Dublin Masonic Hall

A beautiful picture of the Masonic Hall in Dublin, home of the Grand Lodge of Ireland.

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Quote of the day 60

“The great thing about science is that it’s true, whether you believe it or not.”

– Neil de Grasse Tyson

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Chinese Mainlander shitting on the street in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong


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The death of Air Zimbabwe


It flew profitably through 23 years of United Nations-imposed sanctions. It carried on without a blip after black nationalist guerillas shot down two of its Viscounts in the late 1970s, the last years of white-ruled Rhodesia.

After independence in 1980, its name was changed from Air Rhodesia to Air Zimbabwe. It was comfortably in the black with 16 aircraft, and a reputation as a clever, durable little African airline. It has taken President Mugabe 31 years without war or economic sanctions to finally drive it into the ground.

The last Air Zimbabwe domestic flight was three weeks ago. Late last year it cancelled international flights after a Boeing 737 at Johannesburg’s Oliver Tambo Airport and a Boeing 767 at Gatwick were impounded for unpaid services.

On Friday last week lawyers for the National Airways Workers’ Union and the Air TransportUnion filed for the airline to be placed under judicial management. Court papers said they had not been paid since January 2009 and were owed US$ 35 million. Air Zimbabwe executives who asked not to be named said the company owed a total of US$160 million.

Among the many reluctant benefactors who bailed it out in emergencies is Nicholas van Hoogstraaten, the former London rack-renter who has recreated himself as one of Zimbabwe’s most influential businessmen.

“The demise of Air Zimbabwe is a disgraceful waste of a valuable asset, which is now beyond redemption,” he said. The “disgrace” he refers to is the blundering mismanagement and greed Mr Mugabe and his cronies have visited upon every enterprise they have touched since he came to power in 1980.

From the outset, Mr Mugabe used Air Zimbabwe as his personal air taxi. The abuse was legendary. Passengers were ordered off their flights when he turned up at 30 minutes notice with a crowd of hangers-on. Or if they managed to keep their seats, they would be flown to wildly out-of-the way destinations to drop off the president. On one trip, he circumnavigated the globe.

Political appointments fill the senior executive positions, and relatives much of the rest. Air Zimbabwe has a staff of 1,400 where experts estimate 400 would be ample. Fares were kept unsustainably low, andcharged in worthless Zimbabwe dollars until they were phased out in 2009.

It has no board of directors. The company is in the hands of a coterie of executives who, staff say, pay themselves US$20,000 month and drive the latest Mercedes Benz models. “They are law unto themselves,” said one. Early this month a long-unpaid pilot won a court order for the seizure of company property in lieu of his salary. The sheriff entered Air Zimbabwe headquarters and left with three of the limousines.

“It’s become the ZANU(PF) (Mr Mugabe’s party) carrier,” said a senior technician. Each time the Mugabe “royal family” return from a trip abroad, a 10-tonne truck and several pick-ups can be seen to drive up to the aircraft’s hold to be loaded with the Mugabe’s goods. Last year, Grace, the president’s wife, flew into a rage when her flight was late. Acting CEO Peter Chikumba presented her with US$10,000 “spending money” by way of an apology.

Since the government took control of the fabulously wealthy Marange diamond fields in the east of country, cabin staff say, pilots are regularly given small sealed parcels by Mrs Mugabe’s staff for personal delivery to Asian businessmen in the Far East. Just ahead of elections in 2008, an Air Zimbabwe plane flew tonnes of ZANU(PF) T-shirts from Beijing.

But as Air Zimbabwe (Pvt) Ltd crumbles, a new development is secretly unfolding. A white-tail 150-seat A320 with French markings arrived at Harare airport 10 days ago and was quickly concealed in an Air Zimbabwe hangar. Company and transport ministry officials have been tight-lipped.

The plane is on loan from Sonangol [Angola-based], a Chinese company with enormous interests ranging through oil, air transport and diamonds, Air Zimbabwe administrators say. An A340 is soon to follow.

“It’s a ministry of defence project,” said one. “It can only be funded by diamonds. ZANU(PF) will not be without their own airline.”

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Quote of the day 59

‘A sailing ship is no democracy; you don’t caucus a crew as to where you’ll go anymore than you inquire when they’d like to shorten sail.’

–    Sterling Hayden

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Slaving in a Chinese hellhole

It seems that China is serious about spreading cultural values abroad.

From South China Morning Post:

In the evening gloom the vast complex emerges into view. Beyond a high security wall, insects dance in the beam of a giant floodlight. Men are still hard at work in the skeletons of concrete tower blocks, and standing at the centre of it all is the arch of a Chinese pagoda.
Zimbabwe’s national defence college is under construction within a sprawling, heavily guarded compound whose brooding presence sends a clear message to any would-be revolutionary. Some have dubbed it the “Robert Mugabe national school of intelligence”.

The project site north of Harare has also become the lightning rod for another source of simmering resentment – Chinese labour practices.

Surrounded by a wall that runs for a kilometre through what was once farmland, the shadowy military academy is being built by a Chinese contractor whose managers are accused of meting out physical punishments, miserable conditions and meagre pay.

“The beatings happen very often,” a young carpenter said as he made the long walk home after a 14-hour shift. “They ill-treat you, and if you make a mistake they beat you up.

“I saw some men beaten up yesterday. A guy complained: `You’re not treating us like human beings’, and the Chinese replied: `You should appreciate we’ve come to assist you’. They beat him up and he was fired.”

He estimated there were 600 Zimbabwean and 300 Chinese workers on the site. About 50 of the Chinese were managers. Some of the Chinese have “nice homes inside”, while others live in wooden shacks just outside the complex. The Zimbabweans and Chinese rarely mix, he added. “They don’t speak English so we use sign language. The Chinese eat off plates, then give us the leftovers.”

The carpenter said he got up at 4am and worked from 7am to 9pm every day. For this he was paid US$4 a day, but at least it meant he could feed his wife and three children. “We don’t have a choice because we need to survive,’ he said. “But if I could chase all the Chinese away, I would.”

Reports of abuse by managers at the Chinese contractor, Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Company, are widespread, as are complaints that the government is turning a blind eye because it cannot afford to lose such a valuable partner.

A 26-year-old builder, on his way to a nightshift, said: “We tried to go on strike but the leader of it was beaten up and sacked. The government doesn’t say anything, even though it knows people are beaten up. I saw them undress some workers and beat them with helmets. Some of them were crying with the pain.

“We feel angry but we need money, so there is no choice. If you don’t work 10 hours, there is no money.”

Attempts to contact the company were unsuccessful.

Zimbabwe received a Chinese loan of US$98 million to build the college. It will be repaid over 20 years through earnings from the Marange diamond fields, which are being mined by another Chinese firm amid widespread claims of human rights violations under military control.

China’s commercial empire has expanded enormously in Africa over the past decade and Zimbabwe is trying to catch up.

Bilateral trade between the two countries last year was US$550 million last year, according to the Chinese embassy. The government in Harare has said China plans up to US$10 billion in investments over the next five years, more than in any other country.

Diamonds and other mineral resources are the main attraction, but Chinese entrepreneurs have also seized opportunities in construction, manufacturing and retail. Chinese restaurants are booming, attracting top politicians and businessmen. Shops are flooded with cheap Chinese imports. Zimbabwean vendors claim they are being undercut and put out of work.

Okay Machisa, director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association, said: “We’ve got alarming, shocking human rights abuses in firms operated by the Chinese. We’ve got empirical evidence that is going to shock the people of Zimbabwe. They are physically abusing the workers. They are psychologically terrorising the workers.

“But they are not being prosecuted. There is a culture of impunity.”

Others believe the problem is a cultural misunderstanding.

A Chinese immigrant, Li Chen, 29, said: “If Chinese people work from 8am till 8pm they have no problem. Sometimes they ask their employees to do the same and it makes them unhappy. It will not happen.

“It’s a different culture. If people sit down and talk and understand each other, it should change.”

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Quote of the day 58

‘There are two seasons in Scotland: June and Winter.’

–    Billy Connolly

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Innocent seafarers on commercial cargo ships are being held to ransom for millions of dollars by armed gangs of Somali pirates. The cost of Somalian piracy is both human and economic.

It affects seafarers and their families and YOU. Piracy costs the global economy $7-12bn a year because it is beginning to strangle key supply routes. You can make a difference.


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Quote of the day 57

‘How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean.’

–     Sir Arthur C. Clarke

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Anchor alarm for iPhone

I found this very useful anchor alarm app for iPhone and iPad, made by the Active Captain crew. It’s called DragQueen, and it works using the GPS function to lock in a position while at anchor. When the anchor drags over a preset distance, the alarm goes off. The app can be downloaded for free at the App Store.

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Quote of the day 56

‘Got my Kid a flat piece of cardboard for Christmas!… what the daft bastard wants with an ex box I’ll never know…..’

–    Anonymous

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The Xinjiang Procedure | The Weekly Standard

The Xinjiang Procedure | The Weekly Standard.

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Quote of the day 55

‘The sea does not take sides.’

–    Anonymous

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Pollution in China

A picture says more than 1000 words. These pictures by a Chinese photographer are shocking.


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Hainan fishermen arrested in Philippines

From South China Morning Post:

Six fishermen from China have been arrested in western Philippine waters for catching endangered sea turtles, officials said on Sunday.

The fishermen, from China’s southern island province of Hainan, were arrested on Friday in waters off western Palawan province’s Balabac township, said Major Niel Estrella, a Philippine military spokesman.

They are expected to be charged in court on Monday for violating the Philippines’ wildlife act and fisheries code provisions against catching endangered animals, said Adelina Villena, chief lawyer at the government’s Palawan Council for Sustainable Development.

The fishermen’s speedboat was intercepted by a joint team from the navy, coast guard and environment department.

Glenda Cadigal, a wildlife specialist at the Palawan Council, said the catch included 12 green sea turtles. Three turtles were alive and have been released, while nine were dead.

Villena said that if found guilty, the fishermen face jail terms of up to four years for violating the country’s wildlife act, and up to 20 years for violating the fisheries code.

Estrella said the arresting team suspects a larger ship used by the fishermen may have escaped when the speedboat was intercepted.

Palawan is the nearest Philippine province to the disputed Spratly Islands, which are claimed by China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.

Endangered sea turtles are often caught for food and for use in traditional medicine.

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