December 30th, 2005 §
A great website for serious left wing commentary and news is ZDnet. They have a print edition available in the United States by subscription for just $19/year. As I much prefer reading things offline, I would subscribe were I physically able to receive the magazine.
Here are some excerpts from a 9000! word interview with Noam Chomsky. Chomsky’s first bon mot provides a vivid image for the current state of intellectual property rights.
Even the free trade agreements, so-called, are highly protectionists, the extra-ordinary intellectual property rights go way beyond anything existed in the past those are purely protectionist. They are designed to maintain monopoly rights for major corporations. If the currently rich countries had ever been faced with such rules, the US would now be exporting fish and fur.
At the end of the interview, there were three or four difficult letters to Noam Chomsky from readers who accused him of just hating the United States and having nothing productive to say. His evaluation of the situation strangely invokes biblical references.
There were people in the biblical period who we would call dissident intellectuals, they’re called Prophets. It’s a bad translation of an obscure Hebrew word. But if you look at what the Prophets were saying, it’s what we would call dissident intellectuals. Geopolitical critique, a call for justice and freedom and so on. Yes, that’s dissident intellectuals. How were they treated? Well? No, they were denounced as haters of Israel. They were driven into the desert, they were imprisoned, reviled. Now, there were intellectuals at that time who were very highly respected, namely the flatterers at the court. Hundreds of years later they were called false prophets. That’s the way it works. It’s the flatterers at the court who are typically the mainstream of the intellectuals.
So Noam Chomsky sees himself as part of a Hebrew tradition stretching back to the beginning of recorded time. Quite a neat end run around the self-hating charge.
December 30th, 2005 §
It was quite amusing to watch all of the artificial fuss about the colour revolution in Ukraine last year.
None of it really mattered. Which is why the Russians after an initial disappointment stood by and let it happen. Veteran observers knew what was coming. Which has now arrived.
The Ukrainians have been buying gas from the Russians at heavily subsidised prices since their days as part of USSR. How heavily subsidised? Try one-fifth of market price ($50 per 1000 m3).
Russian President Vladimir Putin has told the Ukraine that if they don’t pay $230 per 1000 m3, no more gas. He means it.
What are his goals?
- To destroy his political enemies (rapidly rising energy prices or cold houses don’t make a government any friends in winter) political capital.
- To force the United States to bear the burden of subsidising the Ukraine, further extending the American’s own financial problems brought on by their invasion and occupation of Iraq (and the absurd wartime tax cuts).
It’s quite a neat move and will cost the Americans money, destroy their puppet government in the Ukraine and put the rest of the region on notice that if they irritate Russia enough, to expect cold comfort.
The Americans deserve it. One can’t go around making promises to all the pretty girls, deliver to none of them and not expect fall out.
Neatly done by President Putin.
For a Western slanted take on the Ukranian gas and pipeline issues, see the BBC.
December 30th, 2005 §
All of this second world war reading has provoked some clear thoughts on life strategy. As we wind down to the end of 2005 and to the beginning of 2006, there is a lot to reflect on.
What brought down the Third Reich were too many fronts open at the same time. While the Germans were approaching policy one issue at a time (revitalising the economy, rebuilding the military, taking over Sudentland and Bohemia, amalgamating Poland, conquering France and Western Europe), they were unbelievably successful.
But at that point in August 1940, the Germans began to lose focus. Instead of taking the Battle of Britain to its logical conclusion (the absolute elimination of the Royal Air Force – apparently they were 24 hours away from shattering the RAF when they withdrew from the Battle of Britain), the Germans became involved in bombing raids on cities in England, finally giving up the Battle of Britain and cancelling the invasion of England.
At the same time they still had to fully digest Poland and France. They were also fighting a losing maritime battle in the Atlantic (another reason to continue with the Battle of Britain single-mindedly). Colonial struggles were going on with the British.
But instead of focusing on eliminating the one extant threat (with Britain conquered, any question of American entry into the war would become moot and the Germans would have had full control of the European and African seas) – Hitler went and opened up a second front against the Soviet Union.
There was only one issue which mattered at that point. Absolute mastery of the European skies. With control of the skies in their pocket, Britain would have been doomed to conquer. Like Japan after the drop of nuclear weapons, the British would have had no choice but to sue for peace in the face of endless and relentless bombing.
With a single front and more patience, there is no reason that the German war machine could not have taken European Russia and the Ukraine (Leningrad, Moscow, Kiev). The Germans had the best infantry, the best armoured divisions, the best generals, the best air force.
But instead they squandered their assets by focusing on too many targets at once: the sea war in the Atlantic, two air wars, fending off invasion in the West, advancing in the East, managing new territories in Poland and Central Europes, the desert war.
Basically I am suffering from the same malaise which brought down the Third Reich. I have too many fronts open. In my favour, I have innovative camerawork, strong editing skills, excellent html and decent CSS skills, improving photography, a good sense of design and human interface and a growing understanding of web marketing. In addition I did have strong financial analysis and good organisation skills (not so certain about those two these days). I have fluent spoken Russian and excellent written French with modest conversational German.
Against me, my attentions are divided between a design and marketing business, dance writing, photography dance and otherwise, dance filmmaking, sport and a too keen interest in politics. I also owe some months to the formal study of German. There are too many targets here. And so I am losing the war, after a year of remarkable victories.
While many of these interests and skills are complementary, there is too much here. Winning individual battles will not take the war. And I am tired, very tired (see previous post on email). I must regroup my forces for a clearer strategy in the New Year.
Happily, unlike the Third Reich, I did not open a second Russian front this year. And after a reconnaisance mission to South America and taking a measure of the terrain there, I had the good sense to withdraw from invasion plans there. But the targets must be ever more restricted and victories more absolute.
December 30th, 2005 §
I have been ill for the last week with some kind of nasty lingering cold. Enough to slow one down and prevent the taking of vigorous exercise, but not enough to lay one down flat in bed.
But in line with general technological fatigue, I stopped checking email for all of three days. This afternoon I checked email again. Over three hundred pieces of spam (fortunately SpamAssassin and Eudora Spamwatch do a reasonably good job of keeping all the spam together in the junk folder). Another one hundred pieces of personal mail, professional newsletters. About twenty-five pieces of spam (those damn watch and pharmacy spams) managed to make it into my Inbox.
Some people talk about handling 200 pieces of personal/professional mail per day. Quite frankly, there is something wrong with this scenario. One needs downtime to think and to have one’s own thoughts. Just having a few days without email was such a joy. Imagine eagerly waiting for the post. Getting handwritten and personal letters of length and substance. Imagine settling into a good book.
After at least a year of checking email more or less every day, I don’t know why it finally bothers me so much.
I know the head of a major dance festival who doesn’t have a computer nor an email address. All of his lieutenants (about four) and their staff (another ten to fifty people depending on the season) do have email addresses. If it’s important enough the email gets printed and put on his desk.
I wonder what it would take for me to get there. Difficult considering I run a technology business. But it would be nice. Bravo, Karl!
I wonder how Casanova would have put up with the hundreds of emails and notes he would have received every day? Probably just not answer most of them. Not a bad idea.
Napoleon Hill at the end of his inappropriately titled mystical treatise Think and Grow Rich suggests a council of historical and imaginary figures as one’s personal think tanks. It isn’t quite clear if he really feels he is visited by these men (Emerson, Paine, Edison, Darwin, Lincoln, Burbank, Napoleon, Henry Ford and Carnegie) or if they are figments of his own imagination. What I can’t understand is that if one is going to have an imaginary council why choose such a collection of bores?
My method of addresssing the members of the imaginary cabinet would vary, according to the traits of character which I was for the moment most interested in acquiring. I studied the records of their lives with painstaking care. After some months of this nightly procedure, I was astounded by the discovery that these imaginary figures became apparently real.
Each of these men developed individual characteristics which surprised me….These meetings became so realistic that I became fearful of their consequences, and discontinued them for several months. The experiences were so uncanny, I was afraid if I continued them I would lost sight of the fact that the meetings were purely experiences of my imagination. [Ch. XIV, p. 197)
If it will help me tame the email problem, perhaps this imaginary council idea is not so bad
December 30th, 2005 §
Sitting in our Western societies with our cafés and police and supermarkets and cars, it is hard to imagine what it is like to be really oppressed. One paragraph from Janina Sulkowska-Gladun’s Memoirs really knocked me out of my complacency.
It’s so true that a well-fed person cannot understand the starving one. I had been malnourished continuously for a long time, but the hunger which forces every cell to scream only started in Punishment Camp Number 6 in the fall of 1941. For the second time my body began to bloat as prelude to death by starvation. My hunger was so overwhelming that stones looked like loaves of bread, and I wanted to chew bark and leaves. I prepared myself for death.
While we celebrate our holiday seasons – Christmas and Hannukah – people all over the world go hungry. Our armies bear down on innocent people we wish to displace in both Gaza and Iraq. Christmas cheer and commercialism goes out – yet the tanks roll and the airplanes drop their bombs. And in the havoc, people starve.
Starvation has always been the most effective weapon against other peoples. More people starved in the Soviet Union than were murdered by the NKVD. The numbers in Nazi Germany are probably similar. Likely death from overwork and hunger played the same role in the building of pyramids.
Dark stuff. What will wake mankind up and out of this murderous stupor?
We need to make a religion and an obligation of the reading of such war accounts. First to never forget what we have. Second to prevent us acceding to the ongoing oppression of others.
What do we get instead? An ongoing diet of war films and vilification of the Muslim world from Hollywood… The United States on a permanent war footing. Support the troops? Why should we be supporting an invading army? Support the troops means taking them out of other people’s countries where they involved in an ongoing war against a civilian population.
Other than that we are told to interest ourselves in our careers and our bank accounts. Individualism and commercialism. What little we feel should be in self-gratifying and narcissistic love affairs.
Let the people who know take care of political issues. How can you know anything about this? Do you live in Israel? Are you a friend of Sadam Hussein? Or any of the other trite talking points…
No, no and no are the answers. But I do recognise murder and I do understand oppression and I do know lies when I hear them. It is all enough to make one wish for an afterlife and a hell to be certain that those responsible for the depleted uranium shelling and white phospher attacks and the torture chambers will go to their just end.
One comfort of reading so much about the Second World War over the last few days is the knowledge that the Nazis did come to a just end in short period of time. What is more distressing is that Stalin and his henchmen got away with it and managed to stay in power for over thirty years.
Happily, Stalin for his malignant qualities was a lot more talented and charming than anyone in the Bush/Cheney administration, as the initial editor of Pravda and the author of a 16 tome collected works in his second language. British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden had this to say about post-war negotiations with Stalin:
Marshal Stalin as a negotiator was the toughest proposition of all. Indeed, after something like thirty years’ experience of international conferences of one kind and another, if I had to pick a team for going into a conference room, Stalin would be my first choice. Of course the man was ruthless and of course he knew his purpose. He never wasted a word. He never stormed, he was seldom even irritated.
December 30th, 2005 §
The other day I was wondering about the mechanisms of mass murder, particularly of soldiers. Why and how is it that men can be made to dig their own graves or why it is they would go along with their own destruction?
In the immediate, I was thinking of the state terrorism of the Bush/Cheney administration – in many cases, the subjects haven’t gone along with their own annihalation, witness the major prison revolt.
But a clearer cut historical example was the massacre of 25,000 Polish officers by the NKVD in Katyn forest?
How was it that the NKVD managed to murder so many military men – men who surely would and could defend themselves if they knew what was to befall them? Twenty-five thousand trained soldiers is a force to be reckoned with.
So I went to do some research. And found myself on quite a dark path.
First, while the Katyn Forest massacre is called that, there were actually three sites: Katyn near Smolensk, another near Tver and another near Moscow. At each of these sites approximately 5000 officers were murdered. Another seven thousand were killed in random locations.
The motivation behind the killings was simple. The Soviet political commissars had tried to politically reeducate these Polish Catholic officers with total failure. A decision was made to execute all of the officers.
While it is certainly easier to control and kill five thousand men than twenty five thousand, the major question remains. How does a small group of guards kill a massively more numerous group?
The solution is quite simple. The Polish officers were told that they were being moved elsewhere and set free. They were taken away in very small groups. Diaries exist from some of the very few Polish officers to escape execution. While the Katyn murders are taking place this is the kind of rumour that the NKVD floated in the camps:
News arrived today that 30 non-commissioned officers are departing for home. Who knows maybe I too will be at home shortly? We got supper late today–and then kipiatok and baked pumpkin suddenly appeared and I really ate my fill.
Of course, when they arrive in a forest and are led in groups of five or ten to the open grave where they are to be shot in the back of the head, there is not much to be done. Some of them were blindfolded, some were handcuffed. Those who struggle are bayoneted.
I read through the rest of the diary of the officer above – Leon Gladun – and discovered what Poland went through. First the division of Poland by the Germans and the Soviets – Poland was attacked simultaneously on both sides. On the Soviet side, there was collectivisation and imposition the Soviet order, total elimination of the Polish intellegentsia and bourgeoisie and mercantile class. On the German side, the Poles were considered untermenschen and scheduled for elimination.
Far from laying down arms and allowing the Germans to roll through Poland (think France), the Polish army fought back valiantly against a vastly overwhelming force and destroying 30% of German armour and inflicting 16,000 casualties on the German invaders.
After the very successful German attack on Russia in June of 1941, the Soviet Union decided to form a Polish army with the remains of the Polish POW’s. This Polish army fought valiantly in the Middle East and then in Italy. Many Polish pilots flew in the RAF. When the war was over, to placate Stalin no Polish divisions were allowed to march in any victory parades.
Not only Polish soldiers were imprisoned by the Soviets. The woman who was to become Leon Gladun’s wife, Janina Sulkowska wrote her own memoir covering her arrest and her odyssey through the Soviet gulags. It is worth reading. A lot of the latent Polish anti-semitism is explained in these pages.
The Poles watched the Soviet invaders with a mixture of revulsion and fear. Not a few of us cried. My brother became so distraught that shortly after, his hair began to come out in clumps while my little sister could only ask: “How could they do this?” But as disconcerting was the emergence of a local Jewish militia which was friendly to the Red Army and had made its appearance even before the enemy had marched in. Armed and organized, its first task was to arrest the students and Boy Scouts who had been posted as guards with old carbines in some cases taller than them. The Jews roughed up the shocked youngsters who had considered their captors as friends and classmates, before turning them over to the Soviets from whom they had prior directions. What was the fate of these young Poles? In many cases torture and death. This Jewish militia would help carry out the Soviet’s dirty work during their occupation. My family and others would fall victim to them.
In the German occupied territories, some argue that Poles returned the favour. This doesn’t seem a fair reflection of circumstance. Poles were the second largest single group of Holocaust victims, over two million Poles perished in concentration camps. The majority of Righteous gentiles honored at Yad Vashem are Poles.
The Polish underground was an ongoing nuisance to the Germans with apparently over 250,000 members. Poles produced their own automatic weapons and munitions underground. Outside of Poland after the fall of France, the Polish constituted was the second largest Allied armed force until the entry of the Americans with up to 250,000 soldiers. One of the Polish air squadrons had the highest number of kills in the battle of Britain. The Polish navy sailed with the British navy.
The contribution of the Poland to the Allied war effort is enormous. The efforts of Poles to trying to save Jews from the Nazis were amazing. The fate of Poland – left to Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union as war spoils – is a huge blot on England, France, Canada and the United States.
Amazingly, the Austrians got off more lightly than the Poles, allowed to finally become part of Western Europe after the partition. Austria who was part of the Third Reich, while Poland contributed to the Allied war effort in the skies, as underground partisans and as soldiers in Europe and North Africa.
Some days it is better not to pose oneself questions. The answers can be too shaking. To think in Canada, we were brought up on Polish jokes. Poland is perhaps the most tragic land in the history of the world. Divided, conquered, liberated, partitioned and decimated.
Considering what proportion of Poland’s elite have been lost to German concentration camps, Soviet gulags and emigration just in the last century, it is no wonder that Poland’s rebirth is taking some time.
If you have the time, I highly recommend reading the first hand accounts of Poland’s war at Poland’s Holocaust, both the Katyn diary and the Gulag and Holocaust Memoir.
December 28th, 2005 §
December 8th, 2005 §
Here is a photoset from the Saturday night goatrance party at the WUK in Vienna. The party was Finstere Zeiten. I’ve posted some of the best photos here with direct links to them in the set. You can comment on individual pictures over at the photosite.
Here is a pair of almost identical pictures, one shot with flash and one without.
Austrian GoaTrance photoset:
WUK 2005-12-04 Finstere Zeiten Continues »