The Bathtub Navy’s Christmas Vacation

Uncle Volodya says “Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.”

There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.

Soren Kierkegaard

From the start, I was a little reluctant to get drawn into the Kerch Strait fiasco, because I was convinced from the outset that it would not amount to anything despite the western cries of a major naval battle in the Kerch Strait between Russia and Ukraine. Knowing as we do that any incident in which Russia reacts in any way to Ukraine’s increasingly-ridiculous behaviour is going to get inflated until it looks like Guernica come to life, I was confident it would be the proverbial tempest in a teapot. Ukraine’s biggest surface combatant is the frigate “Hetman Sahaydachniy”, a 3,500-ton patrol ship built in the early 90’s at – ironically – the Kerch shipyard. That’s the flagship, and there’s only one of her type. There is a corvette, which is used as a training vessel, a small missile boat, and 6 Gurza-class gunboats, two of which are now interned in Kerch following the “Battle of Kerch Strait”.

You might snicker at ‘the fleet’, but a moment’s thought will cause you to realize that Ukraine is no longer much of a maritime nation.

This graphic (from Euractiv) displays the territorial limits within the Black Sea now controlled by Russia and those by Ukraine, since Crimea petitioned the Russian Federation for membership and it was granted. You can squirm around that fact all you like, but it only becomes more apparent that the west is ecstatic about freedom and self-determination just so long as it results in an enemy or a non-aligned country losing territory. The very minute such a rush of independence results in a strategic black eye for the western alliance, that’s the minute that a country’s leader is entitled to use whatever means and force he/she deems necessary to keep recalcitrant provinces under national control. Let anyone who is not on the western list of Approved Despots try anything like that, and an immediate outcry will ensue that he is ‘killing his own people’, and an urgent western intervention is required to ensure the equitable breakup of the country along ethnic lines, consistent with the finest traditions of freedom and democracy. Smaller pieces are often easier to boss around, unless you prefer the term ‘manage’. See how it works?

Be that as it may, you can see that while Ukraine still has access to the Sea of Azov, since it still has coastline which fronts upon it, it cannot get out of it without passing through the Russian-controlled Kerch Strait. That’s most inconvenient for it, since its other bit of seacoast, at Odessa, lies on the other side of the Kerch Strait. Similarly, the port of Mariupol, which is fairly busy commercially – there is an American-flagged merchant vessel there now at time of writing, and nearly half the ships in port are foreign-flagged – cannot be reached by sea without passing through the Kerch Strait. To be frank, Ukraine’s claim to decision-making on the Kerch Strait was always shaky; the Crimean Peninsula was gifted to Ukraine in 1954 by Nikita Khrushchev, in a move that was probably not even legal – considering it was a resolution adopted by the Presidium and was not considered or approved by the Politburo – and the demographics of Crimea at the time were overwhelmingly Russian-dominated, about 75%. Analysts suggest Khrushchev’s motive for his gift was to codify Soviet control over Ukraine, to fortify and perpetuate a subordinate relationship…and to add some 860,000 Russians to the already-large Russian minority in Ukraine. Seen in that light, it makes you wonder why Ukraine is making such a fuss over losing Crimea; it simply went back to its historic roots, and it removes a bunch of ethnic Russians – whom the Ukrainian nationalists hate with a passion – from Ukrainian territory. What’s not to like? Continue reading “The Bathtub Navy’s Christmas Vacation”


Sanctimoneyous: Post-Brexit Britain Will Test-Drive a Conscience.

Uncle Volodya says, “When mores are sufficient, laws are unnecessary; when mores are insufficient, laws are unenforceable.”

“Morality is simply the attitude we adopt toward people we personally dislike.”

Oscar Wilde, from “An Ideal Husband”

“I won’t insult your intelligence by suggesting that you really believe what you just said.”

William F. Buckley Jr.

“Everybody knows that the dice are loaded,
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed;
Everybody knows that the war is over,
Everybody knows the good guys lost:
Everybody knows the fight was fixed,
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows…”

Leonard Cohen, from “Everybody Knows”

I wonder if you were as flabbergasted as I was to discover the sole reason Britain has not cracked down before now on the flood of dirty money lapping its shores is because…are you ready? Because the rest of Europe is so corrupt, Britain had to pretend to be corrupt, too, or else it might not fit in!! I’m not even kidding; read it for yourself.

“Brexit will free the UK to intensify its crackdown on dirty money sloshing through the City of London because the authorities will no longer have to win the approval of the rest of the EU.”

The article is The Telegraph’s ‘Premium content’, and so you can’t see the rest of it without being a subscriber – but for my part, I’ve seen enough. If that isn’t the most goodie-goodie, self-serving teacher’s-pet bullshit I’ve ever heard, it would certainly be in the top five.

As I’ve queried elsewhere, if the rest of Europe is perfectly happy rooting in its corrupt sty, while Britain holds its nose and plays at being the bad-ass so that the European hoodlums will accept it, what draws foreign robber-barons to London with cash that they need laundered? Why don’t they just go to Paris or Berlin? Can they not sense how uncomfortable Britain is with money that was not honestly earned by the sweat of one’s brow? Dear God, it makes me want to scream.

Let’s just dispense with the notion that Honest-John Bull yearns to boot out the rotten Russian oligarchs because of a deep-seated aversion to dirty money, right now. In fact, Uncle Sam told Britain back in the spring that it was going to have to cut the Russian oligarchs loose if it wants to have continued access to the US market. And considering the arsehole Britain is making of itself in Europe, it doesn’t actually have a lot of other friends. What would happen to Britain without the coziness of the Special Friendship? Like The Eagles sang in “Already Gone”, it would have to eat its lunch all by itself.

“Sigal P. Mandelker, a top American Treasury official in London to meet with her counterparts, said British banks could face “consequences” if they continued to carry out significant transactions on behalf of the 24 influential Russians sanctioned by Washington on Friday. The list includes the industrialists Oleg Deripaska and Viktor Vekselberg, along with Kirill Shamalov, who American officials have identified as President Vladimir V. Putin’s son-in-law.”

So I guess if Britain is going to have to bury its face in the pillow while Uncle Sam rides it from behind like a pile-driver, it might as well amuse itself – and everyone else – with the notion that showing the Russian rich the door to the cold outside was all its own idea. Yes; ‘course it was! Continue reading “Sanctimoneyous: Post-Brexit Britain Will Test-Drive a Conscience.”

Organized Greed vs. Disorganized Democracy

Uncle Volodya says, ““At the banquet table of nature, there are no reserved seats. You get what you can take, and you keep what you can hold.”

“In a society governed passively by free markets and free elections, organized greed always defeats disorganized democracy.”

Matt Taibbi, from Griftopia

“Well first of all, tell me: Is there some society you know that doesn’t run on greed? You think Russia doesn’t run on greed? You think China doesn’t run on greed? What is greed? Of course, none of us are greedy, it’s only the other fellow who’s greedy. The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests. The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus. Einstein didn’t construct his theory under order from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn’t revolutionize the automobile industry that way. In the only cases in which the masses have escaped from the kind of grinding poverty you’re talking about, the only cases in recorded history, are where they have had capitalism and largely free trade. If you want to know where the masses are worse off, worst off, it’s exactly in the kinds of societies that depart from that. So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear, that there is no alternative way so far discovered of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by the free-enterprise system.”

Milton Friedman

It’s maybe a little unfortunate that cynicism has shoved its way to the fore in social consciousness; if you smell flowers, look around for a funeral. The world wasn’t always that way, and once the American Dream which is really the dream of everyone everywhere – the fond hope that all that will make us happy in life; love, family, the kind of paycheck that will let one enjoy both, will somehow find us if only we are loyal and determined – was relatively humble, and sort of sweet. Enough was just enough, and not just a little bit more, if you feel me.

Somewhere along the storied path, greed became a virtue, as enshrined by Milton Friedman and others like him. Greed is nothing to be ashamed of – it’s nothing less than the pistons in the great engine of human development. Greed is the puppet-master, pulling the strings of democracy.

So when Uncle Sam starts talking up democracy, look around for something you have that he might want.

Enter Daniel Witt, with a sad but hopeful piece on how Ukraine is pooching its big chance to be a real democracy. Because the road to democracy is paved with… privatization. Continue reading “Organized Greed vs. Disorganized Democracy”

The Boy Who Cried “Bear!!”: a Norwegian Folk Tale

Uncle Volodya says, “The text has disappeared under the interpretation.”

Once upon a time, there was a Norwegian boy named Jens, from the town of Nato. Jens’ work was mostly tedious and boring, and often people did not pay very much attention to what he said or did – so, every once in awhile, he liked to liven things up, see if he could get a reaction, generate a little excitement. He would shout, “Bear!!! I saw a bear, right through those bushes! He is coming to kill us all!!”

At first the townspeople of Nato would rush to collective-defense readiness, shouting, “Get away, bear!! Go back to where you came from!! Leave our lands!!”, pointing their pitchforks and whatever weaponry they could carry in the direction Jens had said the bear was last seen. But after repeated alarms, the townspeople grew apathetic and resentful of Jens’ attempts to scare them, since no bear was ever actually sighted by any of them, and eventually they would not come running any more when he shouted his warnings. Consequently, nobody responded the day the bear really showed up, despite Jens’ frantic screams as the bear grabbed him and prepared to gobble him up. Or down, as the case may be. Fortunately for Jens, he tasted like frozen pizza (Norwegians are Europe’s highest per-capita consumers of this exotic dish), and the bear spat him out after only chewing on him a little, and went away. Jens learned absolutely no lessons from the experience, and went on exactly as before.

I suppose if there is a moral to this story – and all folk tales traditionally have a moral – it is that not everyone in Nato was an idiot, although there was a vigorous and vocal idiot demographic. But even idiots grow weary of constantly being prodded to take time from their busy lives to listen to alarming scary tales, and to contribute some of their salaries or savings toward fighting off imaginary threats. By the time Jens decided to change it up a little (although there is no evidence such a decision was motivated by anything more than wanting to regain lost attention), nobody was listening.

How art imitates life. Continue reading “The Boy Who Cried “Bear!!”: a Norwegian Folk Tale”

In the Matter of the People vs. Caitlin Johnstone, the Defense Rests.

Uncle Volodya says, “Thus it is that no cruelty whatsoever passes by without impact. Thus it is that we always pay dearly for chasing after what is cheap.”

Many of you will be aware, thanks to comments on this forum or perhaps from your own sources, of the brief suspension of Caitlin Johnstone’s Twitter account, following accusations by that venue that Johnstone was using it to ‘abuse’ John McCain.

Let me state here and now the contempt I have for Twitter as a means of communication. I just don’t get the attraction of it, and although I have a Twitter account myself, I almost never use it. Pretty much only when someone else says something infuriating or stupid – or both – on Twitter, and I can’t address it any other way. Consequently I have only a handful of tweets, and almost no followers. This has led to the smug certainty among my detractors that I am a Kremlin bot and not actually a person, or perhaps one person who manages a ton of accounts, all of which spew Kremlin propaganda the livelong day and try to divert readers from The Spreading Of Truth, as defined by the western supremacists.

A brief diversion here, if you will. The suspension, although temporary, of Ms. Johnstone’s account is coincident with the removal by WordPress of several blogs, which plied a common theme that the shooting deaths of children at Sandy Hook were part of a major hoax by the US government or its corporate backers. I’m afraid I don’t know enough about it and any purported inconsistencies to offer an opinion, although I would lean toward it having actually happened and not being a fake. But that’s not the point. According to Shannon Liao at The Verge, the situation at WordPress reached critical mass because several self-appointed activists persistently called attention to these blogs and WordPress’s stance that they would not be shut down because they did not violate WordPress’s Terms of Service. But the cause was taken up by the New York Times, and WordPress folded and took them down. A great victory for the thought police.

Because further down in that self-righteous piece of garbage was this: “WordPress’ stance is reminiscent of how other social media platforms are currently under fire for arbitrarily determining what policies to enforce and whether to police horrific misinformation or leave it standing. As these issues gain attention, many platforms are putting new measures in place to remove abusive content, but like WordPress, their initial legal groundwork could use more scrutiny.”

Whether to police horrific misinformation. Now, there’s a kristallnachty- sounding phrase if ever I’ve heard one. Because I learned at my mother’s knee that there are two sides to every story, I’ve seen proven examples of the side which now dons the mantle of righteousness caught in blatant lies which it tried to spread by that same unassailable source – the New York Times – and I know that ‘misinformation’ is what the side that doesn’t believe it, or doesn’t want you to believe it, calls everything.  It’s not that there is no such thing as misinformation, or disinformation. There is, and plenty of it, perhaps more of it than there is of the genuine article. But people have a right to make up their own mind what to believe, and it’s never ‘misinformation’ if you can make a convincing case, using verifiable facts and historical performance, that something happened the way you say it did. If the conspiracy theorists can make a convincing case that Sandy Hook was a hoax brought about by cynical manipulators with a sinister agenda, it would be a crime for that information to be arbitrarily removed from public discourse. The ridiculous justification that it misuses images of children without permission is beyond absurd; half the newspapers in the country went with photos of the children on the front page.

Look at the Skripal affair. The British government’s account of what happened is hilariously unconvincing, and the Foreign Minister himself was caught red-handed in a lie of such monstrous proportions that he was hopelessly compromised and his remaining audience of five true believers could no longer take anything he said as factual. Far from the only example of his instinctive lying, I might add. But the British government demands you take them at their word: they can’t show anyone any evidence – ‘coz it’s National Security, innit? – but any alternate narrative other than the official account of what happened is fake news. Horrific misinformation. Any western authority granted the mandate to rule on what is misinformation is going to abuse that power to ensure only its side of a story (which always has at least two) is the one that is heard. Period. You would like to believe they’re above that, but they’re not. Continue reading “In the Matter of the People vs. Caitlin Johnstone, the Defense Rests.”

When Your Story Implodes, Call Me – I’m an American Chemical Weapons Expert!

Uncle Volodya says, “Stupidity is the same as evil, if you judge by the results.”

I’ve been waiting for something to happen
for a day, or a week, or a year;
with the blood in the ink of the headlines
and the roar of the crowd in my ears.
You might ask what it takes to remember
but you know that you’ve seen it before;
when a government lies to a people
and a country is drifting to war…

Jackson Browne, from “Lives in the Balance”

“People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war, or before an election.”

Otto von Bismarck

During an hour or so of poring over quotes about lying (of course I don’t make these up myself), before the snatch of lyric from “Lives in the Balance” floated into my memory unbidden, I was struck as never before by the prevalence of belief in the truth always coming out. Lyric after quote after stanza has it that you can lie and lie and lie, but eventually the truth will always surface, and the liar will be caught.

Is that true? Was it ever true? Perhaps among the congenitally stupid, who labour simultaneously under their guilt and a suspicion that smarter people (which is everybody else) can read minds; I’m reminded of a story which was set in the American southern states, in which the probable perpetrator of some petty crime or other was brought into the rural sheriff’s office for questioning. He was told that he must take a lie-detector test. Accordingly, a metal colander, such as is used for washing salad ingredients, was placed on his head, with wires from it leading to the photocopier. The deputies had put a piece of paper in the copier which read, “He’s Lying!!”, and whenever they asked the suspect a question, they would press the ‘print’ button following the answer, and out would come a paper which averred that the answer was a lie, which they would show to him. Eventually, confronted with his tapestry of falsehoods and under the apprehension that he was being measured by other-worldly technology, he confessed. But the local law enforcement was already well aware that he was guilty – they just wanted a confession.

So, perhaps in circumstances like that, in which the liar is a desperate fool, perhaps then the truth always comes out. But in reality, not only does truth almost never come out, it only does when all possibility of further elaboration on existing lies has been exhausted. But here’s the real kicker – when the truth does come out, we are led by philosophers to believe that evangelical vengeance will be swift to follow. Does that really happen? Perhaps after the liar is dead, he or she goes someplace featuring a dancing-flames motif, where he or she is prodded the livelong day by imps with little pitchforks. But that sort of forestalls the satisfaction of justice done in the here and now – punishment delayed is punishment denied, am I right?

Look at the case, frequently discussed here, of British intelligence services and the fake rock, which had the guts of a Blackberry cellular telephone inside it, in Moscow. This ‘rock’ was strategically situated so that intelligence assets (you only call them ‘traitors’ if they are western citizens; Russians who betray their country are dissident heroes) could stroll past and flip messages to the rock, and every so often, British intelligence services could remotely extract it; the ‘rock’ only had to be touched to charge the batteries.

But that was six years after the fact. For six years the British stonewalled and denied, and acted hurt that anyone would believe such an obvious Russian-bullshit story; the Foreign Office scornfully retorted, “We are concerned and surprised at these allegations. We reject any allegation of improper conduct in our dealing with Russian NGO’s.” So receiving surreptitious messages through a styrofoam rock is just the above-board, in-plain-sight honest dialogue in which foreign embassies everywhere engage; why the outrage? And when Britain finally admitted what had been going on, minus all the holier-than-thou gilding of trying to build a better world with Russia through an active and engaged civil society…absolutely nothing was done. Not only does the truth not necessarily ever come out – Tony Blair, for example, has never to the best of my knowledge admitted to having lied to influence public opinion in the UK in favour of committing with its partner, the United States, to the Iraq War, which was such a smorgasbord of lies that the weapons-of-mass-destruction whopper was only the biggest. Iraq was wrecked, hundreds of thousands of people were killed, and the liars were never punished, nor ever in fact admitted their guilt. In cases where the guilty must begrudgingly admit they lied, nobody does anything about it, the firebolts of celestial retribution never appear, and the liars go on to lie some more with increased confidence. An eager and gullible audience is always ready to swallow some more horseshit. Continue reading “When Your Story Implodes, Call Me – I’m an American Chemical Weapons Expert!”

Imagine My Surprise

Uncle Volodya says, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

I had this crazy dream last night. It must have been next year sometime, because it was the opening ceremony for the Nord Stream II pipeline, in Germany. President Putin was there for the ribbon-cutting ceremony (naturally), flanked by a beaming Gerhard Schroeder and Donald Tusk. Maros Sefcovic was aglow with bonhomie as he presented the ceremonial silver shears, and a beaming Petro Poroshenko, backed by members of the Atlantic Council, applauded politely as Mr. Putin stepped forward to cut the ribbon. As the two cut ends fluttered to the floor, a pig flew in through the open window, and described a lazy parabola around the ceiling fixture. Stroking past me, it executed a casual barrel-roll, winked, and burst into a cloud of red sparks: Lady Ashton – caught in mid-clap – exclaimed, “Gosh!” It looked like a Berkshire to me, although I am not a reliable judge of swine.

Image result for pig flying

I’m just kidding, of course; there was no dream. That was just stage-setting. But you’re getting good, and require less and less such trimmings, and I know you spotted right away what made the situation ridiculous enough that it must have been a dream. That’s right! With the exception of Messrs Putin and Schroeder, none of the people mentioned would be happy at the opening of Nord Steam II. The Atlantic Council, in particular, would rather crawl through the garbage chute the day after the annual seafood buffet. In case you are unsure about their rigid and unblinking opposition to the project, you might want to refresh yourself with this: “Nord Stream 2 is a Bad Deal for Europe”.

The authors – a Lithuanian-born American who is also the author of “The New Politics of Natural Gas”, a paean of approval for American shale gas, and a fellow Lithuanian who is an intern at NATO’s Energy Security Section – list four reasons why Nord Stream II must be stopped. Just before we start looking at them, I’d like you to remember the alternative is the status quo ante: continued transit through Ukraine. The amounts will be roughly the same, but one option will see gas transiting through Ukraine as it does now, and one will not. Let’s examine each point in their argument in that context, because if they are arguing that Nord Stream II should not be built – and they are – they should be able to demonstrate how the present option improves upon the possibility. Ready? Let’s get started.

One: it undermines European energy security strategy. Really? How would it do that, in a way the current situation does not? How secure is having 30%-plus of your gas supply shut off? Doesn’t sound like much of a strategy to me. Has that ever happened under the current system? Sure has. It was blamed on Russia, of course, by Ukraine, which was siphoning off large amounts of gas meant for Europe for its own use and profit, confident that Russia would not dare shut the gas off because it was Europe’s supply. Beautiful, no? Ukraine gets free gas, as much as it wants, and the Russians grind their teeth in frustration but can ultimately do nothing. That was when Russia and Ukraine got along more or less all right, although Ukraine has regularly tried to leverage its gas-transit status. The two countries are now bitter enemies, and there is no incentive whatsoever for Ukraine to safeguard Russia’s interests, while there is every incentive to steal from Russia at any opportunity, since it will get a pat on the head from the west for doing it. A track record of pilfering, followed by deteriorating relations and an environment in which hatred of its gas supplier is encouraged: hmmmm…I’m not getting that old it’ll-be-all-right feeling. Continue reading “Imagine My Surprise”