Will the Last Person in Lithuania Please Turn Out the Lights?

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Uncle Volodya says, “You’d be surprised what people will accept once you insist two or three times running that they have seen what you tell them they have seen.”

Hey, great news! The Baltic states vow to break away from the Russian power grid by 2025, and hook themselves into the European Union electricity system, breaking the last of a ‘Soviet legacy’. I can’t help thinking that will leave them with one less thing to bitch about, but I suppose they see it as a fair exchange. Before we go further, I’ve selected Lithuania, in the title, as exemplary of the Baltic states; Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. That was mostly for the alliterative lilt offered by “Last”, “Lithuania” and “Lights”, and while Latvia would have worked just as well there, Lithuania’s portly president – Dalia Grybauskaite, who has sometimes been described as quite a bit like Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko in a dress – is so reliably vocal in her hatred and disdain for all things Russian that she sort of volunteers her country.

“This is the last millstone tied to our feet, keeping us from real energy independence,” she trumpeted triumphantly to local station LRT. “That tool of blackmail, which was used (by Russia) to buy our politicians and meddle in our politics, will no longer exist.”

The last millstone tied to her dainty pink feet, the last obstacle which prevents Lithuania – and the Baltic brothers – from real energy independence! Think of that. Cause for celebration, surely? Well, except – forgive me for being a stickler for accuracy – unless the Baltics mean to generate their own power in amounts sufficient unto their consumption (and they don’t), they are actually exchanging one dependency for another. Are they making a good deal? Let’s look.

You’ll have to bear with me here, because as I have found is usual in researching utility consumption in Europe as a basis for comparison, they give you a straight answer about as frequently as you stumble upon an apparently-abandoned fifty-dollar note (or its local monetary equivalent) in the street. I found before, when trying to establish European natural-gas  consumption for the purpose of establishing how much LNG the USA would have to deliver by tanker to meet its needs, that I had to convert units of measure and costs back and forth so many times I almost forgot what it was I was trying to prove. Continue reading “Will the Last Person in Lithuania Please Turn Out the Lights?”

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And The Band Played On

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Uncle Volodya says, “An assumption of flawlessness is the swiftest shortcut to disaster there is.”

Casey would waltz with the strawberry blonde
And the band played on.
He’d glide ‘cross the floor with the girl he adored
And the band played on.
His brain was so loaded it nearly exploded;
The poor girl would shake with alarm.
He’d ne’er leave the girl with the strawberry curl
And the band played on.

– “The Band Played On”, Palmer/Ward.

The title track debuted in 1895, and has been recorded several times since; Guy Lombardo’s Orchestra had a big hit with it in 1941, and it’s that version I first heard. For those who understand and appreciate the complexities of time signatures, the song is unusual, as the verses are in 2/4 time while the refrain is in 3/4 time.

But the event with which the song became linked in counterculture significance would not take place for another 17 years – the sinking of RMS TITANIC, following a collision with an iceberg in the North Atlantic. Eight musicians from the ship’s orchestra continued to play – played on, if you will – on the upper deck, to preserve an appearance of normality and order until the freezing waves closed over their heads. The phrase, “And the band played on” became a metaphor for “the deliberate masking or downplaying of an impending calamity by authorities”. It endures in that context to the present.

And curiously, the song precedes the event once again, in an eerie parallel to the past disaster. The western media plays on, singing its old song of immutable power, freedom and democracy, as the probable Ukrainian presidency of Yulia Tymoshenko bears down on us. If things go as the tea-leaves of the polling now say they will, by this time next year she will be president of Ukraine. Continue reading “And The Band Played On”

When You Shake Hands with Ukraine, Count Your Fingers Afterward.

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Uncle Volodya says, “My message to you is this: pretend that you have free will. It’s essential that you behave as if your decisions matter, even though you know they don’t. The reality isn’t important: what’s important is your belief, and believing the lie is the only way to avoid a waking coma. Civilization now depends on self-deception. Perhaps it always has.”

Yakiv Smolii wants to tell you all a story. According to Mr. Smolii, the governor of the Bank of Ukraine, Ukraine is about to make yet another move which will draw it closer to the EU – liberalization of its foreign-exchange controls.

This, Mr. Smolii tells us, will “make Ukraine a much more investor-friendly place and will help the country take its rightful spot amongst the major European and global economies”. Ukraine, he goes on to say, has come a long way since the Glorious Maidan, what the western media sometimes likes to tout as the Revolution of Dignity.

I guess the spot it is currently in is less than its ‘rightful’ ranking – although I’m not quite sure what he means by that, except that Ukraine’s political leaders frequently allude to its ‘right’ to be better than it is – which is 50 out of 190 on the GDP-adjusted-for-purchasing-power ranking, which I am told is the fairest way to rate national economies. That’s according to the IMF, but it occupies similar if not identical rankings according to the World Bank and the CIA World Factbook. Interestingly, although not particularly germane to the present discussion, Russia is the sixth-largest economy in that ranking, breathing down Germany’s neck, while the USA has fallen to third, behind China and the European Union. There is still an enormous difference between the USA’s economy and that of Russia, but I hope you will raise an eyebrow next time you hear some smug western pundit proclaim that the Russian economy is smaller than that of Los Angeles or Peru or whatever. Bear in mind that the country is moving up the ranks despite being the target of international sanctions which seek to wreck its economy, led by the United States.

Anyway, back to Ukraine. Mr. Smolii tells us that for the last four years or so, his team has worked hard to stabilize the macroeconomic situation and create a solid foundation for economic growth in Ukraine and prosperity for all who live and work there. And he appears to believe they have succeeded; in his estimation, the banking system is in better shape than it ever has been in the history of independent Ukraine, thanks to the clean-up and reforms implemented since 2014. Ukraine stands ready to welcome foreign investors, and is a great place to put your money if you like to make money with it.

Is that true? What do you think? Continue reading “When You Shake Hands with Ukraine, Count Your Fingers Afterward.”

Wicked is as Wicked Does, My Mama Says.

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Uncle Volodya says, “Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.”

“Nobody scarce doth any good, yet they all agree in praising those who do. Indeed, it is strange that all men should consent in commending goodness, and no man endeavour to deserve that commendation; whilst, on the contrary, all rail at wickedness, and all are as eager to be what they abuse.”

Henry Fielding, The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and of his Friend Mr. Abraham Adams

Since the onset of the Glorious Maidan in Kiev, it has become fashionable in English-speaking media to indulge in the most hyperbolic rhetoric about how Russia is destroying western civilization. Since the first stirrings of uncompromising resistance from Russia toward western global gerrymandering, with the public release of the uncovered cellphone call between (then) Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs at the United States Department of State Victoria Nuland and (then) Ambassador of the United States to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt – in which the two were heard laying plans for the incoming Ukrainian government before it was ever formed – the western government and media collaboration against Russia has gone into hyperdrive. No lowbrow motivation, no dirty trick and no nefarious or terrifying plot has been too underhanded to be attributed – typically immediately and without any evidence – to Russia. The media condemnation quickly passed hysteria on its way to whatever lies beyond.

The ridiculous British tempest in a teapot, in which the inimitable investigative team of Theresa May and Boris Johnson instantly knew that the Russians had poisoned the Skripals with the deadliest nerve agent known to man – although it somehow failed to kill either of them – and that it had to have been ordered by the Russian government. That proved such an embarrassment that the Skripals remain isolated in the hospital and are not allowed to speak with anyone, while Her Majesty’s Government tries to massage the giant shitball into a narrative which will explain everything. The continued preposterous insistence by American politicians and media that the Russians ‘hacked’ the American elections and made Trump president. Nobody has offered any explanation whatsoever how the Russians managed to hack the election so that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, while Trump won in the electoral college, which is un-hackable since it is not decided by the casting of a public vote and the delegates are not obligated to vote the way their state did, although they most always do. Amazingly, nobody in America thought that elections might be ‘hacked’ when the Bush administration made the vote in America electronic via voting machines, provided by the company whose CEO vowed to ‘help Ohio deliver its electoral votes’ for Bush. Not even after  Princeton computer science professor Andrew Appel (assisted by graduate student Alex Halderman) hacked into an electronic voting machine which was still in use in four states in less than 8 minutes, demonstrating how it could be altered to skew the vote count as desired and then delete the software at the end of the day so the deception could not be detected. Nobody remembers that, now that Russia is the looming threat to democracy and freedom. Especially now that nobody needs to prove anything.

And, yes, the absurd campaign against Russian international sport, in which the same super-sleuth Canadian sports lawyer who investigated cheating during the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, and found nothing – until the BALCO scandal exploded two years later and threw the spotlight on epidemic cheating, including 5-time medalist Marion Jones – was tapped to head an investigation into what fellow Canadian Dick Pound had already decided was a Russian state-sponsored doping program. ‘Whistle-blower’ defector Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov told the special investigative commission everything they wanted to hear. Just as an aside, it’s amazing how often people believe liars who tell them what they want to hear, even though every instinct should shout warning; if it seems too good to be true, it almost always is. Anyway, Olympic-standard liar (if lying were an Olympic sport, which the west probably hopes it will be, since they would go in with an advantage) Rodchenkov imploded during testimony at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) hearings, and had to confess under cross-examination that he (1) had never personally distributed to any athlete the performance-enhancing “Duchess Cocktail” he claimed to have invented, (2) had never seen any athlete take it, (3) never witnessed any instructions being given to any coach or athlete to use the Duchess Cocktail, (4) never saw an athlete tamper with a urine sample, (5) could not describe the composition of the supposed Duchess Cocktail, and (6) never personally saw any sample bottles being opened or decapped. Rodchenkov crashed and burned like the Hindenburg, and no western network said a word about it. He was the linchpin of the entire dog-and-pony show, and now that there’s nothing left of it but a scattering of horseshit, the western networks can’t quite take it in. Or don’t want to talk about it. Continue reading “Wicked is as Wicked Does, My Mama Says.”

Even With a Translator, The West Still Just Doesn’t Get Putin

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Uncle Volodya says, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

I recoil in horror from the foulness of thee
From the squalor and the filth and the misery
How we laugh up here in heaven at the prayers you offer me
That’s why I love mankind…

Randy Newman, from “God’s Song”

To nobody’s real surprise, I suppose, Vladimir Putin easily won the Russian presidential election a few days ago, and is the Russian Federation’s president for another six years. And while it couldn’t have been a real surprise to the west – we’ve just established it wasn’t really a surprise, and while the western media tried to drag out the usual round-eyed horror about ballot-box stuffing and carousel voting, you could tell its heart just wasn’t in it – the west is having a hard time concealing its disappointment. Some western leaders have made it pretty clear they would rather dry-swallow a pine cone than congratulate him on his victory, while others have sounded more like they’re announcing someone’s funeral, but there is a pretty common theme of profound unhappiness.

Why is that, do you think? I mean, there can be little doubt that his tenure as leader of the country has been good for it. The year he took over the reins, 1999, Russia recorded a record low GDP of $196 Billion. In 2016, the latest year for which accurate figures are available, it was $1.28 Trillion. That’s a…let’s see…tap, tap, tap…a sixfold increase. Russians’ per-capita GDP adjusted for purchasing power parity doubled. Did your income double since 1999? I thought not. While western columnists and reporters love to howl about the death of free speech in Russia under Putin, his critics appear to be able to say just about anything they want – he showed up at Lyudmilla Alexeeva’s home to congratulate her on her 90th birthday last summer, and she proclaimed herself to be ‘very. very grateful’ for the visit and the gifts. “To have the president congratulate me…a lot has changed. I could never imagine that”, she said emotionally. Naturally, Human Rights Watch pissed all over it, complaining that if he really cared about Alexeeeva, he would honour her by repealing the laws Russia has put in place to safeguard itself from western-funded NGO’s stirring up insurrection and astroturfing opposition movements. Of course he wasn’t sincere, snarled Deputy Director, Europe and Central Asia Division Rachel Denber. She just knows. Considering Human Rights Watch is funded by George Soros’ Open Society, and George Soros never stops hopefully forecasting bankruptcy and political collapse for Russia so long as it is led by Putin, it’s not hard to connect the dots there.

It sure would be fun to go on snickering at the discomfiture of western leaders, pundits and what passes in the west for journalists. But given the ample evidence that his arrival on the political scene was a Godsend for Russians, it’s hard to draw any other conclusion than that the west just doesn’t want Russia to succeed.

Why doesn’t the west get Putin? I mean, seriously – he has greatly enhanced the quality of life for his people. Simpletons like Stanislav Belkovsky and Gleb Pavlovsky have joined with the caterwauling west to accuse him of plundering Russia of billions upon billions for his personal use, but there has never been any sign that he lives more luxuriously than western political leaders, and no trace of the supposed stolen billions has ever been found. Embarrassingly, the most concentrated attempt to do so – the Mossack-Fonseca ‘Panama Papers’ – ended up catching far more westerners (including cosseted western pet Petro Poroshenko) than Russians, with no scent of Putin at all. In fact, the revelations made westerners so furious that the Brookings Institution speculated the Russians had actually been behind the release. That’s after people who worked on them took to Twitter the night before they were released, openly gloating that the information revealed would bring down Putin. Instead he seems to live modestly, work tirelessly for the betterment of Russians, avoid the limelight (except for a little relatively harmless no-shirt posing and the occasional spin in a racecar) and earn the approbation he receives from the electorate. Overall, the west’s attitude seems kind of selfish, given all it does is blat about how terrible Putin’s leadership has been for the west. Continue reading “Even With a Translator, The West Still Just Doesn’t Get Putin”

International Bullying is the New Black, But Idiocy Begins at Home

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Uncle Volodya says, “The more we hate ourselves, the more we want others to suffer.”

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon;
Going to the candidates’ debate
Laugh about it, shout about it,
When you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at this you lose…

From, “Mrs. Robinson”, by Simon & Garfunkel

“When all was well, you assumed that to suffer such a staggering blow would break you, but when such ills actually befell you, you somehow persevered. You didn’t survive to prove something to anyone, you didn’t press on simply because you wished to, and you didn’t endure because of what the preacher in church said. You survived because deep inside everyone was the simple, indefatigable need to press on, whatever the costs. And even if so much was stripped away that you no longer recognized yourself, the thing left was the part of you that you never understood, that you always underestimated, that you were always afraid to look at. You were afraid you’d need it one day, and it wouldn’t be there for you, but in fact it was the one thing that couldn’t be taken away.”

From “The Last Town on Earth”, by Thomas Mullen

I’m glad, in a way, that I waited to write a post on the bizarre incident in Salisbury, England, in which Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia were whisked from sight – allegedly poisoned by a nerve agent many times more toxic than VX, but who unaccountably did not die – and are supposedly (but not verifiably) in hospital ‘fighting for their lives’. The blame was immediately and uniformly attached to Russia, and the crazed windbag currently serving as Prime Minister of the UK, Theresa May, discovered heretofore-unknown reserves of dramatic talent as she postured and pranced and threatened and vilified. Glad, because so much has subsequently come to light and the official British government line has changed so many times since the apparently-scripted event took place.

This is going to be a complicated post, I’m afraid, because there are a number of related lines of thought I wanted to pursue, and I hope to be able to tie them all together in a comprehensive conclusion which will be evident to everyone. To begin, let me start with a newspaper article here in Canada that marked the point at which I felt I had to write something. And while I love to write, I am sufficiently busy at other things and otherwise lazy that it reliably requires some powerful motivation to galvanize me to it. In this instance it was an article, unbearable in its smug prickishness, in the deeply-conservative National Post, by an unbearably smug prick named John Robson: “Putin the bully has our number. We need to do something”.

Now, the National Post in general seldom fails to make me marvel, upon reading it, what people feel they can get away with in countries that have such tight gun laws as Canada has. We’re supposed to settle our differences with words, and to keep our emotions in check as best we can while we try to let demonstrated and reliable facts speak for us. But the Skripal affair has finalized, it seems, the total dismissal of fact-based analysis. I realize the subject article is in the ‘Opinion’ section, and as such I should be able to just forget it with “that’s your opinion, Robson, you certifiable dolt”. And yet. I can’t do that, because his airy and infuriating presentation of certain allegations as facts just makes me want to shoulder-check him into an oncoming subway train. Let’s look. Continue reading “International Bullying is the New Black, But Idiocy Begins at Home”

What’s a Ten-Letter Alternate for “Hypocrite”? N-I-K-K-I-H-A-L-E-Y.

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Uncle Volodya says, “It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.”

Do as I say, not as I do;
Unto others as you wanna have done to you
If you don’t wanna sing the low-down blues
Do as I say, not as I do

From, “Do As I Say”, by The Fabulous Thunderbirds

You could just about put that on the USA’s national tombstone, as an epitaph; Do as I say, not as I do. Rules are for others who are not superpowers. Practice what you preach, unless you are the exceptional nation – if you are, do as you like. But be insufferably sanctimonious while you’re doing it, simultaneously claiming the moral high ground no matter how indefensible a position it might be, and pretending to the virtue of a martyr.

Perfectly embodying this grotesque assumption of moral authority is America’s representative to the United Nations, Nikki ‘Holier Than Thou’ Haley. Let’s take a look at her most recent prancing and bullshitting for the folks back home, in the National Post: “UN unanimously demands a 30-day cease-fire across Syria”, from the Associated Press.

The Trump appointee was in fine fettle on this occasion – she really does righteous anger very, very well. “How many mothers lost their kids to the bombing and the shellings?” due to the delay, she asked. “How many more images did we need to see of fathers holding their dead children?” This, of course, was all Russia’s fault, because it ‘supports the dictator Assad’, and because Russia has learned that the wholly-owned subsidiary of Washington known as the United Nations only yells for a ceasefire when its proxy forces are losing – and that it regularly and reliably uses these occasions, once approved, to re-arm the ‘rebel opposition’ and top up their ammo, and bring in fresh recruits. The UN, for the record, never once – not once – demanded a ceasefire in Syria when ISIS had the momentum and the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) was steadily falling back until it had almost nowhere left to retreat. Ceasefire demands are reserved for when the al-Qaeda militias are losing and about to be rolled over. Washington heartily and openly endorsed the so-called rebel opposition, although it knows full well that most of them are extremist militias affiliated with terrorist groups – in the hope they will win their way to the heart of Damascus and remove Assad, whereupon the government of the exceptional nation will swoop in and pick a new ruler who is more to its liking.

But let’s look again at the trembling anger over the needless deaths of children. Sort of brings a tear to your eye, doesn’t it? Let’s explore that compassion for consistency. Cast your memory back and back, to 2006. Nikki Haley ran unopposed that year for re-election to the South Carolina House of Representatives, representing Lexington County, and was already well-entrenched in politics. She captured 99.48% of the vote; something you will want to remember later on around the time of the Russian Presidential Election, when she starts sermonizing about political choice and the need for a credible opposition. But for now let’s just stay with 2006, because that was the year Israel invaded Lebanon. Continue reading “What’s a Ten-Letter Alternate for “Hypocrite”? N-I-K-K-I-H-A-L-E-Y.”