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watching Trump’s downfall – follow the money

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veteran federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, bullish criminal fraud expert and key member of the Mueller team

Canto: The good thing about the Mueller investigation, or ‘special counsel enquiry’, is its broad terms of reference, as we Australians would describe it. The brief of the enquiry is to investigate any links and/or co-ordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump, and any matter that arose or may arise directly from the investigation…

Jacinta: So that would include obstructing justice, but I’m not sure that the firing of James Comey, then head of the FBI, in May 2017, will fit the ‘obstruction of justice’ category.

Canto: But the FBI were investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, and Trump more or less admitted, just after firing Comey, that it was because of the ‘Russia thing’.

Jacinta: ‘More or less’ isn’t good enough, and it could be argued that justice wasn’t obstructed because Comey’s firing led directly to the Mueller investigation.

Canto: Okay forget obstructing justice, at least for now, I was going to talk about money. That’s to say, matters arising directly from the investigation. That’s how Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were indicted. They were lobbying for the pro-Russian faction in Ukraine, in particular the disgustingly villainous Viktor Yanukovych, but were involved, not incidentally, in massive money-laundering schemes. So they’re in big trouble, and it’s well known that Trump and his family are up to their ears in Russian money, and if Trump’s finances aren’t dodgy, then the term dodgy surely has no meaning. Mueller’s team, detailed here, ‘possess a vast array of experience investigating financial fraud, corruption, money laundering, foreign bribery, and organized crime’. A perfect bunch to catch out Trump.

Jacinta: You’re making a few assumptions here about Trump’s corruption. Yes he’s a bullshit artist, he doesn’t have any normal concept of the truth, he’s ignorant, he’s inhumane, he’s a bully and much more. That doesn’t make him a criminal. If he was involved in the kind of activities Manafort was involved in, he surely would’ve been indicted by now.

Canto: They may have enough to indict him, but doing so would bring the investigation to a spectacular halt. His indictment might be the cherry on the cake, the last thing to add. First they’ll be spiralling in on the family, Kushner and Trump Jr…

Jacinta: You’re sounding like the most optimistic anti-Trump pundit, imagining they already have mountains of evidence, they’re just adding to the pile to make this the most spectacular house-of-cards downfall in US history, for which their names (I mean the Mueller team) will be covered in eternal glory. I’m a little sceptical.

Canto: Trump has never produced his tax returns and I’m assuming he has much to hide. His companies declared bankruptcy four times in the early nineties, and two more times in the 2000s. It came to the point where the only bank that would lend to him was Deutsche Bank, a financial institution that was at the same time heavily into laundering Russian money. And it’s no secret that Trump and his family are heavily indebted to Russian oligarchs – super-rich members of Putin’s kleptocracy. Naturally they’re expecting a quid pro quo. This is where the interference lies – Trump’s indebtedness and the Russian government’s expectations.

Jacinta: But has Russia really benefitted, apart from Trump’s fawning over Putin? There was talk of the Trump administration going easy on Russia in exchange for dirt on Clinton, but it hasn’t actually happened has it? Trump’s personal indebtedness to Russians, if proven, doesn’t prove that he or his team conspired with Russians to subvert the US political/democratic system. I mean, there’s no doubt the Russians have been trying to subvert the American, and British and French and other western governments, and they were working toward a Trump victory in 2016 for obvious reasons, but whether or not they conspired directly with the Trump team, that’s unclear. Certainly the Russians would’ve tried to, but did they actually succeed, and what evidence has there been of a quid pro quo?

Canto: We don’t know, but it’s likely that Mueller’s team does. They’ve subpoenaed Deutsche Bank for documents relating to Trump and his family’s finances, though this has been denied by Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow. Deutsche Bank is about the only major bank in the world willing to lend to Trump, and it was found guilty of laundering some $10 billion dollars of Russian money last year. Kushner received a loan of $285 million from Deutsche Bank in 2016, just before election day. The Mueller investigators will know much much more about this than we or any reporters do. It’s about connecting the dots, to quote one reporter, between the Trump and Kushner finances, Deutsche Bank and Putin and his billionaire kleptocrats. Apparently Trump and his companies have received no less than $3.5 billion in loans and loan-guarantee agreements from Deutsche Bank since 1998. It’s impossible to believe that Mueller’s lawyers aren’t shining all sorts of lights on all this murkiness and making more sense of it than has ever been made before. I look forward to the next indictment. It might be the most fateful one yet.

Jacinta: Okay, here’s a question. What exactly is money laundering?

Canto: Well, as the term suggests, it’s about turning dirty money into apparently clean stuff. Ill-gotten into ‘legit’. Though the term has become envaguened in recent years,

Jacinta: Good word.

Canto: Thanks, so now it just about covers all kinds of dodgy financial dealings, including terrorist financing. But the key, usually, is to give the appearance of legitimacy to money obtained illegally or wrongfully. And of course the variety of ways this can be done is just about endless. So let me tell you about the Deutsche Bank ‘mirror trade’ system. It was about accepting two trades at once that looked essentially equal and opposite, one in roubles, the other in dollars or other western currencies. These trades looked innocuous but their real purpose was to convert money, and to shift it out of Russia. This, inter alia, helped to ‘clean up’ the money, which was more often than not of dubious origin, given Putin’s kleptocracy.

Jacinta: Just a quick read of Deutsche Bank’s history reveals scandal after scandal, a history of corruption – fraud, price manipulation and so on… which makes me long to get off the topic of money-grubbing and kleptomania and political jiggery-pokery and back to sciencey subjects. I’ve had enough.

Canto: Okay, I’ll try to get my mind off the Trump spectacle – what will happen will happen. No more, I promise – for a while. Just let me end with a list of dictators Trump has lavished praise on. Of course there’s Russia’s Putin and Duterte of the Philippines, but there’s also Nursultan Nazarbayev, dictator of Kazakhstan for the last 25 years; Xi Jinping, long-time leader and now dictator of China, lover of execution and other forms of repression; Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Egypt’s new repressive macho-man; Recep Erdogan, the Turkish bag of shit; and he’s expressed approval of Kim Jong Un and even Saddam Hussein. In fact, anybody who doesn’t seize power for himself (no women allowed) and hold onto it for a long time is considered a lightweight…

Jacinta: Okay calm down, let’s look at different sorts of power in the future…

 

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Written by stewart henderson

January 4, 2018 at 10:53 am

watching Trump’s downfall – a new civil war?

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Putain and Frump chat about the best Russian hidey-holes cum 2018

Canto: So maybe I’m getting a bit over-excited about the Trump mess. I’m already getting nervous about my prediction that he’ll have fled to exile in Russia by next year.

Jacinta: That was your prediction?

Canto: Well, no I just thought of that one, but he’ll be out of office. The thing is, it’s the Mueller probe that’s most likely to nail him, and I’m being forced to defer to lawyers who predict that Mueller’s team won’t be completed until 2019 or beyond.

Jacinta: Hope deferred makes the heart sick.

Canto: Still, there are other possibilities. His popularity is the lowest of any Prez after a year in office since polling began, by a long way. It’s a slow, steady decline, and if it continues that way it’ll be well down in the twenties by late next year, and that may mirror his fall, slow and steady.

Jacinta: Though hopefully with no soft landing.

Canto: Well if he’s out of power it couldn’t possibly be soft. And I don’t mean weakened by the mid-term elections, I mean out the door.

Jacinta: Well the Republicans have just passed what many are calling a truly terrible tax bill, and people are already taking to the streets. And considering that Trump himself is going to benefit massively from it, while the have-nots and have-littles, many of whom voted for Trump, have been screwed, it may be that this time his base will shrink more than he ever thought it could.

Canto: Yes, there might be fighting in the streets. And here’s where Trump’s over-confident arrogance might just kill him off. He’s made a dangerous promise to campaign heavily towards the mid-terms next year, because he thinks he alone can fix it, that’s to say he can bring his ratings up with the same bullshit that he used last year. The same aggression, the same fake promises, the same conspiracy theories, the same hate speech. But his base, or maybe his ex-base, won’t have seen any improvement in their lives, the circus will have lost a lot of its glitz and the opposition will be mobilised to protest, to drown him out. It could turn ugly, and as fewer people buy into his shite…

Jacinta: The shrinking base will get tougher and angrier, and it’ll be the confederates and the union all over again. Or something.

Canto: Well, war of a kind is brewing, because the rhetoric, especially from the far right, is getting apocalyptic. Mueller and the FBI and the DoJ are in the process of launching a coup, they should be marched out of their lawyerly hidey-holes in cuffs, we have to act now to stop this show trial, that sort of thing.

Jacinta: And some say this is getting orchestrated, or at least egged on, by the White House. Trump junior even got in on the act the other day. He apparently likes to talk about rigged systems and a sinister Deep State…

Canto: The one responsible for September 11?

Jacinta: Yes, and contrails and the fake moon landings and the assassination of JFK and AIDS. The one running the USA and the world from bunkers deep beneath the Rocky Mountains. Anyway the Deep State is now a kind of anti-Trump, similar to the Anti-Christ, out to destroy the Prez.

Canto: Though he’s doing a pretty good job of that himself. And all the adults are saying that Mueller’s a consummate professional and his team won’t be fazed by the baying hounds, but I’m just wondering whether things might get out of control if they don’t produce something positive soon, like an indictment of Kushner, or a summons to Trump himself.

Jacinta: But wouldn’t that just set the Trumpets blaring?

Canto: Not if it was a solid indictment, or a well-worded summons. Of course plenty of Trumpets would blare, and Fox News would howl…

Jacinta: Do foxes howl?

Canto: Yes and they bark and scream and gekker and it’s all pretty hair-raising, but the Trumpets are definitely more dangerous. But anyway I think the drama that would follow the next big Mueller move would be nothing compared to the drama that would follow a move against Mueller, by the White House or a GOP faction.

Jacinta: A number of prominent Dems consider that the holiday break would be an ideal time for Trump to make a move, and they’re issuing warnings. What do you think?

Canto: I think these warnings are tactically sound, though they’re also heartfelt. They really feel this is a fight for democracy. I don’t think Trump would have done anything, but these Democrats speaking up helps to assure that.

Jacinta: Well if Trump does act the civil war may begin with the ‘nobody is above the law‘ rallies. Heard of them?

Canto: Yes a bipartisan organisation that’s set to mobilise protesters around the nation from the moment that Mueller is sacked. So they’ve learned from the past, but the Trumpets should’ve learned too. I don’t think there will be another Saturday night massacre.

Jacinta: No, and I think Trump’s trickier than you might think – he seems to slime his way out of a lot of situations that would see others in prison, and I think he’ll manage somehow to slime his way out of having to swear to anything on oath. But I don’t think he’ll ever manage to slime his way back into popularity again. I would love it if the people got him.

Canto: Like Mussolini?

Jacinta: A pleasant fantasy but let’s be civilised. An uprising so relentless as to make his administration completely unworkable.

Canto: So a night-flight to Russia mightn’t be out of the question then?

Jacinta: Well I can only think of two things that would undo him, a popular uprising or a situation in which he’s forced, personally, to tell the truth.

Canto: But there’s a third. Being forced to reveal his finances.

Jacinta: Well I include that in the second. Being forced to tell the truth about his finances.

Canto: I’m getting impatient, waiting for the DoJ’s next move. I heard they were going to interview Trump’s lawyers, who keep trying to calm him down, like with this idea that he’s about to be exonerated.

Jacinta: Which is silly. I’m pretty sure the investigation will get to Trump, but not until they’ve built up a really solid case. And they won’t be asking him to sit down to a friendly interview, as was reported on somewhat speculatively back in October. Anyway, a few days ago the press were all over this story about the Mueller team interviewing Trump’s lawyers, but I’ve heard nothing since.

Canto: The DoJ won’t be leaking anything about it if it takes place. The White House leaks like the Titanic, but it’s all bullshit.

Jacinta: I think obfuscation’s a better word. Yes you won’t be able to trust anything they say, but Trump’s mood might be revealing.

Canto: Not necessarily. You’re assuming the lawyers will relay to Trump the truth about their meeting. Better to assume the opposite.

Jacinta: What a tangled web they weave. Maybe a public uprising will cut the Gordon knot.

Canto: Most obscurantly put Jacinta. Most obscurantly.

Written by stewart henderson

December 24, 2017 at 8:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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watching Trump’s downfall – waiting for Mueller

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Trump’s rating, from Gallup. Opinion polls differ on Trump’s precise rating, but all show a steady decline throughout the year

Canto: So let’s have fun talking about the craziest political administration in my long lifetime, and where it’s going.

Jacinta: Not fun for everyone, not fun for women, non-whites, the poor, scientists, the judiciary, sick people, intellectuals, the FBI, net start-ups…

Canto: But not so bad for people who don’t actually live in the USA…

Jacinta: Rubbish. The abandonment of net neutrality in the USA will affect access to net content in Australia and elsewhere, with much more control going to established providers, and this administration’s anti-science stupidity will affect Australian scientists working or wanting to work in the USA.

Canto: Okay, not so bad for me. Especially as I’m confident that Trump will be out on his arse within months.

Jacinta: So how do you think that will happen?

Canto: Well right now, Trump is being pressured by his base via Fox News to sack the head of the Special Enquiry, Robert Mueller. This is funny in itself because they don’t explain how this can be done and they don’t look at the consequences. So they seem to be unwittingly precipitating Trump’s downfall.

Jacinta: How so?

Canto: Well imagine Trump takes the advice of Fox – advice that he himself is urging them to provide. Trump apparently hasn’t the  capacity to sack Mueller directly, much to his chagrin. This must come from the Attorney-General, Jefferson Sessions, but he has recused himself from this whole issue, so the job falls to his deputy, Rob Rosenstein, who very recently made it clear that he wouldn’t sack Mueller without just cause. And he stated clearly only a week or so ago that he didn’t see any just cause at that time.

Jacinta: But since then members of the Trump transition team and GOP pro-Trumpers…

Canto: I prefer to call them Trumpets, very noisy ones.

Jacinta: Okay, a few Trumpets are making a big noise about Mueller’s team having obtained the transition team’s emails illegally, a claim strenuously denied by a spokesman for Mueller.

Canto: And other independent law experts have argued that the Trumpets are blowing hot air on this. And think about it, this enquiry is investigating collusion between the transition team and Russian officials, collusion to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. What would be the first evidence they’d want to look at? Communications of course. Emails. So if there was no collusion, why would the the transition team be complaining about a collecting and investigating of emails?

Jacinta: Yes, you’d think they’d be handing over their emails and texts voluntarily. Nothing to see here, see?

Canto: Right, so Rosenstein won’t agree to sack Mueller, so he’d have to be sidelined somehow, and Trump would have to go down the line to find someone to sack Mueller, which by the way wouldn’t stop the enquiry from proceeding. And I’ve heard from experts that there aren’t too many down the line who would have the authority to sack Mueller, so he might reach a dead end there, and imagine all the adverse publicity a mess like that would create.

Jacinta: For Mister 32%. But I’ve heard that Mueller could be sacked by Presidential privilege, and that it could happen sooner rather than later, which could be the real beginning of the end for Trump. If Congress doesn’t react to that, the general public might.

Canto: Right, if Trump manages to fire Trump directly – and we know how he loves doing that – he’ll want to shut down the whole enquiry, citing ‘there’s no collusion, no collusion, it’s obvious folks, so obvious’, and there’s no way he’ll carry the general public on that one. A recent survey says that 68% of them disapprove of his response to the probe already, and that percentage will jump if he takes direct action, surely.

Jacinta: Well I’ve also just heard, through the cable news networks we’ve been consuming like popcorn lately, that Trump is expecting a letter of exoneration from the Mueller team soon. Where he got this idea from nobody quite knows – lawyers are saying nobody gets letters of exoneration from these types of enquiries. they publish their final findings and that’s it. It’s possible though that he got the idea from his own lawyers, or more likely from a garbled self-serving interpretation of what they’ve been telling him. Trump’s private lawyers are due to meet with the Mueller team next week, and they may have suggested to him that this is a sign that the enquiry is winding up.

Canto: Fat chance of that. Or should I say, my god I hope not. But it’s unlikely for a number of reasons. First, his former national security advisor Michael Flynn, a very close associate and friend of Trump, has pled guilty to a number of relatively minor charges as part of a plea bargain he’s made with the Mueller probe, and most lawyers I’ve listened to are quite certain Mueller will have gotten valuable information on collusion from Flynn, and possibly also Papadopoulos. That would probably implicate Kushner as well as Trump himself. It’s also a well-known fact that Trump’s finances are tied up with Russia and have been for decades. He’s clearly beholden to Russian interests, which is why he’s so sensitive to the collusion issue.

Jacinta: I have one word to add. Deutschebank.

Canto: I think it’s two words actually, but yes Deutsche Bank has been subpoenaed to produce Trump’s financial records. I’m sure they’d be very revealing, especially considering Trump’s fawning attitude to Putin, one of the world’s most ruthless dictators. This is one of the least publicised points in the case, and it may well be the one point that crushes Trump.

Jacinta: And it could take the Department of Justice about a year just to sort through that mess. But can Trump himself be subpoenaed? I can’t imagine him testifying under oath without committing perjury after perjury.

Canto: I believe Trump can be subpoenaed, and he’s said he’s perfectly willing to testify under oath, without being subpoenaed, but of course that was just one of his lovely bubbles, and I suspect his head would explode if he really was forced to tell the truth. Not out of anger, but out of ‘that does not compute’ confusion. He doesn’t understand the meaning of the word.

Jacinta: Yes I don’t think he’d go willingly into that lion’s den. But this is one of the frustrations for me. The Trumpets want this enquiry to end soon, preferably with Mueller and his team going straight to jail, but most lawyers and independents believe it’s far from over and may stretch into 2019. So the frustration is that I want to see Trump meet his demise asap, but I know that an investigation that brings down a sitting President has to be more thorough than thorough. And if, say, charges are brought against Kushner or Trump junior in the near future, the Trumpets will blare out for the investigation to be investigated, and Trump’s rage will make him more unhinged and incoherent than ever. That itself may bring about a national crisis…

Canto: Yes, well that’s where the fun begins, for us in our faraway ivory tower…

Fox Trumpets

Written by stewart henderson

December 20, 2017 at 8:05 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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the tides – a massive potential resource?

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A floating tidal turbine, Orkney islands, as seen on Fully Charged

A recent episode of Fully Charged, the Brit video series on the sources and harnessing of clean energy, took us again to the very windy Orkney Isles at the top of Scotland to have a look at some experimental work being done on generating energy from tidal forces. When you think of it, it seems a no-brainer to harness the energy of the tides. They’re regular, predictable, unceasing, and in some places surely very powerful. Yet I’ve never heard of them being used on an industrial scale.

Of course, I’m still new to this business, so the learning curve continues steep. Tide mills have been used historically here and there, possibly even since Roman times, and tidal barrages have been operating since the sixties, the first and for a long time the largest being the La Rance plant, off the coast of Brittany, generating 240 MW. A slightly bigger one has recently been built in Korea (254 MW).

But tidal barrages – not what they’re testing in the Orkneys – come with serious environmental impact issues. They’re about building a barrage across a bay or estuary with a decent tidal flow. The barrage acts as a kind of adjustable dam, with sluice gates that open and close, and additional pumping when necessary. Turbines generate energy from pressure and height differentials, as in a hydro-electric dam. Research on the environmental impact of these constructions, which can often be major civil engineering projects, has revealed mixed results. Short-term impacts are often devastating, but over time one type of diversity has been replaced by another.

Anyway, what’s happening in the Orkneys is something entirely different. The islanders, the Scottish government and the EU are collaborating through an organisation called EMEC, the European Marine Energy Centre, to test tidal power in the region. They appear to be inviting innovators and technicians to test their projects there. A company called ScotRenewables, for example, has developed low-maintenance floating tidal turbines with retractable legs, one of which is currently being tested in the offshore waters. They’re designed to turn with the ebb and flood tides to maximise their power generation. It’s a 2 MW system, which of course could be duplicated many times over in the fashion of wind turbines, to generate hundreds if not thousands of megawatts. The beauty of the system is its reliability – as the tidal flow can be reliably predicted at least eighteen years into the future, according to the ScotRenewables CEO. This should provide a sense of stability and confidence to downstream suppliers. Also, floating turbines could easily be removed if they’re causing damage, or if they require maintenance. Clearly, the effect on the tidal system would be minimal compared to an estuarine barrage, though there are obvious dangers to marine life getting too close to turbines. The testing of these turbines is coming to an end and they’ve been highly successful so far, though they already have an improved turbine design in the wings, which can be maintained either in situ or in dock. The design can also be scaled down, or up, to suit various sites and conditions.

rotors are on retractable legs, to protect from storms, etc

Other quite different turbine types are being tested in the region, with a lot of government and public support, but I got the slight impression that commercial support for this kind of technology is somewhat lacking. In the Fully Charged video on this subject (to which I owe most of this info), Robert Llewelyn asked the EMEC marketing manager whether she thought tidal or wave energy had the greatest future potential (she opted for wave). My ears pricked up, as wave energy is another newie for me. Duh. Another post, I suppose.

As mentioned though in this video, a lot of the developments in this tidal technology have come from shipbuilding technology, from offshore oil and gas technology, and from maritime technology more generally, as well as modern wind turbine technology, further impressing on me that skills are transferable and that the cheap clean energy revolution won’t be the economic/employment disaster that the fossil fuel dinosaurs predict. It’s a great time for innovation, insight and foresight, and I can only hope that more government and business people in Australia, where I seem to be stuck, can get on board.

fixed underwater tidal turbine being tested off the Orkney Islands

Written by stewart henderson

October 11, 2017 at 6:27 am

Limi girl: part 4

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Canto: In the next scene, Heigo returns home to find Shugio helping his mother with some chores, and accuses her of sucking up. She cheerfully acknowledges the fact, and mocks his sense of outrage. Heigo tells her he hates her, Shugio says she likes him. When Heigo’s mother sees them disputing, Shugio makes light of it. Next, we see Xiumei selling her collected fleece-flower and gentian, while Heigo dolefully watches her.

Jacinta: We might say ‘stalking’, but it seems a mite unfair in the context. She’s travelling through the rugged neighbourhood with her laden donkey, he’s following at a distance. Then, while fording a stream, she drops her bag in the water. Heigo to the rescue! They both chase the bag downstream, but Heigo gets to it first. Xiumei has no option but to be grateful, and she lets him accompany her…

Canto: It doesn’t really look like a reconciliation. They arrive at a kind of trading post, with young women exchanging goods for money. I think Shugio’s one of them. Abuse and admonitions rain down on Xiumei and ‘Shugio’s Heigo’ for being shamefully together. Xiumei is tearfully mad… She arrives home in a fury, having apparently shaken off her wannabe lover.

Jacinta: Her parents, sitting together husking corn, see something’s up. Her mother goes to her, and Xiumei just bawls in her arms. But soon after, she’s back at work, sorting out her baskets of herbs and roots, while her father watches from behind, at a loss as to how to help his daughter.

Canto: And in the next scene the father is visiting a school. We find that he’s asked her former teacher to come and talk to Xiumei. So the teacher comes to her home, expresses sorrow that things haven’t worked out for her, and offers her work as a substitute teacher. But she declines, she wants to pass the exam and leave her village once more. ‘It’s not easy for you or your father,’ he says, but she’s determined, though apologetic, even fearful.

Jacinta: So our brave heroine is next seen on the hills, dancing with young Gaidi, finding reasons to be cheerful, but of course Heigo is lurking. He approaches them, and Xiumei tells him the good news that her old teacher has promised to help were with a student loan if she passes her exam. Heigo looks none too happy about this, but Gaidi invites him to dance.

Canto: And surprise surprise, there they are innocently dancing when who should happen along but Shugio…

Jacinta: Some cinematic conventions are inevitable. Ahhh, but it turns out not to be Shugio… these village girls look much the same in their native costume. It’s another village girl who then hurries back to tell Shugio that ‘her’ Heigo is dancing and hugging with Xiumei – something of an exaggeration. Shugio jumps on her motorbike…

Canto: So it’s her motorbike after all. At least we’ve sorted one thing out…

Jacinta: But it won’t start. So she heads off on foot. She finds the three of them dancing together, and tries to separate them, talking of shamelessness, which naturally riles Xiumei. ‘Who do you think you are?’ yells Heigo. ‘I’m your fiancée,’ is Shugio’s tearful reply, (so goes the translation, though I suspect the romantic French word doesn’t quite capture it. Maybe betrothed?). Heigo looks put-upon and unimpressed, Xiumei, doesn’t want to know, and Shugio just runs off. It’s becoming tragic.

Canto: Not to mention claustrophobic. In the next scene we see Xiumei’s father, feeding the donkey, and Shugio turns up – presumably straight from the dancing altercation, saying ‘Uncle’. So they’re all a bit close for comfort. He invites her to come inside, and that’s where the scene ends. We can imagine… And so in the next scene Heigo is sitting having a drink with a friend, in the dark, under a full moon. ‘Wumulong is so beautiful’, says the friend, and I think he’s talking about their village. Heigo says, everyone wants to leave, and then they come back, then they want to leave again… He’s talking about the younger gen, no doubt. His friend (or is it his cousin), though, gives him no comfort, saying it’s natural for people to miss their homes. Heigo goes on, speaking about why people leave, but his friend keeps bringing him back home, to the right place, to belonging.

Jacinta: Outside of this dark circle of conversation is a young child, and, presumably, a wife, his friend’s wife. The woman, barely seen, is saying ‘go back to sleep’, but the child says no, no, no, no, louder and louder, and the defiant sound rings in Heigo’s defiant ears. It’s a nicely-caught moment from the director. I like this director.

Canto: The talk turns to Xiumei and Shugio, and again Heigo’s advised, in spite of his feelings, to stick with Shugio as ‘your daily necessity. You’ll understand in the future’. The whole scene emphasises Heigo’s isolation.

Jacinta: We next find Heigo arriving at Xiumei’s place – it’s quite confusing who lives where in this film, and their actual kin relations! Xiumei has locked herself in, and her mother is trying to interest her in some dinner. Heigo addresses Xiumei’s mother as ‘aunty’, and she tells Heigo that, after Shugio’s visit in which she told ‘everything’!?, Xiumei’s father scolded her (Xiumei). Heigo tries to communicate with Xiumei, but gets nowhere, and then her father asks to talk to him. Clearly this isn’t going to turn out well for poor Heigo.

Canto: Yes so Heigo has to endure the expected. Family reputation is the most important thing for Limi people, the elder says, and one day Xiumei, too, will marry (assuming of course that Heigo must marry Shugio. So, the elder says, if you really feel for Xiumei, you must simply help her towards a bright future.

Jacinta: Though what about Heigo’s future, forced to marry someone he doesn’t love? But Heigo, who is generally respectful to his elders – apart maybe from his mother – says that he understands, and the conversation ends. Has he really given up on Xiumei? As for that ‘family reputation’ thing, it makes me think of honour killings and the like. But this is how marriage was in other times, and is in other places…

Canto: And the elder’s statement that Xiumei too will marry, as if it’s the family’s decision, not hers, that’s kind of chilling to a western viewer. In the next scene, the wedding is being arranged by the adults, with Shugio present. The snare is tightening. And we learn in this conversation that Heigo’s father died when he was young – this explains his obstinacy, his mother apologises.

Jacinta: Next we find Xiumei visiting houses with her donkey, wanting to buy medicinal herbs for some reason. And then we switch to Gaidi in another part of the neighbourhood, being teased by some children as a ‘Szichuan girl’, but then Heigo arrives saying he’s bought a new ‘car’, though it’s actually a motorbike, and he offers her a ride, which she gladly accepts. The point of this scene, I now realise, is that Heigo has asserted his independence from Shugio by buying his own bike rather than riding hers. Switch back to Xiumei, who encounters another young woman on the mountain trail. It’s someone who was her classmate in elementary school, though Xiumei doesn’t recognise her at first. It’s been ten years. They walk the trail chatting, talking about Xiumei’s studies and the problems of working and studying, and the gossip about Heigo. It’s Xiumei’s classmate who does most of the talking. After a while, Xiumei tells her she should go, back to her husband. Her old friend complies, and then she turns back, and says, ‘Xiumei, you must go back to college, don’t end up having a life like mine!’ I’ve seen this film a few times now, and this scene gets me every time. The music comes on to heighten the significance of the moment, and it’s painfully effective, damn it.

Canto: Yes it’s a key moment, Xiumei watches her friend’s retreating back, no doubt feeling she’s carrying more than her own hopes into the future. So Xiumei wends her way home, to find Gaidi waiting for her. Uncle is sick, she says, and he’s been taken to the hospital.

Jacinta: That must be Xiumei’s dad? She rushes off to the hospital, and we see her confusion as she negotiates the wards. She finds Heigo and her mother. The doctor says he needs an operation, and asks for payment. Xiumei rushes off again to make the payment… is this money she has saved?

Canto: But we don’t see her make the payment, all we get is that it costs 1600 RMB, and next we find her visiting Shugio, in a desperate bid for money. Shugio is drying herbs and tries to ignore her, but when Xiumei kneels before her, Shugio quickly relents, and pays her 500 RMB for a few herbs. She has to force Xiumei to take all the money, and then turns her back when Xiumei tries to thank her.

Jacinta: Though of course she’s concerned. So back at the hospital, Xiumei is feeding and tending to her father. Devotion and tenderness, with all the underlying tensions…

Canto: So here ends part 4 of our near-endless review, or walk-through, of this very interesting movie. We will wrap it up in part 5.

 

Written by stewart henderson

September 26, 2017 at 8:52 am

on the Rohingyas, and introducing the first of many heroes, Wai Wai Nu

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Wai Wai Nu, a Rohingya woman, a feminist, a democrat, and a humanist, working to bring communities together in the Arakan region, Myanmar

I haven’t posted for a bit, as I was writing a lengthy piece on the Rohingyas, their history and their plight, but I’ve decided to abandon that as there are many others, investigative journalists, historians and the like, who could do a far better job. Of course the main purpose of my writing is to inform myself, but I soon found, with this Rohingya business, it’s the same old story of ‘they don’t belong here’ ultranationalists, and the political expediency of national leaders who need the support of these types, together with the carping of neighbours who have their own nationalist agendas and sordid histories.

So I want to be more brief and positive, and of course feminist (though I’ll leave references to the more interesting analyses I’ve read about the situation), and write about one heroine who has been inspired by her experiences to do something about this.

I’m thinking this could be the first of many posts about women setting great examples in the world.

Wai Wai Nu is a young Rohingya woman who, as an 18-year-old law student, was imprisoned, along with other family members, by the military dictators of Myanmar in 2005, at a time when thousands of people were locked up for opposing the junta, or indeed for any trivial reason. She was sentenced to 17 years, but was finally released in 2012. She was then able to complete her law degree, but she has described her years of incarceration in an infamous prison as her true university years, years spent among the victimised poor. Having said that, she comes from a political, pro-democratic family, her father having been elected to parliament in 1990, an odd fact considering that a citizenship law of 1982 rendered the Rohingyas officially stateless, which they’ve been ever since – and other laws enacted since have denied them every right that they might possibly be entitled to, including even the right to call themselves Rohingyas.

In recent years Wai Wai has founded two NGOs promoting peace and women’s rights, the Women’s Peace Network – Arakan, and Justice for Women, a legal aid support group for women in Myanmar. Her work is the kind of work women have done for decades at the coal-face, educating the next generation, promoting inter-faith dialogue, empowering women and the poor, and bringing disparate communities together, while being mocked or ignored by bully-boy nationalists with their generally sickening and infantile agendas (but ok, I’m beginning to sound like a bully boy myself…). I would highly recommend listening to this softly spoken but determined woman’s speech at the Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway in May this year.

Rohingyas in Arakan aren’t allowed an identity, and have no freedom of movement outside of Arakan province. They’re not even allowed to marry outside their own group, as that would obviously complicate matters re their extinction within Myanmar. The current aim of the national government appears to be to force them out of the country altogether, but this is as unlikely to be successful as the attempt to assimilate (and so dilute to the point of non-existence) Australia’s indigenous population by earlier governments here. So it will be a long struggle, but with people like Wai Wai Nu doing the kind of work she does, and the ongoing struggles and activities of those she has inspired, we have good reason to hope for a fairer future for the Rohingyas, and for women throughout Myanmar. And here’s hoping Wai Wai Nu doesn’t enter politics, where her talents are likely to be compromised… or maybe not…

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rohingya_persecution_in_Myanmar_(2016–present)

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/world-news/qa-violence-and-human-rights-in-myanmar/articleshow/60509673.cms

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persecution_of_Muslims_in_Myanmar

http://www.newmandala.org/the-root-cause-of-rohingya-persecution/

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-18395788

Written by stewart henderson

September 17, 2017 at 2:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

nones, rinos and new australians – we’re becoming more secular, but also more religiously complex

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So the census data on religion, and everything else, has just come out, and it wasn’t as I’d predicted (in my mind). I expected a rise in the nones but I opted for a more conservative result, partly because of so many wrong predictions (in my mind) in the recent past, but mainly because I didn’t really expect the accelerating rise in recent censuses to continue for too much longer, I expected a few wobbles on the path to heathenism. Not so much two steps forward and one step back, more like a mixture of giant strides and baby steps.

So the result is encouraging and more people are taking note and it has clear implications for areas of social and political policies in which religion plays a part, such as funding for religion in schools, marriage equality, abortion rights, euthanasia, tax exemptions for religious organisations, school chaplains and the like.

So let’s take a closer look at the findings. The graph I present at the top of this post is identical to the one I posted about 5 years ago, except that the last bar, representing the 2016 figures, is added. And it’s quite a spectacular finding, showing that the acceleration is continuing. The drop in the assertively Christian sector is way bigger than expected (in my mind), from a little under 60% to just over 50%. That’s really something, and there’s no doubt that figure will be well under 50% by next census. So much for the twilight of atheism – at least in this benighted backwater. The figure for the assertively non-religious has taken a bigger jump than in any previous census – we only started measuring the category in 1971. That was a surprise, as was the size of the drop in Catholics (and the Anglican population continues to diminish). The figure of 30.1% for the nones, up from 22.3% in 2011, should be supplemented by a goodly percentage of the ‘not-stated/inadequately described’ category, which makes up about 10%, barely changed from last census. This would make for a figure of more than a third of our population professing no religion.

The figure for ‘other religions’ continues to rise but it’s still under 10%. It’s hardly cause for concern exactly, but we should always be vigilant about maintaining a thoroughly secular polity and judiciary. It has served us, and other secular countries, very well indeed. Meanwhile the mix of other religions makes for greater complexity and diversity, and hopefully will prevent the dominance of any particular religious perspective. We should encourage dialogue between these groups to prevent religious balkanisation.

These results really do give hope that the overall ‘no religion’ figure, now at around 30%, will overtake the overall Christian figure, at about 51%, in my lifetime. If the trend continues to accelerate, that may well happen by 2026. Meanwhile it’ll be fascinating to see how these results play out in the political and social arena in the near future, and what Christian apologists have to say about them.

Of course, the census hardly provides a fine-grained view of the nation’s religious affiliations. I’ve not said much about the ‘rino’ population before – that’s those who are ‘religious in name only’. In fact I only heard that acronym for the first time two days ago, but I’ve long been aware of the type, and I’ve met a few ‘Catholics’ who fit the bill. It really does gripe me that more of these people don’t come out as non-believers, but of course I can’t get inside their heads. Certainly church attendance has dropped markedly in recent years, but it’s impossible to know whether these nominal believers would follow religious lines on hot-button topics like euthanasia or abortion.

The census results, as always, have been published with accompanying ‘expert’ commentaries, and on the religious question they’ve said that the figures don’t really give comfort to Christians or atheists. It’s cloud cuckoo talk, but it doesn’t surprise me. The results speak volumes and give plenty of comfort to those who want religion to be kept well out of politics, and who never want to see a return to powerful Christian lobbies and their incessant and often ridiculous propaganda. Politicians, please take note.