“Peers in shallow lore”


September 30, 2016 by AK

A lovely exchange in the comments section of this Washington Post article:

A presumed Trump supporter. Hillary wants to do to American what Angela Merkel is doing now to Germany, by expanding Syrian Sunni Muslim immigration by over 500% per year. American women had better get used to wearing their burqas out when they go shopping if they don’t want to get raped by a dumpster behind Walmart. Gays and transgender types had better watch their backs as well. Why would any LGBT want to put a clone of Angela Merkel into the White house is beyond me?

An enlightened, fair-minded never-Trump commenter. If I called you deplorable, you would consider it a compliment. If I told you it’s spelled B-U-R-K-A, you would call me an “elite” as if being educated is a bad thing. If I pointed out Trump LIES, and doesn’t pay his contractors, you will deny actual facts and continue to believe the snake oil Trump sells will cure all of your ills as you hang out behind the dumpster at your local Walmart.

Someone tell me it’s trolling, satire or parody. This bit in particular is precious for its bottomless irony:

If I told you it’s spelled B-U-R-K-A, you would call me an “elite” as if being educated is a bad thing.

You have to belong to a 0.01% superelite to override Merriam-Webster! Interestingly, the “q” in “burqa” is a sensible transliteration of the corresponding sound in the Arab and Urdu words that gave the English term .

The IEA, like OPEC, seems too cautious on Russian crude output in 4Q


September 30, 2016 by AK

On Sept. 15, three days after OPEC published its latest monthly report, I suggested that the cartel’s forecasters might be underestimating Russia’s output and overestimating Kashagan’s in the fourth quarter. From Russian preliminary data, September output looks close to 11.1 mmbpd, up from 10.7 mmbpd in August and from the all-time high 10.9 mmbpd in January 2016.

The International Energy Agency IEA), OECD’s energy consultant, made public the full version of its Sept. 13 report this week. It seems they are also underestimating Russia’s crude production in the fourth quarter, possibly by 200 to 300 thousand barrels per day, if Russia keeps pumping at the mid-September rate until year-end.

The IEA seems to have factored in Kashagan, although it’s not mentioned by name in the text. In the section on Russia, there’s a discussion of possible tax changes for oil and gas companies in 2017 but nothing on the impact of new field launches or the countrywide surge in drilling and fracking. A bit perfunctory compared, say, with their take on Brazil or Norway, especially considering the wealth of operating statistics available from Russia.

Independence wars are a dirty business


September 29, 2016 by AK

The distinguished American historian Eric Foner reviews another distinguished historian’s, Alan Taylor’s, book on the American war of independence:

Rather than being waged ‘by a united American people’, Taylor writes, the War of Independence quickly turned into a civil war that divided families and neighbours and unleashed local violence more extreme than military battles. ‘A plundered farm,’ he observes, ‘was a more common experience than a glorious and victorious charge.’

Surprise, surprise! Any armed struggle for independence is a civil war to some degree, unless the metropolitan power enjoys precisely zero support with the residents of the emancipating colony. The Irish war of independence had become a civil war well before officially degenerating into one. The first man killed by the patriots in the Easter Rising was an Irish Catholic policeman. The miracle of the American revolution is what happened in the next 200+ years following that messy conflict.

While most accounts of the coming of the Revolution focus on protests in eastern cities… Taylor is more interested in what was happening in the West (in the colonial era, this meant the region beyond the Appalachian mountains). Victory in the Seven Years’ War… gave Britain control of the trans-Appalachian region. It was quickly followed by the Proclamation of 1763, which prohibited settlement there in order to avoid constant warfare with Indians… The British found themselves in an impossible situation, inviting opposition to their supposed tyranny by attempting to stop settlement and contempt for failing to enforce the policy and seeming to side with Indians who resisted white intrusions onto their land.

How’s this new? I seem to have learned some of this stuff at school, and these grievances are definitely found in the Declaration of Independence:

He [King George] has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands…

He… has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

Whereas King George wrote of the same “merciless savages” in his 1763 proclamation:

…it is just and reasonable, and essential to our interest… that the several Nations or Tribes of lndians with whom We are connected, and who live under our Protection, should not be molested or disturbed in the Possession of such Parts of Our Dominions and Territories as… are reserved to them, or any of them, as their Hunting Grounds.

To which end, the grant or sale to private individuals of “Lands beyond the Heads or Sources of any of the Rivers which fall into the Atlantic Ocean from the West and North West,” that is, on the Western side of the Appalachians, was prohibited.

Ideas? Not again!


September 28, 2016 by AK

At some point I got the feeling The Economist had become a sort of Reader’s Digest written by Oxbridge PPE/SPS graduates. But low expectations multiply the chances for a positive surprise, like this:

Its [the Alt-Right’s] more cerebral fellow-travelers reheat criticisms of democracy that have been around since Plato. They argue that government of and by the people is flawed, and would prefer something more like the enlightened absolutism of Prussia under Frederick the Great.

Keenly observed. “Since Plato” sounds respectable. As one Russian author asked, would you rather live in non-democratic Prussia around 1870 or in democratic Egypt in 2012? Nowadays the rule of law is a rare exception; democracies are a dime a dozen. Large-scale immigration from outside the first and second worlds keeps pushing western democracies in the direction, not exactly of Egypt, but of Brazil and other fractured and disorderly societies.

Nonchalantly, The Economist concludes:

These people are not the ones to worry about.

In the sense that they won’t be looting stores or setting cars on fire – not even mugging liberals to convert them to alt-rightism – they won’t cause any bother. But ideas might still have consequences and there are times when settled arguments get re-argued.

Die Krimische Dreckapotheke


September 28, 2016 by AK

Alexander Petrun’ko was one of the “conservative activists” who attacked the Josh Sturges exhibition at the Brothers Lumère Center in Moscow last Sunday. Reportedly, he spilled a foul-smelling yellow liquid over the exhibits and the walls. (Some reporters got sprinkled, too.) The cops arrested the man and a judge ordered him to serve seven days in jail for “petty hooliganism.” At the hearing, Mr. Petrun’ko argued in his defense that his liquid weapon was not urine but

therapeutic mud from Crimea.

(In the Russian original, the word used for “mud” more often means “dirt” or “filth.”)

Give credit where due: he couldn’t have put it better. The taking of Crimea in March 2014 energized assorted Russian “activists” like Pervitin once wound up Nazi orators. Overcome by patriotic convulsions amidst the mud, they won themselves a new lease on life.

Attack of the Russian fetus fetishists


September 27, 2016 by AK

The Russian Orthodox patriarch has called for all abortions to be banned, and his Muslim colleague, the mufti, has joined the appeal, but with a provision for termination on medical grounds. This exception is in line with the teachings of the Quran, according to the mufti. In contrast, the patriarch wants all fetuses to be recognized as human beings – a personhood amendment, no less.

Obviously the Russian church has always opposed abortion, but why is it bellowing out this call to action, appealing perhaps to United Russia’s constitutional majority, at this very moment? To ride the emerging general trend towards comstockery? That can’t be ruled out: Patriarch Kirill is a very shrewd, some would say cynical, actor, who knows the meaning of “trend is your friend.”

But I also suspect that whoever suggested the timing of this anti-abortion salvo expected the imminent shitstorm to deflect the public eye from something else. We’ll find out within a week or two.

As a footnote, I don’t think abortion is the next best thing since sliced bread. It shouldn’t be dispensed right and left like aspirin. It should probably be discouraged and regarded as a last resort. But that’s as far as I would go.

Moscow’s wannabe Comstocks


September 27, 2016 by AK

The Moscow Times is running this headline today:

Social Conservatives Make American Photographer an Overnight Celebrity in Moscow.

The photographer is Jock Sturges. Radio Liberty reports:

A controversial Moscow photography exhibition that critics say amounts to “child pornography” has been closed down following a protest by conservative activists.

These aren’t social conservatives. We’re on Balchug Island, folks, not on safe ground in Alabama. It’s an astroturfing operation by one of a myriad of activist grouplets on the regime’s payroll. An officers’ organization led by a man who never served in the army, never studied at a military school, and never held a real job. Some other site calls them an NGO. No, they are very much a GO if you understand the meaning and workings of G in Kremlinland.

That does not mean the Kremlin ordered the attack on the exhibition. More likely, the group was signaling its usefulness in the face of possible defunding. Their idea, apparently, was to manufacture moral outrage over Sturges’ photographs: “Moral indignation is a technique used to endow the idiot with dignity,” according to Marshall McLuhan (gazeta.ru amusingly misattributed the quote to Victor Pelevin).

The Russian astroturfers could be drawing inspiration from outbursts of moral panic in the US, such as the unending campus-rape hysteria. Anti-rape activists on American campuses are laboring joyfully to destroy due process, no matter its importance to the civilization that made their cozy hermitages possible in the first place. Their plain-thinking Russian counterparts are simply intimidating the educated public in the hope of getting a 10% budget increase in the next year.

I should add, perhaps, that the timing for the Sturges exhibition was unfortunate. In August, Moscow’s intelligentsia was unpleasantly confronted with evidence that a distinguished math teacher at one of the city’s best schools – a legend, more or less – had taken, for decades, an unhealthy interest in boys under his tutelage. Another, less stellar teacher at the same school had a weakness for girls in his classes, although his victims were apparently above 16, the age of consent. Against this backdrop, the exhibition became an easy and obvious target.

“Methedrine wins the Battle of London”


September 26, 2016 by AK

Rachel Cooke claims in a book review in The Guardian:

German writer Norman Ohler’s astonishing account of methamphetamine addiction in the Third Reich changes what we know about the second world war.

To some of us, it is not news that servicemen and civilians on both sides of WWII used methamphetamines on a large scale. Thomas Dormandy, “a pioneer in the field of free radical pathology” and “the author of a series of compulsively readable books,” wrote in The Worst of Evils: The Fight Against Pain:

Millions of methamphetamine tablets were distributed with the food rations to British, German, Italian and Japanese troops. From Britain most of the initially limited supply went to hard-pressed troops in Africa. It made the heat and the sand more bearable. Did it help to stop Rommel’s advance? Perhaps. But the drug also sustained morale on the Home Front, easing the suffering both of the bereaved and of those trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings. A tablet or two helped to pass the night in crowded improvised air-shelters. In 1941 the Evening News carried the headline: ‘Methedrine wins the Battle of London’.

Amazingly, it did not lead to mass addiction. (Some have suggested that the double-shot vodka rations dispensed to Soviet soldiers on the front line during the war resulted in mass alcoholism.) In Dormandy’s account, meth helped lots of people on the right side of history to get through some hard times. The Guardian‘s reviewer seems to be saying the drug was all bad: Hitler took it, his soldiers took it, and Trump-leaning white trash are taking it.

The word pervitin and the associated home brewing process should be familiar to every observer of post-Soviet Russian literature. Not from personal experience, since it’s not exactly a book lover’s drug, but from this novel, published on the net to great critical acclaim in 1997 and on paper in 2001.

Update. What’s missing is a distinction between the mass use of methamphetamine by troops and civilians and the drug addiction of prominent Nazis. If Pervitin sustained Rommel in his incursion into France, it was only appropriate that British troops should receive it when fighting his tanks in North Africa, at least at some critical moments in the battle. The dependence of Hitler and his lieutenants on the designer cocktails and/or witch’s brews provided by Dr. Morell is in a different class.

The art of the quick health fix, from Brezhnev to HRC & DJT


September 24, 2016 by AK

When Brezhnev died in November 1982, he was almost 76 years old. Since the mid-1970s, he had been mocked for his apparent senility – approaching dementia – and for his slurred speech. Many Russians remember him as a decrepit wreck, unable to fluently read a speech printed on a sheet of paper, probably in big letters. The butt of jokes, such as:

Brezhnev [reading aloud from a document]. O! O! O! O! O!
Assistant. Leonid Ilyich, it’s the Olympic rings.

That was not how Nixon found Brezhnev in 1972 and not how Kissinger remembered him from the detente years. In Camp David, the secretary-general drove fast (true to stereotype) and expertly and cracked jokes to enliven the conversation. Nixon and Kissinger were more concerned about Mao’s health than Brezhnev’s in 1972.

Brezhnev’s health started giving way in 1974, and he survived a clinical death in 1976, as his doctor revealed decades later, and never fully recovered. At the time of his 1976 stroke, Brezhnev was 69 and a month old – two months older than Secretary Clinton is at the moment, and 14 months younger than Donald Trump. (Assuming Brezhnev’s birth date, some time in December 1906, is correct: one can never be sure with the Party folk.)

However, in the late 1970s and the early 1980s, Brezhnev and his inner-circle gerontocrats occasionally appeared in public in a serviceable condition, as if some elixir had momentarily restored them to good health. People would sneer and remark, “they’ve patched him up” or “pumped him up” with medication. As a nasty joke from around 1983-4 went:

“Why isn’t Andropov traveling around like Brezhnev used to?”

“Because Brezhnev ran on batteries and Andropov is mains-powered.”

The last bit is basically true: Andropov developed kidney failure early in his 15-month tenure and needed regular dialysis, which could only be done at a hospital.

With only two days until the first presidential debate in the US, I trust the patching skills of the candidates’ doctors. Both the faint-prone and the apoplectically-tinged one will probably last through the ninety minutes without a bout of consumption-grade coughing or an emergency bloodletting. That would mean victory for HRC, for whom the expectations are the lower.

“Spring has come. Thank you, dear Party!”


September 23, 2016 by AK

This paperback, Xǐnǎo Means Brainwashing, was published in the Soviet Union in 1977. The name of the author, “M. G. Stepanov,” sounds pseudonymic. The book is a highly critical review of Maoist ideology, propaganda and repression in China in the 1950s-70s, mostly drawing on Western sources. Its approach to the subject mixes education with counter-propaganda but once the basic facts of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution were laid out, comment was superfluous.

In the mid-1970s, Moscow feared the “Chinese hegemonists” would cross the Amur and invade the Far East. In 1969, the PLA’s indifference to its own casualties and its human-wave tactic on Damansky pushed Moscow to the brink of panic: it did not take an overdeveloped imagination to picture a gigantic human wave rolling all over the Russian Far East. It was natural that Soviet propaganda channeled this apprehension to the people, depicting life in Communist China as hell on earth. (A broken clock’s moment of truth.) But there was a side effect to that unexpected truthfulness.

Parallels. Soviet readers could not help seeing Mao’s China as a grotesquely distorted reflection of the Soviet Union, either in its contemporary Brezhnev phase or in the earlier Stalinist period. In the USSR, preschool girls did not make songs about Stalin, one or two a day – what a bizarre and dangerous idea – that was reserved for professional songwriters. Soviet party cells did not sanction members for the bourgeois excess of owning two teacups instead of one. Stalin did not publish his new poems in Pravda. But the stories out of Red China felt unpleasantly relevant, as satire can be.


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