Monday, April 30, 2007


In an article recently published by Observer magazine, written by aclaimed author Zadie Frost, the torrid sate of life across Liberia was revealed. As is the trend across post-Colonial Africa, Liberia has struggled, pretty much since it was established as a haven for freed slaves in the 1870s. The slaves arrived penniless and their predicament has remained the same. Yet why? They have been recipients of US aid for almost thrice as long as Israel, another state inhabited by one-time refugees and a nation that has thrived due largely to aid, mostly from the USA.
In the civil war the droned on for the best part of a decade, 300,000 civilians died. Millions were made homeless. Child soldiers were a plenty, their minds a manic haze clouded by hallucinatory drugs. Scores of women were raped by opposing militiamen and mercenaries. Yet where was the foreign intervention so desperately needed. The US, Liberia's main foreign benefactor were busy. On the roulette table that is the Pentagon, Iraq and the Balkans came up first, so the atrocities committed by Charles Taylor's minions went on with hardly any attention, without the necessary foreign intervention to bring the madness to a halt.
A decade later and the violence has subsided. But still there is a massive 86% unemployment. Outside of downtown Monrovia, there are few paved roads, the only actual highway connecting Monrovia Airport with Mamba Point Hotel, known as UN Drive. An online reviewer described Mamba Point Hotel as "the only real hotel in Liberia."
Yet it is not all bad. Lead by Harvard-educated economist, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Liberia's economy is in the midst of a revival. Firestone, a rubber manufacturer is now contributing to Liberia, not just exploiting it. Monrovia port has a large number of container ships registered to it, a sign that there is some international trade going on. The main problem Liberia faces in the immediate future is its budget. It has a budget of just $100m. The UN budget in Liberia vastly eclipses that, at $800m. Whilst conditions are improving, even a wonderwoman like Johnson-Sirleaf can only do so much with that kind of funding. But like I said, it isn't all bad - Mittal Steel bought a huge stake of the country's ore reserves at a price of $1bn, a deal that will vastly improve the country's economic state

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Live-Blogging gone wrong

In the spirit of Canucks and Beyond and Yankee Canuck, I am looking to uphold the great tradition of live-blogging. So here goes. Sharks - Redwings, Game 2. All times GMT.

21:06 Stupid Figure Skating!!! All the internet feeds I was planning to use have been taken up by some stupid figure skating tourney. OK. I shall break the mold and live-blog figure skating.

21:08 Oh WOW, they can kick their heels in tune to music...

21:09 There's a move called a TWIZZLE? Why, oh why?

21:11 Two things: the competition is in Japan and the music probably shouldn't be described as such.

21:12 LOL: there is some resemblance to hockey: instead of little hockey players skating around during the intermission, they've got little figure skaters twirling around during lag-time.

21:13 Isn't it time for HNIC yet?

21:16 Someone please lay down a hip check at center ice. Please. Pretty please.

21:17 Why does the Redwings game start at 2pm anyway? Pistons later tonight?

21:21 God has put me out of my Cinderella on Ice misery and beset with me with a new problem: faulty internet. Just great.

21:23 This isn't all bad. My "limited or no connectivity" means that I don't even have to try and do the childish BBC revision quizes. But I get the feeling it won't stave off Monday's exam.

21:26 I guess I'll resort to my collection of "borrowed" youtube videos. First on deck, Matt Cooke's tying goal against the Flames a few years back...

21:30 Screw this. Still no internet, so I'm gonna call it quits. Now what movie to watch...

21:31: Austin Powers:International Man of Mystery it is...

23:03 Still no feed, but the internet's back up now. Sharks 2, Redwings 2 heading into the 3rd.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Day on the Sea

Just some footage I took on the recently extended Stena Hollandica in early April, as well as some photos in Ijmuiden at the mouth of the North Sea Canal.

One down, three to go

Elation filled downtown Vancouver as the Canucks dumped the Stars to at last bring a marathon series to end. But what lies in the road ahead? The big, aggressive Anaheim Ducks, a team not unknown to beat its opponent to victory. Whilst this is destined to be a tough series, if they can get through it alive they seem to have a reasonably easy route to the finals. At the conference finals, they would play either San Jose or the Red wings. The Canucks have a winning record against both teams, and a phenomenal record against the Eastern Conference since the lockout. The Ducks also had a considerably easier regular season than the Canucks, playing teams like the Kings or Phoenix so many times its not funny. They're a big, physical team but as long as the Canucks stay out of the box and Bieksa gets his game feet back, the Nucks should pull through. We saw signs of the Canucks' physicality in Game 7 - Pyatt in particular, but that needs to be more of mainstay if the Canucks want to keep their Cup hopes alive. Perhaps it would have made more sense to call up a more physical player like Bourdon or -dare i say it- Goren than the likes of Edler. With a bit of luck, Cooke and Kesler will be back for the second half of the series, and that would give us one amazing checking line (Cooke - Kesler - Pyatt,) not to mention players like Green, Linden and Burrows on the 4th. So while many predict a Ducks win, keep this in mind: the Ducks are a 1 dimensional team - brute size and strength is there only real attribute, but the Canucks are the embodiment of a complete team: rock solid defence, all-star goaltending in Luongo and some ridiculously skilled forwards in the Sedins and Naslund. We also have Captain Canuck, Trevor Linden, fighting for one last chance at Lord Stanley's Cup. Oh yeah, and Sabourin got his first win against the Ducks. Too shay.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

You cannot be serious!!!

During one of my all too frequent random internet searches I stumbled upon this Google hit:

British School of Nanjing.

Probably insignificant for most of you, but for me it was as though a bomb had dropped next door. See, during my time at Nanjing International School, we prided ourselves on being the only real international school in Nanjing, which according the "cultured" expat folk of Shanghai, was just some dusty little town somewhere upstream. Nanjing, a city of some 6.5 million souls. Dusty little town my ass. Anyway... Once, we were at a volleyball tournament at the Shanghai American School (the last bastion of utter isolation,) and we heard one expat kid ask another: what does nis stand for? Soon, they began teasing us, their country cousins with their hilarious new interpretation of NIS: nerds in Shanghai. And that is why I'm somewhat afraid of another international school opening up shop in Nanjing. I'd hate to see Nanjing reduced to the comparative mediocrity of Shanghai or Beijing. I'd hate to see our cross-town rivalry with Nanjing Foreign Languages School reduced to mere peanuts. I'd hate to see our somewhat eccentric rivalry with Concordia thrown out for some new money-making scheme. But thankfully, that won't happen. Because it is in the middle of nowhere, some 50 miles out of Nanjing, by the shores of uber-expatty Baijia Hu. They may as well call it British School of Zhenjiang.

Let's just get on thing straight.


is way better than this...

Go Lions!!!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Get it Straight!!!

A few weeks ago, Andrew Lansley, the Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire gave a talk to my English class. The main subject of the talk was to do with parliamentary procedure, as we had just finished our entry for the annual Youth Parliament competition , but then came an opportunity to asks questions of him. As the Conservatives aren't very popular in my circle of friends, we laid into him a bit, asking him about why, exactly, proportional representation is a bad thing and why he chose to be a Tory. He once told my mom that "it was the only way he could get elected," but it turns out he Tory because he previously held a position at the Conservative Research Department, alongside people such as current Tory leader, David Cameron. So later on in the question session, I asked him which way he voted in the prelude to the Iraq war, as the Tories were generally pro-war. So off he went on this long spiel about how he wrote an article in the Independent on the eve of invasion, condemning the UK's involvement. But he never actually said which way he voted. So that evening, I looked up his voting record. He had indeed voted for the Iraq war. So, I took the appropriate course of action. I e-mailed him (or most likely, his secretary,) and offered him that chance to explain himself. Several weeks later, this turns up on my doorstep, on very fancy House of Commons letterhead:

Dear Mr van de Ven,
Thank you for your correspondence regarding my voting record on Iraq.

I have checked both the websites you refer to - Public Whip and They Work For You.
Firstly, they use the same source of information and, secondly, the calculation is misleading.
They weigh the votes in such a way that they do not adequately reflect my stance, which was expressed in the Independent article you read prior to looking on the websites.

I hope this is helpful and I am sorry for the confusion.

Yours Sincerely

Andrew Lansley

So the Good and the Bad. Where do we start?

The Good? He didn't stick the letters MP at the end of his name.

The Bad? This could take a while. He can't face up to the facts in front of a bunch of school kids. Imagine what he'd be like in Parliament. He still hasn't confessed to the fact that, A), he is a puppet, or was it b), he's pro-war? If he was really a good politician, he'd attach a copy of said Independent article, which I hadn't read when I sent him the e-mail.

This letter also exposes Lansley as the puppet he is, voting with the party on an issue that apparently, he strongly disagrees with.

So no, Mr Lansley, your letter is not helpful and neither does it ease my confusion.

Oh, and by the way, searches on Google and the Independent website didn't return the article.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Well, I thought that new beginnings might lead to new revelations, but it wasn't to be. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed every second of the week I spent in my European homeland, Holland, but I didn't feel the sense of rejuvenation that you might expect after the foreseeable death of a family member. I felt that maybe, I might find that elusive national identity, something that I am yet to experience. Not that that's a bad thing. I would be lying if I didn't enjoy being able to choose between America, Holland and Britain. But that has its drawbacks. Wherever I go, I always find myself sticking up for at least one of the three, and nowhere more so that the UK, where a fair number of its citizens have really bought into the island mentality, shunning the Euro and other ideas deemed as too "continental". But particularly irritating is the general attitude towards the US, with the vast majority of people looking at is a "Supersize" country - too much energy and food consumed, too many obese people, too many cars, etc. I'm not saying America is innocent - far from it - but it seems naive to criticise another country when all is not well at home. The sad thing is that a lot of opinions are based on misconceptions, from the highest levels of government (unless Bush is truly evil, he did think that Iraq has WMDs) to the ordinary citizen. So I have some advice for everyone. Think before you speak, and then think some more.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Spot the Evil Twin

What a surprise. Blair has gone crying to the man in the Oval Office. Once again, he proves that while can talk the talk, he most certainly cannot walk the walk. More like limp. Still, its typical isn't it, that Dubya would go in, typically brazen, and aggravate a situation that, arguably, was his fault in the first place.
When the UK troops were first seized almost 10 days ago, my heart sank as I thought back to the occasion a few months ago, when Iranian diplomats were detained in Tikrit by Coalition Forces. It seems Ahmadinejad is merely fighting fire with fire, holding out until the Bush administration admitted its detention of the Iranian diplomats, at which point, the 15 UK soldiers will be returned. Officially, Tehran is looking for an admission that Royal Navy boats entered Iranian waters, but really, they want Bush to admit what that he abducted diplomats, a far more serious sin than detaining military personnel who may well, intentionally or not, have strayed into the Iranian-controlled portion of the Shatt Al Arab waterway.
Still, it has been Ahmadinejad in the driving seat from the get-go, engineering a situation that forces Bush to at least confess to the detention of the Iranians in Iraq. So in a way, this political bad-mouthing has gone full circle, as Ahmadinejad now has Bush looking like the idiot he is, in front of the world press. Many think of him as a villain, a thorn in the side of the Middle East peace process, but really, he has subtly caressed the media, compelling Ehud Olmert to open more talks and showing up Bush. He even struck a chord with me when I saw images of the mob outside the British Embassy in Tehran, where riot police valiantly drove back the angry students. As is common in many Arab countries, it is the righteous, somewhat hot-headed students and younger adults that cast dark shadows over the government.
Unlike people such as Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II, Ahmadinejad sticks up for his people. And that is far more important than maintaining a soft exterior just so Western leaders feel safe in their silk sheets. This not an evil man, this is a man who wants the best for his people.