Archive for 2014

Myanmar Elections: Many Questions

7 November 2014

Most every city on earth is festooned with ads promoting one mobile phone service or another. Until recently, Yangon (Rangoon) was an exception. But today, brand new, bright red umbrellas emblazoned with the logo of Ooredoo shade curbside food stalls, while blue placards advertise the sale of Telenor top-up cards from nearly every storefront.

The two international mobile operators both launched in Myanmar (Burma) last month, and for the first time, connectivity is available to a wide swath of citizens. Not long ago, a SIM card for the government-run NPT mobile network (the only option available) cost upward of $1000 USD. Now, with the opening of the market, a SIM card costs $1.50—on par with other countries in the region.

The National Hluttaw: Myanmar's Parliament

The National Hluttaw: Myanmar’s Parliament

This progress is the latest and perhaps most obvious hallmark of Myanmar’s much celebrated opening, which began in 2010 with the release of many political prisoners including Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. Few of the reforms are irreversible, however, and with elections scheduled for late next year, how the next year plays out will determine whether this country continues down the road to democracy or reverts to military authoritarianism.

Myanmar last held national elections in 2010, but the National League for Democracy (NLD), the country’s primary opposition party, declined to participate because of hopelessly unjust electoral laws and predictable fraud. Not surprisingly, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), Myanmar’s military-linked ruling party, won nearly every seat in parliament. (more…)



A Pacific Voyage

28 August 2014

It’s now been more than a year since we made our Pacific crossing, so it felt like time to post the following monstrosity, which draws heavily from the blog posts that appeared here during the journey. If you’ve read all those posts, this might feel a little repetitive. If not, what follows is my fullest account of a 26-day sail from Los Angeles to the Marquesas Isles.

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Before setting out across the Pacific Ocean, my boating experience was mostly limited to paddling a canoe on the freshwater lakes of Upstate New York. So when a friend suggested that I quit my job, fly to Los Angeles, and join him for a voyage to the South Pacific, I was doubtful. But the captain seemed unfazed by my absolute ignorance; evidently more interested in recruiting another crewman for his journey, he joined in the persuasion, promising white sand beaches, coconut milk fresh from the tree, and half-naked Polynesians in canoes welcoming us to their island home after a long voyage. So I went.

Land Ho!Sailing across the Pacific need not be unduly dangerous, provided you go at the right time. There is a window in the spring—after typhoon season ends in the Southern Hemisphere, before hurricane season begins in the Northern—when good weather and fair winds are all but guaranteed. Cruisers call this route the “Coconut milk run.” So we had a month on the docks in Ventura to get the boat and her crew (that would be me) ready for a mid-April departure. Nepenthe is a 43-foot Hans Christian ketch, which means she is very pretty and entirely seaworthy. But she had never been on a voyage quite like this one, instead serving our captain as his weekend home, his workshop, and his getaway vessel for quick trips off the coast of Southern California.

There was much cleaning and organizing to be done: spare parts to be catalogued, shelves to be converted from tool sheds to sleeping berths, and a fresh coat of wax for the hull. We learned the routines and procedures for keeping Nepthene seaworthy: pipe-fittings that needed tightening against the wrenching of the sea; filters and oils in our diesel engine that had to be checked and replaced; the delicate settings of the water-maker that would keep us alive. There was a great deal of shopping to ensure we stayed fed: a cornucopia of fresh foods for the first ten days, and crates of dried and canned goods for the remaining weeks. We met a doctor who taught us to tie sutures and generously prescribed enough antibiotics and painkillers to inoculate and subdue the crew of an aircraft carrier. And then, of course, I had to learn to sail a boat. (more…)