Trump: The rise of evil?

Donald Trump re-tweeted Italian dictator Mussolini’s quote and refused to condemn former KKK leader who backed him. Anne Frank’s step sister and two former Mexican presidents all said that he reminds them of Hitler, while French Neo-Nazi Jean-Marie Le Pen, Dutch’s prominent nut job Geert Wilders and some other European Far Rights not surprisingly are endorsing him.

Meanwhile, former CIA director said that if Trump is elected president the military might not obey him (and implying of a possible coup), Wall Street and the markets are already spooked by him, and even the GOP itself is having an internal conflict over the possibility of him becoming their front runner.

He’s racist, he’s sexist, and he provokes religious hatred. He’s even a Lannister. But yet Donald Trump is still winning the Republican primaries. How on earth can he pull such a stunt? One possible explanation for this is what’s written in this hoax meme, which makes perfect sense considering that Trump is currently leading thanks to only blurted out chants and meaningless rants in his campaign speeches instead of clearly describing his actual policies. Another possibility is that there are simply a lot more white supremacists in the US than previously thought. Or maybe, just maybe, he really is a great presidential candidate and all of the Trump critics somehow get it wrong?

One thing is for sure, although he’s technically not a fascist he’s a pretty damn close one, at least during this presidential campaign. And we all know what happened with 1930s Europe under fascism. Be careful what you wish for, America.

Further readings:

The Trump Doctrine: end NATO, patrol Mosques, nukes for Japan & allies [Informed Comment / Juan Cole]

After a long time, Donald Trump finally unveils his foreign policy plan. And it’s ugly [The Guardian / Dan Roberts]

Campaign finance documents show Donald Trump’s campaign is in disarray [Mother Jones / Russ Choma]

What’s in Trump’s returns? A look at how he plays tax game [Yahoo Finance / Nancy Benac]

A lot of the money the Trump campaign has spent is going directly back to Donald Trump [Vox / Libby Nelson]

Warren Buffett nailed why Donald Trump’s businesses failed in a lecture 25 years ago [Yahoo Finance / Julia La Roche]

The sales strategies of Trump University find echoes in its namesake’s presidential campaign [The Atlantic / Matt Ford]

For future reference on Trump pro-gun policy: Owner of company that makes AR-15s to attend Donald Trump fundraiser [The Huffington Post / Ben Walsh]

Trump on climate change: Trump’s stupidity has crossed the line towards dangerous for the fate of the planet [Reuters / Emily Flitter and Steve Holland]

More than 400 writers sign petition protesting Donald Trump [The New York Times / Alan Rappeport]

Meet Frank Amedia: Trump’s Christian policy adviser believes he single-handedly stopped a tsunami and healed cancer [Mother Jones / Hannah Levintova]

It’s like history’s greatest hits!

“The 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene

What is the best strategy book of all time? The Prince by Machiavelli, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, The Book of Five Rings by Musashi? What about where the greatest war stories come from? Ancient Greece, medieval Europe, or perhaps China’s dynastic period? Throw in any ancient war strategy and political history book, and most likely Robert Greene has analysed them in the contextual manner within 48 theories that become his laws of power.

It has the brilliant war strategies used by Napoleon Bonaparte, George Washington and Mao Tse Tung, the ruthlessness of Ivan the Terrible, John D Rockefeller and Henry VIII, and the wisdoms of Roman Emperors and ancient Japanese tea masters. It is heavy with the tricks and lies used by Henry Kissinger and Otto Von Bismarck, the masterclass diplomacy of Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, or the seductive techniques of the mythical Mata Hari and the many European mistresses. It also analyses the mistakes made even by great men like Xerses and Cyrus the Great, the fraud by con artists such as Panco Villa and Yellow Kid Weil, the camouflaging move made by Ethopian emperor Haile Selassie and Elizabeth I, and the behind the scene moves by Cosimo de Medici to rule Florence.

In between the stories there are writings by the likes of Leo Tolstoy, Machiavelli, Sun Tzu and Baltasar Gracián, and many fables, proverbs and quotations fittingly appropriate within the subject matters. And between the myths, frauds, scandals and tragedies we’ll learn about the structure of past societies and how it changes overtime. Indeed, Robert Greene has successfully managed to bring the biggest characters in history to life and even able to portray them as ordinary emotional human beings, but, crucially, human beings who posses winning strategies.

It is by far the most comperensive history book I’ve ever read, and it got to be the book I’ve read at the slowest pace. I read and re-read it, highlighted and made lots of notes, and actually made several changes in the way I analyse things, in the way I behave and in understanding other people’s behaviours.

Einstein once said that the secret of creativity is knowing how to hide your sources. This book has become an analysis tool so valuable that I hesitated for a while on whether or not I should write a review and reveal my sources. You know what, don’t read this book. It’s a waste of time and it won’t do you any good.

What we know so far about Zika virus

Named after Zika forrest in Uganda, where the first case was found in monkeys in 1947, Zika virus has originally remained in Africa and in few small and sporadic cases in Asia (including in Indonesia in 1977). But by 27 January 2016 the virus has spread to 23 countries, with World Health Organization (WHO) esimated that there could be 3 to 4 millions infections in the Americas this year.

As with so many outbreaks, there are plenty of rumours or misleading news spreading along with the facts, and Annalisa Merelli and Katherine Ellen Foley of Quartz give a gentle reminder that “the key is knowing what to worry about and what not to.”

So here’s what the world knows about Zika virus up until now:

• Fact: Zika virus is caused by the bite of an infected Aedes Aegypti mosquito. The bite is usually causing non life-threatening conditions in adults such as mild fever, rash, conjunctivitis, and muscle pain. Those infected usually does not have to be hospitalised.

• Unverified: However, as it has become the face of Zika virus in the media, the virus has also been associated with a sudden spike in newborn microencephaly (brain shrinkage), particularly in Brazil where last year there were 4000 babies with brain deformities. No direct link has yet to be found that they were in fact caused by Zika virus. But still, as a precaution, there are travel warnings to Latin America for women, and the government of El Salvador went as far as suggesting women to postpone pregnancy until 2018.

• Fact: At the moment Zika virus is spreading in these countries: Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, US Virgin Islands and Venezuela, where in some cases like in Brazil the virus is spreading at a worrying pace.

• Unverified: Zika virus has also been linked with the Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), a rare neurological condition which starts with numbness, tingling, or pain in muscles, and it can also escalate to cause paralysis and even death. Just like the microencephaly cases, no direct link has yet to be found, but the experts are investigating it real closely.

• Unverified: There are reports that suggest Zika virus could be spread through sex. However, the reports are based on only few isolated cases (and also allegedly linked, not confirmed). But again, at this early stage scientists are not rulling anything out.

• Fact: The escalating spread of Zika virus is yet another effect of global warming, where last year’s exceptionally strong El Niño has produced above-average rainfall and flooding, which are perfect conditions for mosquito breeding.

• Unverified: In what can be a dreadful scenario, Brazilian scientists believed that Zika virus may have already cross over to the common mosquito. But no concrete evidence has been found so far.

• Fact: US scientists say vaccine is still 10 years away. True, but there is also no potent vaccine for flu either, and it does not mean that the virus is not curable. Treatment for Zika usually require rest, nourishment and other supportive care, similar like the treatment for dengue fever.


• 1 February: The WHO has declared that the microcephaly symptoms, which are strongly linked to Zika virus, as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). With this state of emergency the WHO is increasing its monitoring in countries where Zika virus has been spotted, in order to determine whether the brain deformity cases are really caused by the virus. The urgency was highlighted by the director-general of WHO Margaret Chan when she said that “there is an urgent need to coordinate international efforts to understand whether the Zika virus is causing birth defect.” Note that the PHEIC is applied to microcephaly and not the Zika virus itself.

• 3 February: The first case of Zika virus spread to the United States has been identified, where a person in Texas was likely infected through sexual intercourse. This also confirms that, though it’s still quite rare, Zika virus can indeed spread through sexual transmissions.

• 4 February: Indonesia’s Health Ministry has issued a travel advisory for 8 countries hit by Zika virus: Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Martinique, Panama and Suriname. They also recommended citizens to avoid entering these 22 countries with “active transmission” status (including nearby Thailand): Barbados, Bolivia, Curacao, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Fiji, French Guiana, Guandalope, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Mexico, New Caledonia, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Samoa, Tonga, Thailand, the US Virgin Islands and Venezuela.

• 10 February: According to the latest data from the WHO, only 17 out of around 400 microcephaly cases in Brazil are confirmed by the Brazilian health officials as positively tested for Zika infection. In fact, as Ana Campoy of Quartz reports, “even in places not hit by the virus, kids are at risk of being born with microcephaly,” which many of those cases are caused by a virus called Cytomegalovirus (CMV). Here’s more about CMV.

• 16 February: Scientists still can’t say Zika causes microcephaly.

• 9 March: this is what we’ve all been scared of: the WHO said that, although nothing is 100% confirmed yet, but increasing evidence suggest that 1. Sexual transmission of the Zika virus is more common than previously thought 2. Zika is indeed has been causing the surge in birth defects, and 3. Also causing neurological problems.

• 9 May: scientists have developed a quick and cheap way to test for Zika.

Further readings:

Zika virus infection and Zika fever: frequently asked questions [World Health Organisation]

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Zika virus disease Q&A [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]

What we need to know about Zika virus [BBC News / James Cook]

Interview with the experts: Zika, what is it and should you be worried about it? [Quartz / Annalisa Merelli and Katherine Ellen Foley]

Short answers to hard questions about Zika virus [The New York Times / Donald G. McNeil jr., Catherine st Louis and Nicholas st. Fleur]

Zika virus spreading explosively, says World Health Organization [The Guardian / Matthew Weaver]

Brazil’s surge in small-headed babies questioned by reports [Nature / Declan Butler]

Does the Zika virus cause birth defects? Remember that correlation is not causation [Wired / Lizzie Wade]

Zika virus has now been linked to Guillain-Barré Syndrome [Quartz / Akshat Rathi]

Zika virus could be spread through sex, cases suggest [Time / Tara John]

Is El Niño to blame for the “explosive” Zika virus outbreak? [Mother Jones / Tim McDonnell]

Zika virus may have spread to common mosquito [Sky News / Alex Crawford]

Conspiracy theories about Zika spread through Brazil with the virus [The New York Times / Andrew Jacobs]

World class investigation on the murky International Aid industry

“The Crisis Caravan: What’s Wrong With Humanitarian Aid?” by Linda Polman

This book is literally giving me nightmares. It’s a disturbing eye opener, which explains the ugly truth of the international aid industry, written in a composed and factual manner. It analyses, among other things, the dilemma of neutrality in war zones, the hypocrisy of aid workers who fly in business classes and hugely contribute to the increasing rate of prostitution in whichever town they’ve arrived, and the role of refugee camps in wars (for instance, the fact that Afghanistan’s Taliban movement was born in an Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan).

The book talks about the likes of Bono and Bob Geldof, the “refugee warriors” that hide among the victims, the “genocide credit” received by Rwanda, the amount of money Mother Teresa actually had ($50 million in 1 account in New York City alone) and many ugly realities on the ground where international aid often becomes a big part of the problem in warring countries, and even unwillingly becomes the supplier for the rebels like in Sri Lanka, Yugoslavia and East Timor. It also discuss about aid opportunists like the case in Niger that caused inflation and famine, the illusion of “phantom aid” like in Iraq, and the blurry line between aid and US military strategy in Afghanistan post 9/11.

The book also describes human cruelty at its very worst: the deliberate starvation in Ethiopia, village burning and rape in Darfur, nurturing war criminals responsible for genocide in Goma, and all of this for, and in the name of, international aid. It also explains the reason why the rebels were chopping off hands in Sierra Leone, and why the government officials were jubilantly celebrating when Sierra Leone was ranked as the poorest country in the world.

I believe I haven’t read anything as disturbing as this book (have I mentioned that it’s literally giving me nightmares?), where the worst kinds of human beings have found a rotten way to exploit the aid industry, causing a genuine headache for the good guys trying to save the world. But nevertheless, it is without a doubt one of the best books I’ve ever read, with world class journalistic investigation and an engaging style of writing. And it is definitely 1 of my top 10 books to read to understand how the real world works. I can no longer see the likes of charity, refugee camps and war strategies the same way anymore.

Did Indonesia struck a deal with the US to get West Papua?

On November 2015 Indonesian politics was scandalised by a leaked secretly-recorded meeting between the head of the parliament and a representative from Freeport-McMoRan, a US gold and copper mining company that have a mining concession in West Papua. The meeting was related to the expiry of Freeport’s concession contract in 2021 and the head of parliament’s attempt to get some shares in the renewal of the huge contract, which was unethical not to mention illegal. It was disgraceful and it reignited the nationalistic debate whether Freeport even should be allowed to extend their concession contract beyond 2021, and instead plenty of Indonesian people believe that after decades of exploitation the mine should finally be given back to Indonesia.

Then it got me into a research mode, where I found some odd timeline about West Papua and Freeport, and discovered that “to give back” Freeport-controlled mine to Indonesia might not necessarily be an accurate expression, perhaps as misleading as to “unite back” the two Korean countries (there’s never been 1 country called Korea, only kingdoms before the peninsula was annexed by Japan).

So the timeline goes like this: Indonesia unilaterally claimed independence on 17 August 1945, while the Dutch acknowledged Indonesia’s independence from them only on 27 December 1949 but still occupies West Papua (then called Netherlands New Guinea). In 1960 Freeport geologist confirmed the Dutch discovery of a large above-ground gold and copper deposits in West Papua. On 1 December 1961 West Papua declared itself independent from the Dutch. In 1962 Indonesia began to launch a military operation to incorporate West Papua back into Indonesia (the argument goes, on 28 October 1928 Youth Declaration to fight for Indonesian independence, a youth representative from West Papua was present), however Indonesia was claiming to annex West Papua from the colonial Netherlands and not invading a recently-independent country. Then US president John F. Kennedy (JFK) interfere [with the official reason] to restore peace. And from 15 August 1962, following the New York Agreement (which was drafted by JFK’s brother Robert Kennedy whom was the special envoy for West Papua), United Nations forms United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA) to act as a caretaker and prepare for an “Act of Free Choice” for West Papua in 1969, which is basically a referendum.

This is where it gets weird. Between 1962 and 1969 a lot of things happened: JFK was assassinated on 22 November 1963, while Indonesian president Soekarno was technically toppled in 1965 on a manipulative coup led by CIA-backed general Soeharto whom then officially became president on 12 March 1967. The 1st order of business by the new president Soeharto? He signed a concession deal with Freeport a month later on April 1967 to allow Freeport extract the gold and copper mine in West Papua, even though West Papua wasn’t officially a part of Indonesia yet. Note that a year earlier in 1966 Freeport formed Freeport Indonesia Inc, a subsidiary to negotiate a contract with the Indonesia government (not the Dutch government nor the independent West Papua government) to develop the Ertsberg mine, and the negotiation in 1967 was conducted under the guidance of Henry Kissinger (whom later joins Freeport’s board). On 5 June 1968 Robert Kennedy, like his brother before him, was assassinated. And in 1969 when the referendum was conducted, out of 815,906 population at the time only 1026 selected elders were eligible to vote, and some argued that they were under pressure to vote for joining Indonesia.

So this got me thinking, was West Papua the main reason CIA staged a coup on president Soekarno, to smooth the road for Freeport’s presence in there? And as a result, did CIA-backed president Soeharto struck a deal with the US on West Papua, where Indonesia gets the land but the US gets the natural resources underneath it? Despite the fact that West Papua has been a part of Indonesia for more than 4 decades now, it is still disconnected from the rest of the archipelago, with the news about the activities and history in West Papua are almost unknown until this day, as media access to West Papua have always been severely restricted. Even to visit West Papua, according to researcher at Human Rights Watch Andreas Harsono, an official permission would require signatures from 18 separate ministries and security agencies. The question is, what are they hiding?

Somewhere in the middle of these occurrences, the Free West Papua movement emerged, with Benny Wenda leading the movement for independence from exile in the United Kingdom. However, if history is any indication, the Free West Papua movement is arguably futile, because if ever they get their independence power will only shift from corrupt officials in Indonesia to corrupt officials in independent West Papua, while the majority of ordinary citizens remain relatively poor, deliberately under-educated and perhaps even oppressed. This is what have happened in a lot of post-colonial African countries and in countries with abundant natural resources, from Timor Leste to Guatemala to Nigeria. But if independence is not the answer, then what is? To his credit, compared to his predecessors, the new Indonesian president Jokowi has made a greater attention and effort to look after West Papua, including an effort to make the contract renegotiation with Freeport more beneficial for the local West Papuans. However, the results from these efforts remain to be seen and for now the big question remains, will they be significantly matter in the long run for the people of West Papua?

Obviously there are more questions than answers at this point, questions that are probably will never be truly answered.

The island of Papua is the 2nd largest island in the world after Greenland, and Indonesia officially owns half of it. The area covers around 40 million hectares of land (about 5 times the size of “main island” Java) with 3.5 to 4 million population live there (1.5 million of whom are native Papuans). Meanwhile, Freeport McMoRan controls 90.64% stake of Freeport Indonesia, where their current concession the Grasberg mine (multiple times bigger than the original Ertsberg mine, which was largely depleted in mid 1980s) span more than 2.5 kilometres in width, sit 4270 metres above sea level, and it is considered as the largest known deposit of gold and the 3rd largest deposit of copper in the world. It operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with 700,000 tons of rock are moved every single day, and with 6 billion tons of industrial waste expected to be produced in total. As at the current contract, which will be expired in 2021, Freeport pays 1% loyalty on gold to the Indonesian government, and 3.5% royalty on copper. It is also worth noting that Freeport has been the largest provider of jobs, infrastructure, technology, education and services in West Papua, contributing up to 45.4% of the GDP in the Papua province.

Further readings:

John Pilger on West Papua [New Statesman / John Pilger]

The history of Netherlands New Guinea [Peter Van Der Heijden]

The story of Free West Papua movement [Open Democracy / Hugh Brody]

Documents on Indonesia’s 1969 takeover of West Papua [The National Security Archive / Edited by Brad Simpson]

JFK, Indonesia, CIA & Freeport Sulphur [The Secret Truth / lisa Pease]

West Papua: a history of exploitation [Al Jazeera English / N.A.J. Taylor]

West Papua: in need of media coverage and international intention [Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization]

The Indonesian government appoints Freeport lobbyist as presidential staff [Tempo / Inge Klara Safitri]

Papua’s time bomb [New Mandala / Yulia Indri Sari]

Freeport McMoRan’s positive economic impacts to Indonesia and enterprise development [3BL Media]

Enhancing the competitiveness of the Papua region [The Jakarta Post / Mamay Sukaesih]

100 things I learned and did in 2015

  1. Abracadabra is an ancient Hebrew word that means “give your fire until the last of your days.”
  2. History’s record keeping began around 6000 years ago in Mesopotamia, but modern human has already appeared around 200,000 years ago. That means about 97% of human history is lost and still remains a mystery. Now that’s scary and exciting at the same time.
  3. For now, we can only scientifically speculate: The genome of modern humans suspectedly contains the DNA from 4 different hominid ancestors: Neanderthals, Denisovans, Homo Sapiens and a fourth species that has yet to be found. According to Mark Thomas, an evolutionary geneticist at University College London, “what it begins to suggest is that we’re looking at a Lord of the Rings-type world – that they were many hominid populations.” Awesome!
  4. There’s a town called “Erect” in North Carolina US. Virginia don’t want to miss out, they have “New Erection.” Ah, American culture of competition at its best.
  5. When our body is fighting an infection our temperature rises, which helps to kill or disable the infection. With this in mind, a while ago syphilis used to be cured by infecting patients with malaria. As spectacular as it sounds, several fever cycles would actually kill the syphilis, and the doctor could then give quinine to the patient to cure the malaria.
  6. For the financial markets 2015 is the year the world eagerly anticipating Fed rate hike, with emerging markets currencies from Indonesia to Malaysia, Turkey, South Africa and Brazil among the worst hit. With Indonesian rupiah under pressure, this year I only travel around Indonesia (you know, like, to support local tourism businesses) from the mountains in remote Sukau and Krui, to mainstream Bali and Pulau Seribu, to the culinary adventures in Medan and Bandung, and I realised that I’ve only touched the surface of what this huge country has to offer for travel and adventures. Definitely going to travel more domestically!
  7. The biggest ice manufacturing company in Sierra Leone is called Ice Ice Baby.
  8. Standing up for 3-4 hours a day helps us get rid of bad glucose and burn 30,000 calories per year. That’s equal to running 10 marathon. I know, I didn’t believe it either.
  9. One day in colonial India, the person in charge in Delhi wanted to get rid of the many cobras that have been terrorizing the city. To do that, the dude decided to place a bounty on the cobras, and he thought that this incentive would encourage the citizens themselves to kill the cobras, and thus solving the cobra problem in Delhi. However, as a response some of the citizens in Delhi decided to farm cobras, to exploit this incentive scheme, and all of a sudden the government was getting too many cobra skins in exchange for money. Acknowledging the failure of the incentive scheme, the government then rescinded the bounty program. However, by then the cobra farmers had already breed a little population of cobras, and when the bounty was revoked they opted to just release the snakes, and thus ended up worsening the cobra menace in Delhi. Since then this episode became known as the cobra effect.
  10. In 1950 India was qualified to play in the World Cup, but was then not allowed to play and was banned by FIFA simply because they were playing in bared feet, and FIFA wouldn’t allow teams to play with no shoes. India did play barefooted before in an international competition, in 1948 London Olympics, before FIFA impose a rule banning playing barefooted following the 1948 Olympics.
  11. Did you know that there’s a 5th Beatle after John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Star? His name was Stuart Sutcliffe, and this is his tragic story.
  12. The assassination attempt of president-elect FDR in 1933 failed because the shooter’s chair was wobbly when he fired the shot, so instead of killing FDR he killed the Chicago mayor who were shaking FDR’s hand. His Vice President-elect had an ideology that opposed the New Deal, hence if FDR was shot and replaced by his VP the US wouldn’t survive the Great Depression, and the subsequent events following the New Deal wouldn’t have happened. All thanks to a wobbly chair.
  13. With the world population grew from 3 billion people to 6.8 billion people, there were more population growth in the 50 years between 1960 and 2010 than the previous 2 million years that humans have existed.
  14. Historians believe that alcohol was originated in the Middle East, where the name alcohol may have come from the Arabic word al-kohl or “the kohl.” It was loved by Arab tribes and was drank in ceremonies and celebrations, but later prohibited with the arrival of Islam, though the Holy Quran (arguably) does not literally ban the consumption of alcohol, instead it bans drunkenness (Al Baqarah 2:219, An-nisa 4:43, Al-Maida 5:90-91)
  15. According to ancient Mesopotamian myth, the civilisation’s ability to read was given by goddess Inanna to her city of Uruk, which she stole from the god of wisdom Enki when he was drunk.
  16. The name “cocktail” comes from an ancient custom to put a feather (a form of cock’s tail) into a drink, to alert people that the drink contains alcohol.
  17. I always thought that whoever invented condensed milk should win a Nobel Prize for his genius invention. Now I finally got the guy’s name, it’s Gail Borden. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
  18. The Michelin Guide was co-founded by Edouard Michelin in 1900. Back then the fine-dining restaurant ratings guide around the world started out as a free practical information on petrol stations across France, where to find places to repair cars and find supplies and parts, and also a guide to find toilets, meals and accommodation along the way. The objective of the guide was meant to get people with cars to drive more, so that they would use their tires more often and would need to replace them more often. Now that’s thinking out of the box right there.
  19. There’s a region in France named “Alsace.” During the 19th century the region was German, became French in World War 1, then back to German in World War 2, and back again to France after the war. All Alsatians speak German now, and nobody speak French even though it’s a provice in France.
  20. The multi-tool device Swiss knives was invented by Karl Elsener in the 1880s, where he stepped up to the demand by Swiss military to give its soldiers a simple and portable tool. Elsener’s tool was named Victoria in 1909, a name he adopted from his mother Victoria who died the same year. And in 1921 the company began to use stainless steel in its knives, and the company has since became known as Victorinox (with inox being a French term for stainless steel).
  21. Still in Switzerland. It’s not a coincidence that a lot of Swiss private banks were founded around late 1700s and early 1800s, during the French Revolution. The bankers ran away from France towards the mountains in Swiss and settled there until now.
  22. Every year in ancient Israel on the Day of Atonement, the high priest brought 2 goats into the Jerusalem temple. One goat is sacrificed to expiate the sins of the community, and then the priest laid his hands on the second goat, transferring all of the citizens’s sins onto its head, and proceeded to send the sin-laden animal out of the city, to literally get rid of the sin out from the city. Moses explained that, in this way “the goat will bear all their faults away with it into a desert place.” And thus, the term scapegoat was born.
  23. The first map was drawn by the Greek Cartographer and astronomer Ptolemy in the year AD 150. I’m still curious, how can he possibly know the shape of a huge continent when flying hasn’t even been invented yet?
  24. The 1st person to sail around the world was Juan Sebastian del Cano, from 1519 to 1522. He took credit of the achievement after his captain Ferdinand Magellan was killed en route.
  25. This year I started to use Kindle app for iPhone, and I love it! I can now bring along my books wherever I go. Anyway, one of the books I bought on Kindle was Linda Polman’s book “The Crisis Caravan”, which I thought was a new book complementing her excellent book “War Games.” As it turns out, it’s the same book only with different cover. Right. I wasn’t remotely upset though as the book is brilliant, and so I decided to re-read the book and learned some new things along the way on the dreadful state of the global Aid industry. Here’s one paragraph in the book that pretty much sums it all: “The humanitarian aid community that travels to war-torn, crisis-ridden countries feels no embarrassment about looking like an international jet set on holiday. Its Land Cruisers can be found triple parked outside the restaurants, bars, and discos of war-ravaged towns and cities every evening. Wherever aid workers go, prostitution instantly soars. I’ve often seen bar stools occupied by white agronomists, millennium-objective experts, or gender-studies consultants with local teenage girls in their laps. I’ve known aid workers who cared for child soldiers and war orphans by day and relaxed by night in the arms of child prostitutes.”
  26. Here’s one direct example of the rotten world of International Non Government Organization: Red Cross promises to build $500 million worth of houses for 130,000 Haitians, but take a wild guess on how many they actually built? 6. They only build 6.
  27. The ruling empire checklist: The Pentagon has over 700 military bases in 130 countries. Speaking of empires, check out this excellent and very detailed article on how China currently building the most extensive global commercial-military empire in history. Interestingly, this global expansion includes ripping off 11 cities from the rest of the world, just because they can. And, also, to keep the economic activities (somewhat artificially) going.
  28. The 1st new year’s eve was celebrated by the ancient Babylonians around 4000 years ago. However, the ancient civilisation didn’t celebrate the changing of dates from 31 December to 1 January like we do today. Instead, the Babylonians celebrated the first new moon after the Vernal Equinox (the day in late March that has an equal amount of sunlight and darkness). Vernal Equinox was an important point of time in ancient cultures, where for example theologian Hippolytus of Rome believed that the world was created on the Vernal Equinox.
  29. The early Roman calendar, which consisted of 10 months and 304 days, also begins each new year at the Vernal Equinox, which made perfect sense due to its nature of the end of dreadful winter and the beginning of hopeful spring. The original calendar was created by the founder of Rome, Romulus, in the 8th century BC, with king Numa Pompilius later on added the month of Januarius and Februarius into the calendar system. Over the centuries this calendar system fell out of sync with the sun and in 46 BC emperor Julius Caesar solved this problem by introducing the Julian Calendar, where he added 90 extra days for the year 46 BC in order to realign the calendar with the sun, and instituted 1 January as the first day of the year (presumably based on the political decision mentioned in 100 things I learned and did in 2013 no.7 and 8).
  30. As time passes, 1 January have been continuously replaced with the likes of 25 December (the anniversary of Jesus’ birth) and 25 March (the Feast of the Annunciation) in Medieval Europe by Christian leaders, however 1 January was later reestablished in 1582 as the 1st day of the year by Pope Gregory XIII in his new Gregorian Calendar, the calendar system the world uses now.
  31. Can you guess where is the reputedly most humane prison in the world? It’s in Norway. What about the world’s largest Sauna? Yes you’re right, it’s Norway again!
  32. Sushi is not a Japanese culinary invention. Instead, it originated in the rice-growing region of South East Asia around 2000 years ago along the Mekong River. The culinary technique was then spread to other regions, and began to appear in Japan around the 700s AD.
  33. Tempura is also not a Japanese culinary invention, it is Portuguese. Originally named “Peixinhos da horta” (literally translated as “little fish from the garden”) the dish was introduced to Japan in the 1500s by Portuguese missionaries.
  34. In 1759 the Bank of England started to issue fixed-denomination notes (the £10 note), and became the 1st to print a single government money. Previously, most banks and merchants issue their own notes, which were issued to a particular person, with a unique value and was signed by the cashier issuing the note. A fully printed notes, with no name of the payees and no signature by issuing cashiers, were issued in 1853.
  35. The word “apocalypse” derives from the Greek apokalypsis, which means “something uncovered” or revealed.
  36. On July European market was once again rattled by yet another Greece crisis debacle, where Greece was close to default on its loan to the Troika. As expected, the saga reignited the debate on the impossible debt and austerity forced on Greece to save European banks with then finance-minister Yanis Varouvakis emerged as the champion of the people. Few strange things happened: At first Greece was adamant that they will NOT fulfil their debt payment, and thus threatening to default (which was supported by some of the best economists in the world like Thomas Piketty, Ha-Joon Chang, Joseph Stiglitz and Jeffrey Sachs) they even went as far as conducting a referendum on the debt payment (which the people voted no).
  37. But then, in a plot twist, Yanis Varouvakis suddenly resigned, and blamed his resignation on the bullies at EU, and straight afterwards Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras agreed to negotiate a new bailout deal, with terms worse than the initial deal rejected by the referendum, thus completely ignoring the result of the referendum and wasting all of the time and effort made by Yanis Varouvakis. The people’s reaction? Lots of people think the Greece bailout deal was a coup. Here’s the complete history of the Greek debt drama in charts.
  38. For a comparison on how small Greece problem actually is for EU, thus making their plunder on Greece even more questionable, China suffered a stock market crash in the middle of the year, with the wipe out in 1 month in July alone ($3 trillion) equal to 15x of Greece annual GDP ($200bn).
  39. 39 The most afflicted spot by lightning in the world is in the village of Kifuka, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The village is 975m high, and it received a whopping 158 lightning strikes per square meter a year.
  40. Around 420 to 350 million years ago, before trees were common and stood just a few metres high, the earth was covered in giant mushrooms. The ancient organism boasted trunks up to 8 metres high and as wide as 1 metre.
  41. Are you like me and thought that South Park’s Timmy and the Lords of the Underworld was a super cool band? Well, meet Hatebeak, a death metal band with a freakin parrot as its frontman.
  42. The motto “In God We Trust” in the US dollar bill was adopted by Congress in 1956 in response to fears of Godless communism, and not by the Founding Fathers. The original motto that was adopted in 1782 was E. Pluribus Unum, a Latin word that means “out of one, many” which reflected the US heritage of diversity and tolerance. Could someone please tell this to the Republican presidential candidates.
  43. There are around 228 pyramids in Sudan, making it 3 times more pyramids than all of Egypt. Also known as Nubian Pyramids, the pyramids in Sudan were built by the Kingdom of Kush, which invaded Egypt in 760 BC and ruled as a Pharaoh of the 25th dynasty of Egypt for a century. During their rule the Kushite Kingdom took Egyptian art forms, the hieroglyphics and indeed the pyramid idea, before the Assyrians under Psamtik I conquered Egypt and push them back south in 656 BC. The Kushite rulers then kept on building pyramids until their kingdom weakened and disintergrated due to internal rebellion in 350 AD, or around 2000 years after the Egyptians have abandoned this form of architecture.
  44. There’s an unmanned piece of land about 2060 sq km between Egypt and Sudan, which aren’t claimed by either Egypt and Sudan. And a US farmer Jeremiah Heaton is trying to claim the land and name it “North Sudan” (and of course, he’ll become the king).
  45. Child victims of Nepal earthquake are sold to factories and brothels by human traffickers. While there’s an underworld of human smuggling in the Sahara. These criminals are without a doubt among the worst human beings ever lived.
  46. But despite all the wars, conflicts and crimes committed around the world, we’re actually live in the most peaceful era in human history. There are fewer conflicts, less people are joining a war and the wars themselves didn’t kill as much people as it used to be throughout our violent history. But nevertheless, despite being the most peaceful era, there’s still one exception where our current era is more violent than previous: religiously motivated conflicts.
  47. The colour of night vision goggles are green because the human eyes can differentiates more shades of green compared to any other colour.
  48. North Korea has a crazy five-tier caste system called Songbun, which consist of (from the elite down): 1. Special 2. Nucleus 3. Basic 4. Complex and 5. Hostile. The caste system was created by North Korean founder Kim Il-sung (the Kim family is of course exempt) and the caste system is based on what your paternal family were doing during the 1950-1953 Korean war and the Japanese colonial period before that. So the descendants of war generals and war heroes would be in Special class (1st class), but people whose grandparents were a deserters they would be in the Complex (4th) and Hostile (5th) class. By 1967 this system has completely determine people’s fate (where they work, live and the type of education that they receive), with Nucleus (2nd class) as the largest caste. If you’re born below the Nucleus class there will be severe and systemic discrimination, though Basics (3rd class) can still work their way up into Nucleus class. And it’s also possible to upgrade up in the caste class through hard work, joining the Communist Party as an official, by being “awarded with an audience” or by speaking with the Supreme Leader for more than 20 minutes (or taking a picture with him, yes selfie is literally a way to climb a social ladder here).
  49. Bartolomeo Cristofori was credited as the man who invented the piano in 1709.
  50. The most powerful mafia in the world is probably the one you’ve never heard of, italy’s ‘Ndrangheta. In 2013 alone they made $60bn of revenue. This is their story.
  51. A lot of people say that their most favourite villain character is Darth Vader or Heath Ledger’s Joker. For me it used to be Frank Underwood (House of Cards) but this year I found my new favourite in Raymond Reddington (the Black List).
  52. In the year 1966 an internal British government memo declared “there will be no indigenous population except seagulls.” And so on 1 October that year all the inhabitants of the island of Diego Garcia, minus the seagulls, were expelled from their own home under the threat of gunfire. The British then illegally leased the empty island to the US for 50 years, where it is then used by the US as a military base, a staging ground for military offenses, and a black op site, where they torture suspected terrorists. It also has a golf course.
  53. Still in the Indian ocean, there’s an awful Human Safari taking place in India-controlled Andaman Islands, where people come to see the local Jarawa tribe in the manner similar like seeing a wild animal. This would be shocking, if it weren’t already happening in the 1950s colonial Europe, where they showcase Africans in a human zoo.
  54. The Seda Monastery is the largest Tibetan Buddhist school in the world, and the scenes over there are just breathtaking.
  55. The national flag of Nigeria was designed a year before its independence in 1959 by Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi. The interesting part was, mr Akinkunmi was only a 23 years old engineering student in London when he entered the flag designing competition. Now 79 years old, mr Akinkunmi is a retired civil servant, and has been living in the poor area of Ibadan on an irregular pension paycheck. He was living alone and left to the care of his neighbours when an undergraduate student compiling history of Nigeria found him, and leading to his story to be published in the national newspaper which brought him a lot of help from strangers and eventually led him to receive a presidential award from Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, and given a lifetime salary of a presidential special assistant each month of 800,000 naira (roughly $4000).
  56. Yngwie Malmsteen was born on the day Jimi Hendrix died. Reincarnation?
  57. The birth date of Jesus Christ was actually never given in the scriptures. And instead, the birth date of 25 December was decided by the Christians of Rome in the year 354 AD.
  58. Lamborgini was founded by Ferruccio Lamborgini in 1948 and started out as Lamborgini Trattori, a tractor company. One day Ferruccio approached Enzo Ferrari to buy one of his cars, but was rejected by Ferrari because he did not want tractor drivers to be seen in his cars. As a mad response, in 1963 Ferruccio started Automobili Lamborgini, and he made his own f*cking sports cars. Now that’s one badass attitude.
  59. In 7 years after the financial crisis 2008, Global debt has grown by $57 trillion. But a lot of global debt is really just tax dodging. Meanwhile, once over $12 trillion, the world’s reserves are now shrinking. Which got some economic historians thinking, are we in the final stage of capitalism, as Karl Marx predicted?
  60. In 2017 a disabled man Valery Spiridonov is going to have his head chopped off, and glued to a donor body, which will make him the 1st person to get a head transplant. Creepy, I know, but as we can see from the conversation with him the man has no other options left. This is a Q&A session with him.
  61. The earliest documentary evidence of a formal hospital, with doctors and nurses treating the sick or wounded, was in Sri Lanka in the 400s BC. According to this 6 century AD documentary evidence (the Mahavamsa, the ancient chronicle of Sinhalese royalty) king Pandukabhaya of Sri Lanka (reigned 437 BC to 367 BC) had Sivikasotthi-Sala (hospitals) built in various places of the countries, with Mihintale Hospital as the oldest in the world.
  62. Book of the year: This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein, for it’s urgency and spot on timing in the year of Paris Climate Summit (more on this below). As a sucker for history of money and finance, I also enjoy reading Money: the unauthorized biography by Felix Martin, while Indonesia Etc by Elizabeth Pisani describes the complicated Indonesia brilliantly, with great wit, detailed insights and it reads like an adventure novel.
  63. This year we’ve experienced the strongest El Niño in decades with potential infection disease risks emerged as a result of the record breaking weather phenomenon. The El Niño effect even disrupted the weather pattern in Atacama desert in Chile, where strong rains in the usually world’s driest place have paint the desert with widespread colourful flowers.
  64. This record breaking El Niño confirms, according to the Met Office, that the world has already “reached the halfway point towards the arbitrary “threshold” of a 2 degree Celsius increase on pre-industrial levels judged to be potentially dangerous for climate change.” The Met Office then eloborate, “[while] scientists estimate that around 2900 gigatons (a gigaton is 1 billion metric ton) of CO2 can be emmited into the atmosphere before the 2 degree celcius threshold is likely to be breached, industrialised nations have already about 2000 gigatons which means that the world has used about two thirds of its 2 degree celcius “budget” of fossil fuels.”
  65. In 2011 a think tank in London called Carbon Tracker Initiative conducted a research which found that the oil, gas and coal reserves that are claimed by all fossil fuel companies represented 2,795 gigatons of carbon, which is 5 times the maximum size of carbon can be burned between 2011 and 2049 (around 565 gigatons) in order for us to keep warming below 2 degree Celsius. The problem is, those reserves represent roughly $27 trillion in value, more than 10 times the annual GDP of the United Kingdom, and to keep warming under 2 degree Celsius approximately 80% of that reserves should remain grounded and become useless assets in these fossil fuel companies’ book, and there’s no way that they will comply without a fight.
  66. 2 degree Celsius rise, by the way, was the benchmark set by the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit in 2009, and again in Paris Climate Change Conference on early December 2015, where the participating nations pledged to keep global warming under 2 degree Celsius. However, a report by the World Bank warned that as things stand, if we don’t make any changes in the way the world operates, by the end of this century “we’re on track for a 4 degree Celsius warmer world marked by heat waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life threatening sea level rise.” The report also cautioned that “there is also no certainty that [our] adaptation to a 4 degree Celsius [warming] world is possible.” As an illustration, while 2 degree Celsius warming could drown Pacific nations and the likes of Maldives, 4 degree Celsius warming would drown big cities like London and Dublin, cities that have huge river in the middle of it.
  67. In her book This Changes Everthing, Naomi Klein pointed out that currently the temperature have specifically increased by 0.8 degree Celsius, but this is already enough to create several alarming impacts, I may add, such as the El Niño and melting ice in West Antarctica, which could raise seas by 3 metres and cause a $43 trillion calamity, as scientists predict most of the ice will be gone in 2050. Meanwhile, even at the current levels climate change can throw 100 million people into poverty, and can wipe out 50 years of global health gains. Moreover, scientists also concluded that currently the earth has already exceeded 4 out of the 9 limits for hospitable life, with many species labelled “the walking dead“, including the world’s oceans that are facing the biggest coral die-off in history, and perhaps most importantly, humans.
  68. Nevertheless, scientists have also found that there’s indeed a direct link between the increase of CO2 level and the increase in thermal radiation heating earth’s surface. Proofing that human activities really caused accelerated global warming, and thus we can also curb it. Hence the 2 degree Celsius pledge in the climate summit is still possible to obtained. Der Spiegel further analyses whether the current capitalism system is destroying our planet, and they conducted an extensive interview with Naomi Klein on her book This changes everything, which discussed exactly this: the role of capitalism in destroying the planet, and what changes that are needed to save the planet, which makes Klein’s book extremely important and extremely urgent.
  69. The only confirmed person in history to have been hit by a meteorite: Ann Hodges. Here’s her amazing story.
  70. The song “Amazing Grace” was written by a former slave ship captain John Newton in 1772. Interestingly, John Newton was the mentor of William Wilberforce in his long fight to outlaw slave trading.
  71. Some people are critical with the fact that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) married Aisya when she was just nine years old. But one excellent book on Islam If The Oceans Were Ink by Carla Power pointed out that one Jewish tradition holds that Rebecca married Isaac when she was three years old, while scholars estimate that Marry gave birth to Jesus around the age of twelve. Indeed, it’s all about context.
  72. The 1st computer ever built known to man is the Antikythera device, dating back 205 BC in Ancient Greece. While the conceptual father of the modern computer is a 19th century mathematician Charles Babbage.
  73. The price of oil has significantly dropped from $115/barrel on August 2013 to under $60/barrel on mid December 2014 to around $35/barrel levels currently on December 2015, and this has caused a $1.3 trillion wipe out. It’s already caused the lost of the political-left in Venezuela recent election, Russia will run out of cash by end of 2016 if oil price stay this low (and sanction remains imposed) and even Saudi Arabia will running on empty in 5 years. Anyway, this is a reminder of what’s going on with oil price.
  74. Have you ever wondered why humans generally have 2 nostrils? As it turns out, it is because of something called the Nasal Cycle, where we breathe predominantly one nostril at a time, while the other is semi-resting so-to-speak, before it switched predominantly into the other one every 4 to 6 hours. Furthermore, our right nostril usually blows out warm air while our left nostril blows out cool air, and this is where it gets interesting: when we feel tired, try to close our left nostril and breathe only through the right for about 5 minutes, and theoretically you’ll feel more refreshed. And when you’re having a headache, try to close your right nostril and breathe only through the left nostril for 5 minutes, and they say the headache will disappear. Try it out.
  75. Meanwhile in the map department: here’s a map of all the underwater cables that connect the internet. These astonishing maps shows how hard drugs are produced and sold around the world. Still in drugs, here’s 24 maps and charts that explain marijuana.
  76. Argentina has a weird annual tradition: every year the president adopts a Jewish boy as his/her godson to prevent him from turning into a werewolf. The tradition first began in 1907 and it’s practiced until now.
  77. 80% of the world’s rough diamonds eventually pass through the Diamond District in Antwerp. The 3-square-block area is under heavy 24-hour police surveillance and monitored by 63 video cameras. In 2000 the Belgium government even formed a special police taskforce, named the Diamond Squad, to keep a special attention on the district. But yet, in one night, the Diamond Centre (which has more than a 10-layer security system, with thick steel vaults, the most complicated combination locks and the most sensitive alarms) was successfully robbed. This got to be the most gripping robbery story: The untold story of the world’s biggest diamond heist. Personally, the most genius part of the story isn’t the method of the heist (which is mind blowing), but the twist in the story AFTER the heist was successful.
  78. Speaking of heist, according to a report Myanmar’s Jade trade is a “secretive industry driving armed conflicts and rampant drug abuse” and it is worth $31 billion in 2014, or equal to the entire GDP of Myanmar.
  79. Jonas Salk discovered the polio vaccine in 1955, but he chose not to patent his creation for the betterment of humanity. He said “there is no patent”, “could you patent the sun?” As a result he missed out an estimated earnings of $7 billion but millions of people around the world are saved because of his vaccine. What a hero.
  80. Meanwhile earlier this year New Jersey governor Chris Christie re-ignited the idiotic debate over the need of vaccine and whether it cause autism. Well, the scientific evidence could be very shocking for some: no, vaccines don’t cause autism.
  81. Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel patented the invention of dynamite in his country in 1867. Nine years later in 1876 he patented gelignite (aka blasting jelly). And then in 1895 he established the Nobel Peace Prize, a prize award that is championing antiwar, which ironically financed with the fortune he gained from the battlefield devices that he invented.
  82. Have u ever slept a sufficiently enough time but still wake up feeling aching or uneasy? Apparently it is because we sleep and/or wake up in the middle of a sleep cycle. Hence, even if we’re only sleeping for 4 hours-ish as long as we wake up right at the end of a sleep cycle, we’ll feel refreshed. Here’s a good sleep calculator for a guide on sleep cycle.
  83. In the ancient Hindu text Mahabharata, there is an ultimate weapon called Brahmastra that should never to be used, as it will destroy the universe and its contents. As you can guess, “villains all over the world” have been looking for Brahmastra all their lives, in order to control the world!
  84. Speaking of villains, the wanker of the year: got to be Donald Trump. He’s obnoxious, Islamophobic, chauvinistic and downright rude at the point of offending everyone from immigrants to women to handicapped people. And his ideas aren’t even that bright, hypocritical at best and economically catastrophic if he ever got elected. He’s one lab accident away from being a supervillain.
  85. In March Saudi-led coalition began to airstrike Yemen, where by the end of November there were 32,000 casualties, with 5700 people killed including 830 women and children, which means Saudi Arabia has killed more people than ISIS. But what did actually happen in Yemen? Martin Reardon argued in an Al Jazeera opinion post that Yemen is a proxy battle ground for the Great Game between Saudi Arabia and Iran, an argument Dieter Bednarz, Christoph Reuter and Bernhard Zand of Der Spiegel and Catherine Shakdam in her Russia Today op-ed also resonate.
  86. There’s a myth that says we can see both the Pacific and Atlantic ocean from the same spot somewhere in Panama. Although the myth is yet to be proven, there is a mountain in Costa Rica called Volcán Irazu where we can actually do that, see both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The 3434 metres high mountain is located near the city of Cartago, and to see both oceans it is best to go in the dry season (December till April) and as early in the morning as we can get before the heath turns the air hazy. Speaking of Costa Rica, in 2015 99% of their energy comes from renewables. Well done!
  87. The Biblical city of Sodom may have been found at present-day Tall el-Hamaam, Jordan. Meanwhile the stone that translated the Book of Mormon have also been found.
  88. There’s an urban legend that says we can go to the underworld by playing The Elevator Game. Mind you though, some conspiracy theories strongly suggest that the mysterious death of Elisa Lam in 2013 was the result of playing the Elevator Game. Here’s a 4 minutes video released by the police that shows her weird behaviour in the elevator, moments before her death.
  89. Person of the year: everyday anonymous heroes. Such as nurse Donnell Tholley who adopts a newborn baby after the little boy’s mom whom he treats dies of Ebola. Gissur Simonarson, an online journalist and web developer in Norway who help fund a poor Syrian refugee father who sold pens in Beirut streets, to become an owner of 3 businesses. The fearless and selfless guys in Clowns Without Borders who travel to the darkest and most dangerous corners of the world to bring back laughter.
  90. Earlier this year The Guardian reveals a research findings that say iPads and smartphones may damage toddlers’ brains: Journal findings warn that using a tablet or smartphone to divert a child’s attention could be detrimental to “their social-emotional development.” And this got me into a research mode, and I found more excellent articles on the subject: Is technology to blame for the rise of behavioural disorders?, Limit children’s screen time, expert urges, Are iPads and tablets bad for young children?, Doctors Raise Red Flag: Young Children Should Avoid Using Tablets and I’m saving the best for last, Steve Jobs didn’t let his kids use iPads.
  91. In Peru, in Chumbivilcas province, there’s a annual festival called Takanakuy where men, women and children fistfight each other on 25 December to settle conflicts that have been building up for the past year, so that they can begin a new year with a clean slate. Takanakuy is a word in local Quechua language, which literally translated to “when the blood is boiling.”
  92. Archaeologists findings suggest that in 1520 Conquistadors who were captured by the Acolhuas (allies of Tetzcoco, a major Aztec City) were sacrificed and eaten by the Aztec-era people. Even in present day, cannibalism still exist, where hotel restaurant in Anambra, Nigeria, was shut down for serving human flesh.
  93. Spectacular news of the year, the contenders: 1. Someone on a British Airways plane took a shit so stink that the plane had to turn around and come back to the airport again 2. There’s a Rabbi who is selling Kosher Vibrators 3. Anti-masturbation mascot arrested for, you guess it, public masturbation while swimming naked with dolphins at Sea World 4. A riot broke out after the winner of a Mr Ugly competition was branded too handsome 5. Morris dancers and blind footballers were involved in a mass brawl against each others, after a spectacular misunderstanding in Suffolk England. And the winner is: Got to be the mass brawl.
  94. Oregon College shooting on 1 October 2015 was the 994th mass gun attack in the US in three years, with death toll of approximately 1236 people. In 2015 alone, there were 204 mass shootings in the first 204 days, where interestingly only 1 was perpetrated by a Muslim. Indeed, since 9/11 twice as many people have died in attacks by right-wing groups in the US than by Muslim extremists. Right-wing groups is perhaps the key here, which not coincidentally are among those who passionately reject gun control. For me, Australian comedian Jim Jeffries can describe this gun culture problem the best way: Part 1 and Part 2. And just FYI, the modern gun-rights have a Slave-State origins.
  95. Remember the mysterious Socotra Island that I learned about in 2014 (no 51)? Well it’s gotten a bit more mysterious: the inhabitants who live in this weird Avatar-like island spoke a language with origins close to oldest written Semitic tongues that died thousands of years ago.
  96. There’s a village in the Netherlands called Hogeweyk, that is specially built just for people with dementia.
  97. Around 2030 there could be a very serious worldwide water crisis and the world will soon be at war over water, including the one is currently brewing (pun not intended) in the Middle East. Okay, you got me, the pun was intended. First sign of trouble: droughts.
  98. High-quality feces is a hot commodity at some weird lab, where human “donors” can actually earn $40 per dump. Holy crap! And by weird lab I meant MIT.
  99. And so, with that “s**t ending”, I hope that 2015 has been one great year for a lot of us and I wish all of you an exciting year ahead full of adventures and blessings!
  100. The word “goodbye” is originated in 1580 and it’s a contraction of “God be with you” (or more precisely, God be with ye). Have a great 2016 guys, God be with ye.

Articles to help us understand what ISIS is all about

The origins of ISIS, explained in a 5 minutes video [Vox / Max Fisher]

Enemy of enemies: a detailed history of ISIS [Al Jazeera English]

The organisational structure of ISIS [International Business Times / Gianluca Mezzofiore]

Who holds the real power in ISIS? [Al-Monitor / Ali Hashem]

Does the US have anything to do with the rise of ISIS? [The Guardian / Seumas Milne]

Secret Pentagon report: Ex-US intelligence official confirms this [ZeroHedge]

How ISIS makes its money to fund itself [VICE / Avi Asher-Schapiro]

How ISIS sold its oil [Counter Punch / Vijay Prashad]

Who else is funding ISIS? [The Independent / Robert Fisk]

You can’t understand ISIS if you don’t know the history of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia [Huffington Post / Alastair Crooke]

And also the myth (and exploitation) of the Sunni vs Shia war [Al Jazeera English / Murtaza Hussain]

But don’t be fooled, a lot of the ISIS members are not a devout Muslims. They don’t even practice the religion. While some have been caught reading “Islam for Dummies” and “The Koran for Dummies” before launching their attacks [New Statesman / Mehdi Hasan]

How they expands: maps on the terrifying spread of ISIS [The New York Times / Hannah Fairfield, Tim Wallance and Derek Watkins]

Are all of the horrible acts conducted by ISIS justifiable by Islam? [The Independent / Adam Walker]

The most baffling of all: “ISIS has a small fighting force, which the US puts at 20,000 to 25,000 in Iraq and Syria, and another 5,000 or so in Libya. Compared to the number of active military personnel in Syria (125,000), Iraq (271,500), Saudi Arabia (233,500), Turkey (510,600), or Iran (523,000), ISIS is minuscule.” So why does ISIS command such a terror presence in the world? [Project Syndicate / Jeffrey D. Sachs]

Why does France keep getting attacked? [The Guardian / Jason Burke]

Why they keep succeeding in attacking France? Poor intelligence monitoring on this group of people [Bloomberg View / Leonid Bershidsky]

Why did they attack France via these people? An eye for an eye [The Atlantic / David A. Graham]

And I thought I knew my own country Indonesia

“Indonesia, Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation” by Elizabeth Pisani

Former Reuters journalist Elizabeth Pisani has been living in Indonesia for the majority of her adult life, stretching back since the 1980s.

She speaks fluent Indonesian, used to drive around Jakarta riding a motorcycle and now in this book she travels around Indonesia – from NTT, to the eastern islands around Maluku, to the big islands of Sulawesi, Sumatra, Kalimantan then the “main island” of Java – visiting the remotest regions, blending-in with the locals, even participating in numerous hard-labour works and various local festivals along the way (I’m still curious on what she did with that “request” in Mount Kemukus).

In every part of the nation that she visits, she describes the local customs, social hierarchy and economy in great detail. She also elaborates on the many problems facing with every single village, island and province – from corruption, exploitation, poverty, inequality, to transportation, infrastructure and even cultural problems.

And between the fascinating local stories she also give various facts, statistics and history of this great country to give us the bigger picture (“The ties that binds” chapter, in particular, is world class), and shows how the Indonesia that we thought we always knew, and the Jakarta-centric (and java-centric) one we see daily in national TV, is perhaps just 1/10th of the actual country.

Unlike any other western books on Indonesia – like special chapters in John Pilger’s New Rulers of the World, Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, and even Andre Vltcheck’s Indonesia: Archipelago of Fear – who tend to have a brilliant but one-sided view, Elizabeth Pisani can show both the good side and bad side of nearly everything Indonesian and then elaborate in great detail on how it work out in reality.

For example, the many corruptions in the country are rightly seen as a bad epidemic by many, but Pisani also acknowledged it as one of the unlikely ties that weirdly binds the nation together, as a “new normal” way of life, whether we like it or not. Furthermore, like many authors before her Pisani portrays founding father Soekarno as a great charismatic leader, but she also pointed out the messiness of his presidency later on that led to a hyperinflation. She also portrays the “32 years dictator Soeharto” as a great leader that brilliantly tied the diverse nations together for the first 20 years of his presidency, but started to look “dictatorial” (with every stereotypes that come with the label) after his kids grew up.

Indeed, reality is a hard-to-swallow concept for a complex country like Indonesia, where the line between right or wrong, and taboo or normal are often blurry. And in this book Pisani taught us that we need to see the many different issues facing the country from many unfiltered angles to really understand what the country is all about. The underlying truth about Dayak-Madura ethnic conflict in Kalimantan, the “religious” violence in Maluku, and the birth of Police-backed extremist group FPI, for instance, are different compared with the way the mainstream media are describing.

With that in mind, this book is truly an eye opener, a well-balanced Rosetta Stone for my Western-educated train of thoughts and values, which often struggles to understand the complex reality of my own country. Not anymore.

The weakening of rupiah is the Indonesian government’s responsibility

The Indonesian government and some economic observers claim that rupiah’s weakening is largely caused by global events: anticipation of US Fed’s rate hike, el nino, the end of commodities boom, oil glut and China’s devaluation.

But the interesting part is, the most affected countries by these global events are Indonesia, Turkey, Brazil, South Africa, Russia and Malaysia, and they all have one thing in common: weak politics [Project Syndicate / Bill Emmott]

Specifically after China’s devaluation, the currencies of Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Egypt, Turkey, Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia, Turkey and Malaysia all felt the immediate pressure, which, again, mostly caused by the economic mismanagement by their respective governments [Bloomberg / Srinivasan Sivabalan]

And Indonesia is not an exception. Global events may give the pressure to our economy, but the underlying problem is generated not from external factors, but from the distorted policies by former president SBY and president Jokowi [The Jakarta Post / Anwar Nasution]

Just because other countries are suffering too. Just because our current economic problems are nothing compared with the one we had in 1998. It doesn’t mean that the government are doing the right thing. Some urgent reforms are needed, and in the end the faith of our currency is in our government’s own hand.

A beautifully written book on Islam that takes us back to basic: the reading of the Holy Quran

“If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran” by Carla Power

This book is a perfect book for Ramadan reading, written by Carla Power, a secular Jewish journalist whom has 20 years+ unique friendship with a renowned Muslim scholar in Britain, Sheikh Mohammed Akram Nadwi.

It is an enlightening book, written with the mission to 1. Debunk the [negative] myths and stereotypes surrounding Islam and Muslims 2. To differentiate between local customs (like burqa-wearing Taliban) and the religion 3. And more centrally for the book, to interpret the verses in the Holy Quran and show, for instance, why the so-called “verse of the sword” that Osama Bin Laden used to justify his actions was being misinterpreted.

It is a personal book, built around the personae of the Sheikh, following his amazing journey from a simple madrassa student in his village in India, to researcher in Oxford University, and to world renowned expert on Hadith. It is also a personal book for the author, where she can relate a lot of major historical events with her own story – from her childhood in Tehran, Delhi, Kabul, Cairo, to her work in an Islamic Think Tank and as a journalist covering the Middle East.

It is also a beautifully written book, with the highest respect dedicated to Islam and the Holy Quran. The title of the book itself is a testament to this, which is a poetic reference from a Quran verse:

Say, even if the ocean were ink For (writing) the words of my Lord, The ocean would be exhausted Before the words of my Lord were exhausted, Even if We were to add another ocean to it. (Al Kahf 18:109)

Reza Aslan’s No God But God was enlightening, so did Karen Armstrong’s Islam: a short story. But this book is different, it moved me, humbled me and able to connect me to the solemn and peaceful [real] religion of Islam, one verse of Quran interpretation at a time. The Sheikh’s wisdom and teachings about Islam is very calming and reassuring, while the author’s worldly knowledge gave me a new perspective on how to see the so-called “Islamic World” from a different light.

I will read and re-read the book for sure.