Country Profile: Afghanistan

Population: 31.6 million

Area: 652,864 sq km, or 251,827 sq miles

Main languages: Dari, Pashto

Primary religion: Islam

Life expectancy: Men = 59 years, women = 62 years

Geography: Landlocked, mountainous

Current leader: President Ghani (since September 2014)

Bordering countries: Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and (via a very narrow corridor) Xinjiang Province, China.

Stability: weak, the country’s recent history is laden with war and civil unrest.

Debt: As of 2018, Afghanistan had $1.353 million of public debt.

Coronavirus and Cocked Up Legs

Last summer I overdid it with walking to and from work on rough terrain, running about after customers, squatting down to lift heavy boxes, etc, and ended up with a groin strain on both legs.

I went to the doctors in October, they diagnosed the problem and said to just rest it, so I did. 6 weeks later I felt bored and restless, but a google search said it could take as long as six months to recover. So be it.

Five months later and I’ve reached the end of my tether, so today I went to the osteopath, and resigned myself to paying to fix my god-damned legs. Our osteo is nice and cheap, because the physicians are all students learning the trade under the watchful eyes of their teachers, and today we had some Italian students in.

I was so eager to fix my legs, and end the trembling and aching once and for all that I didn’t stop to think.

Halfway through the session, my physician left the room to consult with his tutor, and when he came back, he was shaking his head in disbelief.

“I have been told that I have to end this consultation immediately. The British Government has sent us notification that all Italian students are to stay away from the patients, until the government is confident that we are not infected with the Coronavirus. I am so sorry for the inconvenience, it’s ridiculous, I haven’t even been to Italy since early January!”

I wanted to laugh. It all seemed so insane. He wasn’t allowed to treat me for a muscular problem? There was hand-sanitiser everywhere in the building, he hadn’t coughed or sneezed the entire time, and like he said: he and his colleagues hadn’t been to Italy since the outbreak began.

But this interaction made me think, it’s about time I started looking into the Coronavirus news and what’s actually happening. So, I’ve looked into it and figured I’d share the details with you guys.

So far, by today, 27th February 2020, there have been 82,585 people diagnosed, and 2,814 deaths officially recognised as being the direct result of the virus. It is important to bear in mind that in China, particularly in Wuhan right now, if people choose to die in their homes they are not being counted among those killed by the Coronavirus, a.k.a. COVID-19.

There are 50 countries currently being affected by the virus, and one cruise ship off the coast of Japan.

The largest number of cases is in China, with 78,514 people officially diagnosed. Below is the list of no. of people infected across the world:

South Korea: 1,766

The cruise ship, the Diamond Princess: 705

Italy: 528

Iran: 245

Japan: 207

Singapore: 93

Hong Kong: 92

US: 60

Kuwait: 43

Thailand: 40

Bahrain: 33

Taiwan: 32

Germany: 27

Australia: 23

Malaysia: 22

France: 18

Vietnam: 16

Spain: 15

UK: 15

U. A. E: 13

Canada: 12

Macao: 10

Iraq: 6

Oman: 4

Switzerland: 4

Philippines: 3

Austria: 3

Croatia: 3

Greece: 3

India: 3

Israel: 3

Finland: 2

Lebanon: 2

Pakistan: 2

Russia: 2

Sweden: 2

Afghanistan: 1

Algeria: 1

Belgium: 1

Brazil: 1

Cambodia: 1

Denmark: 1

Egypt: 1

Estonia: 1

Georgia: 1

North Macedonia: 1

Nepal: 1

Norway: 1

Romania: 1

Sri Lanka: 1

It’s a lot like that game, Plague Inc, where you have to infect the world.

Honestly, I think we’ll be fine in the greater part. We will lose some people, and it will be unfortunate, but the mortality rate is only 2%. Influenza – the seasonal flu virus that goes around every year – kills more people. But, COVID-19 hasn’t been around for long enough for us to confidently say that.

In the end, everyone gets ill. It’s an inevitable part of life. Just remember to wash your hands, and maybe invest in some hand sanitiser and a face mask for the time being.

Japan’s Priorities

Have you noticed Japan’s key resources? Or lack, thereof.

Japan is one of those unfortunate countries with high aspirations, but few resources to propel them. As a volcanic, mountainous country, Japan has little land for growing crops, and little access to essential resources.

And yet, Japan is the third largest economy in the world. They’ve been smart, and made all the right friends in all the right places, trading and making concessions where they know they must. Sadly for us, one of these concessions was coal.

This year, Japan is making room to build 22 coal fired power plants, 15 of which have already been started. If they follow through with this plan they’ll be adding around 74.7 million metric tons of CO2 emissions every year; it would make them the world’s five largest greenhouse gas producer. This is after Japan declared their commitment to cutting emissions and attempting to carbon neutral.

Sadly, Japan, like the rest of the world, is being faced with the same pressures as the rest of the world, with internal power struggles driving their government in very particular directions. Despite worries over global warming, the government is being forced to concede to the pressures of the rich at the expense of the poor.

Will You Take The Bus?

We see it in the news all the time: climate change, global warming, protests, ice caps melting, waters rising, temperature rising, animals dying out…But how much are you willing to change to help the planet?

For a lot of people, there is a very distinct limit to what they will and will not do in the UK, and that limit is their car.

People do NOT want to give up their cars.

The bus has a negative stereotype in the UK, and most motorist are loathe to give up the freedom and independence of driving to work and embrace riding the new and improved electric buses.

Modern buses are relatively clean, have WiFi, and a lot of them have charging ports for your convenience. And you’re helping the planet when you use them!

But then, sometimes you just want to get from A to B ASAP. You don’t want to sit on a crowded bus full of strangers, with varying degrees of personal hygiene. And depending on where you are, some buses only accept card/oyster payments, and some only accept coins. It varies greatly, and with no common standard it can be a pain in the arse trying to sort out the fare. If you’re in the north of England, travelling from northern town to northern town is just impractical by bus or by train, and a car is the best way to do it.

Unfortunately, the infrastructure for eco-friendly transport just isn’t there in a lot of places. In the south of England, cycling to work or riding a bus is fairly practical. But in the north it can take a long time to get anywhere, in terrible weather. More needs to be done to prioritise these eco-friendly forms of transport, such as sheltered cycle-passes, more advertising and promotion for riding a bus, and better connections between the northern cities.

But until any active changes are actually made, the car will be king. It would take a shortage of cars to stop us from choosing them over buses.

Israel And Military Reforms

Israel is sparking concerns again as they bring out new plans to improve their armed forces. Their already impressive military is seeking to maintain their reputation by restructuring their forces to prepare for what may come in the next few decades.

The plan has been in place for over a year, and is prepared for the potential of a war on multiple fronts which, given Israel’s geopolitical relations, is not an unrealistic concern. A lot of Israel’s neighbours are hostile to the nation due to the aggressive manner in which the nation was founded. The founding of Israel was controversial, but despite being decades later, the state has failed to reach a peaceful existence with its neighbours. Instead, regular border skirmishes have become the norm, and anti-Israel sentiment is popular throughout the Middle East, alongside anti-US and anti-Western views.

This new plan, while preparing Israel for a multi-point attack, is also focused on reducing the timespan of a conflict and limiting the impact on civilians. They seek to be one of the best militaries in the world, improving not only their battlefield technology but also working on artificial intelligence and cyber warfare.

The main barrier facing this plan is the current lack of a government in Israel, as the two recent elections have failed to bring about a majority, despite Prime Minister Netanyahu’s attempts to form a coalition. When the plan is likely to be brought into affect is still questionable.

However, despite Israel’s lack of a government, there is still a significant degree of impetus for a new, improved military strategy after Trump’s assassination of Soleimani in January. The fear of war has sparked a frenzy in the military officials, and the Defence Minister has already approved the plan, with officials and people alike united in defending the state from the very real threat on their doorstep.

The Glencoe Slaughter

Glencoe is a poignant tragedy that still marks the Scottish national identity. The memory of those who died there is still strong, despite it being just over 300 years ago, and still has a significant impact on the people today. So what actually happened?

It was 1692, in the Scottish highlands. It was remote and wild, and forty Scottish highlanders found themselves cornered by the king’s men. These men were ordered to bring order to a chaotic region, and they followed their duty in the most gruesome way possible. The local people had been forced to house and feed the soldiers as punishment for not paying their taxes to King William III, and had been in the area for a fortnight. It was the 12th February when they received their orders to execute the rebels of the Clan MacDonald, the Clan that lived in this region of Scotland. No man was allowed to escape, and no mercy was to be given, but the main target was the Clan Chief, Alasdair MacDonald. He was a thorn in the king’s side, and the longer he was left to live, the longer he would prove problematic to the king’s sovereignty.

Troops not only attacked Alasdair in his home, but more troops were sent to a nearby settlement, known as Achnacone, where five men were killed. Three managed to escape. Alasdair’s sons were also fortunate, and manage to flee into the hills. All throughout Glencoe, similar acts of violence followed in a determined act to seize control from the Clan MacDonald.

80 year old Archibald MacDonald was beatened and burned to death, after trying to hide from the soldiers. In a nearby village, soldiers led a crazed attack, killing an elderly woman and an infant boy, while members of Clan MacDonald managed to flee. One soldier tried to show mercy, but was overruled, and the people were still killed before his eyes.

In the end, there were around 30-40 people brutally murdered.

This was the result of a slow-burning hostility growing between the Lowland and Highland Scots. The consensus of the Lowland Scots was that the Highlanders were barbaric, uncivilised and violent; they were completely unsuited to a developing society. At least, in the eyes of the Lowlanders they were. And once the idea had taken root, there was little that would be done to persuade them otherwise.

History is filled with similar such acts of violence, and as the later generations it is up to us to learn from the mistakes of the past. Whether they are from our own nation, or another, there is always an important lesson to be learned, and countless lives that should be remembered and honoured.

Iran’s Lost It’s Nuts…Pistachio Nuts, That Is

You would think that after decades of competition and tension between Iran and the US that an all-out military conflict is inevitable. But if I were to ask you, will the US defeat Iran with nukes or nuts, we all know what the first reaction would be.

And yet, here we are. It’s 2020, and while war has looked close at times, the diplomatic relations are still at the level of “I hate you, but I don’t want to die.”

Instead, America has been sneaky. They looked at Iran’s economy and trade deals, and matched them up with Iran’s systematic weaknesses.

Did you know that Iran’s lakes are running dry? I didn’t until I started my research, and the more I read the more it made sense. Global warming is a big issue, and Iran is already a pretty hot place. Needless to say, I was fascinated by the implications of this water shortage.

Having no water will have a lot of nasty implications, but Iran’s smart and savvy. Surely, they’ll just find a way to start importing more bottled water? But how will they pay?

Before now, one of their biggest exports was pistachio nuts. Iran was the king of pistachios, for over 1000 years. Pistachios were everything to their economy, and a major part of their lifestyle and culture. The issue is, pistachios need a lot of water.

And now the US has done the unthinkable. They have de-throned the king. Instead of invading militarily, they have done so economically by out-producing Iran on their treasured nuts. This slap to the face is pushing a very awkward question on the Iranian people. Pistachios aren’t just a source of income for the nation: they’re a staple part of the diet, and a symbol of national pride. So what will the people do when the last of the groves have died from drought? Will they succumb to Western pressure, and agree to the US’ demands?

Unfortunately for me, I can’t tell the future. But I can tell you this: Iran has turned to Central Asia in search of suitable pistachio-growing lands. Georgia, Azerbaijian, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are all prime targets. Some eager farmers have already moved in hopes of starting pistachio groves in these countries, but this just raises more issues. Would you be okay with outsiders coming into your country and buying up large amounts of land?

I doubt this problem will come to an easy end, for when pride comes into play few are ever able to concede graciously. I just hope, for the sake of a shared sense of humanity, that when the water completely dries out in Iran and other areas of the world, that the more fortunate among us will unite to aid them, and overcome the issues of the past.

The Future of Anglo-Franco Relations

In the wake of Brexit, the relationship between the UK and Europe has become naturally strained, thus evoking a vast array of concerns from different nations. Today, we are going to examine France’s concerns over a more distant relationship with the UK, and what it could mean for future international exchanges.
First, let’s have a glance back into history. It wasn’t that long ago that France and Britain were fierce rivals, competing over land, power and influence. We were regularly at war, and this prolonged hostility only came to an end with the Entente Cordiale, or Cordial Agreement, in 1904. This agreement put an end to the conflict and competition, and marked a turning point in Anglo-Franco relations. There was finally peace. But, more than that, there was finally the potential for a new friendship.
The Entente Cordiale led to an increase in military cooperation between France and the UK, and in World War 1 this new alliance was put to the test.  The relationship stood the strain of war, but once that war had ended it became clear that France and Britain were seeking two very different things. France was seeking to solidify the friendship with further agreements, whereas Britain was turning towards the rest of the world. The only thing that brought Britain’s attention back to France was the onset of World War Two, in which it became clear that Britain and France were very clearly mutually dependent on each other for security.
When faced with this realisation, Britain accepted this fact of life, but would still turn to other nations, to develop a stronger network of alliances.France, it seems, has always had a greater appreciation for the depth of the relationship between the two nations.
After years of being jilted and under-appreciated, France turned towards Europe. 1956 had marked the final straw, as Britain abandoned France in the Franco-British Suez Expedition at the behest of the United States. The truth was finally settling in: Britain just wasn’t as interested in the relationship as France was. In Europe, France was welcomed as an ally and friend, despite some remaining tensions from the war.
Seeing France lose interest, and the growing potential emerging from Europe, Britain followed suite, and in 1961 it was Britain seeking France’s support in joining the European Union.
The relief was palpable. Britain and France have had a strong track-record for military support, and in the post-war era, France had pressured Germany to drastically reduce their military power. This was understandable in the aftermath of the Nazi-period, but now Europe is suffering from the unforeseen, yet hardly surprising, consequences. The German army provides nowhere near the same degree of military support as Britain and France. With Britain leaving the EU almost eighty years after being accepted into the union, France is faced with a severe dilemma.
Macron has openly declared his views on NATO as being “brain dead”, and in recent years there has been an increase of talks on an EU Army. Now, without Britain there to help fund and support the endeavour, there is the fear that such an army may not be so capable, and the weight of responsibility shall rest on Macron’s shoulders. He has already dedicated France’s nuclear weaponry to the service of the EU, hoping to spur some kind of reform or passion for the project in the hearts of other EU members, but the success of the endeavour still remains to be seen.
In January, Macron sent what has popularly been described as a “love letter” to Boris Johnson to reflect on the close relationship between Britain and France. This is undoubtedly an attempt to keep Britain sweet, and at the service of the EU in all matters of military and security. This is undoubtedly in the best interests of the EU, if somewhat surprising after the conflicts of Brexit. However, whether or not this tie is in the best interests of Britain is now up to the British people.    

Much Ado About Turkey

Anyone interested in US politics has probably heard of this already, but for those of us who are outside of America or disinterested in the bombardment of US political news may have missed something important. Erdogan, the despotic, corrupt, autocratic leader of Turkey (aren’t I impartial…) has reportedly been seeking favours from our favourite orange man.
There have been international sanctions placed on Iran, serving to damage any trade and business conducted with the country. Due to the levels of terrorism and anti-Western sentiment in the region, the international community agreed on imposing these sanctions.
Can you guess what happened?
That’s right, folks, Turkey tried to conduct business with Iran, and then wanted to dodge the penalties for doing so.
A bank, known as Halkbank,was involved in a multi-billion dollar scheme to evade the sanctions against Iran. Erdogan sought Trump’s support in the matter, and he quite happily outsourced this to Attorney General William Barr and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. These names may seem familiar. They’ve been on the news in large capital letters, but it was only when I read into the story that I actually understood why. These two men have been trying to arrange a settlement for the bank, and avoid an indictment; Barr even advised bank officials on how to work out a deal, but they were met with an unswayable opponent: US Attorney Geoffrey Berman, of the Southern District of New York. This man stood up to the pressures of his colleagues and insisted on a criminal prosecution. In the end, the bank was charged with fraud, money laundering, and sanctions offences.
The timing, however, is particularly interesting. The charges were made in October, shortly after Turkey’s invasion of Syria.
The situation overall is messy, but one thing can be said: I agree with John Bolton. Trump is doing far too many favours for autocratic leaders.

World News

Are you sick of hearing the same old news repeated day in and day out? Trump, Brexit, EU, Putin…sometimes you just have to say, enough is enough.

We all know about the big players on the world stage, but what about the little guys? On my blog, I research the local news on every single one of the 196 states (yes, I’m including Taiwan!) and bring it to you on a regular basis. I’ll show you the history, cultural events, and key news reports as they occur. And for those of you out there who avoid the news because it’s all “doom and gloom”, I’ll find you the light in the darkness, the happy times throughout the hardship. But it will be actual news. It won’t just be pictures of kittens and puppies in different climates.

So, check out my page if you’re interested in this weird and wacky world we’re all stuck living in.

I’m Sam, and this, my friends, is Academic Research.  

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