Monday, August 22, 2011

Jay Bahadur's The Pirates of Somalia: Time for a Reality Check

That a non-fiction book can be a page turner might be weird to some, but Jay Bahadur's The Pirates of Somalia was completely riveting.  Bahadur is a journalist, but he's also in a way an anthropologist:  He clearly knows that facts gathered from real fieldwork and with real cultural sensitivity are far better than second-hand information and armchair analysis.  Rather than extol his writing, however, I'm going to put here some of the facts about Somali pirates that not only struck me but also would be well to remember in any future discussion.

The pirate Boyah
1.  Somali pirates are not all the same.  The historical timeline of piracy in Somalia shows that pirates have different origins, motivations, and methods.  Bahadur describes three "waves" of piracy.  The first wave, beginning roughly with the collapse of the central Somali government in 1991, consisted largely of "marine muggings."  This was the mythical era of the fisherman-pirate, struggling against outsiders first by taking on foreign trawlers and then by attacking any passing, worthwhile target.  Eyl was the pirate haven of the day, and one of the chief operators was Abdullahi Abshir, better known as "Boyah," one of Bahadur's main subjects.  The second wave began in 2003 with the rise of Mohamed Abdi Hassan, alias "Afewyne" ("Big Mouth").  Afweyne was--and is--a businessman, and his "Somali Marines" out of the ports of Harardheere and Hobyo are organized in a military fashion.  The targets got larger:  A joint operation between Eyl and Harardheere, crossing not only geographical lines but also clan lines, captured the now-famous MV Faina with its load of tanks.  Yet, in spite of bigger targets and bigger ransoms, these pirates called themselves "Coast Guards" to at least look they were protecting Somalia from evil foreigners.  As recently as February 2011, Afweyne has been described online as a "Robin Hood" for Somalia.  The third wave began, perhaps, in 2008, when the security sector in Puntland collapsed, leaving trained men unemployed and available to go on the account.  Bahadur calls these most recent pirates "opportunists" on the coattails of men like Boyah, Afewyne, and a third kingpin, Garaad Mohammed, who has taken credit for the Maersk Alabama.  Garaad has recently gained attention when the ransom intended for the MV Yuan Xiang, captured by men under his command, was seized in Mogadishu, resulting in the arrest of three Britons.  The lesson here is simply that the Somali pirates should not be viewed as a unified force:  Time, place, and culture make each group unique.  The one constant is the "fisherman" story, which now must be seen as a public relations strategy not a universal fact.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The best cocktail container ever

One, it's recycled.  This is an Atlas jar that then became a sauce jar which has now become a jar to get sauced with.  Drink and be green!

Two, it shuts.  It can fall over.  It can be a shaker. It can go in the drink but still be your drink.  It keeps things like limes and carbonation fresh.  And it keeps out what I call "float planes," insects that fly but like to park in the water...or your booze.

Three, it's glass.  None of the funky tastes that come from plastic, Lexan, or (brr!) metal.  It's proper, tho' I'll admit that it's more BBQ joint than Ritz.

Four, you can always get another one.  Do you think highball glasses are in endless supply?  How many Crate & Barrels will you be able to find after the zombie acopalypse, unless you end up in the right mall?  There will always be a grocery store to raid.  You'll be able to get your non-spoiling food supply and, after dinner, a cup for your bathtub hooch.

OK, this may not be original, but today, as we made a 60-inch plastic kiddie pool into an adult escape--a $13.99 hot tub?--this jar became beautifully practical.  So go make some spaghetti, run the empty jar through the dishwasher, and then put your favorite beverage in your newly repurposed wonder.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Booze and Boat Bits #3 (5 short items of interest)

1:  Move over Somalia, there's a new pirate hot spot:  Nigeria.  An article for the AFP indicates that there is a surge in maritime attacks in West Africa, and specifically in the Gulf of Guinea.  Fact is, this is neither surprising nor new...just new to me.  After only a quick search, I found online articles about Nigerian pirates going back to at least 2008.  There's even a short Wikipedia entry.  Nigeria is well known for its organized crime, from drug trafficking to international fraud.  This is one of the things that makes piracy here very different from piracy off the Horn of Africa.  I'm learning (see my comments about Jay Bahadur's book below) that the Somali pirates are opportunistic and do not have what could be called long-term structure.  The Nigerians, in contrast, are all but militaristic.  They have to be:  Their prime targets are oil tankers, and they're not after ransom but the cargo itself.  The Nigerians, heavily armed and working in organized groups of high-speed boats, seize ships which they divert to waiting facilities so that the oil can be sold on the very busy, lucrative black market.  Although the pirates are Nigerian, their safe harbor appears to be Benin.  The navies of both countries seem to be unable--or unwilling--to handle the problem.  I'm curious to see what the international reaction is going to be.  Nigeria, Africa's biggest oil-producing nation, supplies a full fifth of the United States' imported oil.  Guess what, we've got more modern pirate news to watch for.