Archives For 21st Century

The UK Telegraph is reporting that a fisherman from El Salvador, Jose Salvador Alvarenga, has landed in the Marshall Islands, ~8,000 miles from his starting point in Mexico. Supposedly, Mr. Alvarenga and a 15 year old, Ezekiel, departed for a day long fishing trip 13 months ago and only just now reached land. Alvarenga survived by eating birds, sharks, turtles, fish and other wildlife while Ezekiel perished only four months into the trip as he refused to eat. While tales such as this exist, it is still yet to be proved whether Alvarenga’s account is true. It is also still unconfirmed whether Gilligan or the Skipper were aboard at any point during his epic voyage.


Book Review – Mayday

December 14, 2013 — Leave a comment

naval power

Seth Cropsey’s Mayday is a well argued account of the decline of America’s seapower. Cropsey, a former Deputy Undersecretary of the Navy for four presidential administrations, is highly qualified to comment on the state of American naval power and makes a compelling case for America’s (and the rest of the free world’s) need for alarm. Cropsey opens his argument with a survey of current American naval power and the crumbling edges of America’s superpower status. Any significant exposition on modern naval doctrine would be incomplete without a discussion of Alfred Thayer Mahan and Cropsey devotes an entire chapter to Mahan, his theory and its continued relevance to American naval strategy today.

The latter half of the book nicely pulls together various threats to American naval power from China’s emerging regional dominance, piracy, Islamic fundamentalism, increased costs of weapons systems and America’s growing debt problem. Instead of simply bemoaning the loss of American naval dominance and its dire consequences to the freedom of the seas, Cropsey examines multiple proposals for a new way forward and offers several solutions to halt the decline in America’s seapower. Overall, Mayday delivers an evenhanded analysis of the crossroads faced by America’s politicians and naval strategists that is well worth a read.


The Mississippi River is the fourth longest river in the world with a watershed encompassing all or parts of 31 states and 2 Canadian provinces – 1.2 million square miles worth. 1,200,000 square miles is a lot of territory to cover and yet in his latest book, Old Man River, Paul Schneider provides readers with a sweeping overview of the river from its geological origins to the taming of the river by the modern US Army Corps of Engineers. Schneider serves up a veritable feast with an appetizer of geology, a second course of pre-historic and Indian tales, a main course of 19th and 20th century stories spiced with liberal helpings of Mike Fink, Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain and finished off with a dessert of modern events.

Interspersed throughout historical tales of floods, Indian raids and keelboats, Schneider weaves in his own odyssey on the Mississippi and her tributaries. From kayaking the Ohio alone to drifting down the Mississippi with his son, Schneider brings to life the various locales he visits. For those who have spent any amount of time living on the River, Schneider’s book will especially resonate as he perfectly captures the feelings and color of the River’s varying culture. Although a couple passages inadvertently come across as elitist and preachy, overall Old Man River is a beautiful ode to one of America’s defining geographic landmarks. For those looking to lazily drift from the breadbasket plains states past Mark Twain’s Hannibal, St. Louis’s Gateway Arch and Busch Stadium, the antebellum homes of Natchez, the bluffs of Vicksburg where the blood of men in blue and gray flowed and down to the Cajun culture of the Delta, Old Man River is a highly recommended read.

Robert Holland

Robert Holland’s Blue-Water Empire is a phenomenal history of British engagement in the Mediterranean world from 1800 to the present. Holland takes the reader around the entire circumference of the Mediterranean from Gibraltar to Malta to the Ionian Islands to Cyprus to Suez and leaves the reader struck by the influence the United Kingdom exerted in places many could not even locate on a map. Instead of focusing explicitly on social, political, military, diplomatic or economic history, Blue-Water Empire masterfully weaves them all together to present a comprehensive account of Great Britain’s strategy (or lack thereof) in colonizing and policing the Mediterranean over the course of three centuries.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is how Great Britain’s actions in the Mediterranean continue to echo today. For example, Holland carefully analyzes the trajectory of Cyprus under British rule and the air fields retained by the United Kingdom after her political withdrawal from the island. Those same air fields at Akrotiri and Dhekelia have been used as staging grounds for any action against Syria in 2013 or 2014. Also addressed in the book is the perennial question of how best to deal with the flood of refugees that accompanies unrest in North Africa or the Middle/Near East. Not only has the Arab Spring resulted in the destabilization of the region, but it also has driven refugees to seek asylum in places like Malta and Italy. Tragically, many of those refugees have died en route as their vessels are overcroweded and unseaworthy and subsequently sink.

Overall, Blue-Water Empire will not only entertain the casual reader, but will also inform the curious as to some of the origins of today’s headlines.


CC Image Courtesy of jim68000 on Flickr

A week ago the anchor handling tug Jacson 4 sank in heavy weather off the coast of Escravos, Nigeria. Divers were able to recover 10 bodies from the wreck, however, the ship’s cook Okene Harrison remained missing. Two days after the vessel’s sinking, divers located Mr. Harrison alive and well in one of the ship’s compartments. Miraculously, Mr. Harrison had survived nearly 48 hours on the oxygen trapped within the compartment.

Complicating his rescue, though, was the fact that his body had normalized to the pressures of the environment 90 feet beneath the surface and a return to the surface without equalizing the pressure would result in death from the bends. Donning a diving helmet, Mr. Harrison moved to the safety of a diving bell (similar to the one shown above) where it took a further two days underwater for him to decompress and return to the surface. As of May 31st, Mr. Harrison was recuperating and responding well to treatment after his providential recovery.

argentina navy

ARA Libertad
CC Image Courtesy of maduroman on Flickr

Earlier this October, a court in Ghana ordered the Argentinian naval training vessel ARA Libertad to be held until the Argentinian government posts a $20 million bond to release the ship. The action ultimately stems from Argentina defaulting on its debt in the early 2000s. Argentina’s default wiped its balance sheet clean of billions in bond liabilities while leaving bondholders with bonds worth 30% of their face value. Because Argentinian courts will not force repayment of the bonds, some bondholders who are holding out for the full value of the bonds have turned to more novel methods of collecting on Argentina’s sovereign debts.

One of the most time tested techniques for securing a judgment and payment on a debt is arresting the debtor’s assets when they are in a jurisdiction favorable to the bondholder. Thus, when Libertad arrived in Ghana, Elliott Capital Management sued for the vessel to be held until the Argentinian government pays the bond. While some would characterize the technique as nothing more than holding the ship hostage in exchange for a ransom, the bondholders merely seek to recoup the money the Argentinian government received from the sale of the bonds and promised to repay.

Elliott Capital Management, a New York based hedge fund, manages money for large institutional investors which often includes the likes of pension funds for firemen in Peoria, teachers in Chicago or trash collectors in Milwaukee. The Argentinian government has protested Ghana’s actions with their usual populist rhetoric and decried Elliott Capital Management’s actions as “trickery” instead of accepting it as simply the rule of law. Elliott Capital Management and other bondholders have received more than 100 court judgments against the Argentinian government, none of which the Argentinians have honored.

Yesterday the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ordered Ghana to release the Libertad. Because both Argentina and Ghana are signatories to the Law of the Sea Treaty, the International Tribunal’s decision is binding and Ghana must release the ship. The United States has thus far not signed the treaty and this incident is yet another example of why signing the treaty would be a serious mistake for the US and would impede US sovereignty.

Photo: US Navy

Earlier this week the first of two test X-47B unmanned carrier aircraft systems was hoisted aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman. The aircraft will continue a slate of tests that have occurred primarily at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station. Completion of the shipboard tests will bring the X-47B one step closer to proof of concept.

As illustrated below, the X-47B is a fighter sized unmanned aircraft system designed by Northrop Grumman. The X-47B is intended to provide the US Navy with an unmanned strike capability and, while the X-47B is merely a test bed for further development, the craft has been outfitted with two internal weapons bays capable of carrying a 4,500 lb, payload. Unlike most drones, the X-47B was designed to fly a specified route and return to base as opposed to being actively flown. If the X-47B’s concept is brought into production, then sometime in the next decade or two the US Navy will be able to strike targets without risking a single naval aviator.

Photo: Northrop Grumman

Below is official US Navy footage of the X-47B’s first test flight.

More photos of the X-47B can be found here.