turns of phrase and he is a master of the forever long sentence like Henry James and Gertrude Stein, but these are small prices to pay for adventures in the wilderness. That wilderness is anything west of the Hudson River and north of Albany. The country was still small and its corners were not rounded into suburbs and federal highways.

These days Cooper is relegated often to being seen as the writer behind Daniel Day-Lewis in The Last of the Mohicans, a fine movie. Reading his stories of la longue carabine as the Indians of the French called him and "pathfinder" to the colonists is a struggle through some muddiness at first and then the adventures take over, the sentences make sense even though they often run on and the scenes of battle and the wilderness are trips on their own. These were planned as adventures and adventures they are.

I am not competent to review Cooper. He is an American classic and the stuff of academic discussions and classes, criticism and scholarship. I call this a "commentary" or perhaps just a reminder that all classics are not "school books". Read him for fun and for a sense of the history of our nation when it was young and the world was simpler.

Perhaps I love the Leatherstocking Tales with Natty Bumppo (Pathfinder) because the rules of the game were, like the first Superman, a simple goodness of spirit of which we are today losing so rapidly in the world. Natty Bumppo had wasn't just a prince of the virgin continent; his code of conduct was definite -- faithful, moral, fearless and he was an example of a "just minded and pure man might be."

Cooper describes him about a third of the way into the book as:

"... the most striking feature about the moral organization of Pathfinder was beautiful and unerring sense of justice. This noble trait -- and without it no man can be truly great...As might have been expected... his fidelity was like the immovable rock; treachery in him was classed among the things which are impossible; and as he seldom retired before his enemies, so was he never known... to abandon a friend..."

OK. This is not a short excerpt and the paragraph goes on and on. Still, this is the man we need now and men like him to rid the world of the bad guys and remind us who the good guys really are.

If the classics of American literature have turned you away; give Cooper a chance. Visit the adventure of a previous time. There is fun to be had and suspense without a serial killer in sight.