Monday, January 31, 2011

Christina Hendricks- Superheroine?

Good news for those of you counting down the minutes until voluptuous actress Christina Hendricks squeezes into a Wonder Woman outfit. A series of seemingly unrelated events might end up making this a reality.
Now take idle gossip rag chatter for whatever it's worth, but apparently a rumor had been circulating earlier about Hendricks being one of the leading choices for the always upcoming yet never produced live action Wonder Woman film. When she was asked about it by TV hostess Rachel Ray, Hendricks said "I head that rumor too- I don't know where it got started, but I love it! I’ve been wanting to wear that outfit my whole life! That would be such fun! Let’s put it out there!"

Fast forward to earlier this month, where the buxom redhead got quite a scare attending the 2011 Golden Globes [Heh heh....globes- NANESB!]. Like many other actresses, Hendricks borrowed some expensive jewelry for the awards show- in this case, a pair of 200 carat diamond bracelets as well as a 49-carat emerald set in platinum. Moments before the show started, the actress noticed that one of the bracelets was missing and frantically began asking media and security if they had seen the missing jewelry.

An event worker was eventually able to find it on the red carpet outside and returned it to Hendricks as the show started, but the actress couldn't get the clasp to close properly. So she stashed the newly recovered bracelet in her cleavage before deciding to try to get it back to her publicist.
But security blocked her as she tried to leave the auditorium, as no one is allowed in or out once the show starts. She begged, "Please let me out, I have to give my diamond bracelet to my publicist!" The guard watched wide-eyed as Hendricks pulled the bracelet out from her ample cleavage. He opened the door a crack and she passed the jewels through to her publicist outside.
Besides being one of the luckiest inanimate objects on the face of the earth, the AWOL bracelet was worth an estimated $850,000 by Swiss jewellers Chopard.

Now even to somebody with a high net worth like Hendricks, $850,000 is a pretty sizable chunk of change. Let's say that bracelet was never recovered- her wallet would've taken a pretty big hit [I can't say her reputation would've taken a hit, since this is the same Hollywood that eagerly defends pedophiles, drug users, cop killers and foreign leftist dictators, so what's a little missing jewelry?- NANESB!].

Hypothetically speaking- what's a girl to do?

Live the dream, of course!

Almost as soon as Comcast [NASDAQ: CMCSA] completed their acquisition of NBC Universal, it was announced that a pilot episode for David E. Kelley's Wonder Woman TV series was greenlit.
Wonder Woman will fly this pilot season after all. New NBC entertainment president Bob Greenblatt capped a day of high-profile pilot pickups with a surprise order to David E. Kelley's Wonder Woman reboot. WBTV took Kelley's Wonder Woman spec out to the networks in the first week of January. At the time, NBC was the most interested but, with Greenblatt still on the sidelines, the network couldn't commit to the type of license fee that the studio was seeking in order to do the show Kelley had envisioned, and WBTV decided to shelve the project. With Greenblatt now firmly taking the reins and Kelley just delivering one of the most promising new series for NBC this season, Harry's Law, NBC stepped up to greenlight Wonder Woman. The project is described as a reinvention of the iconic D.C. comic in which Wonder Woman -- aka Diana Prince -- is a vigilante crime fighter in L.A. but also a successful corporate executive and a modern woman trying to balance all of the elements of her extraordinary life. "I had a lot of fun writing it," Kelley said of the script at TCA last week when the project had just been put on hold. "It's a huge project, and it was probably a bit too much to ask anyone to try to chew on it for next season. But I'm confident it will still happen. It's a very complicated piece, which is the most fun thing about it."
OK- so it isn't the live-action movie that had been alluded to, and it's never too late for this project to be a colossal trainwreck. But with that said, wouldn't you rather see it- trainwreck and all- with Christina Hendricks as the titular [hee hee, I said.......ah, nevermind- NANESB!] heroine than say.....Megan Fox?

Sure- the urgent monetary incentive (i.e. the missing platinum & diamond bracelet) isn't there anymore, and it would be presumptuous of me to think that Hendricks would be as concerned about losing an object loaned to her that's close to 10% of her net worth that I would be, not to mention Hendricks would probably have to do considerably more stunt work than she would as Joan Holloway, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

[hat tip- Support Your Local Gunfighter; Hillbuzz]

Today's Train of Thought- Yellow Streak, Jan 31 2011

Today's train of thought brings us a little splash of color in a wintry Appalachia, as contributor J.B. Lockard catches armour yellow Union Pacific C40-8 leading a Norfolk Southern SD50 still in Conrail paint. The visitor from out west is in charge of Norfolk Southern's Middletown, OH to Williamson, WV coal empties train 81Z on Pocahontas Division at Glen Alum, WV on December 27, 2010.

The leased yellow Dash 8s from out west had been making a number of appearances on Norfolk Southern's lines across the Mountaineer State, breaking up the monochrome of NS's own black and white 'Thoroughbred' paint scheme.

Egypt Update- Egyptian Army Deploys to Cairo; Ancient Artifacts Destroyed By Looters; Foreigners Start Exodus from Country

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ordered the Egyptian Army into Cairo over the weekend in an attempt to curb looting and the escalating unrest in the capital city and throughout the rest of Egypt.

Protesters had defied a curfew for the 4th straight night in Cairo while the Army kept the protests mostly confined to Tahrir Square. A spokesman for the Egyptian Military said that they would not fire on protesters peacefully demonstrating, but added they would not tolerate "any act that destabilizes security of the country" or damage property.

With the Army and police dealing with the massive demonstrations or guarding government installations, some Egyptians have taken advantage of the deteriorating security situation. Looting had also broken out in Cairo and other cities across Egypt with young men on motorcycles breaking into shopping centers, restaurants, banks, casinos, private homes and carting away electronics food, alcohol, TV sets, money, jewelry and furniture. Outside the city, the state run TV network reported that car dealerships on the highway between Cairo and Alexandria had been broken into and looted while entire bank branches were abandoned.

Some neighborhoods had set up their own watch groups armed with knives, clubs, guns and metal pipes to ward off looters while boarding up nearby shops and homes in the absence of any police or military presence.

Members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood took advantage of the deteriorating security situation by springing jailed members of both Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood from prison.

But the most infamous example of looters in Egypt occurred over the weekend when nine men entered Cairo's Egyptian Museum through the skylight and beheaded two mummies and stole ancient Egyptian jewelry and masks that were on display. Although the looters were caught by a crowd that was forming a human chain around the museum and the Egyptian Army is now guarding the museum, several historic and irreplaceable artifacts were destroyed by the looters.

Historians and archaeologists are concerned that the police or military are presently unable to protect smaller museums that are home to a number of equally important artifacts.
[Egyptologist Dr.] Hawass said many valuable artifacts have already been taken and some of the country's lesser known museums have been emptied of their treasures, including the one in Memphis — the capital of ancient Egypt, about 19 kilometres south of Cairo.

Hawass said the Coptic Museum, Royal Jewelry Museum, National Museum of Alexandria and El Manial Museum had all been broken into.

He also said he is afraid the ruling National Democratic Party headquarters in Cairo, torched and vandalized by demonstrators on Friday, could collapse and topple onto the 100-year-old Museum of Egyptian Antiquities next door.
The embassies of the USA, India, Canada, Turkey, the UK and other nations in the country have warned residents to avoid travelling to Egypt begun airlifting or making arrangements to airlift citizens out of the country.

Iron Horse Update- Kiwis Go for Chinese; Deadly Wreck in Germany; Maine Buys 230-Mile Line; Steam In, Steam Out; New Shortlines on the Canadian Prarie

NEW ZEALAND: The first batch of 6 locomotives from Kiwi Rail's 20 unit order from China's Dalian Locomotive and Rolling Stock arrived in New Zealand at the end of November.

The locomotives are designated by Kiwi Rail as 'DL' class and rated at 3600 HP each and feature cabs at each end. Since arrival, the DLs will undergo commissioning and crew familiarization at Kiwirail's Hillside shop. The DL's will likely augment or replace older GE diesels, some of which were rebuilt when KiwiRail was part of Australia's Toll Holdings [ASX: TOL]. New Zealand's Rail and Maritime Transport Union has expressed concerns that the Dailan locomotives were too heavy for use on Kiwi Rail and that there are visibility problems with the cabs on each end.

The arrival of the locomotives came a few weeks before Kiwirail announced that China's CNR had beaten out Kiwirail's own Hillside shops for a contract to build 300 new COFC flatcars. Reportedly, the Rail and Maritime Transport Union is considering action along the lines of refusing to unload the remaining incoming DLs from ships in New Zealand to protest the contract being awarded to CNR.
GERMANY: At least 10 people were killed and and 50 injured with the death toll expected to rise after a passenger train collided with a freight train in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt.

Investigators believe the freight train was travelling at speeds of 50 MPH while the passenger train was moving at 70 MPH. The passenger train- HarzElbeExpress (HEX)- was travelling between Magdeburg to Halberstadt when it collided with the freight train carrying lime.

State prosecutors have begun a criminal probe to determine if human error played a role in the accident or if a defect sent the two trains on the same track.

CANADA- NEW BRUNSWICK: The New Brunswick Southern Railway is continuing to rebuild after heavy winter rains hammered the Maritime provinces in mid-December. A 40 mile section of track between McAdam and Milltown, NB on the NBSR 's St. Stephen subdivision was hit with 32 separate washouts, 10 of which had been repaired by the first week of the New Year. [Hat tip- Confessions of a Train Geek]

Photo- Cal Murray
CANADA- SASKATCHEWAN: Less than a year after the startup of the Last Mountain Railway between Regina and Davidson, SK an even newer railway has acquired the 82-mile former Canadian Pacific line between Richardson and Stoughton southeast of Regina.

Motive power for the line is a pair of B23-7s from the nearby Last Mountain Railway (nee Southern) which started up operations in late 2009. The Last Mountain will be replacing the recently departed pair of GE's with a trio of former Canadian National/Wisconsin Central SD40-2s.

John Lucas- Edmonton Journal
CANADA- ALBERTA: Grain farmers in the Battle River region of Alberta are bucking a trend of abandoned branchlines and concrete mega-elevators, purchasing an 80km, C$5,000,000 former Canadian National branchline in order to preserve a railway link with the rest of Canada.
The railway has been a fixture of communities such as Forestburg, 180 kilometres southeast of Edmonton, for almost a century. So it was a shock when CN first announced it planned to abandon the route in 2003 at the end of a drought-stricken growing season after grain output — and grain car traffic — fell sharply.

“CN just came and said that was it, they intended to close the line, and we could truck our grain to the central terminals,” said Ken Eshpeter, a farmer in Daysland and chairman of the fledgling Battle River Railway.

So in late 2003, about 180 farmers quickly organized a “producer car group,” which could bypass the terminals and order its own rail cars directly from CN. They began loading directly from trucks or storage bins into grain cars spotted at sidings in hamlets along the route.

Galahad farmer Howard Vincett was among the first.

“We started a buddy system with our experienced farmers helping others who were new to it. Soon we had a lot of farmers doing it,” he said.

“People were meeting and helping their neighbours. It was wonderful to see such a return of that community spirit.”

As local elevators disappeared across the West, farmers had accepted the situation. They bought bigger trucks and drove 50 kilometres or more to the large concrete terminals along the main rail lines, where they could wait for hours in line.

But by using augers at rail sidings, the self-loaders were proving there was an alternative.

So when CN decided in late 2008 that the Battle River line was to be sold for the price of salvage, the co-operative began raising money for a bid.

“We couldn’t allow this wonderful infrastructure to disappear,” said Reg Enright, the railway vice-chairman who operates a farm near Rosalind.

Because of the success with self-loading, a lot of farmers felt the same way, and bought hundreds of the $5,000 “B” shares that allowed them to move five grain cars in the future for the price of the share.

“We told them straight up that this was a risky venture. But if it all failed, we could still sell the rails, and it is the best-quality, 132-pound, main-line steel,” Eshpeter said.

At today’s higher salvage prices, the 80 km of rail would likely be worth more than the $5 million paid to CN.
Battle River Railway Co-op's motive power is a sole former Canadian National SD40-2W, although a 2 stall heated enginehouse is under construction.

Photo- Kevin Burkholder
MAINE: The State of Maine has finalized the purchase of more than 230 miles of former Montreal Maine & Atlantic (nee Bangor and Aroostook) trackage between Madawaska and Millinocket, ME in November. The MM&A and the state had agreed on the purchase price of $20.1 million and the FRA cleared all legal hurdles for the state of Maine to assume ownership of the lines this month.

Because of mounting financial losses, the MM&A filed to abandon the line between Madawaska and Millinocket as well as branchlines between Squa Pan and Easton, ME and Oakfield and Houlton, ME in Feb. 2010. Rather than permanently cut off rail service to customers in Northern Maine, the state opted to raise funds to purchase the lines and lease them back to the MM&A, although they could subcontract operations to a third party such as Pan Am Railways or the New Brunswick Southern.

STEAM: With 2010 coming to a close, that also meant that it was time to drop the fires on some restored steam locomotives for the 15 year FRA boiler inspection.

Photo- Matt Beisser
CONNECTICUT- Valley Railroad's 1926-built former Birmingham & Southeastern ALCo 2-8-0 #97 made its last run before it was slated for the 15 year FRA inspection in late December. The #97 has been with the Valley Railroad from the beginning, when it started up in the late 1960s on a derelict former New York, New Haven & Hartford branch that ran parallel to the western bank of the Connecticut River.

Although the #97 will be out of service for the foreseeable future, this will not leave the Valley Railroad without steam power. Besides former Aberdeen & Rockfish 2-8-2 #40, the Valley RR also purchased fire-damaged Chinese built 2-8-2 SY #3025 from Pennsylvania's Knox & Kane Railroad in 2008.

Photo- Richard Stevens
WISCONSIN- The clock was winding down on Soo Line ALCo 2-8-2 #1003 in November 2010 as well, as her it was getting near time for her FRA mandated boiler inspection. The 1913-built Mikado ran a series of excursions and photo freights on the Wisconsin & Southern lines in the southern part of the Badger state for the last decade or so.

One of the final runs (before the FRA inspection) of the 1003 featured Polar Express author Chris Van Allsburg working as the 1003's fireman back in late October. The #1003 was also able to serve as power for the WSOR's 'Santa Train' in November.

When not in operation, the venerable Mikado is usually kept at the Wisconsin Automotive Museum in Hartford, WI.

Photo- Jim Kleeman
PENNSYLVANIA- Like Soo Line #1003 and Valley Railroad #97, the time has come for the mandated boiler inspection for Steamtown's Canadian Pacific 4-6-2 'Pacific' #2317. For the last two years she had been relegated to the 'Scranton Limited' trains that operated entirely within the Steamtown complex due to an issue with the trailing truck.

There is some ambiguity as to exactly when the #2317 might steam again. Some have said that Steamtown has put a higher priority on bringing Baldwin Locomotive Works former Eddystone, PA plant 0-6-0 switcher #26 back to service, followed closely by Boston & Maine 1934-built Lima 4-6-2 #3713.
Photo- Cory Rychener
STEAM 2.0- WHAT'S NEW IN 2010 AND BEYOND: Although the fires have been dropped on some big steam in 2010, others locomotives have returned to service after being dormant for decades.

KANSAS- Perhaps the most under-the-radar development as far as steam was concerned turned out to be the successful restoration of Santa Fe Baldwin 4-6-2 #3415 by the Abilene & Smoky Valley Railway in Abilene, KS. The 1919-built Baldwin was taken out of service by the Santa Fe in the late 1950s and donated to the City of Abilene where it was on static display for the last 40 years in Eisenhower Park before the city donated it to the all volunteer A&SV in the late 1990s.

After more than 12,000 volunteer hours, the 3415 was successfully test-fired in 2008 and cosmetically restored to her original appearance by late 2009. The 3415 will operate a few times a month on the A&SV's former Rock Island branchline between Abilene and Enterprise, KS when the railroad isn't using their 1945-built ALCo S1 diesel switcher [she's shown above arriving at Enterprise, KS on Independence Day weekend 2010 before having to run around her train and return to Abilene running tender-first].

Photo- JL Scott
Perhaps the oldest steam locomotive to be restored to working order is Southern 2-8-0 #154. The locomotive was built by the Schenectady Locomotive Works (a precursor to ALCo) in 1890 for the East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia. Four years later, the ETV&G and the Richmond & Danville merged to form the Southern Railway, where the #154 continued to serve he Southern in Eastern Tennessee before being retired and donated to the city of Knoxville, TN where it was put on static display in Chilhowee Park. In 1989, it was given to the Old Smoky Railroad museum before being donated to the Gulf & Ohio Railways in 2008. Gulf & Ohio operates the popular Three Rivers Rambler seasonal excursions in Knoxville with 1925 built former Washington & Lincolnton 2-8-0 already powering some of the excursions.

Thanks to the hard work of the folks at Gulf & Ohio, Southern 154 was back in service and powering trains on the 3 Rivers Rambler in time for her 120th Birthday in July of 2010. The 154 is both the oldest operable Southern locomotive and the oldest known operating ALCo locomotive.

Photo- Jake B
ILLINOIS- A somewhat newer Southern locomotive also returned to service in the Midwest when the Monticello Railway Museum in Illinois completed their restoration of Southern Railway 2-8-0 Consolidation #401 in September 2010.

Along with some of the 1950s vintage streamlined diesels, the 1907 built Baldwin operated a number of excursions of the museum's 15 miles of right-of-way in September 2010. In 1995, a donor for the museum suggested that a working steam locomotive should once again be part of the Monticello Railway Museum, and after doing an inventory, it was decided that the Southern 401 was the most feasible candidate for restoration.

Photo- Ken J Johnson
CALIFORNIA- The Fillmore & Western railway occupies a fairly unique niche. While operating excusrions on a former Southern Pacific branch line between Montalvo and Piru, CA, it also features prominently in films like Inception or Seabiscut. Given its proximity to the Hollywood studios, the lightly used branchline is also just about ideal for movie and TV shoots for any scene involving trains.

To go with their stable of EMD and ALCo diesels is recently restored former Duluth & Northeastern Baldwin 2-8-0 #14, which reportedly will be fired by vegetable oil. Restoration work on the 1913 Baldwin was completed in November 2010, in time for the Fillmore & Western's Christmas excusrions. On January 2nd, the Fillmore & Western had a special excursion pulled by #14 for the volunteers who spent so much time getting her back to working order.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Quickie All Star Sports Chowdah Break- Bruins Head Into All Star Break Atop Division; Celtics Start West Coast Trip

NHL- After finishing up their West Coast road trip with a 2-0 loss to Los Angeles, the Bruins had time for one more game at the Garden before the NHL all-star break on Wednesday night.

Before packing his bags and heading off to the NHL All Star Game in Raleigh, NC Tim Thomas had 34 saves in Boston's 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers. Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic each had goals for the Bruins as they managed to hold off a late flurry from Florida.

Thomas leads the league with a 1.81 Goals Against Average and a .945 save percentage, and the Bruins enter the All-Star break in third place in the Eastern Conference and 1st in the Northeastern conference. Besides Tim Thomas, burly Bruins defender Zdeno Chara is also heading off to the All Star Game.

The format for this year's NHL All Star game is different- instead of Team North America vs Team Europe or East vs West, two Captains (Erik Staal of the Hurricanes and Nick Lidstrom of the Red Wings) had a draft on Friday night. Zdeno Chara wound up on Team Staal while Thomas was selected for Team Lidstrom.

Chara and Thomas will stay in Raleigh and be rejoined by the rest of the team come Tuesday when they take on the Hurricanes at the RBC Center.

NBA- The Celtics wound up losing a physical Firday night game to the Phoenix Suns by an 88-71, the stage is set for a rematch of last season's NBA Finals on Sunday where the LA Lakers will host the Celtics.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Days of Rage: Antigovernment Protests in Lebanon, Egypt

EGYPT: As anti-government protests entered their fourth consecutive day, the entire nation of Egypt went into Friday morning with no internet or SMS text messaging. This unprecedented step by the Mubarak regime was taken in an effort to hinder realtime communications among the protesters as the unrest has started spreading to other parts of the country.
Egypt's four primary Internet providers -- Link Egypt, Vodafone/Raya, Telecom Egypt, Etisalat Misr -- all stopped moving data in and out of the country at 12:34 a.m., according to a network security firm monitoring the traffic. Telecom experts said Egyptian authorities could have engineered the cutoff with a simple change to the instructions for the companies' networking equipment.

The Internet appeared to remain cut off Friday morning, and cell-phone text and Blackberry Messenger services were all cut or operating sporadically in what appeared to be a move by authorities to disrupt the organization of demonstrations.

Egyptians outside the country were posting updates on Twitter after getting information in voice calls from people inside the country. Many urged their friends to keep up the flow of information over the phones.

The developments were a sign that President Hosni Mubarak's regime is toughening its crackdown following the biggest protests in years against his nearly 30-year rule.
The shutdown comes as former International Atomic Energy Association head Mohammed El Baradei arrived in Cairo from Vienna on Thursday. The former UN nuclear watchdog [and a piss poor one at that- NANESB!] said that the Mubarak regime was on its last legs and has expressed a willingness to serve in some capacity on a post-Mubarak interim government.

[OK, kindly indulge me as I put on my conspiracy theorist hat. I didn't give much thought to any external factors playing a role in Egypt's unrest until I heard El Baradei's name mentioned. I'm well aware the Mubarak's autocratic rule combined with the rising prices of food and high unemployment by themselves would set up conditions for unrest.

With that said, if I wanted a nuclear-armed Iran, I would've had El Baradei continue to serve as the IAEA head- North Korea and Iran's nuclear programs had advanced considerably under his watch. Perhaps there's some quid-pro-quo involved or perhaps El Baradei really was just that inept and incompetent as IAEA head.

Also, Mubarak is in his 80s, so you wouldn't exactly need a Machiavellian advisor to realize that your golden opportunity to seize power would come sooner rather than later. Even if I did fully believe that Iran was stirring up unrest in Egypt so they could install El Baradei as a puppet leader of a client state, even they likely would've been caught off guard by the nature of this week's protests and are perhaps attempting to move up their timetable after events in Tunisia earlier this month.

This would not be unprecedented for Iran's ruling mullahs- take a look at Lebanon since 1979. Also keep in mind that the Iranians named a street in honor of Sadat's assassin.

Whaddaya think; too tinfoil hat?- NANESB!]

LEBANON: Sunni Muslims and supporters of ousted Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri burned tires and blocked roads in Lebanon on Tuesday to protest the takeover of the Lebanese government by Hezbollah.

Angry protesters in the northern city of Tripoli also torched a satellite van belonging to the Qatari-based Al-Jazeera TV Network, which Hariri's supporters have referred to as 'Hezbollah TV'. The series of protests came shortly before 68 out of 128 members of parliament named Telecom mogul Najib Mikati as Prime Minister-designate.

At issue will be the the Mikati government's willingness to accept the results of the United Nations Tribunal's investigation into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri- Saad's father. The Tribunal had completed the investigation and handed down a series of sealed indictments widely believed to implicate Hezbollah earlier this month. Hezbollah has denied any role in the assassination 2005 Valentine's Day car bombing that killed Rafiq Hariri and 22 others in Beirut and claims Israel was behind the assassination [even though Hezbollah and their Syrian and Iranian benefactors would benefit most from the elder Hariri's death- NANESB!].

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Today's Train of Thought- Oy! Oy! Oy! Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!

Wouldn't you know it? Today happens to be Australia Day. January 26th marks the arrival of the first fleet of ships from England arriving with 1500 colonists (more than half of them convicts) to what is now Sydney Harbor in 1788. Although the early years were quote rough, Australia has grown from a backwards isolated colony where the British would dump their convicts to a leading exporter of minerals and a popular destination for tourists throughout the world. And let's face it- some of the scenery in Australia is simply amazing. Even without tourism, the Aussie economy is on strong footing due to rising commodity prices and voracious international demand for iron ore, gold, copper, zinc, uranium, bauxite or nickel.

With the growth of Australia as a colony (and ultimately and independent nation), many states built up their own rail networks- each of them using different standards and varying between broad gauge, narrow gauge and standard gauge. This proved to be problematic with the expansion of Australia's population and it's transportation network. For instance, the famous Indian Pacific wasn't able to complete it's transcontinental route until completion of a standard gauge route through South Australia in 1970. With the national network as a whole lacking a uniform track gauge until the mid 1990s, this hindered both interstate passenger and railfreight traffic. Some railways have found a way around this problem by installing dual-gauge tracks. Others, like in Tasmania and Western Australia, remain isolated from the national railway network.

One series of such railroads includes the network of iron ore mining railroads in the rugged northwestern corner of Western Australia- also known as the Pilbarra region. This is railroading on a massive scale in some of the most rugged conditions on earth. Companies like Fortescue Minreals, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton haul iron ore from their mines in the Chichester, Hammersley and Pillbara mountain ranges to waiting ships at Port Hedland for export in trains that routinely exceed 200 cars (only the railroads run by Brazil's VALE mining company comes close).

With that in mind, the Aussie mining companies have selected American horsepower to handle this daunting task for the past several decades. contributor Phil Melling caught BHP Billiton iron ore SD70ace in 'new earth' livery leading a GE AC6000CW north through the red red earth of the Chichester Range in Munjina, Western Australia as she brings a loaded ore train towards Port Hedland.

Just to give you an idea of the scope of the Western Australia iron ore roads, here is some footage of a 224 car BHP Billiton iron ore train.

I think if the GE and EMD products in service there are reliable enough to survive the scorching, rugged conditions of the Australian outback, they can handle pretty much anything else that comes their way.

State of the Union and Obama's Sputnik Moment

Truth be told, I was only able to tune in for the last 10 minutes or so of the President' State of the Union Address, so I'm not sure what the two of them had in common besides crashing and burning in Wisconsin.

Oh I not supposed to use language like that in this new epoch of hypercivility?

Well anywhoo, my first response was to the State of the Union was 'My God- He's Still Talking?'. Like I said- I didn't tune in until the final 10 minutes and that only happened because I had assumed the speech was over and done with. And to be perfectly honest, I was listening on XM- the final moments of the address was only made tolerable by intermittent commentary from Cam and Company.

Apparently I had missed the first 45 minutes of vapid platitudes, contrived calls for bipartisanship, token nods towards American exceptionalism and contradictions galore. Since this was radio, I didn't get to actually see the 'high school dance' mentality of the Republican congressmen and senator mingling with their Democrat counterparts. Probably just as well, as that was a pretty stupid and pointless exercise. If the final 10 minutes were any indication, the speech seemed to be more about crowing about what the highly unpopular lame duck Congress was able to cram through last month than learning anything from the election results in November. The president also seemed to be taking credit for this month's referendum in South Sudan, which in fact was a key component of a 2005 ceasefire brokered by the USA. C'mon, progressives and Democrats...think back to 2005 when we had an unemployment rate that maxed out at 5.4%- who was in the White House again?

There were no huge surprises after the speech- Congressman Paul Ryan (R- WI, 1st District) delivered a pretty good rebuttal regarding the size and scope of government. President Obama's insipid media cheerleaders- many of whom he met with for lunch before the State of the Union- thought this was the greatest speech since Churchill while FOX news and the AP were skeptical.

It's one thing for me to be skeptical of the President, because I had no interest in sitting through what amounted to a 1 hour and 10 minute sales pitch for something I didn't want but was probably going to wind up with anyway. I'm just wondering how many independents or undecideds saw what I saw last night- teleprompter fuelled status quo.

What did you think?

Happy Australia Day from Not Another New England Sports Blog!

I just wanted to take this opportunity to wish my Australian visitors a happy Australia Day as well as to remind my non-Australian visitors that today is, in fact, Australia Day!
I've had the good fortune of visiting Australia myself awhile back and meeting some of their soldiers while I was still in the US Army. I mean, on top of everything else, how could you not love a country who's concept of meter maids is attractive women in sparkling gold bikinis putting money into parking meters?

For the record, the Australian Army has fought alongside their American counterparts since WWI, and as I'm writing this, Aussie diggers continue to serve in Afghanistan, Iraq and even closer to home where they have been doing search and rescue operations during the flooding in Queensland.
So throw another shrimp on the barbie and raise your pint of XXXX or Black Swan (as some of us know, Foster's is for the tourists) with your sheila and best mates...[did I leave out any Aussie-centric cliches?- NANESB!].

This American, at least, considers himself fortunate to count Australia one of his nation's closest allies.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

REPORT: Egypt President Mubarak's Family Flees for UK

Barely two weeks after a series of protests toppled the government of Ben Ali in Tunisia, reports are circulating that Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's son has fled the country amid escalating clashes between thousands of protesters and police in Cairo.

This would be a significant development, as Gamal Mubarak was being groomed as Hosni's heir apparent. A report in a US-based Arabic language website said that Gamal, along with his wife and daughter departed for London from an airport in Western Cairo on Tuesday.

The escalating demonstrations in Egypt have been largely inspired by the Tunisian protests and riots earlier this month that chased autocratic ruler Ben Ali into exile in Saudi Arabia. Much of the organizing for the Tunisia protests was done through online social networking sites like Twitter or Facebook. Twitter confirmed on Tuesday night that the online messaging site had been blocked in Egypt.

Hosni Mubarak assumed power in 1981 after Egyptian army officers assassinated president Anwar Al Sadat and has declared an ongoing state of emergency since Sadat's assassination. The emergency declaration gives Mubarak and his cabinet sweeping powers, such as outlawing political parties or detaining people indefinitely without trial. Since then, the Mubarak regime has been increasingly unpopular with Egyptians and his cabinet and family members have been implicated in a number of bribery and kickback scandals.

However, the 82 year old Mubarak's health has been deteriorating over the last few years and he had flown to Germany last year for gallbladder surgery.

Elections were already scheduled for September of this year- most candidates or parties opposing the Mubarak regime are typically left off the ballot. Many observers say that while technically outlawed, the Muslim Brotherhood is among the better organized opposition parties that would attempt to fill in the void in a post-Mubarak Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood is unambiguous about their plans for Islamicizing Egypt and compelling governments in other Egyptian countries to adhere to shari'a law.

[As an aside, I pretty much view the Mubarak regime much the same way I viewed Chile's Augusto Pinochet- very bad but keeping something worse and and far more destabilizing in check. I know that's not much more enlightened than the Cold War era mindset of 'he's a bastard, but he's our bastard', but don't expect me to break out the pom poms and start shouting 'Yay Muslim Brotherhood!' anytime soon- NANESB!]

[hat tip- Eat it or Wear It, Ace of Spades HQ]

South Sudan Makes it Official- Will Split From Khartoum

Talk to the hand! (Pete Muller- AP Photo)
Although the final tally may not be made official until Valentine's Day, voters in South Sudan chose overwhelmingly to break with the al-Bashir regime and the rest of Sudan in weeklong balloting. Sudanese refugees as far away as Ausrtalia, Tel Aviv, London, Boston and Chicago were also able to cast their ballots for or against independence.

South Sudan's unofficial boundaries are shown in green- Darfur's is shown in Blue
While already the South is facing challenges in the form of prices rising on food and consumer goods, the vote may be considered a setback for the al-Bashir regime in Khartoum as well. Some analysts speculate that al-Bashir becomes known as the man where Africa's largest nation split up under his watch, that could undermine his authority in the rest of Sudan and causing him to be forced out of power and replaced by somebody who may not honor the outcome of South Sudan's referendum.

Although this might've come up before, it's worth noting that while South Sudan is relatively oil-rich, it would continue to be dependent on the rest of Sudan to export in in the foreseeable future, as Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo would be the only other countries it borders that aren't landlocked. Links to other bordering countries like Uganda or Ethiopia involve highways that aren't even paved (or nonexistent in many cases).

However, the relatively peaceful (so far) transition from breakaway province to independent state in a particularly bloody region on a strife-torn continent is noteworthy in and of itself. Another issue that the South Sudanese have to deal with is whether or not to retain the name of the country they just broke away from or call them something different altogether.

Monday, January 24, 2011

31 Killed, 170 Wounded in Moscow Airport Blast

Photo- Daily Mail (UK)
An explosion at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport sent screws, ball bearings and shrapnel tearing through a crowd of travellers and airport personnel on Monday afternoon. One eyewitness said he saw a man with a suitcase that appeared to be engulfed in flames a moment before the blast tore through the international arrivals terminal. before the blast.
Artyom Zhilenkov, a 35-year-old driver, told The Associated Press he was just a few yards away from the explosion and saw a man who may have been the bomber.

"I saw the suitcase, the suitcase was on fire. So, either the man blew up something, or something went off on the man's body, or the suitcase went off." said Zhilenkov, whose clothes were soaked in blood.

"The guy standing next to me was torn to pieces," he added.

Russian officials put the death toll at 31 and said nearly 170 people were injured in the explosion Monday afternoon, while an airport spokesman reported 35 dead and about 46 wounded.

"From the preliminary information we have it was a terror attack," President Dmitry Medvedev told officials.

Russia's Interfax news agency reported that a head found at the site appears to belong to the bomber.

"We found the head of a man of Arab appearance, aged 30-35. It seems he detonated the explosive device," said the source.

Amateur video posted on YouTube showed the international arrivals terminal at Domodedovo Airport engulfed by smoke and splattered with body parts after the mid-afternoon terror attack sprayed shrapnel, screws and ball bearings at passengers and workers. Hundreds of people were in the loosely guarded area at the time.
The Daily Mail website is reporting that at least two British nationals were killed in the blast- a British Airways flight had arrived shortly before the blast. This is reportedly the first attack targeting Russian airline travellers since 2004, when two suicide bombers were able to sneak explosives on board a domestic flight departing Domodedovo airport and detonate while mid-air.

Domodedovo is Moscow's largest and busiest airport with flights from 77 airlines arriving and departing on a daily basis. Although it's early, Russian authorities suspect Chechen Islamic separatists are involved in the attack.

Crony Capitalism: Obama Names GE CEO Jeffery Immelt to Economic Panel; JP Morgan Exec Daley to Chief of Staff

I fleetingly saw on the front of some of the fish wraps this weekend that the punditocracy is reassuring us President Obama is supposedly going to move to the center in his upcoming State of the Union address by making job creation and the economy his top priority [Hmmmm....didn't we hear the same thing from the Administration right after the inauguration and then when 0bamacare passed?- NANESB!]. Apparently one of these indicators of a shift in the Administration's priorities is supposed to the selection of General Electric CEO Jeffery Immelt to head an economic panel. While CEO, General Electric was one of the top donors to Obama's 2008 Presidential Campaign while it's subsidiaries at the networks of NBC, MSNBC and CNBC gave favorable, nearly uncritical coverage to both Obama the candidate and Obama the President. Immelt had also come out in favor of cap & trade in 2009, along with the NBC/Universal subsidiaries promoting week-long programming like the 'Green is Universal' media blitz during 'Green week'. GE was also the recipient of a number of grants and government contracts under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act- aka the stimulus. According to the Alliance for American Manufacturing, the conglomerate has been steadily outsourcing jobs to China and elsewhere overseas under Immelt's watch as General Electric closed down 29 American factories in the last two years alone. The naming of Immelt to the economic panel comes about two weeks after the White House announced former JP Morgan Chase executive William Daley as the new White House chief of staff. William comes from Chicago's dynastic Daley family- his late father was the mayor for 21 years and his brother, Richard M Daley, is the outgoing mayor of Chicago. Prior to being selected for chief of staff, Daley was the Midwestern Chairman for JP Morgan Chase. The banking giant that Daley recently left is presently embroiled in a scandal where they overcharged active duty military personnel on mortgages and improperly foreclosed on homes of at least a dozen more military families.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Championship Chowdah Update- Train Rex Averted in Steel City; Green Bay Sends Bears Packing; Wizards Solve C's; B's Clear Avalanche

NFL: Screw the conference championship games, Tom Brady had surgery on his right foot this week! The surgery, performed on Thursday by team physician George Theodore, involved inserting a screw into Brady's problematic right foot. If all goes well, Brady's recovery timetable should be around three months or so, in time training camp in late July or early August.

ELSEWHERE IN THE NFL: Oh yea- it also happened to be Championship Sunday this weekend, so without any further ado:

AFC: I'd be lying if I said I wasn't enjoying the final few minutes of the AFC Championship game, even if it was alot closer then it should've been.

The Pittsburgh Steelers took a 24-3 lead into halftime for the AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh on Sunday evening. It didn't look like it for awhile in the 4th quarter, but that was all the Steelers would need to get by the Jets- despite New York scoring 16 unanswered points in the second half (their first 3 came with only 9 seconds to go before halftime).

The Jets made it a 5 point game with just over 3 minutes to go in regulation, capping off a 4 and a half minute drive with a short pass from QB Mark Sanchez to WR Jerricho Cotchery to make it a 24-19 game. The Steelers would get the ball back with just under 3 minutes remaining- meaning that if the Jets could force a 3 and out, they would have enough time for a 2 minute drill. Roethlisberger managed to get the Steelers as far as the Jets 40 yard line at the two minute warning, bringing up and important 3rd and 6 in which Big Ben made a 14 yard completion to Antonio Brown, sending all sorts of headgear flying off of Rex Ryan before crashing to earth as the Steelers simply took a knee and iced the game from there.

NFC: Well....these guys probably had a heart attack. I mean.....well....a bigger one than usual:

I came in a little late on this one- by the time I tuned in, Cutler was already on the bench [let the speculation abound- NANESB!] and the Packers were up 14-0.

Things would get interesting when Bears backup QB Todd Collins was benched in favor of Caleb Hanie late in the 3rd, which paid dividends right away when the Bears started a TD drive from their own 33 to cut the Packers lead in half. However, pinned deep in their own territory, Haine would be picked off by Packers nose tackle BJ Raji, who rumbled into the end zone to put the Packers up 21-7. The Bears would strike again on a quick drive where Hanie connected with WR Earl Bennett for a 35 yard TD reception to once again make it a 1-score game with just under 5 minutes in regulation left.

Chicago's defense forced a fairly quick 3 and out from the Packers, giving the Bears the ball back with just under 3 minutes in regulation on their own 29. However, Green Bay would put the game away when Hanie was picked off by Packers CB Sam Shields deep in Green Bay territory ith 37 seconds remaining.

Green Bay wins the first postseason meeting of the Bears and Packers since the outbreak of WWII by a final of 21-14. Although Caled Hanie acquitted himself reasonably well (13-20, 153 yards, 1 TD but two costly interceptions), Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback that will be going to north Texas for the Superbowl. The Packers QB was 17-30 with 244 yards on the day and two INTs.

This means Superbowl XLV will feature a matchup between two vintage NFL clubs (Packers go as far back as 1919 while the Steelers date to '33). Superbowl XLI is scheduled to kick off from Cowboys Stadium at 6:30PM ET on Saturday, Feb 6th on FOX.

NBA: The Celtics had their 5 game winning streak come to a halt on Saturday night in Washington DC. Wizards rookie John Wall banked in a pivotal 3 pointer in the games final minute to help beat Boston by an 85-83 final.

The Celtics had finished up a homestand where they managed to beat the Kings, Bobcats, Magic, Pistons and wrapped up a 110-86 win over the Utah Jazz the night before travelling to Washington. They will next take on the Cleveland Cavaliers at home on Tuesday night.

NHL: After completing the home/road sweep against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Boston Bruins had one more home game (where they lost to the Sabres on Thursday night) before their road trip out West got underway.

The change of scenery apparently did them some good as they came away 6-2 winners in Saturday night's game at Denver's Pepsi Center against the Colorado Avalanche. Although Colorado's Paul Stasny scored first, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand had two goals each (Mark Recchi and Patrice Bergeron would have goals as well). Tim Thomas stopped 32 of 34 shots faced on the night while the Avs pulled goalie Craig Anderson before the start of the 3rd.

The Bruins will next travel to the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Monday night to take on the LA Kings. Puck drops at 10:30 ET, 7:30 PT.

MLB: There's a 2004 Red Sox reunion of sorts taking place in the AL East, although not at Fenway Park. Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez have each agreed to separate one year deals with the Tampa Bay Rays this past week. reported that Damon's contract was worth $5.25 million with incentives while Manny's was in the neighborhood of $2 million. Both deals are pending a physical.

The Rays had lost Carl Crawford and Matt Garza to free agency earlier in the offseason.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Veenal Sins: Pakistani Actress Lashes out at Muslim Cleric Over Indian Reality Show Controversey

As the past month has shown, running afoul of religious figures in Pakistan can be hazardous to one's health.

Lollywood actress Veena Malik got into a heated exchange with an Islamic mufti during a talk show on Pakistan's Express TV this week after the Islamic cleric criticized her appearance on an Indian Big Brother-style reality show called Bigg Boss where she appeared to be cuddling with an Indian co-star.

Malik is no stranger to controversey, having testified in September in a probe by Cricket's international governing body involving her ex-boyfriend, who was involved in a match-fixing scandal.
"You have insulted Pakistan and Islam," Mufti Abdul Qawi accused her on the Express TV channel talk show via a television link. The exchange first aired Friday and then again Saturday.

A furious Malik shot back, saying Qawi targeted her because she is a woman, reminding him that the Quran admonishes men not to stare at a woman's beauty beyond a first glance, and telling him there were bigger problems in Pakistan, including the alleged rape of children at mosques [say what!? If this were the Catholic Church, these allegations would be above the fold headlines for the next 6 weeks- NANESB!]

During the exchange, Qawi admitted he had not seen the clips of the show but had heard about it from others.

"What does your Islam say, mufti sir?" the actress asked. "You issue edicts on the basis of hearsay."

Malik said she had read the Quran and she knew what lines not to cross as a Muslim as well as an entertainer in South Asia. She pointed out that she never kissed Patel, for instance.

"I am a Muslim woman, and I know my limits," she said. The cleric seemed unable to respond to her flood of words.

Malik's fierce outburst sparked a barrage of comments on Twitter. While some writers said they didn't agree with her and one called her a "porn star," others said she was brave for standing up to the Pakistani clerical establishment, especially when such an act can mean personal danger.
That's not mere hyperbole, either. The governor of Pakistan's wealthiest and most populous province was murdered by one of his own bodyguards on January 4th. Upon interrogation, the bodyguard told police that he was upset Governor Salman Taseer was opposed to Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which call for imprisonment or even execution for 'defaming Islam'.

Taseer had supported leniency for Asia Bibi, a 45 year old Pakistani Christan woman sentenced to hang in late 2010 after being convicted of 'defaming the prophet Muhammed'.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Long Olberdue: MSNBC Announces Termination of Olberman's Contract, Cancellation of Show

Apparently the last episode of Countdown w/Kieth Olberman was on Friday night.
MSNBC issued a statement that it had ended its contract with the controversial host, with no further explanation. Olbermann hosted the network's most popular show, but his combative liberal opinions often made him a target of critics. Olbermann did not explain why he was leaving.

"MSNBC thanks Keith for his integral role in MSNBC's success and we wish him well in his future endeavors," the network said.

A spokesman said Phil Griffin, MSNBC's president, would not comment on Olbermann's exit.
So in other words, Keith Olberman is out of a job [I know it's not nice to laugh at others' misfortunes, but what can I say? -NANESB!]. Maybe President Obama can pull some strings and arrange for him to get one of those 'Green Collar Jobs' his party has been promising the public for the last two years. Or maybe the White House can appoint him to the new position of 'Civility Czar'.

As for MSNBC, no word on whether or not Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik will be filling in Olberman's timeslot. Apparently Olberman's program was the top rated in the MSNBC lineup, but having the best ratings on MSNBC is a little like having the most Zimbabwean Dollars in Zimbabwe.

I actually have mixed feelings about this- while at first blush, an consistently dishonest obnoxious sociopathic blowhard of Olberman's caliber being off the air would seem like a good thing, it was also beneficial to have him out there screeching away like a little shit-flinging monkey every night as the face of the disturbed and unhinged American left.

Comcast has yet to announce any long-term plans regarding Olberman's replacement, let alone the future direction of MSNBC- and by extension the future of progressive hosts like Ed Shultz, Rachel Maddow or Chris 'Tingles' Matthews.

But with that in mind, I can't get this ditty out of my head for some reason:

HORN OF AFRICA UPDATE: South Korean Naval Commandos Kill 8 Pirates, Free Hostages; Private Military Contractors Training Private Anti-Pirate Forces?

South Korean sailors from the Cheonghae Naval Unit conducting an antipiracy drill in 2009-
Six days after the MV Samho Jewelry was boarded and seized by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden, South Korean commandos stormed the cargo ship, killing 8 pirates and rescuing the 21 member crew. Taking part in multinational anti-piracy patrols in the region, the destroyer Choi Young was dispatched by South Korea to intercept the hijacked vessel.

The Samho Jewelry was carrying chemicals from the United Arab Emirates to Sri Lanka when the pirates attacked. A vessel from the same company shipping oil from Iraq to the USA- the Samho Dream- was hijacked by pirates last May and it's crew was released 217 days later only after a largest-of-its-kind ransom payment of US$9.5 million.
"Our special forces stormed the hijacked Samho Jewelry earlier today and freed all hostages," said Colonel Lee Bung-Woo, a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"During the operation, our forces killed some Somali pirates and all of the hostages were confirmed alive," Lee told reporters on Friday. Another JSC spokesman said eight pirates were killed.

The military said Friday's rescue followed a brief gunbattle Tuesday, when the destroyer encountered pirates who had apparently left the South Korean freighter to try to seize a nearby Mongolian vessel.

The South Korean commandos aboard a speedboat and a Lynx helicopter were dispatched to rescue the Mongolian ship.

Tuesday's firefight left several pirates missing and believed killed although their bodies have not been found, spokesmen said. Three commandos were slightly hurt.
The rescue took place 800 miles off the northeastern coast of Somalia, according to the Joint Chiefs.

ELSEWHERE IN THE HORN OF AFRICA: Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater USA, is reportedly backing an effort by South African Private Military Contractors to train 2000 Somalis for a land-based private army that would protect officials from Somalia's fragile Transitional government as well as combat pirates and the al-Shabaab Islamic militia.

Prince reportedly brokered the deal between officials in the United Arab Emirates and other Middle Eastern nations and South Africa's Saracen International to fill the security vacuum in the lawless region.
Presently an African Union peacekeeping force is propping up the internationally recognized Somali Transitional government that only controls parts of the capital city of Mogadishu. Last month, the AP reported that the Somalia project encompassed training a 1,000-man anti-piracy force in Somalia's northern semi-autonomous region of Puntland and presidential guards in Mogadishu, the ruined seaside capital. The story identified Saracen International, a private security company, as being involved, along with a former U.S. ambassador, Pierre Prosper; a senior ex-CIA officer, Michael Shanklin; and an unidentified Muslim donor nation. Prosper and Shanklin confirmed they were working as advisers to the Somali government.

Since then, AP has learned from officials and documents that Prince is involved and that a second 1,000-man anti-piracy force is planned for Mogadishu, where insurgents battle poorly equipped government forces.
This has some analysts fretting over what they call 'the privatization of war', which in a region that has been racked by famine, prolonged civil wars, lawlessness, piracy and terrorism for the last 20 years seems like a rather petty and abstract complaint.

I mean, really? Suddenly, employing some battle-hardened South Africans (or Brits, or Aussies, or Americans) with extensive military backgrounds to break the impasse and restore some sort of order is bad?

Worse than multiple civil wars dragging on for decades at a time that's killed millions?

Worse than multiple famines triggered by said civil wars and ethnic cleansing that's killed millions more?

Worse than rampant piracy that threatens to choke off the Red Sea to commercial maritime traffic to all nations?

Worse than yet another failed state playing host to yet another Islamic terror group that can operate with impunity?

I mean, it's not as though Saracen is usurping a Democratically elected government- there has essentially been no functioning central government in Somalia since 1991.

Food for thought.

PUNTLAND- The autonomous reigon of Puntland- where a number of pirate raids have been launched from- said it was breaking with Somalia's Transitional Federal Government 'until a legitimate Federal authority is in place in Mogadishu'.
The decision was made during a special cabinet meeting in the Puntland capital Garowe, said a government statement received by AFP in Nairobi.

It said the Mogadishu government "does not represent Puntland in international forums" and called on "the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) to reconsider its position and support for the TFG at the expense of other Somali stakeholders".

And it criticised "the lack of participation, consultation and representation of the Puntland Government during the 2008-2009 Djibouti Peace Process which led to the formation of the current Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia."

The statement also slammed "the marginalization of Puntland from the international community's initiatives and funding intended for the reconstruction and development of Somalia as a whole."

It said it "welcomes, supports and endorses the new U.S. Dual-Track Policy which is based on realities on the ground in Somalia" and called for a conference to speed up national reconciliation.

Unlike neighbouring Somaliland, Puntland, which was founded in 1998 by former transition president Abdullahi Yussuf Ahmed, did not secede from Somalia but has its own government bodies at Garowe.
While it's rumored that some government officials in Puntland take a cut of ransoms paid out to pirates, the Saracen project is reportedly using a pool of recruits from Puntland. Local reports also indicate that Saracen is aiding in the construction of a new Naval facility outside the coastal village of Bandar Siyada.

Photo- Guuleed
SOMALILAND- It could be that there's a country newer than South Sudan waiting in the wings. Somaliland declared its independence from the rest of Somalia during the 1991 Civil War and has managed to avoid the chaotic slide into lawlessness and anarchy that has characterized the rest of Somalia. It has managed to set up a functioning government and legals system, hold regularly scheduled elections and circulate its own currency- although for whatever reason the international community has been reluctant to recognize it as an independent state [I was actually made aware of Somaliland in the 1997 editon of Fielding's World's Most Dangerous Places; apparently Somaliland stood out because it wasn't as dengerous as the rest oF the country- NANESB!].

Surveys indicate that Somaliland holds considerable oil and mineral reserves, but because of it's unrecognized status, foreign companies are unable to extract those resources while Somaliland itself lacks the expertise on a local level to set up large scale drilling or mining operations. Presently, it's main source of income is exporting livestock, remittances from abroad and allowing Ethiopia to use the port of Berbera.

And they also view the rampant piracy in the region as one more problem that jeopardizes their bid for international recognition as a sovereign state. The de facto government in Somaliland has offered to put the port at Berbera at the disposal of the international navies that are patrolling the Red Sea and Indian Ocean as part of their stepped up campaign against Somali pirates as far back as 2008.

More recently, they have arrested and jailed pirates fleeing into Somaliland waters, handing out sentences of 15 years each. Last month, they arrested six Russian pilots violating territorial airspace and suspected of attempting to deliver military supplies to the Puntland reigon in defiance of a blanket arms embargo on all of Somalia (it is thought the supplies were destined for the Saracen project in Puntland). Puntland and Somaliland are involved in an ongoing border dispute as well. The Russians were released after being given a suspended sentence and fine at the end of December.

While far from perfect, this resilient and fairly orderly enclave along Somalia's northern coast could be what the international community needs to serve as a counterweight to the out of control piracy and al Shabaab militias that have taken over elsewhere in the Horn of Africa.