Shipwreck treasure joining Basra and Hunan

I am on a fishing boat in the Gaspar Strait, near Belitung Island, off the south-east coast of Sumatra.

Since time immemorial, this funnel-shaped passage linking the Java Sea and the Indian Ocean has been one of the two main shipping routes. The Malacca Straits is the other, from China to the West.

Ten years ago, at a spot known locally as “Black Rock”, two men diving for sea cucumbers came across a large pile of sand and coral. Digging a hole, they reached in and pulled out a barnacle-encrusted bowl. Then another. And another.

They had stumbled on the oldest, most important, marine archaeological discovery ever made in South East Asia, an Arab dhow – or ship – built of teak, coconut wood and hibiscus fibre, packed with a treasure that Indiana Jones could only dream of.

There were 63,000 pieces of gold, silver and ceramics from the fabled Tang dynasty, which flourished between the seventh and 10th centuries.

The Belitung wreck is a time capsule that has revolutionised our understanding of two ancient civilisations that fill the airwaves today, China and the Middle East

Interesting article [“from our own correspondent”] about a shipwreck from 1,200 years ago. A cross-cultural record set in time, we begin to get a clearer picture of commerce between Persia and China. A start to a study which could occupy your waking hours for decades. 🙂

Globalization battle – corporation vs. artisan – over French cheese

Philippe AllĂ©osse’s cellar in Paris is an Aladdin’s cave for lovers of French cheese.

His temperature- and humidity-controlled subterranean storage rooms in the 17th Arrondissement are packed with carefully aged varieties, among them Brin d’Amour from Corsica, Bethmale from the PyrĂ©nĂ©es and Bleu de Gex from Haut-Jura. He knows just when to add a dash of water or Chablis to the rind and when the product should finally be released to the public.

But Alléosse, premier maître artisan fromager affineur, or master cheese ager, fears that he is one of a dying breed.

He is worried that industrial processes – from sourcing through production and distribution – are squeezing small farmers and threatening to deny consumers the choice, complexity and quality of a product that is considered a luxury in many countries but a staple on French tables…

The debate seems to go to the heart of an acutely French dilemma: whether to embrace globalization, or to fight to preserve heritage. For now, the tussle is centered on the process of pasteurization and the effect that it is having on the product and the market.

Raw milk is the battlefield,” said Pierre Boisard, a sociologist who is author of “Camembert: A National Myth.” One mass producer in particular, Lactalis, has altered the landscape through its production of traditional products using industrial methods, he said.

“It’s a problem,” he added. “It hurts the brands of the traditional producers” who have “legitimate grievances.”

Generally, this is an apples vs. oranges battle. The small artisan producers don’t have the contamination problems afflicting mass-producers, no need for pasteurization. The heavy hitters like Lactalis use the safety smear as a club to cut traditional producers out of the marketplace.

We went through this for years with prosciutto from Italy and still have problems trying to get traditional Jambon from Spain. Because of the same tricks played by American meatpackers – and their wonderful record of cleanliness and safety. Hah!

Read the whole article. Lots of info.

Why injured athlete went to Switzerland to die

Better days

A 23-year-old who played rugby for England as a teenager has committed suicide in a Swiss euthanasia clinic after having become paralysed from the chest down in a training accident.

Nuneaton rugby club hooker Daniel James felt his body had become a “prison” and lived in “fear and loathing” of his daily life, his parents said last night, having accompanied him to Switzerland from their home in Sinton Green, near Worcester. He had attempted to kill himself several times since March 2007 when a scrum had collapsed on him and dislocated his neck vertebrae, trapping his spinal cord and rendering him immediately tetraplegic.

West Mercia Police have begun an investigation into his assisted suicide, which took place on September 12. Details were made public yesterday when police published a statement relating to an inquest in progress. Assisted suicide is illegal in the UK, and family or friends who help face up to 14 years in jail. Officers have questioned a man and a women in the case and are preparing to submit a report to the Crown Prosecution Service.

James’ parents, Mark and Julie, said last night that their son had been “an intelligent young man of sound mind” and “not prepared to live what he felt was a second-class existence“.

He is one of the youngest Britons to have travelled abroad for assisted suicide. Earlier this month, Dignitas, the centre for assisted dying in Zurich, said that 100 Britons have travelled to Switzerland to make use of its more liberal laws. It is thought James attended a clinic in Berne.

Regardless of the law, regardless of crap morality, I don’t justify suicide as a problem-solver. Oftimes, I think it’s a cowardly way out of tough decisions. Janis Joplin or Phil Ochs comes to mind.

But, I’ll be damned if society as a whole can justify taking away my right to make such a decision. And sanction those who help me.

Half of Holland’s horticultural income comes from cannabis

Clandestine cannabis growers in the Netherlands net two billion euros (2.7 billion dollars) a year — worth almost half the country’s horticultural sector. By comparison, according to NRC Handelsblad, country’s horticultural sector generates about 5.5 billion euros in annual income.

Police investigations suggested that about 500 tonnes of Dutch cannabis were exported each year.

We know that at least 80 percent of production is for export. In the Netherlands there are 400,000 users of the drug and of hashish. If it was only them, the problem would be entirely manageable,” Daniel said.

And if production was thoroughly legalized, prices would be stabilized – and lower. The Netherlands has come halfway to reality and a rational policy. It’s time to move the rest of the way.

Federal judge pressured to resign over sex probe cover-up

If U.S. District Chief Judge Edward Nottingham resigns from the bench as expected in order to defuse a sex scandal, it will be a serious punishment in and of itself for the 60-year-old. But Nottingham will nevertheless have gotten off easy if in fact he attempted to get a former prostitute to lie about their relationship in order to thwart a probe into his conduct by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

It’s hard to think of anything more dangerous to the rule of law than brazen attempts to obstruct justice through cajoling or threatening witnesses into misrepresenting the truth. Like other powerful men before him, Nottingham – if the reports are true and he resigns – will have been a casualty not of the original misconduct so much as the attempted coverup.

It’s not that we’re suggesting it’s just fine for a federal judge to hang out with prostitutes and to pay for sex. The former is unseemly for a person in his position and the latter is illegal. If a judge has a problem obeying a particular law then he shouldn’t be a judge. Consorting with prostitutes is especially risky for someone in a judge’s position because of the obvious potential for blackmail – and for pressure to be brought to bear for him to rule in a particular way.

Still, paying a prostitute – even for as many times over two years as Nottingham is said to have seen this employee of the escort service Bada Bing Denver – would pale in comparison with any attempt to get her to lie to investigators.

Perhaps Congress might take a closer look at how they have assisted in the politicizing of justice? The final decision on approving federal judgeships has become as much of a vote-getting popularity contest as choosing the appointee is for the sitting president.

Republicans whined about Roosevelt’s manipulation of Supreme Court seats as the crime of the century until they began to have an opportunity to do the same – all the way down through the ranks. They never looked back.

Obama calls for special prosecutor in “voter fraud” fraud

Dannehy in charge of US Attorney firing scandal

The Obama campaign announced Friday that it is asking Attorney General Michael Mukasey to turn over any investigations of voter fraud or voter suppression to Special Prosecutor Nora Dannehy.

“What they’re actually about is the unprecedented effort to essentially sap the American people of confidence in the voting process,” Bob Bauer, the Obama campaign’s general counsel, said Friday on a conference call.

What it’s actually about – what it’s always about during any major national election – is the Republican Party trying to intimidate Black, Hispanic and poor white voters.

“We need to have these matters removed from the day-to-day department’s direct control and put into the special prosecutor’s independent hands,” Bauer told reporters Friday. “She should have responsibility for reviewing any and all matters involving allegations of fraud and suppression in this election.”

McCain personally called for an investigation into ACORN last week during a campaign event. At the final presidential debate, he also said ACORN “is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.”

McCain has been hanging with nutball neocons long enough that he’s starting to sound like one. Why is he so afraid of someone with less than a six-figure income having the right to vote?

Voter registration fraud is not the same as voter fraud, in which individuals attempt to fraudulently cast ballots. Voter registration fraud leads to inflated voter rolls, but has little effect on voter fraud.

But that means little to the average American who doesn’t perceive the distinction. It means even less to the creeps working for McCain and Bush who do know the difference – but, prefer to use the accusation of fraud to diminish efforts to register voters.

Cuba’s oil reserves match those of the United States

Mother nature, it emerged this week, appears to have blessed the island of Cuba with enough oil reserves to vault it into the ranks of energy powers. The government announced there may be more than 20 billion barrels of recoverable oil in offshore fields in Cuba’s share of the Gulf of Mexico, more than twice the previous estimate.

If confirmed, it puts Cuba’s reserves on par with those of the US and into the world’s top 20. Drilling is expected to start next year by Cuba’s state oil company Cubapetroleo, or Cupet.

“It would change their whole equation. The government would have more money and no longer be dependent on foreign oil,” said Kirby Jones, founder of the Washington-based US-Cuba Trade Association. “It could join the club of oil exporting nations.”

A consortium of companies led by Spain’s Repsol had tested wells and were expected to begin drilling the first production well in mid-2009, and possibly several more later in the year, he said.

Cuba’s unexpected arrival into the big oil league could increase pressure on the next administration to loosen the embargo to let US oil companies participate in the bonanza and reduce US dependency on the middle east, said Jones. “Up until now the embargo did not really impact on us in a substantive, strategic way. Oil is different. It’s something we need and want.”

Countries around the world formerly locked into sectarian political bags have learned the lesson of building their nation’s economy by trading with friend and foe alike. At the same time, the United States has embraced the death spiral of religious crusades and regime change. Locking our own industries out of business that frankly is a natural.

But, hey – “purity of essence and bodily fluids” is more important than commerce to some people.

The “Squirrel” faces audit after rogue traders lose $800 million

The French government is to take sanctions against one of the country’s biggest savings banks, the Caisse d’Epargne (known as The Squirrel), after it suffered a $800 million loss on unauthorised equity derivatives trading.

The finance minister, Christine Lagarde, yesterday ordered an emergency audit of all French banks after the Caisse indicated that a team of four or five traders had exceeded their limits.

They were caught out in the panic surrounding last week’s stock market crash by what the bank called “routine control procedures”. The positions were immediately closed, the Caisse said. The traders had been disciplined.

Lagarde said she was “particularly frustrated and depressed” by this latest incident of unauthorised trading to hit French banks as the country’s banking commission began an investigation into the incident…

It is understood that an assistant of the rogue traders’ team leader has been dismissed. Others have been moved to different jobs.

Oh, the horror. The pain and embarrassment. Will they ever learn?

Iran’s try for record sandwich ends (burp) when crowd eats the entry!

Cooks overwhelmed in ostrich sandwich raid

Maybe it looked too delicious to resist or perhaps the hours of waiting had simply provoked the appetites of spectators beyond control.

Whatever the reason, Iran’s eccentric bid to set a world record for making the biggest-ever ostrich sandwich appeared to end in failure after the evidence was eaten by the hungry watching crowds.

Organisers were trying to enter the Guinness Book of World Records by producing a 1,500 metre-long sandwich containing 1,000kg of ostrich meat. More than 1,000 cooks laboured from early morning in Tehran’s Mellat park to assemble the monster sandwich.

But as soon as their task was completed, popular enthusiasm overwhelmed the need for attention to detail as crowds began devouring the snack before its measurements could be verified…

“We still think the sandwich will be recorded in the Guinness book because of all the evidence and video footage that we will send them,” Parvin Shariati, a spokesperson for the organisers, told Reuters.

Never have eaten domesticated ostrich. Like most flightless birds, the wild examples are tough as leather.