Nicaragua’s canal-sized pipe dream


The Panama Canal took a decade to complete, cost the lives of thousands of workers and proved one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken.

So why not a repeat performance?

Earlier this month, the Nicaraguan legislature approved construction of a canal to compete with the Panama Canal, an endeavor that would double the number of shortcuts between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

The project would apparently be built by a Chinese telecommunications equipment firm, with financing largely coming from China, according to the magazine The American.

The project envisions building a canal as long as 178 miles (the Panama Canal is 48 miles, by comparison), as well as two deep-water ports, two free-trade zones, an oil pipeline, a railroad and an international airport, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The cost is estimated at a staggering $40 billion, about four times the country’s annual gross domestic product.

Supporters of the latest iteration of the project, approved last week, hope that it will propel Nicaragua out of its economic doldrums by bolstering employment and economic growth, added the Journal.

Continue reading

Nazi commander found residing in Minnesota

 Galician SS-Volunteer Infantry Division

Inserted in the opening paragraph of Slate magazine’s story about a Nazi collaborator who was discovered last week to have been living in the US for the past 60-plus years were these two sentences, which would be slightly amusing if not representative of a grave injustice:

“Michael Karkoc now lives in Minnesota and when he entered the United States in 1949 told authorities he had not performed military service during World War II. That wasn’t really accurate.”

No, indeed it wasn’t. Karkoc was a founding member and an officer of the SS-led Ukrainian Self Defense Legion and later was an officer in the SS Galician Division.

There appears to be plenty of evidence that the company Karkoc commanded massacred civilians, including burning villages filled with women and children, and that he was at the scene of the atrocities, even if there’s no proof Karkoc himself didn’t actually participate.

The Associated Press broke the story about Karkoc on Friday and provided an exhaustive report on not just the fact he’s been living in the United States for decades, but included background between groups allied with the Nazis and how many individuals avoided being brought to justice under the guise of fighting communism.

It will be hard for Karkoc to plead mistaken identity; in 1995 he published a Ukrainian-language memoir that stated he helped found the Ukrainian Self Defense Legion in 1943 to fight on the side of Germany – and wrote that he served as a company commander in the unit, which received orders directly from the SS, through the end of the war.

The memoir is available at the US Library of Congress, according to The Associated Press.

(Above: A 1944 photo shows head of the SS Heinrich Himmler, center, reviewing troops  of the Galician SS-Volunteer Infantry Division, of which Michael Karkoc was a  member.)

North Korea: the medal-makers’ mother lode

north korean medals

North Korea has been making headlines a great deal lately, and not for good reasons.

So-called Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un has spent the past few months engaged in sabre rattling to a degree that would have made his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, proud.

In a move that must have warmed the hearts of millions of impoverished North Koreans scraping to find enough food to keep their families from starving, the nation’s leadership announced intentions to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States, calling the US the “sworn enemy of the Korean people.”

A few days later, North Korea confirmed it was ending the 60-year armistice connected to the 1950-53 Korean War.

On March 30, Pyongyang declared it was in “a state of war” with South Korea, and Kim Jong-un stated that rockets were ready to be fired at American bases in the Pacific in response to the US flying two nuclear-capable B2 stealth bombers over the Korean peninsula.

While US intelligence officials speculate that Kim Jong-un is using the bluster to assert control over his country, and his ultimate goal is recognition rather than getting involved in a devastating conflict, the general consensus seems to be that the baby-faced dictator is decidedly unpredictable, if not eight kinds of crazy.

Which is just what the people of North Korea don’t need at this point.

Continue reading

Cotton prices drops as projections rise

Global cotton production for the coming year is expected to drop 4 percent, according to estimates by the US Department of Agriculture.

The projected decline is attributed to a significant reduction in Brazil, where the crop for the 2012-13 year is expected to fall by fully one-third.

Record soybean and corn prices, disease outbreak and erratic precipitation are expected to lower the crop in the central Brazilian states of Bahia and Mato Grosso, which together account for more than 80 percent of Brazil’s total annual cotton production, according to Southeast Farm Press.

In the US, production is expected to be slightly more than 17 million bales, which represents a 2 percent increase from the previous month’s USDA estimate and is 11 percent higher than the previous year’s crop, the publication added.

Worldwide, 2012-13 cotton production is estimated at nearly 120 million bales.

Global cotton stocks are expected to be significantly higher this year than last, the USDA also reported.

Continue reading

Archaeologists seek cutter lost 200 years ago

Revenue Cutter Surveyor

A research team led by underwater archaeologists from the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology began searching this week for a revenue cutter that exploded in Charleston Harbor 200 years ago.

The US Revenue Cutter Gallatin came ashore on April 1, 1813, in Charleston, where its crew took on supplies and prepared for their next mission. Apparently, a spark reached the ship’s powder store because shortly after 11 a.m., the Gallatin was blown apart.

Despite the devastating impact of the explosion, which killed three crew members and seriously injured five others, researchers believe there’s a chance relics from the vessel may still be recoverable after two centuries, according to the Charleston Post and Courier.

“Personal effects or artifacts that represent the state of South Carolina’s coastal defenses might ‘give a glimpse of the War of 1812 through the actual archaeological record,’” Jim Spirek, an underwater archaeologist at the S.C. Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, told the newspaper.

Spirek, however, is cautious. After 200 years, during which the city’s waterfront has been greatly altered, the odds of finding the cutter seem daunting.

“The initial plan calls for dragging a side-scan sonar device behind a boat while looking for sunken ‘anomalies’ in the muck,” the Post and Courier reported. “If something of curiosity is found, for example, a collection of ballast stones, divers would go into the water for a closer look. The ship’s cannons were reported to have been recovered shortly after the disaster, so they aren’t on the menu.”

Continue reading

Notorious U-boat found off coast of Norway

Type VIIC U-boat

In the final days of World War II, Nazi U-boats were all but sitting ducks for Allied planes and ships: many German submarines, making a last, desperate gamble to take out enemy shipping, never got far beyond the European coast before being located and sunk.

One of those doomed U-boats, U-486, was discovered Monday off the west coast of Norway.

The U-486, a Type VIIC U-boat, was torpedoed and broken in two by the British submarine HMS Tapir on April 12, 1945, shortly after leaving the western Norwegian town of Bergen, according to Arild Maroey Hansen of the Bergen maritime museum.

All 48 men onboard were killed.

Launched in 1944, the U-486 sank three ships and crippled a fourth during her short career. However, one of the vessels it sent to the bottom was the former Belgian liner SS Leopoldville, which had been converted into an American troop transport.

On Christmas Eve 1944, the U-486 sent a torpedo into the Leopoldville, which was in the English Channel approximately five miles from the coast of Cherbourg, France.

The ship was carrying more than 2,200 American servicemen who were en route to serve as reinforcements for US troops involved in the Battle of the Bulge.

Continue reading

A unicorn dies every time the other side wins

The mantra of “My country, right or wrong” has, unfortunately, metastasized into something far more insidious: “My party, right or wrong.”

Along those lines, South Carolina blogger Charlie Speicht Speight, writing at The Garnet Spy, breaks out a host of shopworn bromides which he claims highlights just how far our nation has fallen. The unstated assumption is that this has occurred under the watch of President Barack Obama.

Speicht Speight puts forth a series of amorphous questions which may have few quantifiable answers but serve a larger purpose of getting red meat Republicans worked into a lather as the 2012 presidential election looms.

Consider some excerpts from Speicht’s Speight’s piece, titled “Do You Remember America?

Do you recall that magnificent, unapologetic juggernaut of democracy and freedom?

Do you remember the America that made herself into a mighty power that she used to protect the oppressed elsewhere in the world, asking for little in return?

Do you remember how America created, built, manufactured, invented, assembled, hammered, welded, bought, sold, sailed, flew, plowed, sowed, harvested and shared?

Continue reading

Noted U-boat ace dies in Spain at age 96

The last survivor among Germany’s top 10 U-boat aces of World War II died recently at the age of 96.

Korvettenkapitän (Lieutenant Commander) Georg Lassen sank 26 ships between March 1942 and June 1943, sending more than 156,000 gross tons to the bottom of the sea, making him the 10th most successful German submarine commander of the Second World War.

A native of the Berlin suburb of  Steglitz, Lassen joined the Kriegsmarine as a 20-year old in 1935. He died Jan. 18 in Mallorca, Spain.

Lassen commanded the U-160 during his career, making just four patrols. On his last patrol, to South African waters, he sank or damaged six ships in less than five hours.

During his career, Lassen and his crew sank or damaged ships from six different countries, including seven US ships and two Canadian vessels.

In mid-June 1943 Lassen was transferred from U-160 to duties as a tactics instructor in a training unit for future U-boat commanders.

Continue reading

Yiddish catching on with younger generation

Six decades after Yiddish appeared destined for the history books, a handful of North American colleges are offering the language as part of their curricula, enabling the grandchildren of aging native speakers a chance to learn the tongue of their ancestors.

“If we want to preserve this, we need to do so actively and consciously,” said Miriam Udel, a Yiddish professor at Atlanta’s Emory University who uses song to teach the language. “The generation that passively knows Yiddish is dying out. There are treasures that need to be preserved because we’ll lose access to them if we let Yiddish die.”

Emory is one of about 20 colleges and universities in the US and Canada that offer courses in the Germanic-based language of Eastern European Jews, though just a few of them have degrees in the language.

Yiddish developed as a fusion of German dialects with Hebrew, Aramaic, Slavic languages and traces of Romance languages, and is written in the Hebrew alphabet. It dates back in its earliest form at least a millennium.

By the late 1930s, there were between 11 million and 13 million Yiddish speakers worldwide.

The Holocaust, however, led to a dramatic, sudden decline in the use of Yiddish, as the extensive Jewish communities, both secular and religious, that used Yiddish in their day-to-day life were largely destroyed.

Around 85 percent of the Jews that died in the Holocaust – 5 million people – were speakers of Yiddish. And while several million Yiddish speakers survived, assimilation in countries such as the US and the Soviet Union, along with the rejection of Yiddish as a national language in Israel, led to a sharp decline in the use of the language.

Continue reading