Tag Archives: Russia

News That’s Fit To Punt – 27/Jul/2014

An Interesting Take On Putin’s Russia

To my thinking Russia under Putin has been a shit sandwich wrapped in a Crony-Capitalist Kleptocracy wrapped in an Oligarchy of former KGB people with connections. But that’s just me. Others may tell me of their beautiful literature or cinema or poetry or whatever, but in most part Russia since Putin has been a contemporary art project of how awful petty nationalism can be in the 21st century. It’s like a country taken over by a man with an inferiority complex who wants to boast of his secret inner greatness. As such the country displays strange impulses in all its affairs, from its handling of the Chechens in Georgia to the land grab of Crimea to funding extremist nutjobs in Ukraine just to stop Ukraine joining the West to hosting bad looking Olympics and wining unlikely World Cup bids.

So, here’s an interesting article explaining how these impulses play out inside Russia.

Some Western pundits, including foreign policy realists and anti-interventionists who see US support for Ukraine’s pro-Maidan leadership as a textbook example of meddling and dubious alliance-making, contend that the Russian point of view in the Ukraine crisis has been insufficiently considered and unfairly maligned. Russia has legitimate reasons, they say, in not having hostile neighbours, not being surrounded by NATO members, and for feeling general resentment at being kicked around by the West after the end of the Cold War.

There is certainly much to debate about various US and NATO actions in Eastern Europe after 1991, and the extent to which the United States should be involved today in counteracting Russia’s coercion toward its neighbours. That said, it is hard to see by what moral or geopolitical principle an authoritarian crony capitalist regime in Moscow is entitled to bite off chunks of a non-consenting Ukraine.

A few years ago, retired Russian general and former arms negotiator Vladimir Dvorkin wrote in a column for ej.ru that the real cause of the Kremlin’s anxiety about NATO expansion was not fear of invasion – an absurd idea given Russia’s nuclear arsenal – but fear of ‘‘encirclement’’ by more liberal and modernised societies, which would then exert pressure on Russia to follow the same path.

I guess I would be one of those people saying the West ought not to be meddling in Ukraine. But as you know I base that observation of never being able to win the Eastern Front in computer games as Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm II or Hitler. I just don’t see much meat on the bone that makes it worthwhile, although I will say that resources in Ukraine are underdeveloped. It’s entirely another debate whether more petrochemical resources development – i.e. mining for gas and oil – is a good way forward for what was once the breadbasket of Eastern Europe. I would contend it wasn’t.

Was Nuts Yesterday, Is Nuts-er Today

It’s an interesting thing that the world leader on a collision course with Vladimir Putin is Tony Abbott, who while he may not have the military might to scare Russia for a moment, has the ample opportunity to dis-invite Putin from the G-20 meeting in Brisbane later this year. Of course, Tony Abbott is jumping at the opportunity to be any kind of international statesman because his own domestic politics aren’t working out well. One would imagine it is similar in nature to Vladimir Putin’s desire to go invading neighbouring states that were once part of the USSR, just not as violent.

The advice he got yesterday from the international community about sending troops to Ukraine to help ‘secure the site’ of the MH17, was that it was nuts. This sentiment has been echoed by the ADF itself, through unofficial channels otherwise known as “figures who” do “not wish to be named”.

The senior defence figure, who did not wish to be named, said it was a poor idea for Australia.
”They can’t secure the site,” he said. ”It’s kilometres long and wide. They could escort Australian officials and provide close protection, but this is a civil task rather than a military task and it’s a terribly volatile area.

”We don’t have the language skills or knowledge of the area.

”For any military deployment, you have to look at a status of forces agreement with the government and, given the area the aircraft is in, I don’t think there is anyone to make that agreement with. What I’ve heard is the rebels don’t want more than 30 investigators there.”

What’s particularly interesting about this is that while Tony Abbot was in opposition, banging on about how he will send the Navy to “stop the boats”, similar leaks came out of the ADF saying the Navy wasn’t exactly equipped to be doing this kind of thing. This was Advice which was promptly ignored – and so we can reasonably expect this bit of advice would be ignored as well.

More interestingly what we’re seeing from Tony Abbott is a pattern where if he can’t solve it through sloganeering, he’s totally happy to send in the men and women in uniform to just sort it out, out of sight with the benefit of official secrets to make the whole thing un-transparent and utterly opaque. One can therefore imagine that should unfortunate things be found in Ukraine, they’ll jump to an immediate “can’t comment, our troops are in operations” mode of communication.

Age of Entitlement Ending? More like Age of Ultron-Perks

I offer this to you without comment.

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Nice To Be Vindicated

“They Must Be Nuts”

I’ve been writing here for some months that the last thing we – as in non-specific people of the West – should do is send any troops to Ukraine. The MH17 incident and the 39 Australians on that downed plane have forced the issue of Ukraine’s situation a lot closer to our shores in Australia. Sometime in the recent days of statesman-like posturing, Tony Abbott has been making noises about putting our boots on the ground in eastern Ukraine to ‘secure the site’ (whatever the hell that means, many days after there’s been looting).

As readers know, I’ve been dead against sending anybody out there for good reason. If the separatists are dumb and ill-informed enough to down a jet liner from a neutral nation outside of he conflict, what’s stop them shooting at our people just for being there? Today we find that some people with professional insight think this is a bad idea too.

“They must be nuts,” Joerg Forbrig, a senior program officer for central and eastern Europe at the Berlin bureau of the German Marshall Fund of the US think tank, said. “It’s a very dangerous proposal and will be seen as a provocation by the separatists and the Russians.”

Ukrainians’ desire for closer links with Europe, the US and their allies has long been a source of tension with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who intervened in Ukraine after the pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych stepped down in February fueling the five-month long insurgency.

The US says a surface-to-air missile fired from territory held by the rebels shot down the plane, while stopping short of alleging direct Russian involvement. Putin’s artillery is firing on Ukrainian military positions from inside Russia, a US State Department spokeswoman said this week.
A spokesman for the UK Foreign Office said Britain would “offer logistical support and is keeping in close contact with the Australians and Dutch over how it can assist, though it won’t be putting be sending police or technicians to Ukraine”.

“We believe a UK. armed presence in eastern Ukraine would not be appropriate,” the Foreign Office said in a statement. “The UK stands ready to provide constructive support to the mission.”

This isn’t some trip into a place where there’s not much civil authority – it’s a place where Russia is using subterfuge to make it look like there’s not much civil authority so they can wrest some more territory off Ukraine. The polite realpolitik thing to do has been to ignore the subterfuge and instead place mild sanction on Vladimir Putin and his crony-capitalists but sending troops has been and always will be one of those things we would much rather not do. The reality is that it would be sending people with an immensely blinkered perspective right into a war zone – and if seen with a colder objective view, would rightly be a provocation to the Russians.

In other words, “baby don’t you do it“.

I was watching The Drum this week and there was commentary to the effect that Tony Abbott’s been getting some kudos for being the only Western leader to stand up to Vladimir Putin. This might be true, but this is only because Russia isn’t a vital trade partner for us and we’re really far away from Moscow’s considerations. Sending in troops to Ukraine would change that greatly. The outcome of that shift will probably mean more dead Australians. And how the hell will Tony Abbott explain that when it inevitably happens?

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Good Grief

‘Partners In Grief’

“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks in to mine,” says Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine in ‘Casablanca’. The phrase popped into my head because of all the spots in all the troubled places in all the world, MH17 has to get shot down in Ukraine. And this has led, domino-like and contemptuous of our petty (lack of) interest, to a series of events where Tony Abbott is now talking about sending troops to secure the site.

One minute, the who situation in Ukraine was half a world away and somebody else’s problem. When we send our troops in with other aggrieved nations to ‘secure the area’, you can bet your bottom dollar and your mortgage that the so-called separatists will be hostile and may even start a shooting war. Not only was the MH17 thing a game changer, it has thrust Australia into point to lead the way into the retro-medieval hellhole that is East Ukraine. You couldn’t have scripted it worse.

It’s a charming job where our troops would secure the site so people can collect the scattered remains of the bodies as yet unaccounted for. The last place on earth you’d want to send troops is Ukraine; and the only thing worse than sending troops in to shoot is to send troops in to not shoot. Good grief, what a rotten turn of events.

Why Would You Want To Own A Phone That Belonged To A Dead Person On MH17?

This business of looting the corpses is pretty awful.

Grieving relatives of the MH17 crash victims have had chilling confirmation that their loved ones’ possessions have been looted from the crash site.

Relatives of victims in the Netherlands dialled the mobile phone numbers of crash victims and said the phones were answered by people with ‘eastern European-sounding voices’, the Netherlands’ De Telegraaf reported.
The relatives were shocked when they heard the voices, the paper said.

Telephone companies agreed to waive the usual requirement for a death certificate and agreed to cancel the phone subscriptions, so those who took the phones could not continue to use them.

That would be really depressing. Not only have your loved ones been killed in the most senseless manner, you have concrete proof that their possessions have been looted by crass people without any class.

I Can’t Begin To Fathom Their Pain

This just breaks me. This couple lost all three of their kids in the MH17 incident.

“We live in a hell beyond hell. Our babies are not here with us – we need to live with this act of horror, every day and every moment for the rest of our lives,” the statement reads.

“No one deserves what we are going through. Not even the people who shot our whole family out of the sky.

“No hate in the world is as strong as the love we have for our children, for Mo, for Evie, for Otis. No hate in the world is as strong as the love we have for Grandad Nick. No hate in the world is as strong as the love we have for each other. This is a revelation that gives us some comfort.”

I don’t know how they’ll deal with this. I can’t imagine there’s a way of really living through the aftermath of such a traumatic thing. I really fear for these people. My heart goes out to them.

I have nothing to offer for them to fall back upon. Fairness and deserving has absolutely nothing to do with something like this. It’s just irredeemable stupidity on the part of the idiots who fired the missile; the idiots who gave those idiots missiles; the idiots who authorised those idiots to give the missiles to the idiots who fired it. The veritable chain of idiocy goes all the way to the top – Vladimir Putin – and the man had the gall to blame Kiev. And knowing this and spelling it out does absolutely nothing for these people.

It would destroy me. I know that much. But my response would be to demand nuking Donetsk.

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The View From The Couch – 20/Jul/2014

The Politicians We Get Are From Those On Offer

Who would run? Why would you run? Who would back you? These are the kinds of questions that might cross the aspiring politician. I’m not one of them, so I can watch people run and fail with a certain amount of objective distance but ultimately that’s hurting me. It hurts me because I’m letting somebody with not the right tools to do the job, and on this blog you’d know for a fact that I’m pretty harsh with politicians. The higher the office, the harder I kick.

Democracy is a funny thing. In America, the most watched kid in high school is not the smartest kid, not the best looking kid, but the most popular kid. Being smart and good looking but not popular (heh, Irony alert!) I always found this American fixation on popularity particularly strange – but it stands to reason.If you’re not popular, you can’t win election, and only by winning elections can you access power, popularity as a character trait then is the highway to power. So all these people running for office, at least in America would be all these kids who once upon a time were the most popular kids in their year and there’s no reason for them to have been the smartest. And so even there America at least gets the politicians it deserves. It explains a lot.

In Australia it is a bit murkier as to what makes a person a good candidate in the eyes of the two great parties or for that matter the lesser parties. The process of preselection in various seats is opaque, and every documented account of how people are chosen is filled with intangible processes and thoughts that defy explanation. My local member – one Craig Laundy of the Liberal Party who looks like a gerbil – must have made some deal with some entity in the party to be the candidate. And so far, he’s just okay. Not terrible, not good, not anything in particular – a perfectly fungible replacement level MP. That Jaymes Diaz guy who went from gaffe to gaffe came from the sort of party room machinations that gave us Pauline Hanson a a Liberal or Eddie Obeid as a State ALP candidate. The point being if you asked (and expected) the parties to pick smart people to run, you still get candidates like Diaz, Hanson, Obeid, Craig Thomson, Peter Slipper, and so on.

Given politics i a kind of necessary evil, it is a good thing we’re forced to think about it seriously in Australia. In countries where they don’t have compulsory voting, the track record for democracy in many places is even worse. As Winston Churchill said, it’s the least worst option.

In that light, I want to just bring your attention to this article.

“What you say – always – is that you want to make a difference. You believe your experience qualifies you to serve. These circumlocutions are the etiquette of democracy, the ritual salute … [people] want to hear you say that you are in it for them.”

And how many times have you heard the pledge. To make a difference. To build the economy. To fight for education. And do you ever really believe it? Or do you suspect politicians are in it for themselves, far more than they are for you?

“It’s worth considering,” Ignatieff goes on, “that such dissembling may have its uses. The pretence may begin as a piece of hypocrisy and end up becoming a politician’s second nature. From pretending to serve, you may surprise yourself by actually doing so.” But the biggest challenge is to pull off the confidence trick. “You have to invent yourself for public consumption.”

And therein lies the asymmetry. Politicians do not get rewarded for candour or honesty; their first step is to commence from the hypocritical position to tell the audience what it wants to hear. If the audience is dumb and ignorant, these things are going to be a lot worse than you expect. This is exactly how democracy ends up offering the seeming, willing, willful idiots we get on election day. We can talk reform all we like, but unless the electorate smartens up a lot more, we’re always going to get the kind of politicians we want to throw off the top of a cliff.

but then, that would be why they’re cutting education. They ant to make it a lot harder for the populace to smarten up.

The Looting Says A Lot

I know it’s a war zone but the utter lack of respect shown by the East Ukrainian rebels around the MH17 crash site is pretty staggering. It sort of shows the crassness of the people on the ground near the crash site.

I keep getting told by Tomas how awful the Russians were when they occupied Lithuania. The stories are colourful (in a really bad way) and grim. I have discounted the awfulness because they were testimonials from the wronged, because they had reasons to paint them as badly as they could, and Russia under Stalin probably had very few luxuries of thought for people to behave better in occupied territories. Yet, when I see these reports of looting, I can’t help but think of those stories and consider the likelihood that these Russians in East Ukraine are not so far away removed from the brutes who occupied East Europe. They are as socially backward as you can imagine. What they’re doing out there looting is like something out of history books that tell you about early medieval peasants and serfs under the Tsars. It’s disgraceful in this day and age. I’m sorry but it’s culturally repugnant and there’s no valid excuse for them to be this way.

I really hope we don’t end up sending any troops into East Ukraine to fight these people. It really would be a waste of perfectly good ammo.


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Moral Hazard Spectacular

Stop(ped) Making Sense

Pleiades wanted me to write a bit about this today. He’s sent me a couple of interesting links behind the AFR paywall. I can’t link to them a a result but I can offer my opinion on a few things.

You have to hand it to Central Banks. They’ll jawbone anything and everything to get the economy to roughly go in a direction. Usually, what the Central Banks want is for asset prices to be stable and go up, while an inflation of about 2-3% eats away at cash so people have to do something with their money apart from shove it under the mattress. You can put them in equities, bonds, commodities, property, but the 2-3% is there to eat away at your pile of cash if you keep it stationary.

Of course, that’s why interest rates move the way they do, which is to say whenever the equity markets sag, the Central Banks cut interest rates and every time they hit new highs, they take some points off. We’ve been watching this game for something like 30years since the RBA went independent of the Federal government, and since the days when Paul Volcker as the head of the US Fed set about taming inflation.

…but what if all this was a crock?

Share markets in the USA are at an all time high, but interest rates are close to zero, and Quantitative Easing is, while being tapered back, still pumping liquidity into the market in exchange of bad debts. You’d have to look at all this and say that the narrative we’ve been led to believe is broken. It’s also been 7years since the GFC broke, 6 since liquidity got pumped into he market, and QE is still continuing. The American markets are talking about a ‘Recovery’, but the mere fact that interest rates are at zero and QE is still going on should tell you we’re nowhere near any kind of recovery.

If there were a ‘Recovery’, how could there be stories like this?:

Driven by economic necessity — Rohr has been chronically unemployed and her husband lost his job last year — she moved her family back home with her 77-year-old mother.

At a time when the still sluggish economy has sent a flood of jobless young adults back home, older people are quietly moving in with their parents at twice the rate of their younger counterparts.

For seven years through 2012, the number of Californians aged 50 to 64 who live in their parents’ homes swelled 67.6% to about 194,000, according to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development.

The jump is almost exclusively the result of financial hardship caused by the recession rather than for other reasons, such as the need to care for aging parents, said Steven P. Wallace, a UCLA professor of public health who crunched the data.

“The numbers are pretty amazing,” Wallace said. “It’s an age group that you normally think of as pretty financially stable. They’re mid-career. They may be thinking ahead toward retirement. They’ve got a nest egg going. And then all of a sudden you see this huge push back into their parents’ homes.”

I’m sort of lost for words when I read that because that’s a surefire sign that the economy has not made any kind of credible recovery – but for some miraculous reason US equity prices have punched through the previous highs from prior to the GFC meltdown. What QE has accomplished is to reinflate all the asset bubbles, up to and including the housing bubble in America. If you think this is somehow not true then hey presto, subprime mortgages are back. Maybe these people in California living in their parents’ houses can score one of those loans that only need 3% upfront.

The point is, Ben Bernanke said the whole QE thing and TARP thing was to shore up banks so they would keep lending and that liquidity would not dry up and businesses would stay open. What’s happened instead is that the money got sent out of America on financial markets to places with high risk and high yields – affectionately known as emerging markets – and has subsequently inflated commodity prices and real estate prices around the globe. More to the point it didn’t exactly save jobs.

We’re Really Going To Fight For The Grey Zone On The Eastern Front?

This is nuts. The US is sending 600 troops for an exercise in eastern Europe. Airborne troops are allegedly going to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. All of it in response to the crisis in Crimea. There are a few things I am not convinced about America’s willingness to follow through and fight a war in Ukraine.

First of all is how willing the NATO allies are, in supporting America. Germany in particular makes me doubt NATO’s resolve. Are the Dutch and Spaniards and Belgians and Italians willing to send troops out to Ukraine and shed blood for Ukrainians, even though they’re not even a member of NATO or the Euro zone? It seems incredibly unlikely the commitment is there. Germany in particular might still be culturally traumatised by the World War II campaign in Ukraine and the political fall out ever since. Do they want to send troops there? I’d hazard a guess and say no.

Secondly, Europe still relies on Russian gas supplies from the pipeline that runs through Ukraine. They’re not in a position to bite the hand that feeds it. And contrary to opinions flying around that America’s shale gas boom is big enough to fill in the gap it has two giant hurdles to getting to Europe: the gas has to be liquefied and then shipped across the sea. It’s not economically viable to be doing so.

Which brings me to the third conceptual bump in seeing the West fight in the Ukraine against the dark forces of Mordor Putin’s Russia is that there’s no money in the coffers to sustain this war effort. A lot of the Eurozone and the USA are simply carrying too much debt to finance yet another war (after the squandered expenses of the Iraq misadventure and the mismanaged Afghan misadventure). The Central Banks are tapped out printing money to buy back the crappy subprime debt that needs to get written off. Who are the idiots who are going to line up and buy war bonds to fund this misadventure into the grey zone of history where mighty empires go to die as they dash themselves upon the borders of Russia?

Putin must know all this. So this has to be a bluff. Right? Of course one imagines this is exactly how people felt in the 1930s in the aftermath of the 1929 bust as the world marched to World War II. I can’t believe I’m even writing of this on an ANZAC Day weekend. You’d be worried if you’re the Baltic states and Poland.


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News That’s Fit To Punt – 17/Mar/2014

Why So Quiet?

Oh boy. I’ve just spent a week in snot hell and cough purgatory. This series of ‘flus I’ve been hit with one after another has just flayed me and slain me. it sucks to be laid out like this. The number of days one loses to this sort of thing makes one a little more than cranky.

Anyway, I’m slowly on the mend and I am merely in cough purgatory right now.

I Crane, You Crane, We All Crane Our Necks For Ukraine

All that rubber necking and neck-craning is about Ukraine and Crimea this week. It’s a weird story in that none of the participants are attractive and all of them could be accused of having ugly agendas. Underneath all of the rhetorical flourishes is a country that’s basically going backward with neglect and I do have a few things to say about this because like the Baltic states, Ukraine is probably owed something a bit more from the West than mere lip service. I won’t go into the horrible history of collectivisation in Ukraine under Stalin, which preceded the horrors of the German invasion, followed by the USSR sitting on the country like so much exploitative deadweight, and this was followed by the post-Soviet disintegration of what little economy existed in the place. Oh, and let’s not forget Chernobyl which also sits somewhere in that time line. For a nation of 50-odd million folks, it’s hardly had the sort of self-determination that other nations have had. It has arguably had much less than Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary – and we know how those states fared under the Soviets.

And so this nation is cleft into two. The Ukrainians desperately want to join the West. The ethnic Russians want to stay close to Mother Russia. But the economy of Ukraine is a basket case. It is going to run out of its foreign reserves at some point this year and when it does it’s going to default. So the West would prefer not to have to let Ukraine into its club at the EU, having struggled through the issues of staving off Greece and the rest of the PIIGS defaulting on their bonds. Germany has been particularly conciliatory towards Russia because it buys gas from Russia as well as a fairly obvious desire not to have to bail out an impending financial crisis in Ukraine. After all, why adopt a stray dog with rabies?

Still, from the Ukrainian point of view, you can understand that they want to join the West, join NATO, rid themselves of Russian influence. The youth protesting in Kiev clearly want to join the EU so they can leave Ukraine and go live in Paris or London with an EU passport. And can one really blame them? And you can just hear them asking, why won’t the Americans come rescue us?

Just why won’t the Americans come and rescue them? The truth, is always historic. The Baltic States hoped beyond hope that the West would come rescue them from the yoke of the Soviets and that never happened during the Cold War for obvious nuclear reasons. The eastern marches beyond Poland are really distant places. It’s no place to be sending armies and every field rests upon the legacies of Napoleon and Hitler’s marches deep into Russia. You wouldn’t try it if you’ve war-gamed it, and if you’ve war-gamed it, you’ll know how hard that distance gets. So the Baltic States and Ukraine sit just outside the embrace of Europe, a sort of grey zone that fades from a civilised, cultured Europe into something more blunt, crude and Rus.

Naturally, the Obama Administration has threatened Putin with harsh language (much like Hans Blix in Team America threatens to do) and it’s had about as much effect as you can imagine. The Americans have no stomach for a war, they certainly have no stomach for a nuclear exchange with Russia and so they keep wagging their index finger on the grand stage. A Lithuanian tells me this is appeasement and the best thing Obama can do is to just nuke Crimea.

“Just nuke it!” he said.

“What about Mutually Assured Destruction?” I asked.

“What you don’t understand is that this isn’t the 1960s any more. All those Russian missiles are rusted in their silos. They can’t fly. The Americans can just blow them up and they won’t come back with anything!”

I share this, just so you know how the people from the Grey zone of the Eastern marches feel about all this. It’s very simple. To them, only a nuked Russian is a good Russian.

Obama might look like he’s losing this diplomatic stoush, but that’s the point. There’s no winning on the Eastern Marches against the Russians and at least this way, American casualties are limited. Shame about all those Ukrainians.

4K TV – Not Enough Content, Too Much Detail

Somewhere along the way I forgot to post this, but while we’re on the subject of Russians I thought of this.The gab this week is that 4k TV is too soon and not likely to reward Australian consumers because there’s simply no 4k content around. they would be correct. Nobody is broadcasting 4k (it’s hard enough getting1080p content regularly) and Blu-Ray isn’t coming out on 4k until later this year. You can’t download 4k content for the sheer size of the files and so 4k TV is just not well-endowed right now.

But there are unlikely things about the 4kTV format that’s quite surprising.

I was watching a 4kTV broadcast a little while ago in a shop. It was during Wimbledon and they were showing women’s tennis. Now, I’ve watched a lot of tennis in my lifetime so I can tell you if I’m seeing more or not. On screen at the Sony store, I was watching Maria Sharapova return serve, crouched, racquet at the ready, bouncing around on the balls of her feet, and white panties peeping from under the short skirt, which is the classic pervy shot you get in women’s tennis.

And here’s the thing. 4k TV is so good I could see her dimpled cellulite on the back of her thighs.

And I thought to myself, do I really need this much detail?

One Of Our Submarines

Without a doubt the weirdest sequence of news this week was the disappearance of flight MH370. It went from a straight up, “plane is missing, must have crashed” narrative to a convoluted narrative of mobile phone calls and engine pings to satellites to radar readings, hours after the plane went off view. they still don’t know what happened or where the plane is, and if it crashed somewhere int he South Indian Ocean, it might never be found because the depths there can go down to 7000m.

It’s all a little creepy because all kinds of scenarios have been tossed around including 2 stolen passports and a possible politically motivated hijacking, but the bottom line is that plane has gone missing with a big load of people, and nobody can explain it well.  In the absence of any kind of solid explanation all kinds of theories have flourished and they have been perversely interesting if only because the Malaysian Authorities have looked totally hapless in their search for this plane.

One thing is for sure. From here on in, this story is only going to get weirder and weirder.

Protesting Abbott

The March in March thing came and went and lots of people went and marched against the misgovernment of Tony Abbott. Being sick as a dog I missed it entirely, which is a bit of pattern with me. I think the last time there was a big protest thing against APEC, I was sick in bed and watched the whole thing from the couch. Anyway, I’m actually not a good protester type. I’m liable to do something crazy and who knows where that would land me? So it’s good to watch it far away from where the adrenaline could drive me to lunacy. 🙂

Jokes aside, it seems the placards presented at the marches have offended a number of people saying they’re much worse than ‘Ditch the Witch’ levelled at Julia Gillard. There are several thing that need to be said about that.

1. Not a single Federal ALP member was photographed making speeches next to a sign like this. It’s not so much that the sign said ‘Ditch the Witch’, it’s that Tony Abbott was willing to be photographed with such a sign, lending it credibility with his office of Opposition Leader.

2. It’s hard to take serious the offense taken by people who are looking to take offence. I mean, really. Those complainers are being wowsers, and nobody respects a wowser.

3. Yes, Tony is copping worse insults than than did Julia but that’s because he’s doing worse than Julia – That’s why the sobriquets are worse. Live with it. Tony does.

Ian Roberts, Champion Of Causes

Ian Roberts has been a remarkable man. Having competed at the top level in his sport – a very macho sport at that – he came out as gay. He then turned to acting, and he’s gone to NIDA and pushed ahead bravely with that. This month, he’s basically come out and said he is brain damaged, and that this damage was a result of all the concussions he suffered as a Rugby League player.

Even Matty “Bring-back-the-biff” Johns has recanted his denial of the concussion issue. In the face of the frank, unapologetic moral authority of Ian Roberts’ admission, what else can any sensible man do but put down the gauntlets and arms? It’s a landmark moment in a sport that’s been in denial about concussions for the last three years, if not the last 3 decades. Not only has Roberts forced the sport once to confront gender issues, he has now forced it to confront the occupational hazard of playing Rugby League.

He has to be one of the bravest people around. I am in awe.

China, Defaults, 2014

This week a solar company called Chaori defaulted on its bonds in Shanghai. The remarkable bit might have been that the Chinese government let it happen, because up until now, they’ve defended all these dodgy-bond moments by swooping in and making sure the bonds were paid out. This time, they simply let the company default. Ouch.

Get ready, there are going to be a whole bunch of these. The Chinese Communist Party narrative is that they’re going to let some of these companies default so that it sends a bit of realism back to the investors. If you think such a process can be controlled, then good luck. I think we’re beginning to see where China’s over-reach is going to bring down markets. This could get ugly folks.

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Free Pussy Riot

Cast Out Putin

I’m a bit of a stickler for freedom of expression. I just can’t let issues of censorship go without a comment. It’s too easy to let the powers that be go after pornographers or performance artists and say, well, my work is not going to infringe with the authority so I’m okay. Every creative artist, every creative writer, every composer or musician, painter, sculptor or actor, is a canary in the coalmine of culture. If one goes down, we have to look at it as they’ll come for me next.

This is why I have a committed position in support of what the Nazis would term “degenerate art”. My own credo is that if it’s something the Nazis would have hated, then I’m on the right track. Equally, it seems if it’s something Vladimir Putin hates, then we’re on to something good.

Such is the case with Russian Punk Rock band Pussy Riot, who find themselves sentenced to two years in ‘prison camp’ as a result of their political stunt in a Russian Orthodox Cathedral. A lot of people are saying they got what they asked for and that they are undeservering of world attention. I beg to differ. We ca only surmise from the sentence that Russia is still a place with medieval sensibility about performance and art – that they should be things sanctioned by the state and church, never questioning authority. It  is ironic that the Soviet republic was once progressive and modern and would not have had a bar of this kind of reactionary thinking until Stalin seized control. Now we seem to have ‘Putinism’ which is just as reactionary in spirit.

There’s no dressing up the verdict. The women from Pussy Riot are political prisoners f conscience, and thus it is the duty of every creative person to stand in solidarity with them. This injustice is intolerable to all of us who work within freedom of expression and freedom of speech.

And so, this is my little contribution in support of Pussy Riot: Free Pussy Riot

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Filed under General, Rock