Archives for posts with tag: Putin

a goal-oriented person or team works hard to achieve good results in the tasks that they have been given”

For the purpose of this post it doesn’t matter whether the goal has been assigned by somebody else or has been chosen by the  would be goal-achiever itself.

The problem, as I see it, is that those who focus too much on achieving a specific goal usually fail.

For at least two reasons.

First of all the goal itself might not be appropriate. Never was or something had changed.
For example, I had learned hard to become a mechanical engineer. Worked as one for 5 years and enjoyed every minute of it. I still love to fix things around the house.
But I gave it up when I realized I couldn’t feed myself in post communist Romania.

We consider ourselves to be rational. If this were true, all human goals would have been both appropriate and achievable.
How many of them really are?
Then why are so many of us willing to go to extreme lengths in order to achieve certain goals, against all signals suggesting that they should desist?

Even if the goal is reasonable, for instance to loose 20 pounds in a certain situation, if the would be achiever is excessively focused on that single goal it may try to reach it too soon, be unhappy during the entire duration of the process or even both at the same time.

So, should we give up all our goals?

That would be a goal too… so… no, obviously!

What I’m trying to say is that goals should be our stepping stones instead of being considered, any of them, ultimate pinnacles.

Before going any further I’d like to discuss the alternative suggested by Shane Parrish in at least two different articles.

Goal-oriented people usually fail, and other things I’ve learned about succeeding at work 2015 in BusinessInsider.com and

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, 2013 in Farnamstreetblog.com

There’s no real alternative? He is still focused on a specific goal, “success”, only he is wise enough to consider it in a reasonable way – as in ‘create as little disturbance as possible during the process of achieving it’?

Well, this is indeed a very important step forward.

Yes, forward!

I never said I was willing to give up goals altogether so I (think I) know where I’m headed!
The point is, and here I agree completely with Shane Parrish, that we should try to achieve our goals WITH at least some of those around us instead of being ready to reach them by CRUSHING, one way or another, everybody who might dare to even utter the smallest dissent.

In other words, there is only one legitimate goal that each of us is entitled to pursue at any length. Survival. All others are figments of our imagination and should be followed with discretion. Otherwise our actions might turn against us. And hamper our own survival.

Let me give you a very hot example.

Last year the American People had chosen their President.
This is a two step process. In the first one the parties nominate their candidate and then the entire people is asked to pick one of them for the job.

Almost the entire world knows that the American political scene is divided between the Democrats and the Republicans and that having your man at the helm is a big bonus for any party – the latter being valid in almost all countries, not only in America.

During the first of the two electoral steps, the Democrats have nominated Hillary Clinton while the Republicans have chosen Donald Trump. Apparently two completely different individuals.
A consummate ‘political insider’  versus a successful business man with a history of getting things done, seemingly at all odds.

Lets see how differently these two guys really are.

Hillary Clinton had identified, correctly, a huge number of issues and and formulated reasonable promises about each and every one of them.
Donald Trump had identified a huge pool of discontent and energized those who were waddling in there aimlessly.
Different indeed but only the opposite sides of the same coin. Political marketing at its  best. Or worse?

Hillary Clinton was a person who had no problem in using her, and her husband’s, official position and authority to achieve her goals, even if that meant bending the rules. Using a personal e-mail server, installed in a private setting, wasn’t a proper thing to do for a Secretary of State, was it?
Donald Trump is indeed a very successful entrepreneur. Only he did his ‘thing’ in a very ‘special’ domain. One subjected to various zoning laws and other heavy rules imposed by the ‘all powerful’ government.
I’m also going to remind you of the fortune he had inherited from his father – made using comprehensive political connections – and that Trump had used part of his money to curry favors with various political figures.

“Trump later told Politico, “As a contributor, I demanded that they be there—they had no choice and that’s what’s wrong with our country. Our country is run by and for donors, special interests and lobbyists, and that is not a good formula for our country’s success. With me, there are no lobbyists and special interests. My only special interest is the United States of America.”

And it’s not only that he had no qualms in using his money to convince politicians to do what he wanted them to do, he also tried to use governmental power to ‘convince’ an old lady, under the pretext of ’eminent domain’, to sell her house, at half price, so that he could build a limousine parking lot for a casino in Atlantic City.

These two candidates no longer seem to be so different anymore, do they?
Both equally ‘goal oriented’ – a.k.a. power hungry – and equally determined to use whatever ‘energy’ they could concentrate in that direction, including governmental power.

Then how come each of them had been nominated by their respective parties?
Considering that both parties paid lip service to the need to simplify the government…

Could it be that the real goal of both parties was to gain the Oval Office?
At all costs to the country at large?

I’m not going to pretend now that the survival of the US is in danger, just because Trump, currently acting like an elephant in a China shop, is the perfect opportunity for Putin to inflict as much damage to the US as he possibly can.

You see, Putin didn’t meddle into the election process because he had any hopes that he would be able to influence any of Trump’s decisions. Putin simply knew that Trump, once elected, will, in a ‘natural manner’, wreak havoc in Washington. What else could he have asked for?

Well, this may prove to be yet another ‘goal oriented’ failure… Had Clinton become President she would have probably continued to encourage the malignant growth of an already humongous government… this way the American People has the chance to wake up. Because of the tantrum Trump is throwing around…

And, maybe, the parties will also learn something.
Democratic government means governing for the country as a whole, not for the group which happens to control the power.
Real democracy is about honestly discussing the issues before the elections, so that as many as possible of the potential problems to become evident before the people having to choose a direction or other. Whenever the parties try to lure the population towards a particular ‘goal’, using any of the various tools devised by the political marketeers, the electoral process is no longer democratic.
In that case the whole thing has been demoted to ‘mob rule’. Which is dangerous.

Over reliance in our ability to choose a goal or to devise/run a system (government) is the deepest pitfall ever dug by humankind. For ourselves.

Growing in a communist country, Romania, I was ‘exposed’, naturally, to all sorts of communist propaganda. ‘Embedded’ in almost everything.
One ‘sugar coating’ that was very popular among the apparatchiks of the day was ‘crime novels’. ‘James Bond’-like  ‘literature’ which was supposed to educate us, ordinary citizens  who could almost never get an exit visa to go to a ‘capitalist’ country,  about the perils ‘our’ trading agents/diplomatic personnel had to ‘negotiate’ when sent abroad to ‘serve the country’.
The most publicized ‘peril’ being the ‘prostitute trap’. Supposedly the ‘pure’ communist was trapped by a skillful prostitute into believing she was heavily enamoured  of him and then lured to an apartment were the couple would be filmed while ‘consummating’  their new found passion. Later, of course, the recording would have been used to exert pressure in order to influence the hapless fool into betraying his country.

The recent articles regarding ‘the art of kompromat’ tend to suggest that those ‘novels’ were nothing but yet another example of a wolf crying wolf… but who knows…

Fast forward to our times.

Is there anything clear in all this?

And no, I’m not wondering whether there is an actual tape of Trump ‘frolicking in bed’ with anybody. Even if it exists, it is well guarded. After all, such a tape is way more valuable as long as it is hidden away than when out in the open. The threat to reveal it works only as long as nobody else but the black-mailer and the victim know about its existence.

Then why all this brouhaha?

A preemptive strike meant to dull the effect of Putin actually publishing such a tape?
Putin trying to ‘soften up’ his intended target?
But what is Putin’s goal? He cannot dream of ‘controlling’ the President of the United States. Even when that position is fulfilled by someone like Trump… The actions of any POTUS are so public that any influence would very soon become apparent, on one side, and Trump, himself, is a very ‘unreliable’ person to start with.

But what if Putin has another, and way more insidious, goal?

What if he wants to compromise the very concept of democratic elections?
To ‘demonstrate’ to us that ‘the public’ is (has become?) incapable of electing a good man to lead it to the future?

Well… the problem with ‘kompromat’ is that it has to be tailored to its intended victim.
Just imagine what effect would have had a tape depicting Obama in bed with someone else but Michelle. Who would have believed such a thing?
But Obama was, to a degree at least – as Trump had very astutely estimated, vulnerable to a campaign focused on his birth certificate. We all know what kind of ‘passion’ the birthers have managed to instill into some of the die-hard conservatives.
And we should not forget that Trump had started his political life as a friend of the Clintons. His words, “that Hillary Clinton ‘had no choice’ but come to his third wedding“, are now world famous…

Now, bearing all these in mind, shouldn’t we ask ourselves how farfetched is Putin’s project of destroying our faith in democracy? Using ourselves as minions?

After all, Trump was elected democratically!

And do you remember those discussions about the US being intended as a Republic by the forefathers, and not as a Democracy? Or Orban’s – Hungary’s authoritarian prime minister, one of Putin’s close political friends, concept of ‘illiberal democracy‘?

“I voted for Trump because I think his illiberal tendencies are actually a feature rather than a bug. When he undermines rule of law, I see not a danger, but someone who is undermining a system that has become a game for elites with access to armies of lawyers. When he browbeats Congress, I don’t worry about “checks and balances” which have become a recipe for dysfunction, but rather see him as a man taking on useless political prostitutes servicing everyone who can write a sufficiently large campaign check. When he strong-arms multinational companies like Carrier, I see someone standing up to the worst aspects of globalization.”

Who built the world as it is right now? The one where the young adult who wrote the words quoted above, had grown up into and was modeled by?

We did it? With both its good-s and its bad-s?

It is us who kompromised it?
Then it is us who’ll have to fix it!
Or we’ll have to endure the yoke the likes of Putin and/or Trump will undoubtedly try to put on our shoulders.

 

 

forgiveness

Some say that God created the world, a long time ago, and that’s why he is the only one who can forgive.
Some others remember how the elders taught them that keeping a grudge is far worse than having an ulcer. It will eat you alive, like a cancer.

I, personally, don’t know anything about God creating the world. I wasn’t there at that time so…
What I do know is that playing God is extremely dangerous. Not only for the impersonator but mostly for those around him. Exactly those who were amused at first by his performance – enough so that they encouraged him to continue, only to find out later how annoying the show will soon become AND that the exit door had been paddled shut behind their back, while they were happily clapping after the first gigs.
At the very end, after the impersonator had left the scene – by his own will or simply carried out, he will end up shouldering the whole blame – as he should, of course.
But I can’t stop wondering how much suffering could have been avoided if the crowd were just a tad more circumspect?

Not making very much sense, do I?

OK, first take a look at this:

No mercy

Then watch this:

go hard

Do you really think this is funny? Well… more than 38 000 of the almost two and a half million who watched this say they enjoyed it and only two and a half thousand became worried enough to express their feelings.

Most of you have not experienced how it is to live under dictatorship so I’ll use another metaphor.

You are probably quite familiar with this guy:

dirty harry

He was lionized during the ’70’s and the ’80’s for impersonating a no-nonsense cop who cut through the red tape and got things done.

Mostly by shooting the bad guys.

Don’t get me wrong.

They didn’t get anything else than they actually deserved.

What I find really troublesome about Dirty Harry is the casualness with which he killed people. And his over-reliance on guns. On brute force, that is. “Go ahead, make my day.”

It is true that at that time people were exasperated with the daily occurrence of violent crime and were desperate for a way out of that situation. I’m not going to offer you statistics or stuff, you can look them up yourself. I’ll just tell you that the Romanian television was having an almost daily news bulletin presenting the latest violent acts committed Stateside. It was all part of the propaganda, of course, but the facts were real. And plenty enough to make me wonder, I was a teenager at that time, what on Earth is going on there?

That wave of violence has subsided, as we all know. Some say it happened because of ‘broken windows policing’, some ‘freakin’ others ‘blame’ ‘Roe vs Wade’ for it while I suspect that all of the above had something to do with it but that the main ‘culprit’ was the economic upsurge that followed the ‘stagflation’ period.

Nowadays we find ourselves in another economic and psychological down-turn. With a twist though.
The recent economic troubles were brewed at home while then it started with the Oil Crisis. Much of the violence no longer starts as a robbery but has a psychological motivation – disgruntled and socially disconnected young people commit multiple acts of homicide, either by indiscriminately shooting their victims or by blowing themselves up, along with a huge amount of explosives, in densely populated areas.

And how do we respond to this fresh wave of violence?
By turning a blind eye to heavy policing? By digging fresh trenches that further divide our already highly polarized society? By another wave of over reliance on guns?

“I said it was only me and, hands still raised, slowly descended the stairs, focused on one officer’s eyes and on his pistol. I had never looked down the barrel of a gun or at the face of a man with a loaded weapon pointed at me. In his eyes, I saw fear and anger. I had no idea what was happening, but I saw how it would end: I would be dead in the stairwell outside my apartment, because something about me — a 5-foot-7, 125-pound black woman — frightened this man with a gun. I sat down, trying to look even less threatening, trying to de-escalate. I again asked what was going on.”

Go ahead, click on that quote and read the entire article. My post won’t go anywhere.

What’s the connection between what happened to Kyle Monk, the Dirty Harry movies and Putin?

For starters all those involved were …human individuals.
Kyle’s neighbor who called the police and who, when asked by Kyle ‘why did you do it’, chose to end up the conversation with “I’m an attorney, so you can go f— yourself.”
All of the nineteen policemen who played a role in this drama – and who treated a 125 pound, scantily clad, woman as if she were an armed and dangerous criminal were also human individuals.
The heads of the public administration, those who adopt and enforce policing policies are also human individuals.
The financial wizards who engineered the recent crisis belong to the same species as we do.

We, the guys who admired Dirty Harry for his toughness, are the parents of the hapless generation who blows itself up or mindlessly shoot their colleagues in campuses.

We are also the guys who are amused when bored magazine writers attribute to Putin such silly quotes as ‘it’s my job to send them to Him’.

And it’s us who applaud the Putins of this world. Only to find out, on our own skin but too late to be able to do anything about it, that the ‘hug of the bear’ is not that comfortable as it seemed from a distance.

you're Callahan

 

Hardly a day passes by without Putin, Russia’s current ruler, being present at the top of every major news channel.

While sometime ago he was lionized on the cover of many glossy magazines nowadays he is the star of a lot gloomier articles.

Happier days (last month). Photographer: Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Image

What’s going on there?

About a week ago a prominent Russian journalist addressed an open letterto President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, where he discusses his case and the significance its abandonment has for Russia as a nation,

Oleg Kashin, the author of the open letter, which can be read here in English, had been beaten to a pulp some 5 years ago and Last month, on September 7, 2015, after a surprisingly exhaustive investigation by Russian police, Kashin revealed the names of his alleged attackers. The men appear to be linked to Andrey Turchak, the powerful governor of Pskov, and ex-employees of the security department of “Zaslon,” a company owned by Turchak’s family that designs and produces aircraft electronics and weapons-targeting systems. Though the evidence against Turchak and his entourage has mounted in the press, he remains free and in office. He hasn’t even been questioned.”

Well, Kashin’s case is the perfect illustration for what Adam Michnik has mentioned last August: “Russia non è uno Stato totalitario, ma è un sistema autoritario”  (Russia is not a totalitarian state but an authoritarian system).

This observation solves perfectly an apparent paradox. How come the Russian police discovers, after five years, who had beaten – following orders given by one’s of Putin’s own protegees – a political dissenter?!?
Simply because there is an important difference between an ‘authoritarian system’ and a totalitarian state.

The authoritarian leader cannot act, not yet at least, like a totalitarian one. He is not in full control of everything under the sun in his country.

This apparently small thing is of paramount importance. Sooner or later more and more Russians will figure out for themselves that Putin is bad for them. Bad for Russia’s long term future.
Meanwhile the rest of the world has to thread this situation very carefully. Every time one of us wants to say anything about what’s going on in Ukraine or in Syria we must use “Putin” instead of “Russia”. It wasn’t Russia – but Putin – that annexed Crimea, encourages the Ukrainian separatists and supports the Syrian dictator by bombarding the Syrian moderate opposition.

By mentioning them separately – Putin distinct from Russia – we send a very powerful signal to the Russian people. That we understand they are not personally responsible for Putin’s acts and that we know they are not yet able to change anything.

If we fail to do so we’ll fall into Putin’s trap.

Our failure to understand, and insist upon, the simple fact that Putin is not Russia is the only thing that enables him to portray the rest of the world as nothing but a bunch of callous people who are devilishly conniving against Mother Russia – and himself as the only possible savior of the Russian People.

Adam Michnik, La sfida di Mosca al mondo e sempre piu imprevediblie, La Reppublica, http://www.repubblica.it/esteri/2015/08/18/news/p-121206360/
Adam Michnik, While we Praise Ukrainian Restraint, Putin Builds His Neo-Soviet Empire, New Republic, http://www.newrepublic.com/article/117462/adam-michnik-putins-post-soviet-empire-threatens-ukraine
Oleg Kashin, A letter to the Rulers of Russia, Global Voices, https://globalvoices.org/2015/10/04/a-letter-to-the-rulers-of-russia-from-oleg-kashin/Marc Champion, Why Russian Jets are Buzzing Turkey, Bloomberg View, http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-10-08/why-putin-s-russian-jets-in-syria-are-buzzing-turkey,
Better Failling, BBC dropped Clarkson. How much longer till Russia drops Putin?, Nicichiarasa, https://nicichiarasa.wordpress.com/2015/03/26/bbc-dropped-clarkson-how-much-longer-till-russia-drops-putin/
Michael Shaw, Reading the Pictures: Putin &Sochi: Let the FU’s Begin, Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-shaw/reading-the-pictures-puti_b_4699356.html

At 45 I went back to school. Already a MSc in Mechanical Engineering this time my eyes were set on a BA in Sociology.

During my senior years I had my epiphany: that being able to pass information from generation to generation both considerably sped up human evolution, as a species, and opened wider expanses for us to conquer.
Big deal, I hear some of you muttering. Everybody knows that we became what we are only after we developed articulate speech and, specially, after we learned to write.

Well, you are right. Only time has come for us to learn to read!

Herbert Simon was presented a Nobel prize in 1977 for his ideas about how an abundance of information might prove to be, if inappropriately managed, a handicap instead of a bonus. “What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” That’s why we should learn how to sift through the available information if we are to avoid reenacting mistakes that have already been committed by our forefathers and abundantly documented for future referral.

Nowadays the world’s attention is highly strung by what is happening in the Middle East, the last development being Putin’s announcement that he is satisfied with the new openness displayed by the Iranians so he intends to fulfill a longstanding order from Teheran for sophisticated air defense missiles.
Trading with Iran is part of how the Iranian people can be encouraged to overcome the current impasse in their development as a nation.
Using every possible opportunity to advance on the international arena – and to ‘hurt’ those whom you have designated as your adversaries – by stirring already murky waters and then callously walking on corpses might prove to be counterproductive in the long run, to use the mildest words possible.

To illustrate my point I’m going to propose to you a list of articles describing some examples of ‘foreign intervention’ in the Middle East:

Sykes-Picot deal in the aftermath of WWI: The true story of Lawrence of Arabia

“Lawrence sought allies wherever he could find them. Surely the most remarkable was Chaim Weizmann, head of the English Zionist Federation. In January 1919, on the eve of the peace conference, Lawrence had engineered an agreement between Faisal and Weizmann. In return for Zionist support of a Faisal-led Syria, Faisal would support increased Jewish emigration into Palestine, tacitly recognizing a future Jewish state in the region. The pact was soon scuttled by the French.

But the most poignant what-might-have-been involved the Americans. Suspicious of the imperialist schemes of his European partners in Paris, President Woodrow Wilson sent a fact-finding commission to the Middle East. For three months, the King-Crane Commission toured Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, and what they heard was unequivocal: The vast majority of every ethnic and religious group wanted independence or, barring that, American administration. Wilson, however, had far more interest in telling other nations how they should behave than in adding to American responsibilities. When the commission returned to Paris with its inconvenient finding, the report was simply locked away in a vault.

Lawrence’s efforts produced a cruel irony. At the same time that he was becoming a matinee idol in Britain, courtesy of a fanciful lecture show of his exploits delivered by American journalist Lowell Thomas, he was increasingly regarded by senior British officials as the enemy within, the malcontent who stood in the way of victorious Britain and France dividing the spoils of war. In the end, the obstreperous lieutenant colonel was effectively barred from the peace conference and prevented any further contact with Faisal. That accomplished, the path to imperial concord—and betrayal—was clear.

The repercussions were swift in coming. Within the year, most all of the Middle East was aflame as the Arab world, enraged at seeing their Ottoman masters replaced by European ones, rebelled. Lawrence was particularly prescient about Iraq. In 1919, he had predicted full-scale revolt against British rule there by March 1920—“If we don’t mend our ways.” The result of the uprising in May 1920 was some 10,000 dead, including 1,000 British soldiers and administrators.”

Iran, the Mossadegh affair: In 1953 President Eisenhower prevaricated a lot before OK-ing the coup against Mossadegh because he “was afraid of destabilizing Iran and the region, which in his estimation, would inevitably lead to a communist takeover.” (Six Myths about the Coup against Iran’s Mossadegh)
He was right, only Iran hadn’t been taken over by communists but by Islamic fundamentalists yet I cannot stop wondering if Eisenhower, and those who urged him to proceed, were aware of what had happened 30 years before in ‘Arabia’.

In 1979, almost another 30 years later, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. I don’t think this move had directly caused the fall of the Soviet Empire, but it certainly helped. The Soviet War in Afghanistan, 1879 – 1989As you all know the whole affair is still a festering wound.

In 1980 another war provided a scene where bad decisions could have been made. And were readily made: (Iran-Iraq War (1980-7988))
“Gradual Superpower Involvement (as if they weren’t already involved in that region, up to the hilt)
Iranian military gains inside Iraq after 1984 were a major reason for increased superpower involvement in the war. In February 1986, Iranian units captured the port of Al Faw, which had oil facilities and was one of Iraq’s major oil-exporting ports before the war.In early 1987, both superpowers indicated their interest in the security of the region. Soviet deputy foreign minister Vladimir Petrovsky made a Middle East tour expressing his country’s concern over the effects of the Iran-Iraq War. In May 1987, United States assistant secretary of state Richard Murphy also toured the Gulf emphasizing to friendly Arab states the United States commitment in the region, a commitment which had become suspect as a result of Washington’s transfer of arms to the Iranians, officially as an incentive for them to assist in freeing American hostages held in Lebanon. In another diplomatic effort, both superpowers supported the UN Security Council resolutions seeking an end to the war.

The war appeared to be entering a new phase in which the superpowers were becoming more involved. For instance, the Soviet Union, which had ended military supplies to both Iran and Iraq in 1980, resumed large-scale arms shipments to Iraq in 1982 after Iran banned the Tudeh and tried and executed most of its leaders. Subsequently, despite its professed neutrality, the Soviet Union became the major supplier of sophisticated arms to Iraq. In 1985 the United States began clandestine direct and indirect negotiations with Iranian officials that resulted in several arms shipments to Iran.

By late spring of 1987, the superpowers became more directly involved because they feared that the fall of Basra might lead to a pro-Iranian Islamic republic in largely Shia-populated southern Iraq. They were also concerned about the intensified tanker war.”

After the table was thus set there is ‘small wonder’ about what happened next: Iraq invaded Kuwait, the first Gulf War, 9/11, the second Gulf War, the intervention against the Taliban, what’s going on in the Horn of Africa…

Here is what Abdi Ismail Sanatar, a Somali, Professor of Geography at the University of Minnesota, was writing in the wake of the Nairobi Massacre 2013 (The Nairobi Massacre and the genealogy of the tragedy):”Given this, what must then be done to turn this tragedy into a victory for Somalis and Kenyans?
First, all of us must tend to the injured and those families who lost their loved ones.
Second, since al-Shabab’s main operations base is in Somalia, and since it has inflicted the greatest damage to ordinary Somalis, the international community should understand that the terror group must be defeated in that country. To do so, the EU and the US who support AMISOM must appreciate that only a professional and well-resourced Somali security force will drive al-Shabab into the sea. Consequently, they can divert half of AMISOM’s budget to this endeavor.
Third, Kenyan President Kenyatta and his government must heed legitimate Somali grievances against the occupation and urgently work with the Somali government and withdraw its troops from southern Somalia. Finally, the Somali government and particularly its top leadership should wake up to the fact that they have failed to inspire the Somali people and move them into massive civic mobilisation that will be the most effective defense against al-Shabab.
Such an engagement of the citizens will also be a fantastic boon for the Somalia’s reconstruction. If the international community and leadership in the region go back to business as usual then the victims of al-Shabab’s terror will endure a second death.”
Now, in 2015, his words have become tragically prophetic. “The victims of al-Shabab’s terror” were indeed murdered a second time, at Garissa University in Kenya.

And how does William Ruto, Kenya’s deputy president, plan to solve the situation? Simple (World’s largest refugee camp scapegoated in wake of Garissa attack):
“He told the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to shut down Dadaab refugee camp near the border with Somalia within three months, or else Kenya would shut it down itself.
Officials have claimed that Dadaab is where al-Shabaab plans its acts of terror, such as Garissa and the 2013 Westgate Mall attack, and must be shut down.

“We have asked the UNHCR to relocate the refugees in three months, failure to which we shall relocate them ourselves,” said Ruto. “The way America changed after 9/11 is the way Kenya will change after Garissa… We must secure this country at whatever cost.”

Fighting talk, but talk was as far as it got. The UN has so far simply ignored the public demands for Dadaab’s closure, only commenting to praise Kenya’s commitment to refugees.
The UN has yet to receive any official communication on the subject. Although Kenya is eager to prove itself in the fight against terrorism while the country is still mourning the the victims of the attack, the government also needs to find someone to blame, other than its own poor national security system.
For now, Dadaab’s refugee population – voiceless in Kenyan society, and unable to defend itself – makes for 350,000 convenient scapegoats.”

I almost feel that some of you will oblige and remind me that hindsight is always 20/20 and that none of those who made the decisions that have led to those horrific outcomes could have known what was going to happen. Or that they even cared I might add.

True enough. Nassim Nicholas Taleb has a vey interesting idea on this subject. ‘Skin in the game‘ he calls it. His tenet being ‘if those who make the decisions do not directly experience the outcomes then the decision making process will be less diligent than if their own skin were in the game’.

The sad reality is that those who tend to use the ‘the full outcome could not have been predicted’ argument prove more than Taleb’s words. They are living proof to the fact that he who doesn’t read about it is doomed to repeat it.

Fortunately now there is a easier way out. The lazy ones can watch the movie if there’s too much for them to actually read Goethe’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

What’s the connection? Besides the obvious tank, of course…

How about both being extreme alpha males who display a comprehensive disdain towards what the rest of us considers to be common courtesy?

Then how come both of them enjoy the unflagging support of millions of fans?

“James May and Richard Hammond – who have refused to work without him despite the former calling him “a knob” – might be expected to stand up for their co-star and (presumably) friend. But even the Prime Minister has called him “a friend” and “a huge talent”. Meanwhile, a petition to “Bring Back Clarkson” now has more than one million signatures.
Maybe it’s because he (Jeremy Clarkson) represents a particular group in society: financially middling white people who feel under assault from wider issues which they do not understand and who are happy to buy into the scapegoats of immigration, human rights and health and safety. These are the people who are most likely to complain about “PC gone mad”, and in Clarkson they have someone who appears to rail against all of that which constrains them. As one signatory commented: “Jeremy is a bastion of light in a dark PC world.” Of course, it is hard to work out what they aren’t actually allowed to say, given the headlines the Daily Mail gets away with every day, and the police officers who walk free after asking their black colleagues about eating bananas. (Judith Wanga, The Telegraph)

Simetrically:

“I have lost count of how many nations my country has bombed in just the last few years. We bombed Afghanistan and the result is chaos. We bombed Iraq and the result is chaos. We bombed Libya and the result is chaos. We almost bombed Syria, but your President, Vladimir Putin, helped save us from that madness. Our policy seems to be that if we kill enough Muslims the survivors will believe in Jeffersonian democracy and wear bikinis.
I know it is tempting to think that the rulers of my country are evil, but they are not evil. It would be better if they were evil because it would be easier to unmask them and replace them. No, they genuinely believe that they are bringing enlightenment, modernity, freedom, and happiness to the world.
Of course, the United States government is not the same as the American people. There are many Americans, like me, who are dismayed by the arrogance and blindness of our government. Our voices are seldom heard, but we are there. And we support a strong and sovereign Russia that defends its traditions against all attacks. We support a Europe of nations and of regions, each with its own wonderful, irreplaceable traditions.” (Jared Taylor, American Renaissance, speaking before the Russian Conservative Forum, Sankt Petersburg, March 23, 2015)

So how come BBC dropped Clarkson despite Top Gear bringing in some 50 million pounds each year while Putin is still at the helm of the second most powerful nation, from the military point of view at least, in spite of the heavy economic hardships the Russian population has to endure as a result of Putin’s antics?

First of all BBC is a not for profit organization. So money is important but there are limits. “For me a line has been crossed. There cannot be one rule for one and one rule for another dictated by either rank, or public relations and commercial considerations.” (Tony Hall, BBC’s director general, the Independent). Besides that the wider public has sanctioned promptly Clarkson’s previous ‘slips’, preparing the ground for what had just happened.

Meanwhile ‘Russia’ is a country, not a company, so there is no such thing as a ‘wider public’. More over it is operated on a completely different set of principles:
““Even in its current inefficient form, Russia’s economy is sustainable as long as the citizenry is willing to live with hardship and lost opportunity,” Sucher points out. “History suggests that one should not underestimate the capacity of the Russian people to endure the unendurable.”
Russians’ presumed endurance, combined with their capability to put up with hard times and losses, are among the reasons why some experts don’t believe that social protests will happen in the foreseeable future. 
However, the problem appears to be more complicated than it does at first glance. Even though Russians might have stamina to deal with economic hardships, will they trust the authorities in the future?
Trust in the government and the president remains crucial for maintaining a country’s social capital, as Ngaire Woods, dean at Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Public Diplomacy, and her counterpart from China’s Tsinghua University, Xue Lan, agreed during the Gaidar Forum. So far, Russian President Vladimir Putin approval ratings are robust. But it remains to be seen if that will be the case in two to three years….
.
After all, some of Russia’s prominent sociologists and historians believe that the Kremlin manipulates the mentality of Russians to legitimize its regime. For example, Lev Gudkov, director of Russia’s Levada Center for public opinion polling, points out that Russians are experiencing a deep inferiority complex and a sort of psychological trauma after the collapse of the Soviet Union, all of which makes them easier to manipulate.” (Pavel Koshkin in Russia Direct, relating about what has been discussed at the Gaidar Economic Forum in January 2015)

So, while Clarkson – no matter how brazen he is as a person or adulated as a TV personality – is not high enough above the rest of the world to be impervious to the effects of his own deeds, Putin stands, at least for the moment, atop a very tall pedestal. So tall, in fact, that I’m afraid he no longer sees clearly what’s going on at the street level.
Only this pedestal is made of the flimsiest of construction materials – popular sentiment. When the Russians will finally understand that ‘the emperor is naked’…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frTBy4My9Qc
http://persephonemagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/clarkson-bird.gif
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2M5l__vCwo
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/celebritynews/11482655/In-Jeremy-Clarkson-BBC-bosses-have-created-a-monster.-Now-its-their-job-to-slay-him.html
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/176f7c04-d2f9-11e4-a792-00144feab7de.html#axzz3VUKcO3GQ
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/clarkson-sacked-piers-morgan-writes-open-letter-to-extop-gear-presenter-10134437.html
http://www.russia-direct.org/analysis/here%E2%80%99s-why-russia%E2%80%99s-economic-problems-won%E2%80%99t-lead-social-protests

Fateful Scene – Marcus Brutus and coconspirators assassinate Caesar in the Aquila Theatre Company’s production of “Julius Caeser.” Richard Termine/Courtesy photo.

Did you know this maxim was attributed to Philip II of Macedonia and was heavily used by both Caesar and Napoleon?

Also, did you know that it covers a lot more than ‘divide and conquer’?

For instance, a rather successful computer game and a problem solving methodology  that recommends the original problem be divided into smaller, and hence easier to manage, sub-problems.

Going back to the original meaning I must admit that both the ancient Macedonians and the ancient Romans made ‘good’ use of it. Alexandre the Great had conquered everything between Greece and India while the Ancient Rome had become one of the most powerful empires known to man.

In more modern times the same strategy has been used by Germany, with relative success. During WWI the Kaiser had facilitated Lenin’s access to Russia and by doing so he had split the coalition that was fighting against Germany – as a result of this manoeuvre Russia had concluded a separate peace treaty at Brest Litovsk. During WWII Hitler took great care to keep Russia at bay while he conquered the Western part of Europe.

Now the same strategy is being used by Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, the current Czar of Russia.

On Sunday, March 22, 2015, Sankt Petersburg – Putin’s birth place and political trampoline – hosted the Russian Conservative Forum. It was attended by a “a motley crew of representatives of fringe right-wing political organizations in Europe and the United States” which “including Hitler apologists, Holocaust deniers, apartheid fans, and a Russian skinhead who once decapitated a puppy as a publicity stunt, gave it an air of dark surrealism. Speakers condemned the U.S. as the enslaver of Europe and sang the praises of Russian President Vladimir Putin, holding up Russia as the last fortress of Christendom in the war waged on it by liberalism and multiculturalism.
“In the West, we are brainwashed to hate Vladimir Putin,” said British anti-abortion-rights campaigner Jim Dowson. He went on to say that Russia is blessed to be ruled by “a real man” while the U.S. is led by the “feminized” Barack Obama.”

On Tuesday, March 24, “The UN General Assembly’s budget committee … rejected a proposal submitted by Russia that called for withdrawing a July 2014 administrative ruling by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He ordered the world body to recognize same-sex unions of any of its 60,000 global staff who wed in countries that legally recognize such partnerships.
The dispute turned an internal UN personnel policy into a microcosm of the differences that pit the U.S. and EU nations against more socially conservative countries over recognizing rights of those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.”

If we put two and two together and then add the result to what has already become evident – that the Russian (more exactly Putin’s) Propaganda machine has been revved up in a massive way for quite a while now – things do get in shape.
Putin is ‘doing his worst’ to convince those uncomfortable with the spread of ‘liberal values’/globalization that if they want to ‘preserve their national traditions’ they have to ‘unite closely around’ the only leader that can save them from being engulfed by the ‘decadence of the West’. Around him, that is.

In fact this is exactly what the ’emperors of old’ I mentioned at the beginning of the post used to recommend. Instil as much fear in your opponents, individually, as you can and try to rekindle the smallest differences that ever existed between them.

There is a small problem though with this line of thinking.
No matter how much we respect/admire some of them or hate/despise the others none of those who had used this strategy ended up in a ‘comfortable’ manner.
And all of them had brought great misery to the people under their rule. Including Caesar. A civil war is no small thing, not now, not then!

While we ponder what to do in order to counter this nefarious propaganda we need to keep in mind that Russia is not Putin and that the Russian people has never had a taste of what real democracy feels like. Blaming the entire people, wholesale, for what Putin does in their name ‘is worse than a crime, it’s a mistake’.

PS. Same counter-strategy should be applied to all would be ‘dividers’ who try to become ’emperors’.

http://scarlet.unl.edu/scarlet/archive/2008/02/28/story9.html
http://rsif.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/royinterface/12/104/20141335.full.pdf
http://history.stackexchange.com/questions/14608/did-the-germans-purposefully-arrange-to-send-lenin-to-russia-to-start-a-revoluti
http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/treaty_of_brest-litovsk.htm
http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/a-hateful-sort-of-love
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/23/world/europe/right-wing-groups-find-a-haven-for-a-day-in-russia.html?ref=europe
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-03-23/is-russia-against-fascism-or-isn-t-it-
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-03-24/russian-bid-to-block-same-sex-benefits-for-un-workers-rejected
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/17/crimea-crisis-russia-propaganda-media
http://www.unrv.com/fall-republic/caesars-civil-war.php

I came across this extremely interesting article about Hitler being a socialist.

After making his point, impeccably, Daniel Hannan – the author – ends up with: “My beef with many (not all) Leftists is a simpler one. By refusing to return the compliment, by assuming a moral superiority, they make political dialogue almost impossible. Using the soubriquet “Right-wing” to mean “something undesirable” is a small but important example.”

To me this article is nothing but another reminder that the the only reasonable alternative to any extremism is the living center, not the dead opposite extremism.

Every time that the functional equilibrium between the content (because of their affluence, carelessness or both) and the strugglers (people who are on a constant quest for new solutions, irrespective of their motivation) has been breached things tended to become rather ugly before coming back towards normalcy.
Just compare how people around the Mediterranean sea used to live during the four centuries straddling AD 1 with what happened during the next millennium, otherwise known as the Dark Ages.
Why? Just because the Roman emperors used ‘panem et circensis’ as their main political concept and the population obliged. Until things went so far that the whole empire failed abysmally…
Same things happened before the French Revolution and before Lenin and Hitler came to power in Russia and Germany, respectively. Nowadays it is currently happening in Russia and the huge gap between the oligarchs and the modern muzhiks is the sole explanation I need for how come Putin has such a stronghold on the Russian people – he is keeping both categories happy by feeding their imagination with dreams about the Greater Russia and their bellies full with the money he gets from selling oil and natural gas.
For people on both sides of the political spectrum to restart a real dialogue all of them need to understand that the other side has legitimate concerns too.
Nowadays most on the left insist on ‘equality’ while most on the right speak of nothing but ‘individual freedom’. And both of them blame the state. The left accuses the government for not doing enough to promote the sacrosanct ‘equality’ while the right blames the state for infringing on the individual’s right to do whatever it wants…  As if equality (of chances) is in anyway different from individual freedom… As if authoritarianism could exist without the guys at the top enjoying a lot  more freedom than those at the bottom of the social ladder… As if functional social order could be maintained without people cooperating among themselves based on mutual respect, said cooperation  having evolved through time and currently reaching the modern form known as “the democratic state”…
I agree with concerned people on the both sides of the divide that the state could, and has indeed in more than one occasions, represent an extremely powerful repression tool in the hands of callous political operators but the answer to this is to make sure that the democratic mechanisms work smoothly, not to thoroughly dismantle the state itself….  Precisely because a skeleton state is a lot more easily highjacked by the ‘political thugs’ than one which has respected and balanced (hence functional) institutions in the right places.
Now please allow me to end my post by extending the invitation made by Daniel Hannan and urge you, all of you, to stop assuming ‘moral superiority’ based exclusively on ideological motives. Ideology is fine but we should never forget that it is nothing but a tool and it is us who do things and are responsible for both our deeds and our fate.
If ideology is diverse enough as to help us see how complex the world really is then we are better off because of it. If, instead, we use our diverse ideologies as filters to shun whatever ‘the others’ are trying to tell us… then it’s curtains for all of us, together at last… but not in the right place.
PS
To read the article – it is brilliant – you can either click on the yellow highlight near the top of my post or here: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/danielhannan/100260720/whenever-you-mention-fascisms-socialist-roots-left-wingers-become-incandescent-why/.

Image

Romania, the country I was born in and I dearly love, is in a mess.
The US, a country for which I feel a profound gratitude, is deeply divided across numerous fault lines.
Ukrainians have such a low opinion on Russia, their former big brother, that Moscow has to resort to bribing in order to lure Kiev out of joining the EU.

How did we get here?

Romanians have elected Traian Basescu – an ex sea captain – as President, not so much because of his promise: ‘You should live better!’ but mostly because they were fed up with the arrogance displayed by his opponent. 9 years later, fed up with the way Basescu has maneuvered his pet prime minister into wrecking the economy, Romanians have brought to power a new prime minister who has promised to keep Basescu on a short leash. What was the first thing this new prime minister has done? A formal ‘non-aggression’ pact with the president, as if the constitution wasn’t a good enough to frame relations between the presidency and the government. Now the pact is already broken and for the last month or so the two are accusing each other of corruption while the EU is trying to asses if Romania is mature enough to join the Schengen group of selected countries who trust one another so much as to give up border controls altogether.

The Americans elected Obama, a charismatic leader, hoping he will lead them out of the cul-de-sac where the lackluster but rather rigid G.W. Bush has left them. Do you remember ‘Yes, we can!’? I must confess I was thrilled at the time but I was also weary: ‘What if he will not be able to fulfill all the hope his people has put on his shoulders?’ Now, six years later, Obama’s main promise – an affordable health care system to cover everybody – is in shambles and he has shifted his priorities to a ‘war on poverty’, a move seen by the conservatives as another trick intended to widen the scope of the already ‘too powerful central government’.

The Russians, disillusioned with the chaotic ways of Boris Eltsin – on whose reign the country was left to the mercy of a few oligarchs (pun intended) – brought to power an ex KGB operative. Now, 13 years later, his grip on power is almost as comprehensive as it was that enjoyed by the communist leaders while the country still depends on exporting vast amounts of energy from fast dwindling reserves. Meanwhile its neighbors see Russia as a less scary but no less spiteful version of the old USSR.

What is to be done?

A couple of days ago I took a cab, in Bucharest. The driver, fed up with the constant bickering between the Romanian political leaders, ejaculated: ‘What we need is a dictatorship. A honest guy, preferable from the military, that will clean up this mess!’. While not very common this belief – that current problems could be solved by a ‘honest and benevolent’ dictator, a “Tatuca” (Father in Romanian) – is spreading again. In fact this is exactly how Putin acceded to power in Russia.

Last night I happened to ‘stumble’ on Donald Trump speaking to CNN’s Piers Morgan. ‘What we need is more leadership. We need someone to take the bull by the horns!’ (Unfortunately the clip posted by CNN on the Youtube starts exactly after Trump had finished speaking about ‘leadership’ but you can still read the caption about the ‘bull’s horns’. Still, it is worth watching, you’ll find out about how popular Donald Trump is among the restaurant owners).

It seems that finally the Russians, the Americans and the Romanians have reached common ground.

But would this be a wise thing to do?

To me it seems obvious that while the empires/dictatorships fell/failed rather sooner than later a more stable form of running things is true democracy. After all history provides plenty examples of how peoples who organized themselves based  on mutual respect fared a lot better than those who let themselves to be bullied around. One caveat though, modern democracy seems less and less based on respect and honest efforts to find the common ground and more on tricks performed with the intent to manipulate the masses.

So what will you have, authoritarianism, demagoguery or mutual respect?

PS.
I asked the cabbie ‘OK, but how to you find the right guy for the job?’
I left him scratching his head in search for an answer.

%d bloggers like this: