The 2013 French White Paper on Defence and National Security

Cities of France by David Monniaux, Wikipedia Commons.
Cities of France by David Monniaux, Wikipedia Commons.

National white papers on military strategy are key tools to understand trends in security thought. Last year, the French government issued a White paper on National Defense and security, which has a few interesting points. First, although the document never once uses the term “human security,” this concept has influenced the document: “The term `risk’ refers to any danger that does not include any hostile intent but which might impact on the security of France: they therefore include political events as well as natural, industrial, health and technological risks.” Part of the reason for this shifting emphasis may come from the fact that “France no longer faces any direct, explicit conventional military threat against its territory.” Indeed, Europe’s current security situation, the document suggests, is nearly unique in its history: “… since the end of the Cold War, the European continent has ceased to be the epicenter for global strategic confrontation. This is without precedent in the history of our continent.” …

Cod and Tuna: overfishing in Canada and the Mediterranean

"Sashimi Meal With Tuna And Bass" by artur84 at
“Sashimi Meal With Tuna And Bass” by artur84 at

This week I had my students watch a documentary, The Cost of Sushi, which describes how overfishing is endangering the tuna stocks in the Mediterranean. The reasons why are familiar from past disasters: the real needs of local communities and fisherman, the development of new fishing technologies and factory ships, the demand from foreign markets, the vast sums of money involved, and the uncertainty about how much fishing the stocks can actually take. In the case of the Mediterranean, what is clear by the end of the documentary is that much of the problem lies not only with the level of the quotas themselves, but also with the vast amount of illegal fishing that takes place. While the documentary clearly shows that huge amounts of tuna is being taken illegally -which environmental activists document both by tracing ships, and by genetically sampling tuna in markets- at no point are any corporations or individuals shown being held accountable. Given that a single tuna has sold for $1,76 million dollars (the current record), and the size of the waters involved, its easy to understand the difficulties that fisheries inspectors and activists face. Globally, the Atlantic blue fin tuna and Southern blue fin tuna are, respectively, endangered and critically endangered. Sadly, it seems that the local fishing communities, which have relied on this resource for many generations, will be the ones to suffer. …

The Mystery of the Hessdalen Lights

"Aurora Borealis" by Victor Habbick at
“Aurora Borealis” by Victor Habbick at

Some of the most interesting comments that readers place on this blog discuss global mysteries, such as the posts on Witches Broom and Bioterrorism in Brazil or the Vela Incident. One particular case is attracting new attention to central Norway, where residents of Hessdalen have described seeing lights in the sky since at least the 1940s. People began to document this phenomenon consistently beginning in the 1980s. Unlike the Phoenix lights or Shag Harbour, cases beloved by those interested in UFOs, these lights drew sustained scientific research, because they recurred and were consistently documented by different technological means, such as spectral measurements of the lights.

In 2009 a documentary, “The Portal: the Hessdalen lights phenomenon” drew media attention to this topic. This well-made and thoughtfully written documentary described scientists’ efforts to record and understand the phenomenon. The work of the initial scientists seemed so promising that the project soon became an international collaboration between Norwegian scientists and the Italian National Research Council. Although the lights have been seen less frequently since the 1980s, people continue to monitor the skies over central Norway. Indeed, there are live cam images from the valley that you can access at this website. …

The Greatest Fraud Ever? Artur Virgilio Alves dos Reis and the Portuguese Bank Note Affair

"Grunge Flag Of Portugal" by domdeen, courtesy of
“Grunge Flag Of Portugal” by domdeen, courtesy of

In the aftermath of scandals involving Enron, Bernie Madoff and Countrywide Financial, the current period might seem to be uniquely plagued by financial wrong doing. But in sheer scale, it would be difficult to exceed the audacity of Artur Virgilio Alves dos Reis (1898-1955). After dropping out of an engineering program, he traveled to Angola, and used a fake diploma from Oxford to find work. After returning to Portugal, he was soon imprisoned for check fraud, which gave him the time to plan a larger crime. After his release from prison, his background did not stop him from engineering a financial fraud that was so ambitious that it contributed to the collapse of the Portuguese Republic in 1926, which led to the fascist regime of Salazar. In an age in which people doubt if the financial system is adequately regulated, Alves dos Reis perhaps represents a worse-case example. …

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