Sunday, October 30, 2016
Turkey has been in the midst of its bloody fight with Kurdish rebels and ISIS but before the failed Military coup, some reports suggested that it has turned a blind eye to ISIS fighters going in and out of its borders. It was also involved in the Syrian conflict and it was also housing hundreds of thousands of refugees and giving assistance to rebel fighter in Syria. It became a victim of some bombings which was blamed on Kurdish fighters and some on ISIS. But after the failed coup, which is another topic some later point in time, things have changed a bit as the focus is now on fighting ISIS and also greater emphasis on fighting Kurdish rebels. Crackdown has already begun against the coup plotters and its sympathizers with thousands of people being either arrested or dismissed from their jobs. The crux of the purge is the Military where the actual coup started and several soldiers have been detained. The last time I went to turkey was in April of 2011 where I stayed overnight and there was hustle and bustle going on. I hope to see the same situation again when I visit them as it is a beautiful country with great future and hardworking people and they have kept Turkey going in a harsh neighborhood. Hopefully the purge will not affect the moral of the Armed Forces (one of the best in the Muslim world and also the second biggest standing army in NATO after the U.S.) or the Turkish people.
Since the Mubarak regime fell due to the so called Arab Spring, Egypt has been in a turmoil all of the time. First it was the so called promised Muslim Brotherhood who rode it like a shining armor to fix the Egyptian economy but when they failed to deliver that promise and become absolved in its own power, the Military came in which is still in power. Initially people love the Military and they thought that it would be their salvation (and they still do) but now it seems that the Military is also incapable to handle the daily problems of the Egyptian people as I read that poverty still grips more than 90 million of Egyptians. Initially Saudi Arabia came to the rescue to pump in billions of dollars to keep the economy afloat, but with their own economies in bad shape due to the low oil prices, Egypt is looking for somewhere else to feed its people. Now after the downing of the Russian Jet which killed hundreds of people and tanked the Egyptian tourism economy, the government has turned to IMF to replenish its reserve and in return has agreed to devalue its currency and cut its subsidies on essential items. And if this is not enough, Egypt has been battling an Islamist insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula. The IMF deal is a temporary fix to buy the government some time to fix the economy but unless there is major investment in the country and political stability, Egypt will continue to see upheaval in the future.
Venezuela has been in and out of the news lately. A country which has supposedly the world’s largest oil reserves is in such a dire strait that people have no hope left in and whoever can is trying to migrate. According to news reports they have the highest inflation rate in the world with food supplies shrinking and crime is at the highest level in the world. It is just in a sorry state of affairs that a news report has said that they have the highest infant mortality rate in the world even higher than Syria which is in the midst of a brutal civil war. Medicines are in short supply and so does every other essential thing there is. Since it imports everything from outside, the currency reserves have dwindled to such an extent that they can’t import anything. Even the state oil company does not have the funds to fix its infrastructure and ramp up its production. Right now there seems to be no solution in sight as people are just protesting against the government but it seems like everybody for himself situation. The opposition is in disarray and does not have the strength to mount a challenge to the government. Corruption is rampant and it seems that nobody from outside the country has the courage or the interest to intervene in its affairs and it seems that people of Venezuela would have to sort this mess out by themselves either through negotiations or through violent means.
Sunday, October 23, 2016
Despite being the largest producer of low cost oil, the government finances are not going well and being the perception that they are one of the wealthiest nations on earth does not help that they have pockets of poverty all over the place despite providing generous subsidies and perks to their citizens. When the oil prices were high all was fine and it seems like the party would not end so soon. But times change fast but it took a while for the Saudis to realize that they are burning cash. On top of this the Yemen war and the Syrian War has made their expenses much higher. As they are now running an almost 100 billion dollar budget deficit, you will see more changes coming to the Saudi society as construction slows down and companies goes bankrupt suddenly and workers not getting paid. For this there is some silver lining that the most of workers on the construction site are poor third world workers who have been left stranded with not getting paid for months as the construction companies relied heavily on the Saudi Government for their contracts. I know that reforms would come slowly but it will be very painful for the Saudi People to get a grasp of this as they are not used to this kind of belt tightening for a long time. But only time will tell how much they will succeed without generating resentment and protests from their people. From the looks of it right now they are trying to control the oil market by cutting production so the signs are that they are still relying on the higher oil prices to bail them out. I am not sure this will work in the long term but the painful reforms that are needed will not come in the near future. They still can raise money by taxing the foreigners and introduce other kinds of taxes but they will have to tax everybody in order to raise revenues and stop spending money on arms and conflicts that does not improve the lives of their people.
The painful reforms that the Saudi government is trying to achieve will not go that smoothly although they are trying to wean their people to leaner times. They have slashed salaries of government employees who are almost 70 percent of the labor force with good salaries, less work and generous perks. They are trying to implement a plan called Vision 2030 in which they hope to achieve to transform their oil based economy into a less dependent one on oil and also more people in the private sector than they are now. Economic crisis can change so much even in an ultra conservative society like Saudi Arabia. They have for the first time gone to the International Bond Market to tap into a more than 17 billion dollar loan. Although I don’t get this move since they have foreign reserves of more than 500 billion (supposedly) but I guess that their economic situation is much worse than they are projecting to the outside world. They are also talking about a sovereign fund amount to more than 1 trillion dollars based on the selling of shares of their giant oil company Aramco. They are recently initiated a dramatic and unprecedented change in how their government employees will get paid. You see they were the only nation who was following the Islamic Calendar which is based on the moon and depending on it the month can be either 29 or 30 days so the Islamic Calendar is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian one. Not the government employees have to work 11 more days for the same or less salary. And a recent acknowledgment came from a government survey that some Saudi Employees were working 1 hour each day and getting handsome salaries.
A young guy from New York moves to California and falls in love with the secretary of his uncle only to move back to New York and gets caught up with New York night life. Talkative Woody Allen movie. Recommended
This time the gang from Ice Age tries to avert a collision with a meteor that could possibly destroy their world. Okay movie not one of the best. Recommended with caution
Unnecessary sequel to the first block buster about aliens attacking earth (again). Not Recommended
In this big epic movie, Tarzan is summoned back to Africa to investigate a mining company. Enjoyed the movie. Recommended
Monday, October 17, 2016
Since the oil prices have come down from nearly 140 dollars a barrel to a rock bottom below 30 during the course of two years (now it is hovering around 50), many oil rich nations are having a hard time adjusting to reality. The countries mostly dependent on oil prices are Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Nigeria, Iraq and other oil based economies but nowhere the adjustment has been harsh in countries like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, I will come back to the sorry state of affairs in Venezuela, but let me first tackle what the oil prices has done to the reality adjustment for the Saudi Government and its people. Almost more than 80 percent of the revenues are derived from Oil to finance the budget of the Saudi Government who used to provide generous subsidies to their people and insulate them from the high prices. I have been keenly following developments in Saudi Arabia and the state of financial affairs are not very healthy although to acknowledge that they have started to realize that they have to adjust to the new oil prices. First the Saudis tried to ramp up the production of oil so that the oil glut caused by the Oil Shale boom in the United States and also the arrival of sanctions free Iran will vanish or reduce and they will be able to dictate the oil prices again like they did in the 1970s but they really underestimated the innovative Oil shale producers who changed quickly whenever the prices of oil rose drilling more oil and driving the oil prices down. Also Iran to a lesser extent dependent on Oil were in no mood to reduce their production after so many years and so we have an oil glut despite the fact that the Iraqi and Libyan and also Venezuelan oil is not coming that much on the market.
Sunday, October 16, 2016
It has been more than a year that the Yemen Civil War started with the rebels supposedly backed by Iran and the Saudi Coalition backing the so called legitimate government bombing the rebels going at each other. But there is no end in sight now since the latest bombing on a funeral home that killed more than 130 people among them prominent tribal leaders and some who were in favor of peace talks. The U.S. has now also joined in the fighting which will not help matters in the region. The Saudi government in fear (or hatred) of the supposedly Iranian backed Shiite rebels has (forcibly) assembled some countries in a coalition of the unwilling to keep on bombing the rebels till they are defeated and a Saudi friendly government is installed in Yemen. For this they are spending heavily in this war which is draining their foreign exchanges amidst a downturn in oil prices. Despite all the efforts of the Saudi Led coalition, I don’t see any end to this conflict as this war is not going to be ending with both sides using firepower in their quest to enforce their own version of government. It would have been better if both sides would have sit down face to face to resolve their differences and come to some reasonable accommodation for both sides. But the increasing death toll in this conflict is making sure that the rebels have dug in their trenches and this war may turn into another middle east conflict where there is no end to the hatred and revenge being carried for years into the future.
Hong Kong Police go after a criminal mastermind who has stolen a portable nuclear device from South Korea. Great action sequences. Recommended
Updated female remake of the famed Ghostbusters movie with zero suspense. Stay away from it. Not Recommended
An ex-convict tries to save his daughter from her drug dealer former boyfriend. Good action and good to see Mel Gibson back. Recommended with caution
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
We started to head back home 91 miles away with dark and lonely stretch of road and by time we reached near the hotel, we saw McDonalds ® at around 9.30 we were very happy but when we approached it, it was closed. We went back to our hotel and ordered Dominoes® pizza instead because that was the only available option remaining. Some of the people may venture to the Mount Mauna Kea with hiking boats and blow torch but we were in no mood to do that. We were just happy that we saw the volcanic craters and drove all the way to the end of the road near the ocean. The rest of the two days we stayed put in the hotel enjoying the weather and the pool. When it was time to leave, we had to check out our checkout time since we did not want to stay at the airport for four hours doing nothing. Since we had booked our flight from Maui to New York, we had to endure another 25 minutes of flight time back to Maui airport. The airline was Ohana ® by Hawaiian Airlines® but I did not like one bit and this short flight was also bumpy. Reaching Maui Airport, we had to stay again for almost 3 hours on our way back home at night. By the time we reached New York, the weather was not cooperating so the plane was in a standstill movement for around 45 minutes which was definitely annoying since our flight was on time. And again when we finally landed, due to the delay in arrivals, there was no gate available so we had to sit another 10 minutes so that one of the gates was free so that the plane can park (another annoyance). Finally we got out of our plane and headed back home exhausted. An Appeal: Donation to this blog can keep it fresh and updated. Your donation of 95 cents per month will give you continued free and fresh access to updated events and also longer movie reviews.
Driving through the sometimes winding roads and seeing signs of how high we were above sea level were very cool. Along the way we saw signs of for sale sign and after driving miles we found a bakery which claimed to be the southernmost bakery of the United States. Getting some refreshments and taking a rest room break we went to a nearby beach and then drove all the way to the Hawaiian National Volcano Park. We entered the main visitor center and after that we drove to the nearby active volcano where you can see the smoke coming out of the volcano. Taking some pictures we headed back to start our journey of the volcanoes but before that it were lunch time and we ate at a nearby restaurant with views of volcano crater. After that we got some souvenir at a nearby shop and then started our journey to see all the dormant volcanic craters. One of the first stops was the lava tube created by a 500 year volcanic eruption. We had to walk down some steep steps to venture into the rain forest type lava tube with water dripping. After that we started driving through the vast volcanic areas stopping in places where you can see the eruption occurred and lava flowed and now it was rock solid. Driving all the way through end of the road where the road meets the ocean, we stayed there to watch the ocean crash against the wall and then started our drive back home. But before we could go back to our hotel, we had to go back the same volcano where we saw the smoke to see it in the dark. Now we could see the smoke in orange color glow and there were many people to witness this in the dark of the night.
Monday, October 10, 2016
Our flight from Maui Airport to Kona International Airport was literally 25 minutes. Landing at Kona International Airport we had literally had to walk a few minutes before entering the open air terminal. It was really hot and then we boarded a bus that took us to the car rental company where we were able to get Nissan Altima ®. From there our hotel was not far as we stopped by a coffee shop to get Kona Coffee which was awesome. Reaching our hotel Sheraton ® we completed the paper work for our room and then walked to our room. The room had two queen sized bed and was big enough for us but I was clearly shocked to see the bathroom was not up to the standard of the hotel. That is the only thing that bothered me was the bathroom which was not that great as compared to the Hyatt Regency ® one or any other hotel that we had visited in the past. They had a giant pool in between the hotel where guests can swim all day long. ON our first day we went to a nearby beach where we relaxed a little bit and then went to get some stuff for the room from the nearby market. Our main goal was to see the Volcano Mountains and the next day we decided to embark on that tour. We had known that it was going to take us several hours so we had to take a head start early in the morning so that we can come back near dark. From our hotel we had to take Route 11 to the Hawaii Volcano national park which the sign said was 91 miles from our hotel.
After waking up in the afternoon, I went to fetch my car and it was not starting, I tried my best to start it but I figured that battery must have died down. As I said it was a Minivan I believe it was Chrysler Town and Country ®. After contacting our car rental and yelling at them that why the car was not starting, they send us a replacement minivan. The guy who the van had a jumper which started the car immediately but I did not wanted anything to do with it as I had already wasted two hours dealing with vehicle issue. After all this was said and done, we decided to stay put in the hotel and enjoy the beach and pool area. We ordered the food from the restaurant in the hotel lobby and went back to our room to start packing for our next trip to the Big Island. The next day, we got our stuff and left for our next trip. When we dropped our car, my wife said she wanted to give the car rental a piece of her mind and negotiate to get the initial charges reduced. After some haggling, she did succeeded and told me that there was another lady with the similar problem as her car died twice and had to be replaced. I said never again I would want to rent an American car as this was not the first time I had the problem. My first car Ford Focus ® gave me a lot of problems ( I have heard that now it is fine car) but I had many issues at the time and I decided not to go with the low end of the Americans cars as I still believe that the high end ones are much better. Anyway after successfully clearing the airport security, we waited for our next trip.
The first thing I did after getting off the bus was to the restroom. I was amazed to see that they had working flush at that level. Then we went to the spot where we can see the sun rise. It was literally freezing up there standing with wind blowing. We stood near the visitor center hoping to shield ourselves from the blowing wind. The dormant volcano was just below us with the clouds literally in front of us and it was really cool to see from above how the world looks. After about an hour or so the visitor center opened and some of the folks huddled in there to escape the freezing weather despite wearing sweaters and blankets. The visitor center had some souvenirs to sell plus they had a working internet for the shop owner. Our guide pointed us towards the Big Island (our next trip) where we stood. The sun rose slowly showing us the orange color and the new date was announced This was pretty surreal. After the sunrise, we boarded our bus again to go to the top of the summit which was 10,023 feet. Our guide told us that Mount Haleakala was in fact taller than Mount Everest since the mountains are measured from the base of the ocean from where they rise. Again the oxygen was 37 percent less than what it should be when you are at the sea level but I again did not felt much difference. After that we again boarded our bus and headed downhill since it was now morning I could see the ocean and Maui (although I chose not to) but on our way back we stopped at a breakfast place and then were dropped at our hotel. Since we had woken up way earlier and were so sleepy we went to sleep so that we can go out dinner in the evening.
Once we had the reservation in place, we had to go to sleep early since our bus was supposed to come around 2.30 am. We got up as we had paid more than 360 dollars to get the seats which included coffee and some snacks on the bus and on the way back a breakfast at a restaurant. Not bad for the trip, but not cheap either. Our bus came on time and we boarded it. We were extremely lucky which we found out later during our trip that the bus driver was a Native Hawaii and he was also a professor of history at the University of Hawaii and he was really passionately about the history of his homeland and also very funny (and informatively talkative which was good to kill the time on our way). He told that we had to go as early as possible since after around 400 people the National Park Service does not allow more people and they close their gates for the next day. Our bus started to travel to the top of the mountain in the darkness of light, as we saw some cars also moving ahead and behind us. We were told that since the Park Service wanted to keep the area as natural as possible, there were no barriers on the side of the road which seems unusually scary for me at least as I dared not look down from my bus as you can see lights in the far away down below. But in no time we reach the place where there was a parking spot for all the cars at 9,740 feet above sea level. We were told initially that at the level, we are breathing 25 percent less oxygen but I did not felt any lessening of oxygen. Maybe it was because it was too cold for me to worry about oxygen as we were forewarned to bring sweaters and any blankets to bundle ourselves at that height as the temperature may fall below freezing level.
Although if you don’t stop anywhere the trip to Hana is still 2 and a half hours because of all the winding roads and turns but when you factor in the time you spend at various places enjoying the nature and taking snaps and walking in the lush rain forest parks, it can easily take you seven to eight hours to complete the whole trip and come back minimum and more if you decide to stay much longer in some places. I have eliminated some of the stops along the way that we decided to disembark from the car because you need to come back before dark, but if you really want to enjoy the trip, you should better start by the crack of dawn and leave before the darkness start to engulf the area. Maui is for newlyweds and also the ones who want to have their second honeymoon but that does not mean you cannot enjoy Maui with your family as the beach can be good distraction for kids to enjoy. After reaching our hotel, we decided to call some tour guides to go Mount Haleakala to see the sunrise. Initially I wanted to drive all the way up but I got cold feet and I said that I wanted to have a tour bus take me there. It was just a last moment decision and my wife started frantically called some tour guides. But as many of you know anything last minute means you may not find some reservation. As it became clear in a few minutes that all the tour buses were booked. We decided to contact some travel websites and it came to our rescue that we were lucky enough to secure seats on a tour bus which was not even available but was actually cheaper than the one listed on their own websites. So hastily we booked our seats as we were going to leave Maui in two days and it desperately wanted to have the experience of watching sun rise high above the clouds.
Sunday, October 9, 2016
Based on a true story about the investigation when a dismembered body of a young prostitute is discovered. Gritty and dark mystery movie. Recommended
A senator who is contesting a Presidential run and who has vowed to finish the purge is targeted for assassination. Great Movie with good scares and action. Recommended
A man stranded on a deserted island finds a body and together they try to reach home. Very weird and intriguing movie. Recommended for curiosity sake
Instead of going on minute details like what to eat and where to eat, I will go the two most attractive places that you should not want to wish. The first one is the zig zag winding roads leading up to the town of Hana and the other is the tall volcano mountain called Mount Haleakala which is now dormant. First up was the road to Hana, we have heard that there are many winding roads and many one lane roads which can only be passable if you see far ahead and cross it fast or if you stop and let the opposite car come back and then you go. We filled up at the last station before the road to Hana started since we were told in the guides and on the internet that along the way there is no gas station. Although the road is only 52 miles and takes maybe more than two hours if you don’t make a stop in between but actually it took us double the time going in and coming back. Along the way we stopped at a botanical garden with waterfalls and also during our drive, we stopped for lunch at an area called Island Café where we ate sea food before venturing towards the town. Some of the roads were very windy and some had two lanes but you can’t speed and the maximum speed is only around 30 if not more. At the end of the road we did not go further but ventured into a park on the right hand side where you reach a beach called black sand beach because of how the volcanic lava has created black stones instead of the usual color. There we stayed for maybe half an hour since we wanted to come back before nightfall as I did not want to drive all the way back to the winding and one way roads. If I had a chance I would do this drive again maybe a few years down the road.
Since we wanted to safe on our data plans, we, in addition to renting the minivan decided to get a GPS for the purpose of reaching our various destinations. Every time where there was some historical perspective on some location, the GPS sound would come on and a story behind the history of that location was narrated. It was sometimes fun and sometimes annoying to hear since we wanted to move to our destination faster without having distractions. Anyway our reached our hotel in the Kaanapali section of Maui where we were booked into the Hyatt Regency® Hotel. After registering, we were give flower garland as was the tradition of the area and we went towards our room which was right on across the beach not on the second floor but across the beach. After settling down, I was tired from all the flight and driving so I decided to crash in the bed while family went to the pool area to have a dip and enjoy the gorgeous weather. After waking up, it was time to search for food but we decided to have a room service. The next day we took tour on the north side of our hotel and while driving through we found a somewhat secluded beach called D.T. Fleming beach. Although it was small beach with not too many people but it was with clear blue water and it was wonderful to sit there for a while. Then we decided to head further north and came upon an area where we can see down a blowhole, we did not go near the blowhole but could see the blow hole from atop of the road where we took some pictures.
The emergence of the first mutant unites X-Men to destroy his evil human extinction plan. Great special effects. Recommended
A monk gets ejected from a monastery and tries to survive in a big city. Sometimes bizarre but with good martial arts fights. Recommended for curiosity sake
Friday, October 7, 2016
Our first stop was Phoenix, Arizona with an approximately two hour layover. I must admit that coming out of the plane was at once a relief and also not a relief since one has to go through another boarding and a new plane. To be fair as I said from the start that I am not endorsing anything nor I have been paid to say something positive about it. I believe that the plane was not as good as should be and flight was a little bumpy but not as much as you would be really scared. Once landing in Maui, we were so much relieved. And to our surprise, their toilets were no less than any hotel with cleanliness the first priority. I guess it was because many tourists land there for vacation from around the world and that is the first impression the Hawaiian government wants them to experience. We had to rent a car in order to go to our hotel which was about 25 miles away from the Airport. After looking at our options in the car rental area, we were given a minivan which I believe was Chrysler Town and Country ® since we told the car rental agent that we would want to go to Mount Haleakala which was 10,000 feet above sea level. Anyway I have never driven a minivan before so it was an experience by itself. I had no difficulty in getting grips on the car as it was no more different than an SUV. After putting the address of our hotel, we drove through some of the most scenic beauty of Maui which was on one side Mountains and the other sea crashing against the rocks.
Just before I start to write my journey to Hawaii this year, let me makes this clear that whatever product I have used during my vacation is not being endorsed by me and neither have been paid a penny for it. I will just post what I found good or bad in whatever product or service I used. So we were not supposed to go this year to Hawaii but since I have heard about how beautiful Maui was and how I wanted to go there, my wife found a deal which we were very reluctant to let go despite going the second year in a row to Hawaii. The plan tickets were damn cheap but with a stopover in between which was not bad since a trip to Hawaii from New York takes about eleven hours. The airline was American Airlines and we were supposed to fly first to Phoenix, Arizona I believe it was their Hub and from there straight to Maui. As the vacation goes, the most hated part of it was to do the packing. Well since we had to go as you imagine, we did pack on time and since we wanted not to lose one day, we took the earliest most flight around 7 o’clock in the morning. Since Hawaii is six hours behind New York, it was perfect that we could still get some sunlight when we reach Maui. As you know we did not get enough sleep the night before and were feeling sleepy on the way to the airport as it was pitch dark when we woke up. Anyway the security went smoothly and we boarded the flight without much hassle.
The further adventures of Monkey king with special effects galore. Recommended with caution
A girl falls in love with a paralyzed person whom she is taking care. Lovely and intelligent movie with excellent performances. Recommended
Three generations of women meet leading up to mother’s day in this heartwarming story of heart breaks and love. Recommended
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
A mild mannered guy gets involved in spy adventure with this high school buddy in this hilarious comedy action movie. Recommended
Three outcast birds try to find out why the pigs have come to their island in this hit or miss animation based on the hugely successful video game. Recommended with caution.
Monday, October 3, 2016
A Surfer is attacked by a great white shark near a deserted shore and has to use all her skills to escape the shark’s clutches. Tense and thrilling. Recommended
A North Korean spy now settled in South Korea becomes a prime suspect in the killing of a Company CEO and is forced to find the real killers in this exciting action thriller. Recommended
Blood drenched horror from Netherlands in which a group of tourists are taken out one by one by a masked guy. Recommended for curiosity sake.