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Satchu's Rich Wrap-Up
Thursday 20th of August 2020

The Way We Live Now

“Going home at night! It wasn't often that I was on the river at night. I never liked it. I never felt in control. In the darkness of river and forest you could be sure only of what you could see — and even on a moonlight night you couldn't see much. When you made a noise — dipped a paddle in the water — you heard yourself as though you were another person. The river and the forest were like presences, and much more powerful than you. You felt unprotected, an intruder ... You felt the land taking you back to something that was familiar, something you had known at some time but had forgotten or ignored, but which was always there.You felt the land taking you back to what was there a hundred years ago, to what had been there always.” ― V.S. Naipaul, A Bend in the River

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Did they even hang bears? @LRB Tom Shippey

There is little disagreement about the events of the Viking Age or its timeline, stretching from 8 June 793 (the unexpected raid on Lindisfarne) to 25 September 1066, when King Haraldr Harðráði, ‘Hard-Counsel Harald’, died at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. As Neil Price points out, all this should be seen as protohistory rather than history. The Vikings themselves couldn’t write, except for short runic inscriptions carved in wood or stone, and had no dating system beyond ‘the fourth year of King Olaf’ and so on. Royal succession was the only way to mark time. The sequence of events we refer to as the Viking Age was put together from the accounts of their many victims, from Ireland to Byzantium.There are logistical questions too. In considering the wealth of the Vikings, it’s impossible to ignore the island of Gotland, where hundreds of hoards of silver have been found, almost one for every farm – contributing to a total of more than a million silver dirhams found in Scandinavia and the Baltic, nine times as many as have been found in their point of origin in the Muslim Near East. It’s ‘simply not credible’, Price writes, ‘that virtually all homeowners concealed their family cash in the backyard and then died before telling anyone about it’. Later accounts claim that the Vikings believed they would enjoy their buried wealth in the afterlife.Two traumatic events affected the northern world long before Lindisfarne. One was the collapse of the Roman Empire, a destabilisation that led to a kind of ‘gangster culture’ of unemployed mercenaries and roving warbands. Even worse, and better evidenced, were the volcanic eruptions of 536, 539/540 and possibly 547. The second, which originated from Ilopango in what is now El Salvador, threw around ninety cubic kilometres of dust, ash and aerosols into the atmosphere. The entire world suffered, but Scandinavia, with its short growing season and often marginal agriculture, suffered most. It’s thought as much as half the population died of starvation. At the heart of Norse mythology is the Fimbulwinter, three winters with no summers in between, which may once have been a fact.Another hall at Uppsala had door hinges made of spears, their points facing towards the centre, so that you entered through a weapon portal: all part of ‘a dazzling material culture of killing’.

Elite monopolisation and differential survival rates must have created an underclass of what we would now call ‘involuntary celibates’, disaffected young men, angry, desperate and easy to recruit.

In one of several vignettes, Price imagines a younger son on the impoverished west coast of Norway, whose childhood sweetheart has a new brooch: a present from a boy who spent a successful summer raiding. What is young Orm or Gunnar going to do? Not only does he need money for the bride-price paid to her family, he needs a reputation: ‘The act of acquiring silver was as important as the silver itself.’ And if he went raiding he might in any case acquire a woman for free. DNA has shown that ‘a very large proportion – even the majority – of female settlers in Iceland were of Scottish or Irish heritage.’

Traumatised societies, militarised elites, disaffected youths: they all help explain the Viking phenomenon.
They were covered in what must have been tattoos. ‘Each man, from the tip of his toes to his neck, is covered in dark green lines, pictures and such like.’ No Viking skin has survived, but their teeth have. It seems there was a male fashion for filing horizontal grooves along the upper incisors, which were probably filled with coloured resin. A Viking smile must have looked very odd. But what the point of this fashion was, we don’t know.

Nor do we know what they thought about their own inner lives. Vikings recognised hamr, or ‘shape’, as more or less equivalent to ‘body’, though some people were eigi einhamr, ‘not of one shape’: they were werewolves, or worse. Hugr could correspond more or less to ‘mind’. But Vikings also seem to have thought that each of us has a hamingja, a personal ‘luck’, which can on occasion leave the body (a very bad sign). The fourth part of us is a female fylgja, a ‘follower’ or ‘fetch’, inherited from our ancestors. Price doesn’t claim to know what a ‘fetch’ does, but he writes that the belief dies hard. If you ask modern Icelanders whether they believe in elves and the huldufólk or ‘hidden people’, they will roll their eyes, but ask them about their fylgjur and you get ‘a level stare and perhaps a change of subject’.

Viking society wasn’t homogeneous. They had dealings with many different cultures and they lived in varied environments, from Danish and Swedish pasture to the sub-Arctic tundra of Norway and Iceland. In the early 11th century the best-travelled woman in the world must have been Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir, whose remarkable journeys demonstrate the great distances the Vikings covered. She gave birth to a child in North America, met people of the First Nations and ate grapes in Vinland, made a pilgrimage to Rome and drank wine in Italy, and died as a nun in Iceland

Women buried with iron staffs may have been völvur, sorceresses, practitioners of the seithr magic which was shameful for men to deal in.
Patrick Wormald once commented that Vikings rarely seemed to have suffered from madness, though there were psychopaths like Thorgeir Hávarsson, who is said in ‘The Saga of the Fosterbrothers’ to have axed down one innocent bystander just because he looked so temptingly open to the blow. They had a code of honour. In 1012 Thorkel the Tall, a famous captain, is said by Thietmar of Merseburg to have offered everything he had, except his ship, for the life of the captured Archbishop Ælfheah of Canterbury, who had refused to pay a ransom; when Ælfheah was killed anyway, pelted with bones and finished off with an axe, Thorkel changed sides and took his men off to serve Æthelred the Unready. Perhaps he thought killing a defenceless old man was ódrengiligt, not warrior-like behaviour.

A recent scholar, considering the appalling scene of gang rape and slave murder at the Rus funeral described by Ibn Fadlan, claimed that this ought to put paid to the idea that the Vikings were heroic: they were just cruel. This is naive. Heroism and cruelty are mutually exclusive only in the world of comic books. As Price’s book makes clear, they have often gone together.

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Be The Leader ⁣@David_Yarrow

In this image of the annual migration in East Africa, there is a semblance of order to what is normally the most chaotic scene imaginable and the olympic leap from the lead wildebeest certainly made the assignment successful. Not perhaps before time.

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PLA sends stern warning to US warship for transit in Taiwan Straits @globaltimesnews
Law & Politics

The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Eastern Theater Command said Wednesday it sent naval and air forces to track and monitor the movements of the USS Mustin destroyer as it sailed through the Taiwan Straits on Tuesday and warned the US against making frequent negative moves on the Taiwan question.  

Chinese mainland analysts noted that the command made a similar statement last week without directly pointing at the US, but the latest response calling out the US shows that the PLA is warning the US that there will be a day when it will "settle the matter" with the US side.

The US warship was likely closely watched by PLA warships, warplanes and radar, and would be stopped if it crosses the red line, experts also said.

The US has been continuously making negative moves on the Taiwan question, which has sent the wrong signal to "Taiwan independence" forces, and severely threatened the peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits, said Senior Colonel Zhang Chunhui, the spokesperson of the PLA Eastern Theater Command.

Zhang made the comment after the US Pacific Fleet said on Tuesday that the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer "conducted a routine Taiwan Straits transit" on Tuesday

It said there have been 10 US warship transits in the Taiwan Straits this year. 

Media on the island of Taiwan reported on Wednesday that the US warship sailed on the western side of the "middle line" of the Taiwan Straits, which is closer to the Chinese mainland than Taiwan island.

Chinese mainland military expert Song Zhongping told the Global Times on Wednesday that the "real threat" means the US has normalized warship transits in the Taiwan Straits and crossed into the mainland side. 

This would increase the risk of collisions, and even an accidental conflict.

If a military conflict breaks out between China and the US, the PLA needs to be prepared in the South China Sea and East China Sea, because such a conflict will very likely not be limited to one region, but a wider one, Song said, stressing this is why China and the US should not engage in a war.

The Nanjing, a PLA Navy Type 052D destroyer, was spotted following the US ship, Taiwan media reported.

In addition to one or more warships, the PLA also likely sent warplanes, possibly including early warning aircraft, special mission aircraft, reconnaissance drones and fighter jets, to monitor the US warship's movements, a Chinese mainland military expert who asked not to be named told the Global Times on Wednesday.

The PLA also likely organized many of its surveillance capabilities, including radar installations and satellites, to track the US warship. 

And in case it crosses the red line, like trespassing into Chinese territorial waters, an immediate response would include measures to expel it, the expert said. 

He said that a US warship in the Taiwan Straits is like a rat in a hole that is easy to catch, as the PLA's concentrated surveillance on it means all kinds of anti-ship weapons can be sent there, if necessary.

The universe is a dark forest. Every civilization is an armed hunter stalking through the trees like a ghost ... trying to tread without sound ... The hunter has to be careful, because everywhere in the forest are stealthy hunters like him. If he finds other life — another hunter, an angel or a demon, a delicate infant or a tottering old man, a fairy or a demigod — there’s only one thing he can do: open fire and eliminate them. In this forest, hell is other people ... any life that exposes its own existence will be swiftly wiped out.

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15 OCT 18 :: War is coming
Law & Politics

The incident with the USS Decatur where a Chinese warship came within 45 yards of the USS Decatur in South China Sea is surely a precursor.

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New global cases hinting at upwards break from their plateau. @video4me #COVID19

≥20%: Saint Pierre Maqulon²¹⁴

>15%: British Virgin Islands²¹¹

>10%: Gambia¹³¹

>5%: Libya⁸⁹ Tunisia¹²⁸ Bahamas¹⁴² Aruba¹⁵⁰ Trinidad and Tobago¹⁶³ Eritrea¹⁷⁸

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They fancied themselves free, wrote Camus, ―and no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences. #COVID19

―In this respect, our townsfolk were like everybody else, wrapped up in themselves; in other words, they were humanists: they disbelieved in pestilences.

A pestilence isn't a thing made to man's measure; therefore we tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogy of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away.

But it doesn't always pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away

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A senior ally of Xi Jinping called for a Mao-style purge of China’s domestic-security apparatus last month time to “turn the blade inwards and scrape the poison off the bone.” @ByChunHan
Law & Politics

A senior ally of Xi Jinping called for a Mao-style purge of China’s domestic-security apparatus last month, saying it was time to “turn the blade inwards and scrape the poison off the bone.” The cleansing commenced swiftly. @ByChunHan

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Looking tired and wearing a surgical mask, Keita resigned in a brief address broadcast on state television after troops seized him along with Prime Minister Boubou Cisse
Law & Politics

“If today, certain elements of our armed forces want this to end through their intervention, do I really have a choice?” he said from a military base in Kati outside the capital Bamako where he had been detained earlier in the day.


A Precursor no doubt. 

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10 NOV 14 : African youth demographic {many characterise this as a 'demographic dividend"} - which for Beautiful Blaise turned into a demographic terminator

What’s clear is that a very young, very informed and very connected African youth demographic [many characterise this as a ‘demographic dividend’] – which for Beautiful Blaise turned into a demographic terminator – is set to alter the existing equilibrium between the rulers and the subjects, and a re-balancing has begun.

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“We have concerns that WIV has not satisfied safety requirements under the award, and that EcoHealth Alliance hasn’t satisfied its obligations to monitor” its partner @Ayjchan

“We have concerns that WIV has not satisfied safety requirements under the award, and that EcoHealth Alliance hasn’t satisfied its obligations to monitor” its partner to ensure it has complied with regulations regarding the use of the grant money.

However, after sequencing the full genome for RaTG13 the lab’s sample of the virus disintegrated, @PeterDaszak said. 

“I think they tried to culture it but they were unable to, so that sample, I think, has gone.” @thesundaytimes

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NIH received reports of unsafe research at the WIV, and sent a letter to EcoHealth on July 8 asking for the original virus samples @Ayjchan

NIH received reports of unsafe research at the WIV, and sent a letter to EcoHealth on July 8 asking for the original virus samples and to arrange for an inspection of the WIV lab and its records to see if they had SARS2 samples prior to December 2019.

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Currency Markets At A Glance WSJ
World Currencies

Euro 1.1861

Dollar Index 93.07 

Japan Yen 106.00

Swiss Franc 0.9121

Pound 1.3084

Aussie 0.7182

India Rupee 74.96

South Korea Won 1185.77

Brazil Real 5.5558

Egypt Pound 15.92

South Africa Rand 17.22

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Twilight of an era The end of the Arab world’s oil age is nigh @TheEconomist
Minerals, Oil & Energy

Their budgets don’t add up anymore. Algeria needs the price of Brent crude, an international benchmark for oil, to rise to $157 dollars a barrel. Oman needs it to hit $87. No Arab oil producer, save tiny Qatar, can balance its books at the current price, around $40 (see chart).

 The recent turmoil in oil markets is not an aberration; it is a glimpse of the future. The world has entered an era of low prices—and no region will be more affected than the Middle East and north Africa.

Arab leaders knew that sky-high oil prices would not last for ever. Four years ago Muhammad bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, produced a plan called “Vision 2030” that aimed to wean his economy off oil. Many of his neighbours have their own versions. But “2030 has become 2020,” says a consultant to Prince Muhammad. Oil revenues in the Middle East and north Africa, which produces more of the black stuff than any other region, fell from over $1trn in 2012 to $575bn in 2019, says the imf. This year Arab countries are expected to earn about $300bn selling oil, not nearly enough to cover their spending. Since March they have cut, taxed and borrowed. Many are burning through cash reserves meant to fund reform.

Pain will be felt in non-oil producers, too. They have long relied on their oily neighbours to put their citizens to work. Remittances are worth over 10% of gdp in some countries. Trade, tourism and investment have spread the riches around to some degree. Still, compared with other regions, the Middle East has one of the highest proportions of unemployed young people in the world. Oil has bankrolled unproductive economies, propped up unsavoury regimes and invited unwelcome foreign interference. So the end of this era need not be disastrous if it prompts reforms that create more dynamic economies and representative governments.

There is sure to be resistance along the way. Start with the region’s wealthiest oil producers, which can cope with low prices in the short run. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (uae) have huge sovereign-wealth funds. Saudi Arabia, the region’s largest economy, has foreign reserves worth $444bn, enough to cover two years of spending at the current rate.

But they have all been hit hard by the pandemic, as well as low oil prices. And they have long overspent. In February, before the coronavirus broke out in the Gulf, the imf predicted that the countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council (gcc)—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the uae—would exhaust their $2trn of reserves by 2034. Since then Saudi Arabia has spent at least $45bn of its cash. If it continues at that pace for another six months it would strain the Saudi rial’s peg to the dollar. Devaluation would hit real incomes hard in a country which imports almost everything. Officials are worried. “We are facing a crisis the world has never seen the likes of in modern history,” says Muhammad al-Jadaan, the finance minister.

In an attempt to balance the books, Saudi Arabia has suspended a cost-of-living allowance for state workers, raised petrol prices and tripled its sales tax. Even so, the budget deficit could exceed $110bn this year (16% of gdp). More taxes—perhaps on businesses, income and land—could follow. But raising taxes risks further depressing commerce, which has been hobbled in order to contain the coronavirus.The kingdom had hoped an increase in religious and leisure tourism would at least partially compensate for the decline in oil revenue. That now seems a fantasy. The holy city of Mecca has been closed to foreigners since February.

In Algeria, where income per person has fallen from $5,600 in 2012 to under $4,000 today, protesters are drifting back to the streets. The region’s rulers can no longer afford to buy the public’s loyalty.It is something of a historical accident that the Gulf states rose to become hubs of power and influence in the Middle East. For centuries they were backwaters sustained by pilgrimage and the pearl trade. The rulers of the region were in the great old Arab capitals: Cairo and Damascus fought wars against Israel and led the cry for Arab nationalism. Beirut was the financial and cultural hub.
These old powers, now well into decline, have an uneasy relationship with the newcomers. In a recording leaked in 2015 Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, the Egyptian president, mocked the Gulf’s wealth. He told an adviser to ask the Saudis for $10bn in financial aid, a request that was met with laughter. “So what? They have money like rice,” Mr Sisi quipped in response.

It may also presage a broader change in the region’s politics. For four decades America has followed the “Carter Doctrine”, which held that it would use military force to maintain the free flow of oil through the Persian Gulf. Under President Donald Trump, though, the doctrine has started to fray.As Lebanon’s economy crashes, everyone is talking of emigration. Yet there are few jobs in the Gulf. “Dubai was always the escape,” says one woman. “Now it’s like we’re trapped, with no backup plan.” Young people across the region have the same fears. Egypt can feel like a country crumbling under its own weight; Jordan is perennially in crisis. Almost ten years after a Tunisian fruit-seller lit the spark of the Arab spring, the frustrations that caused it persist. The end of the oil age could bring change. But it will bring pain first. ■

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Ethiopia is reporting significant new cases of #Covid_19 by East African standards -- 1,336 today, compared to 379 in Kenya. But its also doing about 5x the testing @nickeperry

Ethiopia is reporting significant new cases of #Covid_19 by East African standards -- 1,336 today, compared to 379 in Kenya. But its also doing about 5x the testing -- 21,326 tests compared to 3,876 in Kenya over the same time period

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Kenya woman's ordeal highlights newly identified sex trafficking route @ReutersAfrica

J’s cousin promised her a well paid job in India as a housekeeper. Instead, she found herself in a brothel until the United Nations brought her home to Kenya when it was alerted to the human trafficking route.

“When I heard there were job vacancies in India, I was so happy,” said J, asking that only her initial be used to protect her privacy.

When she got there, her passport was confiscated and she was forced into sex work to pay off $9,000 her traffickers, fellow East Africans, told her she owed them for her travel and lodging, she said.

In the past year, the International Organization of Migration (IOM) repatriated 12 Kenyan women who had been trafficked to India, the first time it said it had been asked to help Kenyans there.

Most Kenyans who have been trafficked end up in the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, according to Kenya’s National Crime Research Center, which did not have a more specific country-by-country breakdown available.

Now IOM worries that the economic fallout of the coronavirus lockdown in East Africa will make people more vulnerable to exploitation, at home or abroad.

Nearly a third of low-income Nairobi residents lost their jobs in the past month, and another 15% who had been self-employed are without work, a July survey from Nairobi-based market research firm Tifa Research showed.

It flew J home weeks before Kenya’s closure of its borders against the spread of the coronavirus. The borders reopened on August 1.

“With the economic losses that we are experiencing as a result of the pandemic we are potentially going to see more cases (of people) being trafficked or re-trafficked,” said Sharon Dimanche, head of the IOM in Kenya.

J, who had been diagnosed with cancer and had leapt at the chance to save money for treatment, said her experience shows that Kenyans should be wary of job offers abroad.

“I never thought I would get back to my kids,” she said. “When they took me to the embassy, I could not believe I am going to see family again and not return in a coffin.”

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Kenya Shilling May Come Under Pressure After Touching Record Low @markets @eombok
World Currencies

The Kenyan shilling could plumb new lows after depreciating to a record against the dollar following demand by the nation’s biggest company for foreign currency.

The shilling touched 108.66 per dollar, it’s weakest yet, extending losses this year to 7%, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. 

Demand for foreign exchange amid low supply could drive it even lower, according to Murega Mungai, trading desk manager at AZA, Africa’s biggest non-bank currency brokerage.

“A big factor behind the shilling’s latest tumble is one of Kenya’s best success stories -- Safaricom -- as the company pays out shareholder dividends,” Mungai said. 

“There is also increasing demand for dollars from importers as the country gets back to business. With inflows from Kenyan export staples still well below par, we expect the current negative pressure to continue and the shilling to plumb further lows in the coming days and weeks.”

A decision by the government to lift a five-month ban on imports of used clothes and shoes will also add to the pressure against the shilling, he said.

Kenya’s foreign-exchange reserves have declined for six consecutive weeks to about $9.25 billion, sufficient to cover the equivalent of 5.61 months of imports, according to Central Bank of Kenya data.

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by Aly Khan Satchu (www.rich.co.ke)
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August 2020

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