The British Evacuation of Japan and Bahrain, compared

This is rather amusing.

Britain has warned all of its citizens to evacuate, and flights have been chartered to evacuate citizens back to Britain. Enough flights have been chartered to bring 17,000 nationals back to the motherland.

Now let’s look at Bahrain. Here also, Britain advised its citizens to leave — but a seat on a chartered evacuation jet is £260 – 310! The result? The chartered flight left empty – probably difficult to justify such a seat when that price is not very competitive with commercial airline alternatives.

But I’ve spoken with friends living in Bahrain and things sound relatively fine — as long as you stay out of the Pearl Square where the centre of the violence is.

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The Educators

Henry Kissinger and Donald Rumsfeld are the two most reviled men to have served in the position of Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense. Yet the irony — and majestic genius — of the careers of both men is that they have, and will, each do more to educate the public (and academia) about the conduct of US foreign policy than any other men in their respective positions.

Henry Kissinger made the bold step in 1976 to turn over his entire personal papers to the Library of Congress under a special deed that would keep the papers private from the public (but accessible to him for the purposes of continuing his books) until after his death. A law suit resulted in him turning over many of the transcripts of his meetings following a court ruling in 2001 (which, much to the frustration of many people, did not prove the criminal activity they so expected to find in the “secret” papers). But Kissinger’s complete personal papers — his handwritten notes, personal letters, and meeting memorandums — are to be made public five years after his death. The disclosure of so many of his personal files to a public government archives is a move made by very few (if any) persons who served in the positions he did, and this is made all the more remarkable that Kissinger’s tenure was so controversial and he is hounded, even to this day.

But what makes Kissinger unique is that in all his books, he has placed a special emphasis on educating the public about foreign policy, and frequently warns that when it comes to foreign policy, the American public — and as a result, their elected representatives — just don’t get it. They are excessively optimistic, assume that every problem has a solution, and apply their own cultural values to other societies where they are not compatible, often with disasterous consequences. Kissinger hopes with his papers to give academic and the public access to all his papers so that historians can understand the history of what took place in the Nixon White House — and what made it one of the most successful foreign policies of any US presidency in history.

Yet as extraordinarily transparent as Kissinger’s move was when he did it back in 1976, Donald Rumsfeld has gone a step further with his book Known and Unknown. At his own personal expense, he spent four years digitizing his entire personal files from his time at the Pentagon from 2001 – 2006 and made them available online at — together with many other documents from his political career with the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations. All of his endnotes in his new book are listed exhaustively — and almost all of them (all that are not copyrighted material) appear on, often as original documents. You can read the State Department Cable following on Rumsfeld’s visit with Saddam in 1983 or his memorandum to Bush following on his visit to the ME/CIS region a month after 9/11, unedited, showing an exact snapshot of the information that was available at the time — a key issue that Rumsfeld has always focused on and which forms the title of his book, the phrase: “known and unknown.” I have never heard of another statesman going to the lengths to inform his readership of his sources.

Like Kissinger, Rumsfeld is keenly interested in educating the public so that they know what was behind the decisions at the Department of Defense during his tenure there — something he recently explained on C-Span’s Q&A (watch here).

Say what you will about both men. Maybe you don’t like their personalities. Maybe you don’t like their policies. But their legacies in making public information that was previously critically confidential viewed by only a few people in government. That’s why I call these men the Educators — and know that history will show that both of them were unfairly reviled.

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The ingredient in Mummia is…

In 1867, a jar was found in a Paris pharmacy with the inscription “Remains found under the stake of Joan of Arc.” The jar contained a blackened human rib, carbonized wood, a piece of linen and a cat femur–the later being explained by the practice of throwing black cats onto the pyre of witches. For more than a century and a half, they were believed to be genuine relics of Joan of Arc, until 2006 when scientists performed spectrometry and carbon tests on the relics. They found that the remains were not from 800 years ago, but from an Egyptian mummy from the sixth to the third century BC. Ordinarily, a fake relic from the distant past would be something newer, not older — and how did pieces of an Egyptian mummy end up in a Paris pharmacy anyway?

It turns out that starting in the 15th century, Mummia — a powder taken from the bodies of Egyptian mummies — was a major part of medieval European pharmacopeia, with a particular emphasis on extending life and preserving the body. The practice apparently originated during the Crusades (possibly with King Fulk of Jerusalem), when Crusaders were reportedly amazed to see the dead bodies that had perished so long ago remain in such a preserved state. It remained part of European medicine for many centuries — the French king Francis I (1515-1547) took a dose of “mummy” daily, and the English King Charles II (1630-1685) rubbed ground up mummy powder on his skin as he believed this would turn him into a ‘Pharaoh’.

By the 16th century, exporting mummies to Europe was a big business — to such an extent that a French physician visiting Egypt at the time found that fresh corpses were dug up to meet market demand. The practice of using even domestic fresh corpses to make mummia may have been rather common, as is suggested by English Renaissance literature. Indeed, the particular jar discovered in 1867 may have been renamed either during a time of French nationalism, or because the body of a saint may have believed to have special powers — as “Egyptian Mummies” may have gone out of style at some point.

We can be horrified by the morbid practice and consuming mummified corpses. But we can also be appalled at the lose to history. How many Egyptian mummies disappeared due to this practice?

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Where can an international lawyer go adventuring?

As some readers may know, Curzon is a lawyer — qualified in the US, but working first in Japan and now in Dubai. A common question that I’ve heard through my years of practice is, “How do you practice law if you’re a US lawyer in [Tokyo/Dubai]? Are you advising on US law?”

The answer to that is: no, not really. The role of many US and English lawyers working overseas is that of “international counsel.” (Why that role is generally limited to US and English lawyers is a story for a different day.) International counsel will often know or learn local law, but the biggest role for these lawyers is to “manage the deal.” Consequently, it’s not surprising that one of the core skills that international law firm say they are looking for today in lawyers is “project management skills.”

Of course, international lawyers practicing in various countries around the globe must comply with local law — and countries regulate foreign lawyers and their practice of law in a variety of different ways, which I break into four categories:
Continue reading

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Al Karama, the lost capital of the UAE

Abu Dhabi is known as the political capital of the United Arab Emirates, and has held that position for the 39 years that the country has existed. But it wasn’t supposed to be that way. Under Article 9 of the UAE Constitution, signed on 18 July 1971, an Emirate-neutral federal capital (in the spirit of the District of Colombia) was supposed to be established on the border of Abu Dhabi and Dubai:

1. The Capital of the Union shall be established in an area allotted to the Union by the Emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai on the borders between them and it shall be given the name ”Al Karama”.

2. There shall be allocated in the Union budget for the first year the amount necessary to cover the expenses of technical studies and planning for the construction of the Capital. However, construction work shall begin as soon as possible and shall be completed in not more than seven years from the date of entry into force of this Constitution.

3. Until the construction of the Union Capital is complete, Abu Dhabi shall be the provisional headquarters of the Union.

Al Karama was never build, and Abu Dhabi stayed on as the capital of the UAE until 1994, when it was recognized as the permanent capital of the nation. The plan for a federal capital independent of any Emirate has been scrapped, but there are a few relics of the plan still to be found. Take for example the telephone areas codes of the UAE. The 02, 03 and 08 area codes are for Abu Dhabi; 04 is for Dubai; 05 is for mobiles; 06 is for Sharjah and Ajman; 07 for Umm Al Quwain and Ras Al Khaimah; and 09 is Fujairah. The 01 area code was, and remains, reserved for Al Karama phone numbers.

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US responsibility for the weak Franco-American Relationship

I’ve recently been reading an old friend, Henry Kissinger’s 900-page tome Diplomacy. Like with many books of epic proportion and content, every read gives me new insight, and for the first time Kissinger’s comments on the US foreign policy during the early years of the Cold War ring true — especially as I fear we are making the same mistakes today.

And I am suprised at how sympathetic Kissinger was to France’s foreign policy. As Kissinger writes, the Suez Crisis (acknowledged even by Eisenhower in retrospect as a major error in US policy), in which the US sided with Egypt against the two European imperial powers, was a turning point in the end of European Empire. Britain and France each took away two different conclusions from the experience: Britain chose to side with America and create a special relationship by which the two countries would always work together, whereas France decided that Europe had to have an independent foreign policy from the US and go its own way. For General de Gaulle’s view, the British had initiated a ceasefire mid-battle without consulting the French, and the US had opposed the French politically, evidencing that France that it could not rely on its allies.

In the 1960s, at the height of [Charles de Gaulle's] running controversy with the United States, it became fashionable to accuse the French President of suffering from delusions of grandeur. His problem was in fact the precise opposite: how to restore identity to a country suffused with a sense of failure and vulnerability. Unlike America, France was not supremely powerful; unlike Great Britain, it did not view World War II as a unifying, or even an edifying, experience. Few countries have experienced the travails of France after it has lost much of its youth in World War I. The survivors of that catastrophe realized that France could not withstand another such ordeal. In these terms, World War II became a nightmare come true, rendering France’s collapse in 1940 a psychological as well as a military disaster. And while France technically had emerged from the war as one of the victors, French leaders knew all too well that it had been saved largely through the efforts of others.

For the French, it wasn’t just the Suez Crisis in 1956. Prior to the Suez Crisis, there had already been what France considered to be a betrayal by the US of the French war effort at Dien Bien Phu in today’s Vietnam in 1954.

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Photos of Libya

As Gaddafi holds on to power in Libya, anti-government forces have now captured just about every other city in the country. Meanwhile, the US is offering “any kind of assistance” to anti-government forces. In all of this, you can color me shocked that Britain’s (typically trashy tabloid) The Daily Mail has some of the best pictures all in one article on the changes taking place in Libya.

    Inside Gaddafi’s mountain lair: Tyrant’s tacky holiday home is trashed by defiant Libyans – Gaddafi’s mountain villa has been ransacked and its tacky luxury (which ain’t got nothing on a decent hotel in Dubai) is viewed with shock and horror by the locals visiting the place. Most fascinating is the underground vaults and caverns, protected by blast doors and reinforced tunnels, where equipment and supplies were sufficient for a whole team to live for months.
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We’re not finished yet

…writes Robert D. Kaplan in his latest piece, America Primed. He bases this on a number of factors, but highlights unique American “assets” such as the Anglosphere (an automatic network of allies)

AMERICA’S MACROSTRATEGIC environment is chockablock with assets unavailable to any other country. If nothing else, the United States has an often-overlooked and oft-neglected bulwark of allies: the Anglosphere. This is Washington’s inner circle of defense ties, and it finds no equivalent in its competitor nations’ strategic arsenals. The Anglosphere is perennially—and incorrectly—declared dead or in decline by the media and politicians. Nevertheless, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and the United States remain extremely close in their military and intelligence relations and exchange vast volumes of sensitive information daily, as they have for decades… The various English-speaking nations, in practical terms, even assign individual parts of the world to each other, and each worries about the others’ security equities.

The linguistic and other cultural links between the United States and these other English-speaking countries are so deep that the sharing of sensitive information 24-7 is practically an afterthought, even as the media and politicians highlight the narcissism of comparatively small differences. Of course, the values and national purposes of the individual countries are unique, owing to different geographies and historical experiences; yet that is something America can quietly manage. Given how close the United States is to the Anglosphere in most ways, when these allies resist what America is attempting to do, that should constitute a warning that perhaps the policy coming out of Washington is either outright wrong or needs adjustment. (Canada’s balking in the face of U.S. bullying to hop on board the Iraq War train is an obvious case in point.) The Anglosphere, in addition to everything else it provides, is a reality check that can facilitate American policy making.

With a combined population of 420 million, with strategic locations off the continent of Europe (Great Britain), near the intersection of the Indian Ocean and western Pacific sea-lanes (Australia), and in the Arctic and adjacent to Greenland’s oil and gas (Canada), the Anglosphere, if not abused or ignored, will be a substantial hard-power asset for the United States deep into the twenty-first century. China and Russia enjoy nothing comparable.

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The Medieval Growth of Tokyo

Long before modern technology allowed the creation of man-made islands such as the Palm Islands in Dubai, Tokyo was transformed by ordinary human laborers moving earth without modern technology. These pictures, from NHK, show the transformation of Tokyo during the Edo period, followed by a satellite image of the city today.

Comments are closed, please comment at the mirror post at MutantFrog, where this post originally appeared.

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Melian Dialogue re-enactment

A modern re-enactment of the Melian Dialogue. The actors look more like they are from the Empire than ancient Greeks. At least they are not LEGO.

Via diggydivision.

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