an autodidact meets a dilettante…

‘Rise above yourself and grasp the world’ Archimedes – attribution

Posts Tagged ‘Russia

on the history and future of human beans…

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… the oldest skull normally assigned to our species is almost 200,000 years old. It was found at Omo Valley in Ethiopia in the African rift valley. (In June 2017, human remains from Morocco were dated to 300,000 years ago, but their exact relationship to us remains uncertain).

David Christian, Origin Story p169

Canto: Dating the first Homo sapiens will always be difficult (I mean determining her provenance, not going out with her) because, like the first lion (Panthera Leo) or the first red kangaroo (Osphranter rufus) or whatever, she had parents, and great-grandparents, so when does any species actually begin? But apart from that taxonomic issue, the whole issue of dating, and classifying, hominins is obviously complicated by the dearth of fossil finds. In my reading and listening, the 200,000 year number usually crops up, in spite of the finding cited by Christian, which we’ve known about for some time. The Morocco site, specifically the archaeological site known as Jebel Irhoud, has yielded fossil remains since at least the early seventies, but a paper in Nature, published in 2017, relating to new finds at the site, controversially claimed a date of 315,000 years ago for skull, face and jaw bones of H sapiens…

Jacinta: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and it seems to me that the claims about early hominins, and especially the first of our species, will always be hotly contested because of that lack of evidence. Both the place, Morocco, and that early date are outside the known parameters for the earliest H sapiens. 

Canto: But Chris Stringer, a palaeoanthropologist of some repute, appears half-convinced, arguing that, with the new finds and better dating methods, ‘the Jebel Irhoud bones stand firmly on the H. sapiens lineage’. However, it’s not easy to find much discussion online about it since 2017. I did find a full copy of the June 2017 Nature article, referenced below, and the Smithsonian appears to be taking the older date as established. I quote from their website:

During a time of dramatic change 300,000 years ago, Homo sapiens evolved in Africa.

They don’t cite any evidence though. I mean, 100,000 years is quite a big gap. I presume there’s been a big search on in Morocco in recent years. The Smithsonian site also tells me most palaeontologists reckon H heidelbergensis is our direct ancestor, but the evidence is frustratingly scant.

Jacinta: Also, what does it mean to be human? I’ve often mentioned our hyper-social nature as something that sets humans apart, but were we hyper-social 300,000 years ago, or even 200,000 years ago? We’ve no idea, or not much idea, how we lived in that period – language, fire, tools, art, clothing, shelter… Did we congregate in large groups? How large, or small?

Canto: One site talks about ‘behavioural modernity’, dating from 65,000 to 50,000 years ago. That’s because there’s virtually no evidence – complex weaponry such as bows and spear-throwers, representational art, rough sculptures, bone flutes – of that kind of modern human stuff connected to earlier human remains. But the evidence from skulls suggests that our big brains were what they are now with the earliest versions of H sapiens. Skulls and genes tell us one thing, artefacts tell us another.

Jacinta: Yes, this Smithsonian site also suggests that human cultures, unlike other apes, ‘form long-term pair bonds between men and women to care for children’. They seem not to notice the rise of single-parent families in the modern era! Of course I’m hoping our WEIRD culture’s going the way of the bonobo – the women bonding together to raise the kids, with help from the odd metrosexual male. Is metrosexuality still a thing?

Canto: That’s so naughties…

Jacinta: But I really think that may be the next development – female power with men at last knowing their place as helpmeet. Lots of sex, fewer kids, and lots of collaborative scientific work to enable us to live better in a fragile biosphere, with a growing variety of other species.

Canto: Hmmm. Tell me more about the sex.

Jacinta: Haha well, what’s evolving is a drift away from religion as explanation, as we continue to pursue the history of our species, our planet, our galaxy, our universe, and considering those old religions were mostly born out of patriarchy and the male control of female sexuality, making a virtue of female virginity and prudery, sexuality will be released into the fresh air, so to speak. I mean, there will always be a power aspect to sex, no doubt, but with women on top, the empowerment will undergo an enormous, enlightening shift. I wish I could be there, in the vasty future, to witness it.

Canto: Dog knows we need more than a bit of female leadership right now, what with Putin, Xi Jinping, Orban, Erdogan, Bolsonaro, Kim Jong-un, Trump (still President apparently), Lukashenko, Bashar al-Ashad, Duterte, MBS, Raisi, some Burmese fucker, etc etc. We really need more ball-cutters.

Jacinta: Well, obviously, I agree. Back in little old Australia…

Canto: Quite young as a nation, but very old as a culture, odd that.

Jacinta: Not odd at all, actually. Yes, back here in a nation largely sheltered from the storm, we’re too small, population-wise, to be internationally despotic the way Putinland is currently being. But I’m happy that we’re joining the chorus of condemnation against Putinesque aggression. I’m just wondering if this is the future. This attack on Ukraine seems like a throwback, throwing us as far back as – well, Putin isn’t even an ‘enlightened despot’ in the tradition of Catherine II, or Elizabeth (Empress of Russia from 1741 until her death in 1762). He’s more like Peter the Macho Thug, whose reign certainly modernised Russia, but the women who followed him did a far better job of improving Russia’s internal state. It was of course a time of violence and warfare, and these women were always surrounded by macho advisers at a time when warfare was a way of life, but their record for internal improvement stands the test of time. Russia has never had a female ruler since Catherine the Great – and it shows.

Canto: Yes, I know it annoys you that these early female leaders are like anomalies – treated as honorary males, surrounded by male advisors and expected, in fact virtually forced, to continue the fashion of aggressive territorial expansion. But current female leaders are a different matter, and maybe the current macho thugocracies are a dying breed, trying to bring everything down with their last gasps.

Jacinta: Yes, pleasant fantasies indeed. But with the growth of global problems – global warming, air pollution, species loss, refugee crises (caused by those thugocracies, but also by climate change and the eternal tendency of animals to move from high-danger low-opportunity regions to regions of lower danger and higher opportunity) we need collaborative solutions, rather than macho weapons build-ups. Enough arguing, let’s collaborate, and if the men want to contribute, they’re welcome. If not, they need to be put in their place. We need to set our social evolution in that direction. The point isn’t to understand our human world, it’s to change it.

References 

David Christian, Origin story: a Big History of everything, 2018

https://www.nature.com/articles/nature.2017.22114

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317834148_New_fossils_from_Jebel_Irhoud_Morocco_and_the_pan-African_origin_of_Homo_sapiens

https://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/human-fossils/species/homo-sapiens

https://theconversation.com/when-did-we-become-fully-human-what-fossils-and-dna-tell-us-about-the-evolution-of-modern-intelligence-143717

 

Written by stewart henderson

April 9, 2022 at 5:19 pm

not Russia, Putin

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The world’s fledgling democracies, or non-democracies, are prone to instability, just as monarchies were in the past, because they were so subject to the vagaries of fate, and of particular individuals and their circumstances. When England’s Henry V died of dysentery near Paris just shy of his 36th birthday he had, in less than a decade, stabilised his English estate and inflicted mortal blows on the old enemy across the channel. Had Henry survived his illness, he would almost certainly have been crowned King of France, and the ‘Hundred Years’ War’ between the two kingdoms would have been reduced to just under seventy. As it was, England was in its most powerful position, arguably, since William of Normandy dispossessed or killed off the Saxon nobility and established his vast fiefdom.

But with Henry’s death it all fell apart. His successor was a nine-month old child, who grew up to be extremely timid and completely ineffectual as a ruler. Though he was briefly crowned King of France (at age 10), England was plunged into the chaos of the Wars of the Roses, and soon lost all its French territories apart from Calais.

Democracy, for all its flaws – due largely to the crooked timber of humanity – is the only form of government that allows for, indeed guarantees, at least in theory, the peaceful transfer of power between successive ‘regimes’. Post-Soviet Russia has of course, no succession system in place. North Korea is essentially a monarchy. As to China, the succession will be up for grabs, fought out within a tiny, absurdly corrupt clique. Other tyrannies face their own unique uncertainties. And the people will be forced to suffer the outcome in virtual silence.

As a member of ‘the people’, the canaille, the peasantry, the great unwashed, the proles, the rabble, the riffraff, the parasitic masses, I feel fortunate to live in a democracy, because there’s just no realistic alternative for people who don’t want to be unexpectedly interfered with for no apparent reason. Democratic governments don’t generally go to war, and certainly don’t start wars, if they think it’ll lose them the next election, and since it’s obvious that most people want a peaceful, unchanging life, that tends to settle the matter.

Which brings me to Russia and its suffering people. For centuries they were subject to a succession of dynastic emperors or Tzars, much like those in the rest of the vast Eurasian continent. Interestingly, the best of them was the Empress Catherine, a ring-in from Germany, who had to get rid of her nogoodnik husband (by an arranged marriage), a dissolute sadist, before she could establish her right to the throne – to which she had no ‘right’ – since rights were essentially based on primogeniture after initial warlordy slaughter.

But allow me to digress again to Western Europe et al. The principles of government began to change over time in the proto-WEIRD world, with its beginnings going back, arguably, as far as Magna Carta and the first English parliament in 1215, and boosted by the English Civil War in the mid-seventeenth century, with its indecisive victory for the parliamentarian faction. A half-century later King James II was forced into exile, and the first ever constitutional monarchy came into being. Over time, British governments gained ascendency as the power of the monarch waned, the concept of Prime Ministership evolved, and the voting franchise widened. Across the Atlantic, a new experiment in democratic government was undertaken, and of course in France a revolution went haywire, resulting in a new despotism under Napoleon, followed by a stumbling and backsliding course that eventually led to democracy by the end of the 19th century. Other European countries also experienced traumatic periods following the end of traditional monarchical or quasi-monarchical systems. Spain’s long monarchical period was often turbulent, but it looked like it had come to an abrupt end when Napoleon forced King Ferdinand VII to abdicate in 1808. After this the Bourbon monarchy-in-exile became a focus of resistance, but it soon lost support after the fall of Napoleon, due its extreme conservatism. Spain became a constitutional monarchy in the 1830s, but there were ongoing battles between political factions until the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1868 led to the ousting of Queen Isabella, the first truly reformist government in the country, and the creation of a Constitution promoting citizens’ rights. However, there was still plenty of political strife, and a coup d’état in 1874 restored the Bourbon monarchy. However, the new Constitution created an alternating system of conservative and liberal prime ministerships, which was innovative, though not exactly democratic. The relatively liberal constitutional monarchy limped on until Spain erupted in civil war, followed by the long, lost years of the Franco dictatorship. ‘Permanent’ democracy wasn’t established until the early 1980s.

I could go on with a fulsome account of the slow emergence of something like full democracy in Germany, Italy, the Baltic States and so on, but the overall point is clear – the old absolute power systems were not easily killed off and democracy struggled to get a foothold and should by no means be taken for granted as an established feature of the political landscape.

Now to return to Russia. Their absolute monarchy began, always arguably, with the murderous warlord now known, aptly enough, as Ivan the Terrible. Of course, warfare was a way of life in those days, but some took this way of life to ridiculous extremes. Ivan won some of his wars and lost others, as is the way, and the expansion and contraction of territories generally continued under his successors. So are nations arbitrarily founded (and losted) under absolute rulers. One of the features of Ivan’s rule was a 24-year Livonian War – Livonia being the territory now covered by the Baltic States, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. Successful at first, Ivan failed as various surrounding forces rallied against him and the war severely depleted his military forces. Still, these and and other adventures no doubt have convinced Russia’s latest Tsar that these territories are an eternal part of Sweet Mother Russia, soon to be renamed Putinland.

Which brings me to Ukraine – but it would require a half-dozen books to do justice to the messy history of that country and region, even if only going back to the ancient Scythian kingdom, which covered not only modern Ukraine but much of south-western Russia. I’ll briefly mention the kingdoms, duchies, khanates, empires, republics and assorted noms de guerre associated with the region. After Scythia, there were the Slavic hordes, the Kievan Rus, the Golden Horde (mainly Mongols, at least at first), the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the kingdom of Poland, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Crimean Khanate, the Ottoman Empire, the Cossacks, the Tsardom of Muscovy, the Hetmanate, the Russian Empire, the Austrian Empire, the Free Territory of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (fighting both the Nazis and the Soviets), and, in 1991, independence from (then semi-Soviet) Russia.

So from 1991 on, Ukraine has been what might be called a proto- or wannabe-democracy (but aren’t they all?), rife with corruption – no doubt a hangover from the long Soviet years (imagine how long Putinland would last under a free press tightly protected by law). It reached its nadir under the grotesquely corrupt Pupin puppet, Viktor Yanukovych, who was chased out of the country in the heroic Maidan Revolution, aka the Revolution of Dignity, in 2014, no doubt to the nappy-wetting fury of our Vlad. It was this humiliation dealt out to Putin’s pal in Ukraine that led to the attack on the country later that year, and continued aggression leading to the current invasion.

So why has Putin gone so ‘overboard’ as to invade a country that has become increasingly uninterested in its ties with Russia and increasingly hopeful of joining the European Union and even, possibly, NATO, an organisation whose raison d’être is arguably the containment of Putin’s imperialist ambitions?

Well, to me, the NATO issue is a red herring. More important for Putin is the horror of Ukraine’s increasing democratisation, and its increasing indifference to Russia. There may be economic motives that I don’t know about (economics isn’t my strong suit, which is why I don’t own any suits), but the fact is that Putin is fanatically anti-democratic, and loves to surround himself with puppet thugocracies, as can be found in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Chechnya, North Korea and even China – obviously not a puppet regime, but just as thuggish.

And of course, Ukraine has a special importance to this wannabe Tsar, as a nation or region that has been in Russia’s sphere of influence for some centuries. But Putin has miscalculated majorly with this old-fashioned offensive. Ukrainians are a proud and fighting people, as the Maidan Revolution proved, and the vast majority have zero interest in kowtowing to the new Putinland. It’s already clear that the Ukrainians will not be cowed by this attack, and will not negotiate in any way with the aggressors. Most international observers are at a loss as to how Putin could have made such a monumental miscalculation, as he is generally a smarter thug than most. If Putin has a victory here at all, it will be a Pyrrhic victory. He will not be able to install a Yanakovich-style leader, as nobody of any credibility, inside or outside of the country, will support him. And many men, women and children will die because of this folly. Basically, Putin has already lost this one. And, due to all the sanctions, which I don’t particularly support, he will face plenty of unrest on the home front.

How this will now play out is anyone’s guess. Putin seems to me like a usually astute gambler who has suffered a brainsnap and gambled much of his political reputation away. He can’t now back out, and he can’t win. No reputable nation is backing him, sanctions will make him increasingly unpopular domestically, and he actually now looks foolish. The worry of course is that he’ll play his hand to the bitter end, and lash out with maximum force at everyone who opposes him. It would be nice to think that we’re seeing the tragi-comic end of the era of naked despotism, but of course there’s nothing comic about Putin’s antics and their horrific consequences, and let’s face it, the timber of humanity is extremely crooked in some instances, and that has its appeal to an alarming number of people. But at least with democracy, the consequences of such crookedness aren’t quite so devastating. In Putinland, that’s another story. We’re all hoping this will be Putin’s last stand, but on the domestic front, he’s far more familiar with the terrain. We, the international community, must make every effort to keep him in his box, and to support those in the former and hopefully future nation of Russia, whose hope and ambition is to deliver the fatal blow.

Written by stewart henderson

March 1, 2022 at 11:33 pm

the anti-bonobo world 2: Putinland

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So what is the opposite of a ‘bonobo world’ in human terms? I’d describe it as a macho thugocracy. The chimp world, from my research, isn’t anywhere near the kind of macho thugocracy that we find in some places in the human world, in which the concentration of male power is extreme. The chimp world is certainly more aggressive and more hierarchical than the bonobo world, but alliances are constantly shifting, and females make alliances with both males and other females, to protect their young and sometimes themselves against growing males who are constantly challenging the current hierarchy.

With humans, organisation and power became more institutional, but with democracy, power tends to be more fleeting and more dependent on collaboration, promise-keeping, popularity and the like. So a more democratic region tends to lend itself to a more bonobo-like culture. There used to be a claim that democracies never make war with each other, but one should never say never. Nevertheless, with the advent of modern democracy, the WEIRD world has clearly settled down into less violent forms of exploitation. And in terms of female power and influence, the door is slowly creaking open.

Some of us are more impatient than others. I need to recall that, 100 years ago, in 1920 to be precise, women were awarded their first degrees at Oxford University. In that same year, women in the USA were granted the right to vote, after years of struggle and vitriolic resistance. Social evolution has been increasingly rapid, but it’s still too slow for many of us to bear, as the sands of one lifetime start to run out.

And there are frustrating reversals. In Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, written in the late forties, she described the gains made by women in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, influenced by the feminist principles of Engels and Marx as well as the mostly British suffragette movement, followed by a backlash in the 30s and 40s as Stalin established his stranglehold on power. She ended her analysis on a grim note:

… today the demands of repopulation have given rise to a different family policy: the family has become the elementary social cell and woman is both worker and housekeeper. Sexual morality is at its strictest; since the law of June 1936, reinforced by that of June 1941, abortion has been banned and divorce almost suppressed; adultery is condemned by moral standards. Strictly subordinated to the state like all workers, strictly bound to the home, but with access to political life and the dignity that productive work gives, the Russian woman is in a singular situation that would be worth studying in its singularity; circumstances unfortunately prevent me from doing this.

Stalinist Russia and its profoundly corrupt and terrorising state control heavily impeded feminine and general freedoms, a situation that largely persisted until the advent of Gorbachev in the 1980s. What followed, according to the political science academic Brian Grodsky, was an unprincipled mess of grab-bag opportunism under Boris Yeltsin and his cronies:

…. Russians watched as Yeltsin clumsily dragged the country through a decade of lawlessness, poverty and humility, all in the name of American-supported democracy. The economy plummeted while a new tiny class of ostentatious “haves” made their fortune frequently by plundering what people had built during Soviet times.

Putin, the acme of the smart, devious, unprincipled KGB operative, was able to take advantage of the situation, quite likely by contributing to the murderous chaos before presenting himself as ministering angel to the country’s plummeting economy. He used Stalin’s tactics of sowing suspicion everywhere, while managing to sell himself as a friend of the ‘common people’, a skill that was never in Stalin’s make-up.

There is no doubt, though, that Putin is a ruthless, murderous thug who hates democracy with a passion. He’s clearly obsessed with his eastern border and the democratisation of any of Russia’s neighbours or economic ‘partners’. He’s much more comfortable among fellow macho thugs, as long as he can manipulate them. Within the country he’s intent on maintaining a conservative, masculinised culture. More than any other leader before him, certainly throughout the Soviet era, he has fostered close ties with the Russian Orthodox Church, the leader of which, their equivalent of the Catholic Pope, is called the Patriarch. If only this was a parody.

But the promotion of patriarchal values via conservative Christianity is only one piece of the attack on feminism. Like the Chinese thugocracy, which chortles under the exquisitely meaningless title, the Chinese Communist Party, Putinland decries feminism – a campaign to promote equal rights, opportunities and respect for women – as liberal-democratic decadence. In her 2018 essay, ‘Russian politics of masculinity and the decay of feminism’, Alexandra Orlova describes the state propagandising of opposition figures and even dissenting nations like Ukraine as weak and ‘feminine’, even resorting to video campaigns dressing such figures up as transvestites and ‘fairies’. Traditional, unchanging values are continuously promoted in an unrelenting propaganda war, which unsurprisingly connects feminism with gay freedoms under the ‘banner’ of degeneracy. State-funded video ads for the already-rigged 2018 elections presented the alternative to the status quo as an enforced de-masculinisation of Russian society presented in absurdist comic terms.

Much of this disastrous absurdity springs from the failures of the Soviet era, which, as Beauvoir and Orlova make clear, began very promisingly for feminism. Why such a failure? The answer lies, it seems to me, in the moral congealing of a top-down, anti-democratic system, as existed under patriarchal catholicism for centuries in Europe. Communist ‘values’ have never been particularly coherent, but they were soon replaced by a ‘we know best’ authoritarianism which divided the rulers from the ruled and sought to promulgate rules that would maintain a status quo which would benefit the empowered. A promotion of stasis – of traditional or eternal values. For example, as Orlova puts it, ‘by the 1930s the Soviet government claimed that women’s issues were largely solved.’ Compare this to the Beauvoir statement above, which Orlova would surely endorse. Under Putin, nothing has changed, which essentially means that Russia has gone backward compared to the WEIRD world, in which progress has been slow enough to be extremely frustrating for some.

There was, of course, a window of opportunity in the nineties before Putin consolidated his power at the end of that decade. During this period, WEIRD organisations were active in promoting feminism and other progressive values in a nation whose immediate future was uncertain. All of these initiatives have been quashed with the advent of Putinland.

Putin is, as of this writing, 69 years and 4 months old. He has dispensed with the charade of rigged elections, and so has managed, by fiat, to avoid the skirmishes that alpha male chimps and gorillas have to face in order to maintain a hegemony that nature determines will pass on to someone else, usually through further violent confrontation. He’ll leave behind a nation that’s left behind, considering how globally connected the world – especially the WEIRD  world – has become. The Russian people, though, are better than this. Its beleaguered women will bounce back. Already they can see through the propagandist bullshit of Putin’s thugocracy. Like a coiled spring, they’re waiting for release. Any day now.

Evidence of a more positive future is clear enough. Orlova focuses in her essay on two issues that exercised the Russian court system, which, like the Duma, is stacked with ‘traditional values’ conservatives, and highlighted its absurdity vis-a-vis the rest of the WEIRD world. Firstly, the Pussy Riot débâcle, and secondly the Markin v Russia case regarding military leave, which was finally taken to the European Court of Human Rights.

To take the second case first, Konstantin Markin, a single father of three children, was employed by the military as a radio operator. His request for parental leave in 2010 was rejected, due to the fact that, under Russian law, such leave could only be granted to women. Two levels of appeal under the Russian justice system were rejected, and the judicial reasoning in these cases, and in response to the European Court, which found in favour of Markin, reveal how problematic the Russian judiciary’s attitude was in the face of obvious reality. The chairman of the Russian Constitutional Court, Valery Zorkin, claimed that the special role of women in the raising of children was supported by contemporary psychology. Presumably, he considered this ‘fact’ to be sufficient to prohibit a male who happened to be raising children from being provided the support given to women. The children don’t appear to have been given very much consideration in the matter. What Zorkin and his ilk proposed should be done about the children in these circumstances is unknown. I would also presume that Russia, like the USA, doesn’t feel itself bound by judicial bodies beyond its boundaries. I’ve been unable to ascertain whether Markin ever got his leave, but I would agree with the Strasbourg observers, linked below, that the well-being of the children in the case should have been front and centre, the first and virtually only focus of the courts in all cases.

The Pussy Riot events are, of course, better known, and the humour and deliberate outrageousness of their activities were bound to endear them to the WEIRD world that Putinland pretends to despise. Tellingly the Russian courts were most ‘outraged’ by the group’s takeover of a particularly male section of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour to stage a feminist performance. One section of the court’s decision indicates their attitude:

While following the ideology of feminism does not constitute a crime or another type of an offence in the Russian Federation, a number of religions, such as Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Islam, cannot be reconciled with the ideas of feminism. While feminism does not represent a religious ideology, the followers of feminism are interfering with such public spheres as public morals, norms of propriety, family relations, and sexual relations, all of which have been historically built on the basis of religious principles.

This is essentially the dictate of a religious institution rather than a secular one. The religious organisations mentioned have, of course, been opposed to the equal treatment of women for centuries, and are obvious and necessary targets for feminist and human rights organisations.

As of this moment of writing, the forces of Putinland are about to invade Ukraine, a sovereign democratic nation. Whether or not Putin wins this battle, he has no chance of winning the war of values. Meanwhile, horrors will be inflicted and needless suffering will occur. Fighting the anti-bonobo world is going to be difficult for an increasingly bonoboesque WEIRD world that prefers to make love. I’ve no idea how we can overcome this macho push, at least in the short term, but long-term victory will definitely involve women, in vast numbers.

References

Simone de Beauvoir, The second sex, 1949

https://scholarship.law.wm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1486&context=wmjowl

https://www.equalrightstrust.org/news/refusal-grant-serviceman-parental-leave-constitutes-sex-discrimination

https://strasbourgobservers.com/category/cases/konstantin-markin-v-russia/

Written by stewart henderson

February 19, 2022 at 5:17 pm

towards the ousting of Trump and his confederacy of dunces

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Before all this shite came up I was writing something completely different. In order to alleviate myself of my own existence for a while, I should get back to it, and update it.

We’re living in interesting times, and I can’t help but put my weird and less than minuscule shoulder to the wheel in trying to bring down Trump and his cowboy cronies. I’ve been trying to ignore this stuff but it’s just getting too exciting. There’s been the Paradise Papers, the Facebook revelations, sex scandals and of course the Mueller inquiry. The pundits of the cable news network MSNBC are almost peeing their pants on camera as they gleefully rake through the revelations of Russian links to the Trump administration. It’s a great time for the media, with an obvious charlatan in the White House, whose buffoonery provides endless talking points, while ordinary folks and elephants get shafted big-time.

I’m not always a huge US watcher, and I’m of course pretty ignorant on the details, but it’s been a circus that’s been difficult to ignore lately, and the pickings are getting richer and richer. I’m garbling up metaphors here, so let me calm down and look at the now distinct possibility of removing Trump from office. First, the Mueller inquiry. NBC news is reporting, with apparently impeccable sources, that Trump’s former, albeit brief, national security adviser Michael Flynn is close to being charged with money laundering and perjury by the Mueller team. Of course, Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his aide Rick Gates have already been indicted and it looks like a junior but big-talking foreign policy adviser to the administration, George Papadopoulos, is assisting the team with their inquiries after pleading guilty to perjury about Russian connections. I’ve been listening to a number of legal and political experts being interviewed, mostly on NBC, and it looks as though the case against Manafort, the biggest fish, is extremely strong, and it seems like a matter of days before Flynn is indicted, but what would I know? On top of that, there’s Jefferson Sessions, the US Attorney-General and apparently an arch-racist, who has perjured himself under oath, and others who are key figures in the Trump admission, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner.

It does seem as if Trump’s hold on power is crumbling, unless I’m falling prey to the manic glee of American liberal pundits. Certainly there are polls and election results that suggest maybe I’m not getting ahead of myself. There has just been an election victory for the Democrats in Virginia, and the (extremely unpopular) Republican governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, has been swept out of office. The Virginia result in particular is being treated by some as a watershed event (where does that odd term come from?) but maybe not. Certainly though it’s bad for Trump, who heavily supported the Republican candidate (then threw him to the dogs when he lost). The apparently reliable Reuters/Ipsos poll measuring Trump’s approval/disapproval rating has him currently at about 36%, with 59% disapproval, figures which have remained more or less steady for the last two months. I don’t see a huge dip in the polls – his numbers have always been quite low, it seems, but unless they pick up he’s going to be very vulnerable, and may become more extreme under pressure. His lack of success in pushing his agenda, his gaffes, his tweets, the Russian mess  and the inquiry, they’re all converging to ensure that he won’t be elected again, but what are the chances for those who want him out before the next election. Surely almost all hopes lie with the Mueller inquiry.

Robert Mueller was the Director of the FBI from 2001 to 2013, its longest serving director since the thuggish J Edgar Hoover. Appointed by George W Bush, he was given a two-year extension to his term by Barack Obama, and was eventually replaced by James Comey, who was controversially sacked by Trump earlier this year, a decision which may prove disastrous for the man with One of the Great Memories of All Time (a memory which may well be tested under oath soon, according to former US solicitor-general Ken Starr). It was Comey’s slightly controversial dismissal that led directly to the 2017 Special Counsel Inquiry headed by Mueller, since Comey alleged that Trump had essentially tried to obstruct justice by asking him to drop an FBI inquiry into Flynn and his connection with Russia. Mueller and his team’s brief is to investigate “any links and/or coordination between Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump, and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation”, to quote from assistant Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller in the position. That’s a pretty wide brief, it seems to me. Mueller has a fearsome reputation and he’s gathered together a team of 16 lawyers, some of them highly reputed, and if Flynn is indicted, which appears a near-certainty, things may well reach crisis-point for the administration.

So it all appears to be going along nicely, if painfully slowly for those who want Trump and his confederacy of dunces removed. The thing is, Mueller and his team will be thorough. They won’t go charging in and arresting people unless the evidence is clear, and even then they may try to use the guilty as hell to gain more information about other parties, in exchange for a degree of immunity. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would love to be a fly on the wall of Mueller’s Justice Department offices over the coming weeks.

Flynn seems to be a particularly revolting reptile. Apparently he tried to arrange a deal, which would have earned him oodles of money, to smuggle the moderate Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen out of the USA to Turkey, where he would’ve faced certain death under the thuggish macho dictator Erdogan, who constantly accused Gulen of organising the failed coup against him. If this is true, and provable, hopefully Flynn will live inside a cell for a long time. But there’s also a possibility that Flynn discussed this plan with the morally cretinous Trump, who would undoubtedly have approved. If there’s evidence of such discussions, that would be fantastic for us all.

Flynn’s a weak link for many other reasons, it seems. According to the Washington Post, he lied to the FBI – a felony offence – about discussions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak regarding sanctions imposed on Russia by the Obama administration due to its meddling in the US election. It was because of this dishonesty that he was sacked by Trump – with great reluctance. Flynn also seems to have been involved in a strange plan to build US-Russian nuclear power plants in the Middle East, about which, again, he has been less than honest. The Russians who were part of the deal are under US sanctions. Flynn has an obvious penchant for the anti-democratic Russian kleptocracy, something of a liability for a National Security Advisor.

And there are other members of the confederacy – Trump junior, Kushner and Sessions stand out, but there are so many others in the worst political administration the western world has ever seen – who are being targeted by the Mueller inquiry. The question really is – when will the circus be closed down? Every day’s delay, after all, brings damage. Morans are running the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture, the EPA and just about every other US department…

All of this calls into question the whole of the US political system, surely. It has often been called the least democratic system in the western world, though that tends to avoid the problem with democracy itself, the problem that uninformed people have the same voting rights as informed people. If you’re going to have a democracy of that kind, you really need to maximise the number of informed people. But another problem, and it’s as clear a problem in Australia as anywhere, is that ignorant, loud-mouthed people can run for political office, with far less vetting than is carried out in protecting our borders. In this respect I’m an unashamed elitist. But America’s presidential system is way too presidential. Australia’s political system, like Britain’s, is much more party-based, with responsibilities, and culpability, more equally shared among government leaders. And this, I think, is a much better, much less dangerous system. In the USA, people generally vote every four years for a person rather than a party and its policy set, and this has so many problems associated with it, it just isn’t funny. Trump, for example, isn’t a Republican, he’s ‘his own man’, a blundering, bullying, bullshitting, bragging, belly-aching buffoon, a man born into and gifted enormous wealth, a laughing-stock as a businessman, a patsy for Russian mafioso oligarchs, who has installed an assorted pile of know-nothings to important political, scientific and cultural posts in the most economically powerful in the world – though by no means a model country for fairness, security or opportunity. I can’t think of any other western country in which this could’ve happened. The checks and balances, but above all the political culture of those countries would never have allowed it.

 

Written by stewart henderson

November 19, 2017 at 10:00 am

solving the world’s problems, one bastard at a time..

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Canto: Let’s talk about something more gripping for a while. Like, for example, the global political situation.

Jacinta: Mmmm, could you narrow that down a bit?

Canto: No, not really… Okay, let’s take the most politically gripping issue of the moment, the possibility of nuclear annihilation for thousands of South Koreans or Japanese – and then North Koreans – due to the somewhat irresponsible launchings and detonations of massively destructive weaponry by a guy who we can reasonably assume to be intoxicated with his own power – and I do believe power to be the most toxic and dangerous drug ever conceived. And then we can talk about all the other issues.

Jacinta: Well as for the Kim jong-un issue, I suspect I can speak for a lot of people when I say I oscillate between dwelling on it and dismissing it as something I can do nothing about. What else do you want me to say. To say I’m glad we’re not in the way of it all would seem inhumane…

Canto: Do you have any solutions? What should we do from here?

Jacinta: We? You mean ‘the west’? Okay, from here on in, I’d cease all direct communications with Kim – all threats, all comments, everything. That only seems to make him worse.

Canto: But it can hardly get worse. Don’t we need to act to remove his threats, which are a bit more than threats?

Jacinta: Well of course the best solution, out of a bad lot, would be to have him disappear, like magic. Just deleted. It’s impossible, but then I’ve heard some people do six impossible things before breakfast.

Canto: He’s only 33 apparently, and according to Wikipedia he’s married but childless…

Jacinta: I’m not saying deleting him would be a good option, it’d presumably cause chaos, a big power struggle, a probable military takeover, unpredictable action from China, and all the weaponry, such as it is, would still be there. And we have no idea how to do it anyway.

Canto: I’m sure they have some plan of that type. The CIA’s not dead yet.

Jacinta: Yeah I’m sure they have some back-drawer plan somewhere too, but I wouldn’t misunderestimate the incompetence of the CIA.

Canto: So what if we follow your do-and-say-nothing policy? Don’t aggravate the wounded bear. But maybe the bear isn’t wounded at all. NK just detonated something mighty powerful, though there’s some controversy over whether it was actually thermonuclear. Anyway it’s unlikely the country just developed this powerful weapon in the few months that Trump has been acting all faux-macho. Who knows, this may have taken place if Clinton or someone else was in power in the US.

Jacinta: Interesting point, but then why are so many people talking about tit-for-tat and brinkmanship? They may have had the weapon, and maybe a lot more, but Kim’s decision to detonate it now, to show it, seems to have been provoked. It’s classic male display before a rival. Think of the little mutt snapping at the mastiff’s heels. Fuck you, big boy, I’ve got teeth too.

Canto: Yeah, but this little mutt has teeth that can wipe out cities. In any case, now he’s been provoked, and it’s unlikely that Trump and his cronies are going to damp down the belligerent rhetoric, the rest of us seem to be just sitting tight and waiting for this mutt to do some damage inadvertently/on purpose, and then what will happen? Say a missile goes astray and lands on or near a Japanese city? Untold casualties…

Jacinta: I think China will be key here. Not that I have any faith in the Chinese thugocracy to act in any interest other than its own.

Canto: Or the Trumpocracy for that matter.

Jacinta: I suspect China might step in and do something if it came to the kind of disaster you’ve mentioned. Though whether they have a plan I don’t know. I wouldn’t be surprised, actually if they’re having urgent closed-door talks right now on how best to take advantage of the crisis.

Canto: Well don’t worry, Trump and our illustrious leader are have a phone call today to sort it all out.

Jacinta: I’m really not sure what there is to talk about. An American first strike would have horrific cascading effects, and upping the tempo of military exercises in the neighbouring regions will just make Kim more reckless, to go by past experience. So if we don’t have any communication directed at him, he might continue with building bombs, but he would’ve done that anyway. So, though we’re not making matters any better, neither are we making them worse, which we are doing by goading him. Meanwhile we should be talking around NK. It’s like the elephant in the room. No sense talking to the elephant, he doesn’t speak our language (actually that’s a bad example, as intelligent mammals elephants have a lot in common with us…). Anyway we should be talking to significant others to try to build a team that can deal with the elephant.

Canto: Teamwork, that seems highly likely.

Jacinta: Yeah, I know everyone has a different agenda with regard to the elephant, but surely nobody wants to see anyone nuked. And the US shouldn’t be wasting its time talking to Australia, though I suspect Trump will be talking to Turnbull re troop commitments rather than any serious solution.

Canto: And by the way, we’re talking about Trump here, he’s never going to quit with the macho bluster. That’s a given.

Jacinta: All right so all we can do is hope – it’s out of our hands. But it seems to me that all his advisers are telling him a first strike isn’t an option, so maybe he will listen.

Canto: Maybe he’ll listen about the first strike, but he won’t stop the bluster and the goading. So Kim will continue to react by testing missiles and such, until something goes horribly wrong, and Trump will feel justified in delivering a second strike, and things’ll get very bloody and messy.

Jacinta: Okay, you’re getting me depressed, but if I can return to teamwork, the thing to do is get the team on board – the UN as well as the key players, China, Russia and of course South Korea and Japan. That means putting aside all the bad blood and really working as a team.

Canto: To do what? Get NK to stop producing nukes? Putin has already said that would be a no-goer, given their position.

Jacinta: Right, so that would be a starting point for discussion. Why does Putin think that, and what would be his solution, or his advice? And China’s? I’m assuming everybody’s uncomfortable about NK, though some are clearly more uncomfortable than others. So get a discussion going. What does Russia think the US should do about NK? What does China think Russia should do? Does anyone have good advice for South Korea?

Canto: You’re being hopelessly naive. I suspect Russia and China would approach this issue with complete cynicism.

Jacinta: Well let’s be well-meaning rather than naive. I think we’re inclined to be a co-operative species. I think cynicism can dissipate when confronted with a genuine desire to listen and co-operate. You know I’ve described all of the main actors here – Trump, Putin, Li Keqiang and his henchmen, and of course Kim Jong-un, as macho scumbags and the like, but maybe its time to appeal to the better angels of their natures, and ours, to find a peaceful resolution to this mess.

Written by stewart henderson

September 6, 2017 at 12:22 pm

the little dictator and his acolyte

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Having seen how Russia acts within the framework of what we call hybrid warfare, I really don’t exclude anything when it comes to Russian operations in other countries.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Secretary-General, NATO alliance, 2014

We’re living in interesting times, and I can’t help but be both enthralled and horrified them, so I’ll be dividing my time for a while between science and current international developments in politics and culture.

I wrote my recent post before I’d quite finished Masha Gesson’s 2012 biography of Putin, but I find that her epilogue, together with an afterword written in 2014, is by far the most important part of the book as regards the future for Putin’s ambitions, for Russia and for our response to his antics. And of course there’s also Trump’s love affair with the apoplectically anti-democratic dictator, which is no laughing matter.

Vladimir Putin’s rise to the leadership of Russia was unlikely, as the subtitle of Gessen’s book suggests. It seems that he was was plucked out of obscurity to be the saviour of Russia, and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands. But of course the story is far more complicated than that.

I want to compare (albeit briefly) Putin’s background, and even his appeal, with that of Adolf Hitler, partly because I’m challenged by recent claims that one should never invoke Hitler as a comparison (bullshit I say), but more importantly because the similarities are screamingly obvious. It seems to me that in many ways Putin is a Hitler constrained by the rapid rise of internationalism, which was itself largely a response to Hitler’s nationalistic adventurism. Certainly, the horrors of Nazism are behind us, but make no mistake, Putin’s attacks on homosexuality, which of course are in line with his own brutal, primitive instincts, are every bit as totalising as Hitler’s scapegoating of the Jews in the thirties. Certainly there’s a greater cynicism in Putin’s approach, and there’s no doubt that international attention will parry his blows against gays, but I’ve no doubt that Putin’s attitude to homosexuality is sincere, and might be put down to his being picked on as a slight and effeminate-looking youth. This persecution clearly affected him profoundly, causing him to take up martial arts and body-building and such, but I’m not particularly interested in the psychology behind his bigotry. The Dunedin Studies have shown me that character formation occurs remarkably early, and those early years are lost to most analysts in Putin’s case. Anyway, I’m more interested in the effects of his bigotry on the Russian psyche.

While Putin isn’t as shallow as Trump, neither is he deep. He’s a product of a profoundly dysfunctional world, and he found solace and identity in the KGB, the western world’s laughing stock (its successor, the FSB, is entirely a tool of Putin). From what I can gather, he was a doted-on only child, who grew up in the ruins of Leningrad/Petrograd, Russia’s second city. Like Hitler, he seems to have been devastated by the loss of something, nationally, that once promised greatness, and he may have taken this personally. Of course international developments since Hitler’s time would have largely quashed imperialistic ambitions, which is why it seems more accurate to see Putin as a mafioso-style crime boss, extremely petty-minded, vengeful and gleeful about the suffering of his ‘enemies’ – and probably generous to a fault to those who are most complete in their sycophancy.

What we do know is that Putin, like Hitler, is largely impervious to basic human values, but much better than Hitler at hiding the fact. Don’t expect much from his assurance, more or less forced from him by the new French President Emmanuel Macron, that he would investigate gay persecution in Chechnya, a region he bombed into submission when first gaining power in 1999-2000. The Chechen capital, Grozny, was later described by the UN as ‘the most destroyed city on earth’, with tens of thousands of civilians killed. The state has been ruled for some time by Ramzan Kadyrov, not so much a Putin puppet as a fellow-traveller who has learned from the Russian’s mafioso methods. Apparently, he’s both more charismatic and more openly brutal, having murdered a vast number of his enemies. It’s unlikely that this macho thug would take or expect advice on the treatment of homosexuals by his thuggish Russian mentor. Yet while Kadyrov’s political independence is more a relief than a burden to Putin, some 85% of Chechnya’s budget comes from Moscow, and this is the ultimate measure of Putin’s power over the region.

The murder of enemies (just a name for those who act defiantly, or even independently, and who might have some influence), often in far-flung parts, is the most recognisable feature of Putin’s (and Kadyrov’s) dictatorship, but there are others, including threats to bordering countries, and endless attempts to interfere with democratic elections worldwide. Of course Putin went well beyond threats when he moved swiftly to annex Crimea in March 2014. The move seems not to have been for economic reasons, as it’s expected that large sums of money will be needed to prop up the region. It seems to have been a land grab in defiance of the pro-European overthrow of the corrupt pro-Russia Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. It would also have been done for domestic reasons, to suggest to his long-suffering people the fantasy that Russia is still a great nation that can throw its weight around. It’s likely that the annexation greatly improved the petty dictator’s domestic stocks, but as I’ve said, there isn’t much room to manoeuvre today in terms of Russian expansionism – though the Baltic states are understandably anxious about Putin’s intentions there – so it’s not surprising that he’s turned his attention to his first love, espionage and the perversion of justice, in trying to manipulate the outcome of foreign elections in favour of their most anti-democratic candidates. He appears to have been partially successful in somehow fashioning more support for Marine Le Pen in France than she had a right to expect, but clearly his greatest coup was to infiltrate the recent US election to a degree that has – somewhat belatedly – alarmed many pundits.

The current US President has praised Putin more than any other democratically elected leader. He would certainly like to have the power over his nation that Putin has over Russia, but the fact is that he just doesn’t have the nous to use that power effectively, even for his own benefit. As David Frum and many others have pointed out, Trump isn’t a smart businessman, even in the field of real estate. He’s a big-noter and a bullshit artist who’s incapable of the strategic planning required even to be a semi-succssful mafioso boss. His ham-fistedness, however, has to be seen in some respects as a saving grace. The job of more responsible leaders and powerful figures in the USA now is to provide a convincing case to the public that the Trump administration’s ties and indebtedness to Putin and his henchmen are massively detrimental to the country they’ve been elected to administer, and to the western democracies in general. Many journalists and public intellectuals – I’ll mention David Frum, Anne Applebaum, Timothy Snyder, Masha Gessen, and Lilia Shevtsova, but I’m a complete novice in this field, so apologies for not mentioning others at this point – have been firm in arguing against any rapprochement with Russia under Putin, whose anti-western propaganda for domestic consumption has risen to bizarre proportions in recent years. It’s time for more western and particularly US leaders, on both side of the political fence, to argue strongly for isolating Russia under Putin. One way to do this is to go in hard on Russian political interference in the US and other prominent countries – the hybrid warfare that NATO’s Secretary-General spoke of. And this will surely have the added benefit of substantially weakening, and maybe even derailing, the Trump administration.

The little dictator will complete his first six-year term in office in 2018. Actually, this will complete 19 years of  effective dictatorship, and he has altered the Russian constitution to enable him to stand for office again. If successful, he may retire, at 71, after 25 years in power in Russia (the longest reign since the time of the Czars), having given up on modernisation and economic development and left behind a state characterised by cronyism, thuggery, stagnation and misery, and a fantasy that it is an alternative to the ‘decline of the west’, though hopefully few of Russia’s intellectuals are taken in by this.

But Putin’s success isn’t guaranteed. As Gessen and others have pointed out, he got a real scare in the lead-up to the last election, and was quite possibly only saved from defeat, or at least from ‘legitimate’ success, by his campaign against homosexuality and ‘decadence’. Recently there have been sizeable demonstrations against corruption in Russia, and no-one is more corrupt than Putin. The Russian analyst Lilia Shevtsova is particularly critical of those pundits who appear to have given up on the possibility for a fairer, more open and democratic Russia. Her remarks here are passionate and timely:

This means that Russians are incorrigible, doomed to be manipulated, and ready to tolerate repressive rule. I don’t know what information the authors are privy to that makes them so sure that the Russians will continue clinging to Putin. Why are the experts so sure of that? Do they know something about us Russians that we are unaware of? This approach can be interpreted in only one way: Russians carry a special gene that precludes them from living in a rule of law state that respects international conventions. In other words, we Russians are a predatory nation that can live only by being subjugated by our rulers and by subjugating other nations, and we cannot rid ourselves of the serf’s mindset. This is not merely a condescending way of looking at Russians; it is racist as well.

We should do everything in our power to support those in Russia who oppose Putin and his corrupt state, and to isolate him if he manages to wangle power for himself for six more years.

 

https://www.the-american-interest.com/2016/02/03/how-the-west-misjudged-russia-part-4-mad-about-medvedev/

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/02/08/putins-dragon

Gessen, Masha, The man without a face: the unlikely rise of Vladimir Putin

See also these interviews from Sam Harris ‘s Waking Up podcast: Timothy Snyder, the road to tyranny; Anne Applebaum, the Russia connection; Gary Kasparov, the Putin question.

Written by stewart henderson

June 7, 2017 at 10:06 am