Thursday, November 26, 2015

The War in Syria for Dummies

President Assad (who is bad ) is a nasty guy who got so nasty his people rebelled and the Rebels ( who are good ) started winning ( Hurrah!).

But then some of the rebels turned a bit nasty and are now called Islamic State ( who are definitely bad!) and some continued to support democracy ( who are still good.)

So the Americans (who are good ) started bombing Islamic State (who are bad) and giving arms to the Syrian Rebels (who are good) so they could fight Assad (who is still bad) which was good.

By the way, there is a breakaway state in the north run by the Kurds who want to fight IS (which is a good thing) but the Turkish authorities think they are bad, so we have to say they are bad whilst secretly thinking they're good and giving them guns to fight IS (which is good) but that is another matter.

Getting back to Syria.

So President Putin (who is bad, cos he invaded Crimea and the Ukraine and killed lots of folks including that nice Russian man in London with polonium poisoned tea) has decided to back Assad (who is still bad) by attacking IS (who are also bad) which is sort of a good thing?

But Putin (still bad ) thinks the Syrian Rebels (who are good ) are also bad, and so he bombs them too, much to the annoyance of the Americans (who are good) who are busy backing and arming the rebels (who are also good).

Now Iran (who used to be bad, but now they have agreed not to build any nuclear weapons and bomb Israel are now good) are going to provide ground troops to support Assad (still bad) as are the Russians (bad) who now have ground troops and aircraft in Syria.

So a Coalition of Assad (still bad) Putin (extra bad) and the Iranians (good, but in a bad sort of way) are going to attack IS (who are bad) which is a good thing, but also the Syrian Rebels (who are good) which is bad.

Now the British (obviously good, except that Mr Corbyn in the corduroy jacket, who is probably bad) and the Americans (also good) cannot attack Assad (still bad) for fear of upsetting Putin (bad) and Iran (good / bad) and now they have to accept that Assad might not be that bad after all compared to IS (who are super bad).

So Assad (bad) is now probably good, being better than IS (but let’s face it, drinking your own wee is better than IS so no real choice there) and since Putin and Iran are also fighting IS that may now make them Good.
America (still Good) will find it hard to arm a group of rebels being attacked by the Russians for fear of upsetting Mr Putin (now good) and that nice mad Ayatollah in Iran (also Good) and so they may be forced to say that the Rebels are now Bad, or at the very least abandon them to their fate. This will lead most of them to flee to Turkey and on to Europe or join IS (still the only constantly bad group).

To Sunni Muslims, an attack by Shia Muslims (Assad and Iran) backed by Russians will be seen as something of a Holy War, and the ranks of IS will now be seen by the Sunnis as the only Jihadis fighting in the Holy War and hence many Muslims will now see IS as Good (Doh!.)

Sunni Muslims will also see the lack of action by Britain and America in support of their Sunni rebel brothers as something of a betrayal (mmm. might have a point) and hence we will be seen as Bad.

So now we have America (now bad) and Britain (also bad) providing limited support to Sunni Rebels (bad) many of whom are looking to IS (Good / bad) for support against Assad (now good) who, along with Iran (also Good) and Putin (also, now, unbelievably, Good) are attempting to retake the country Assad used to run before all this started?

So, now you fully understand everything, all your questions are answered!!!!

Not sure where this started.  It was emailed to me by a friend who got it from a friend.  I goggled it and it shows up in many places so I cannot give credit to the original author.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Holodomor Memorial Day Nov 28.

On Saturday, November 7th in Washington DC, the dedication ceremony of the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide (Holodomor) Memorial was held. Article and picture of the memorial are found here.

Russia has revived the old Stalinist propaganda, denying that the Holodomor ever occurred, and claiming it was a lie manufactured by the west to discredit Moscow.

There are a number of documentaries available on-line, including this one which is about 1 hour long:

There is a 2015 movie based on the Holodomor which can be viewed or downloaded here though I have done neither.

The following references are from the article linked to above:
  • Cairns, Andrew.  The Soviet Famine 1932-33: An Eyewitness Account of Conditions in the Spring and Summer of 1932.  Edmonton: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta, 1989.
  • Commission on the Ukrainian Famine.  Investigation of the Ukrainian famine, 1932-1933: Oral History Project of the Commission on the Ukraine Famine. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1990.
  • Conquest, Robert.  The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine.  USA: Oxford University Press, 1987.
  • Davies, R.W.  The Socialist Offensive: The Collectivization of Soviet Agriculture, 1929-1930.  London:  Macmillan, 1980.
  • Davies, Robert William and S.G. Wheatcroft.  The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture, 1931-1933. USA:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
  • Dimarov, Anatoliy.  A Hunger Most Cruel: The Human Face of the 1932-1933 Terror-Famine in Soviet Ukraine.  Winnipeg: Language Lantern Publications, 2002.
  • Dolot, Myron.  Who Killed Them and Why?  In Remembrance of Those Killed in the Famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984.
  • Dolot, Myron.  Execution by Hunger: The Hidden Holocaust.  New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1987.
  • Halii, Mykola.  Organized Famine in Ukraine, 1932-1933.  Chicago: Ukrainian Research and Information Institute, 1963.
  • Hryshko, Wasyl.  The Ukrainian Holocaust of 1933.  Toronto: Bahriany Foundation, 1983.
  • Kostiuk, Hryhory.  Stalinist Rule in Ukraine: A Study of the Decade of Mass Terror, 1929-1939.  Munich: Institut zur Erforschung der UdSSSR, 1960.
  • Krawchenko, Bohdan.  Social Change and National Consciousness in Twentieth-Century Ukraine. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985.
  • Marcus, David.  “Famine Crimes in International Law,” American Journal of International Law 97, no. 2 (2003): 245-281.
  • Motyl, Alexander,  “Deleting the Holodomor: Ukraine Unmakes Itself,” World Affairs Journal, Sept.-Oct. 2010. .
  • Motyl Alexander, “Remembering the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide,” World Affairs Journal, Blogpost from December 13, 2013. .
  • Oleksiw, Stephen.  The Agony of a Nation: The Great Man-Made Famine in Ukraine, 1932-1933. London: National Committee to Commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Artificial Famine in Ukraine 1932-1933, 1983.
  • Procyk, Oksana, Leonid Heretz and James Earnest Mace.  Famine in the Soviet Ukraine, 1932-1933: A Memorial Exhibition, Widener Library, Harvard University.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986
  • Serbyn, Roman. Famine in Ukraine, 1932-1933. Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1986.
  • Snyder, Timothy D. Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.  New York: Basic Books, 2010.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning - a book review

Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and WarningBlack Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning by Timothy Snyder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Timothy Snyder's newest book begins by explaining the ideology behind Hitler and National Socialism. In this it is an improvement over most histories which deal with WHAT is done and the immediate WHYs but rarely goes deeper. Hitler believed in an extreme version of Social Darwinism - survival of the fittest. He believed that life was an endless struggle of superior races to vanquish inferior races and take what they needed for survival and that it was a crime NOT to do so. He believed that Germans (Aryans) were THE superior race and that for example, Slavs were sub-human and should be enslaved or starved, their Black Earth (Ukraine) taken to feed the superior race.

While most anti-Semitism is based on the notion that evil Jews are polluting good humans. Hitler saw it quite the opposite. Humans were to live by the law of the jungle and the Jews, which Hitler did not even consider a race, devised ways to prevent the rise of the superior race and the survival of inferior races. Everything civilizational was part of a Jewish plot to control the world. Capitalism, communism, states, laws, institutions, justice, mercy etc were all invented by Jews.

So Hitler undertook to create war, not as a means to an end but to continue forever. There were two wars to be fought simultaneously. A colonial war against the inferior Slavs of the east and an anti-colonial war against the Jews, without which he could not win the first war. Interestingly enough, his colonial war was inspired by superior American destruction of inferior indigenous peoples and their land seized to create the American empire.

Snyder then goes on to describe the situation in Germany and then each of the states that were involved in the war. We tend to think of Germany as a strong state which coerced the other states into the mass murder of Jews. The exact opposite is true. German Jews stood a better chance of survival than Jews in the east where the state had been destroyed completely, either by Germany (western Poland) or first by the Soviets and then by Germany (eastern Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, the Baltics, western Russia) where 95% or more of the Jews were murdered. In every regions where the state was destroyed, Germany was able to easily involve non-Jewish locals in collaboration to murder Jews. In states which retained some semblance of statehood (Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria, to an extent Bulgaria), Jews stood a much better chance of survival. In Holland which was generally not anti-Semitic, where the government fled, more Jews were killed than in Greece which tended to be more anti-Semitic but where the government remained intact.

Anti-Semitism was rampant in Poland (where the vast majority of European Jews lived) in the 1930's. Poland wanted the Jews out and thought their best bet was the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. To that end they trained and armed groups of Polish Jewish groups to fight the British in Palestine. These groups also played a part in the Polish Home Army, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and Polish and Soviet partisan groups. Ukrainian Nationalist groups such as the UPA made for a very complex situation as they engaged in ethnic cleansing of Poles, murder of Jews, rescuing of Jews, fighting the Soviets and fighting the Nazis.

People who engaged in rescuing Jews did so for many reasons, for money, for love, for companionship, for labour, for replacement of lost children and some did it purely because it was the decent thing to do. Many examples are given of those who put their lives on the line to save one or many Jews. Some are famous (Raoul Wallenberg) but most are simply people who disappeared into history but for the memoirs of those they rescued.

The final chapter deals with lessons learned and situations under which such things could conceivable happen again. The one thing Snyder makes very clear is that strong states and strong institutions are critical to prevent genocide and that the attitudes of the extreme right and extreme left against the state are very dangerous. We are none of us so far removed from the people who collaborated with and participated in the mass killings of the Holocaust.

This book should be read along with Timothy Snyder's previous book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin in which the murders of millions by both Stalin and Hitler are examined in detail, including that of the Jews.

View all my reviews

Friday, November 20, 2015

Climate Change - Understanding Global Temperature Calculations

This post is kind of an aside but the article from The Telegraph from last February regarding "adjustments to actual temperature readings" is making the rounds again.  A commenter on FB posted a link to someone's blog post that had two very interesting videos embedded.  The text of the post was pretty much useless as it was simply Climate Change Religion attack jargon.

I am and remain a climate change skeptic simply because I hate the bullying tactics of the Climate Change Religious against anyone who dares to question anything.  People that desperate to squelch dissent must not be too sure of themselves.  And if most of them know as much about climatology as they do about GMOs, one does well to ignore them. They are simply anti-Exxon and anti-Monsanto.  In orhter words they have politicized science.

Here is NASA's take on it from 15 years ago and it is much more reasonable than the doomsayers would have you believe.  There are questions being asked by scientists.  We have learned a great deal since then, of course, but the question still remains, how much of global climate change is anthropogenic and how much has natural causes

These two short videos explain a great deal about how global temperature is calculated and why and how adjustments are made. They are made by a real scientist who explains things very clearly and gives you the data sources and software to do your own calculations if you wish.  Quite different from Dr Mann of hockey stick fame.

This picture is a screen capture from late in the second video.

The bottom pictures and chart show the coverage of earth and ocean surface by temperature recording devices, increasing from about 40% to about 80% from 1900 through 1970.  The top chart is a combination of all earth temperature records adjusted (dark red) and raw (light).

Global temperature is gradually and seeming inexorably increasing.  However you can see the oscillations that occur about every 30 years, so obviously there are other things happening than just GHG.  I can vouch for the 50's, 60's and 70's.  We had real winters then. But in the late 70's things warmed up and kept warming up. Though if you look at the top of the graph we seem to be headed into another "flattening" of temperature rises.

What will happen at the end of this current cycle (2040-2050) is anyone's guess.  Will the temperature again shoot up as it did for the past 30 years or are we headed into a cooling period? And how will it play out regionally? John Reader's "Africa: a biography of the continent" describes the effect of "localized" climate changes over the centuries.

A great deal of research is being done to try to hedge our bets as to which way the climate will go, with most seemingly favouring increased temperatures, though it is not the 95% that folks like to claim.  Regardless, the social impact and environmental hazards, over and above CO2, of coal, oil and gas should be pushing continued development of renewable energy sources.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Paris, Beirut and ISIS (ISIL)

The humorous blog post sketched out in my mind Friday night for Saturday morning was totally inappropriate against the news of the night's happenings in Paris.  French security knew something was coming but they didn't know what or when or who. So how do you defend against that?

Whether the EU's borderless Schengen system can survive terrorist attacks is a question.  Hollande said he was closing the French border but of course it is not that easy and would take months and millions to reinstate proper border controls.

They have identified several of the dead attackers, and some who are on the run.  Most of them appear to be of French or Belgian origin.  A Syrian passport was "found near the body" of one of the attackers that belonged to a man who came into Europe with refugees from Syria.  It has not been confirmed that the passport belongs to the body yet.  This has not stopped the haters from coming out from under their rocks.  These are folks who never met an immigrant or refugee they liked unless they were white males of European descent, so of course they are playing the no-refugee thing to the hilt. 

An item just hit my news feed that the passport was a fake as they have another person in custody with the same passport but a different picture.  Trying to make it look like some of the attackers were Syrian refugee-terrorists would help ISIS cause by hardening attitudes towards refugees fleeing from ISIS. (Backlash against refugees and Muslim communities in general also is a big plus for Russia as it will drive more Europeans into the ultra nationalist far right parties such as Marine lePen's and weaken the EU.)

The reality is, The Islamic State(IS) loathes that individuals are fleeing Syria for Europe. It undermines IS’ message that its self-styled Caliphate is a refuge, because if it was, individuals would actually go there in droves since it’s so close instead of 100,000s of people risking their lives through arduous journeys that could lead to death en route to Europe.

[One IS] video addresses the issue of those leaving the Islamic State for the lands of the infidel – i.e. refugees fleeing to Europe. An Islamic State speaker explains how it is correct for Muslims to leave the lands of the infidel for the lands of Islam, but not vice versa: Muslims should seek to live in a land where the shari’ah is enforced. Speakers warn that the ‘Jews and Christians’ do not have their interests at heart, and will force them to convert in order to remain in their countries. They cite issues such as the restrictions against hijab and niqab in European countries such as France. They assert that the Islamic State will remain strong despite those leaving. They will find happiness only in the land of the caliphate.

“…ISISwants to provoke a right-wing Islamophobic backlash against refugees and immigrant communities that come from Islamic countries, because that conflict gives credence to their world view that there is a war between the West and Islam. This backlash that we see happening is exactly what they want to drive Europeans towards the right-wing, and drive Islamic immigrant communities towards them. ISIS believes they've set up this Islamic utopia, but all these Muslims are fleeing that Islamic utopia -- so that's kind of embarrassing to them. So ISIS hopes that by provoking a backlash, it will lead people to sympathize with them more. Because then these people that are being welcomed in Europe will think, well, actually maybe we're not being welcomed in Europe. Maybe ISIS' world view is right, that there is this fundamental difference between our world and the West.

ISIS is a weapon in the Middle-East power play between Saudi Arabia and Iran.  In the Arab countries, Shia Muslims are the downtrodden under Sunni overlords.  Except in Syria, where Assad's mainly Alawite regime is an offshoot of Shia Islam but the country is mainly Sunni.  Iran is of course Shia and supports the Shia majority areas of the Arab Middle East.  Saudi Arabia is the champion of Sunni Muslims since it contains the two most holy places of Islam. Saudi Araba is using ISIS to keep the Shias under control while Iran is using the crisis to boost its own standing in the Middle East.

What is ISIS? First, it is a much more dangerous organization than al Qaeda.  It is highly religious, very fundamentalist and has a strategy for the here and now.  Al Qaeda saw the establishment of a Caliphate sometime in the future. ISIS has control of territory and has declared a Caliph who meets all qualifications including being a descendant of Mohammed. For a very clear explanation of what ISIS is and what it stands for, why it acts as it does, please read this article.  It is long but worth the time.

The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.

This is also good. 
The Paris attacks are the culmination of a 200-year-long battle over how Islam should respond to the rise of Western power.

And finally.

The day before the Paris attacks, two ISIS bomb blasts in Beirut killed more than 60 Shias and injured several hundred others.  It did not get the press or the sympathy that Paris generated.  If one is Lebanese or even if one simply cares about one's fellow human, it is hard to understand why one life is worth more than another.  The sad truth is that it simply wasn't news.  We are inured to stories of tragedies in that part of the  world as they happen on a daily basis. A plane crashes and kills 300 people.  That is news.  The fact that 3000 people are killed monthly on the roads of America is not news.  “If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics.” Joseph Stalin.  We live in a sad world

Not in my name

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and Egypt

Ukraine has so far failed to prosecute any of Yanukovych's criminal gang.  They may be arrested but are allowed to go free "on bail" or have their case dismissed and even allowed to leave the country.  However Korban, oligarch, leader of the new UKROP party, and an ally of oligarch Kolomoisky, both bitter enemies of Proroshenko has been arrested for embezzlement.  Shokin, the Minister in charge of such shenanigans is the main block in reforming the judicial process but he is supported by Proroshenko and Yatseniuk.  Mostly the loud noises about fighting corruption are just that and both the IMF and EU are getting irritated.

Ukraine has a long way to go to reach the 21st century.  Admittance to the visa-free Schengen zone is high on Ukraine's wish list.  However they have to meet certain requirements not necessarily related to visas but certainly to civilized behaviour.  One of them was legislation preventing workplace discrimination on the grounds of sexual preference (or race and colour).  When it came to the first vote in the Rada, deputies were conspicuous by their absence and it received about half the votes necessary.  Some of the speeches opposing it came right out of the dark ages which is kind of where Ukrainian culture is in so many respects.

Russia continues down its anti-Ukrainian path in more than the war in eastern Ukraine which is still ongoing, of course.  The Kremlin has determined to send back to Ukraine from Russia as many Ukrainians as possible just at the start of winter.  Only those fleeing the war n eastern Ukraine are "exempt" but some are afraid to identify as refugees as they will she shipped east to Magadan and dumped in the middle of nowhere with no support.  Others are being told to go home as "the war is over".  So much for the claim of protecting Russian speakers.  Oh, I think young Ukrainians dodging military call-up are also exempt from being sent home but that may be changing too.

The head of the Ukrainian Library is under arrest for "running a library" which apparently had "extremist" material in it.  That is what libraries are supposed to do - house all relevant materials related to in this case Ukraine.  She also says some of the titles they "found" were planted.  And the Tretyakov Art Gallery has removed Ilya Repin's famous Zaporozhian Cossacks Write a Letter to the Turkish Sultan (wherein they essentially tell him to get stuffed).  Such ideas of Ukrainian independence are considered seditious these days, I guess, even in art galleries.

Turkey had its election last Sunday and Erdogan's party has its majority.  Not enough to alter the constitution to give Erdogan the executive powers he so desperately wants or even enough to take the changes to the people, both of which require more than a 50% plus 1 majority. It is unlikely it will make much difference to Erdogan who continues to abuse his figurehead position as president.  It is also likely that the crackdown on all opposition and the war against the Kurds will continue.

It looks more and more like the plane full of Russian tourists returning home that disintegrated in mid-air and crashed in the Sinai Peninsula last Saturday,  killing all on board was downed by a bomb. Security at Sharm el-Sheikh airport was pretty lax at the best of times apparently and for 20 GBP could be bypassed entirely.  It wasn't even necessarily a tourist that took the bomb on board.  It was more likely one of the baggage handlers.  This will not do the Egyptian tourist industry much good which was likely the intent as much as it may have been aimed at Russia as well.  Kill two birds with one stone so to speak.

THIS just came in from WaPo.  Both Russia and Egypt have a vested interest in denying that is was a terrorist attack.  However as the article notes, both are more adept at lying than investigating.  And the trolls are all over it in the comment section

Here is a modern version of Victor Vasnetsov's "The Knight at the Crossroads". The painting reflects a scene from Russian folk tales, where the hero arrives at a crossroads and finds a inscription in a stone that says “If you go left, you will lose your horse. If you go right, you will lose your head”

Friday, October 30, 2015

More Odds and Ends

It is hard to write anything intelligent when your head feels like it is stuffed with sawdust.  My head may BE stuffed with sawdust and my writings may NOT be intelligent at the best of times but as long as it doesn't FEEL like it, I am good to go. I walked the dogs on a cold rainy day, dressed too warm got all sweated up and wet with rain.  Instead of changing into a dry shirt when I got home I fell asleep.  When I woke up my sinuses were plugged solid.  Some days I should not be allowed out without a note from my wife.

I can breath now but it is moving into my chest.  One more week to go.  All cures for the common cold work in about two weeks. Treating the symptoms only goes so far.  Oxymetazoline works great as a nasal decongestant BUT if you use it to often the sinus tissues develop a rebound effect.  So I can't use it anymore.  And I used the last of my extra-strength  Fisherman's Friend cough lozenges which I haven't found here yet.  My son is mailing me a half dozen packages.  I trust I will no longer need them when they arrive but they will be here for next time.

Winter seems to have arrived for keeps now with night temps well below freezing and day temps barely reaching +5.  The dogs' water dish freezes up at night so I take them a pail of hot water which cools off when it hits their dish and stays liquid for the day at least. The cats are still going out at night, though Tigritsa waits until 3:00 am.  She is a wuss.  Scared us the other day; lethargic, wouldn't eat anything etc.  Went out at her usual time and we saw her next morning eating a mouse.  She prefers to hunt her own food, I guess.

It is hard enough to concentrate when I can breathe so I did no useful work but watched a few old movies instead.  I now prefer Charles Bronson's westerns to John Wayne's.  In 1970 (?) Richard Chamberlain made a couple of Allan Qartermain movies based on Ryder Haggard's "King Solomon's Mines.  Atrocious doesn't begin to describe how bad they were.  Indiana Jones movies were far better.

Since Oct 21 was the 210th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalger, I watched "That Hamilton Woman". The 1941 movie was apparently Churchill's favourite during the war and he watched it several times.  The parallels are striking.  England standing alone against a dictator who has conquered all of Europe and preparing to invade England.  Emma, Lady Hamilton, Lord Nelson's mistress, was quite a character.  A recent biography "England's Mistress" is on my to-read list. The movie ends happily for England but not of course for Nelson and certainly not for Lady Hamilton who died in abject poverty in Calais in 1815.

Last Friday evening I went to "English Club" as a special guest, a native English speaker.  Two groups met at 5:30 and at 7:00.  About 10 or 15 in each group.  Ages from 13 to 50+.  The two organizers were fluent in English.  The participants had all studied English and English Club gave them practice opportunity to speak and listen.  The first group spoke about things they feared and things that inspired them; the second group about hobbies.  They would ask me questions and I would answer them as best I could.  No interest in cows but lots in history so I could still pontificate. Two of the girls were in Masha's class and were so excited when they figured out who I was.  They immediately called Masha after Club.  Another girl was Tanya's great-niece.  We had met a couple years before but I didn't recognize her.  She had grown up a fair bit.  I will got back once in a while to future meetings.

Turkey has a national election on Sunday, five months after the last one that did not give Erdogan his majority. Lots of violence between PKK (Kurds) and Turkish state which may or may not backfire on Erdogan.  I do not see a peaceful resolution to this at all.  If Erdogan fixes the results all hell will break loose as people will take to the streets en masse.  If he does not get his majority again and the moderate party gets over the 10% threshold, I see things getting really ugly for the moderates.  Their leader has already had death threats. Erdogan could easily tar them all as terrorists.  We'll see.

Happy Halloween.