English poet and politician Lord Byron in his 1823 satirical poem Don Juan writes, “Tis strange—but true; for truth is always strange; Stranger than fiction.” Human history is both the truest and strangest.
You could probably take any 20-year period of history and say that was a time like no other. Between 1900 and 1920, there was the Great War (World War One) and the 1918 Influenza (Spanish Flu) Pandemic. The world changed with the invention of the vacuum cleaner and air conditioning, not to mention radio broadcasting and the first affordable motor car. And, of course, the airplane and the drug “Ecstasy” or MDMA.
But do not think that the first two decades of the 21st century have been lacking in excitement. We have had our own “Great War” on terror and from terrorists. There is obviously no need to mention the Covid-19 pandemic. Humans have invented 3D-printing, which to a simple mind like my own is almost a miracle. But we also had time to invent E-Cigarettes.
Technology changing Blockchain and High-density battery packs can never compare with the 21st century’s greatest “invention”: Social Media.
We have had many lessons in the past 20 years. We have learned that governments, while protecting us from terrorists and viruses, can take away our freedoms, rights, and privacy as easily as peeling an orange.
The pandemic taught us that business can be conducted and deals made without having to go to a five-star hotel. Prestige within a company can be found in being a part of the corporate “video communication network” rather than having a corner office with a view.
Some students can do better without the distraction of a physical classroom (like my son number 4). Others without the social interaction fail miserably and suffer psychological problems. Many parents discovered that it became silly paying premium tuition for premium campus facilities that were no longer available with online classes.
For me though, the most astounding event of the 21st century is happening right now in Egypt.
In my wilder days, I was a Saucier on a cruise ship, a cook on an oceanographic research vessel, and first mate on an inter-island freighter that “smuggled” used household appliance to places like Vanuatu and New Caledonia. The sea was the major part of my lif e then.
Owned by a Taiwanese shipping company, the Ever Given—launched in 2018—is one of the largest container ships ever built carrying some 20,000 Twenty-foot Equivalent Units. It is currently blocking the Suez Canal. The canal was opened in November 1869.
Ten percent of all global trade passes through the Suez Canal, with 19,000 vessels passing through last year. Note the significance of the canal. A ship traveling from Italy to India would cover around 8,000 kilometers if it passed through the Suez Canal and take about nine days. But going around the Cape of Good Hope and Africa, it would take three weeks and travel 19,500 kilometers.
The estimate is that it is costing $400 million per hour in delayed shipments. The shipping rates for moving oil products in the Mediterranean region have almost doubled.
It’s estimated that 90 percent of the world’s trade is transported by sea. There are four major international shipping “choke points” including the Suez and Panama canals. The Malaccan Strait connects the Indian Ocean with the entrance to the South China Sea and the Strait of Hormuz lies between Iran and the United Arab Emirates.
Because of areas of relatively narrow width and shallow waters, the natural straits are nearly as vulnerable as the canals to both planned and unplanned disruptions of shipping traffic. The 21st century has only just begun.
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