Probably more insufferable rambling- Part I

          Just in case you were wondering, there is, in fact, a compelling, logical argument for the postulation that we create our own realities.  That we do is a common refrain from numerous corners of the contemplative world like spiritual seekers and philosophers.  These types spend time wondering how it is that we exist.  Now there’s also a refrain about creating our own realities coming from those who wonder not how it is that we exist, but how we exist: scientists.  Most physicists you have the opportunity to ask would pretty vigorously deny that the contemplative types are asking the same questions as scientists are in their algorithmic world, much less getting the same answers.  Physicists’ stock and trade is in hard physical facts – unless they get into quantum issues, where the facts are physical all right, but a lot harder – to understand, anyway.  Continue reading

Czech, Please!

          Just as the news on the international scene was beginning to look likely to drone on forever in an impossibly grim and boring list of stupidly violent and senseless acts of political prurience, relief is in sight. And in the shape of a bright pink Soviet Era tank, no less! I was really beginning to despair, since there was no possibility of unraveling the Gordian knot that is political and pecuniary relations between Gazprom, Naftogaz, Yushchenko, Tymoshenko, Puti-Poot and both Medvedevs in any gainful way. And then the North Koreans, usually a good source of material, have been spending all their time photoshopping the ever-colorful and creative Kim Jong Il into photos since he’s either too coy (hah!) or ill to step up to the tragic-comedic plate anymore. Sigh. I was starting to feel like I could really understand what today’s political cartoonists are facing, with the exit of The Shrub. The future seems an unrelieved desert of dolorously wresting water from a stone. Blood from a turnip. Irony from a cherub.

          Not so! Enter David Cerny, the Czech artist who made his name by sneaking through the inky shadows into Continue reading

Jesus was a socialist.

       I confess that I have not managed to read the Bible cover to cover, so I might have missed something, but from what I’ve heard, Jesus was a socialist. What I think he said was: If you want to be perfect, sell what you own, give the money to the poor and follow me. He may as well have said “spread the wealth around”. But that was thousands of years ago. I don’t think that nowadays many people have set their sights on being perfect- at least, not so as you’d notice- so Jesus’ words are perhaps not pertinent today.  I’m pretty sure Jesus never said – but I wasn’t there, mind you, and I don’t know  first hand, so don’t quote me – “invest your money in mortgage-backed securities or credit default swaps, then spend your profits on business investment targeted at job creation and let the minty-fresh monetary goodness trickle down to the poor.” I’m pretty sure that Continue reading

Making bail

          Back in the day, I knew a Nepali guy who ran a whitewater rafting company. My friends and I hired him to take us on a four or five day trek down some raging torrent tumbling out of the Himalayas. It was so long ago I have no recollection of the guy’s name, the name of the river or even the names of most of my friends, but I do remember the time we emerged from some torrid whirlpool, soaked and disoriented, prying our white fingers reluctantly from the ropes that had kept us from being flung into the roiling, boulder-strewn moil.  Our raft was nearly sunk, full of water, and just as we were taking it all in the guide shouted “bail out!” I obediently and carefully began climbing out of the raft onto a nearby rock, which sent the guy into a raucous bout of merriment, because he meant to bail the water out of the raft, not to bail out. It was not the most Continue reading

colonies – the sequel

          It’s hard to see what’s not to like about Greenland. Once you remember that it’s the one that isn’t green. Iceland is green. Greenland is icy. Yeah, that one. Its been inhabited by Inuit forever, but been ruled by Denmark since the 18th century because all the profitable colonies had been taken by the time Denmark got in the business. Well, that’s not really true; the Danish also had Africa’s Gold Coast, which got that name for a reason, and I suppose that if it wasn’t for the Gold Coast, Denmark couldn’t have afforded its chillier real estate in Greenland, Iceland, the Faeroe Islands and Estonia. Like it would have wanted to. Heh. Those Danish. Sheesh.

          Anyway, the Gold Coast went on to be Ghana pretty early on, but it wasn’t until the 70s that Greenland got even limited home rule. It was a sort of frozen situation (oogh). For some reason Denmark wanted Greenland, and then, well, nothing happened for the longest time. Oh, some fishing and whaling went on, a ruby Continue reading

Babbling

          Okay, grab your thinking caps, kiddies, because it’s time for our language lesson. Today our lesson comes from the picturesque, pastoral and puny little Himalayan ex-Kingdom of Nepal. In Nepali, as in a number of other Asian languages, no one ever wants a thing. If a speaker of one of these languages feels a liking for a thing – say chocolate, or, perhaps, as is the case with the mountain-dwellers in Nepal, rancid butter – when they say so, they don’t say “I like rancid butter.”  Instead they say, “rancid butter falls to my heart.” When they are hungry for rancid butter or any other thing, it is not the speaker who is the source of said hunger, it is hunger that attaches itself to the speaker. They say “Hunger has attached itself to me.” Or they might say that “love” has attached itself to them, or, if the situation calls for it, hatred, chilliness, confusion, awe, nausea, tickles, sorrow or even indifference. They aren’t things you have, they are things that have you.

          That linguistic peculiarity might seem like nothing more than a footnote, but if you think about it for a minute, you might notice that a person who says “I hate you” is a lot different from one who Continue reading

Rummy Rummy

Rummy:

Chiefly British Odd, strange, or dangerous; rum.

 

          For those of you laboring under the misapprehension that Eurasia watchers have a niche market with little or no competition from the population of wonks-at-large, I say follow the money. Or, in this case, follow the Rummy.  It turns out that Donald Rumsfeld has set himself up a foundation with his personal friend S. Frederick Starr (relation to Kenneth?….), head of the Central Asia Caucasus Institute.  So far they’ve only financed a fellowship here and there, sending students off to Pipelineistan to study, and so far the money has come from Rummy and some so-far undisclosed “friends” (eventually, when the tax man cometh, those contributors and any sundry un-indicted co-conspirators will have to be named, but that’s okay. For now we can guess. It’s not hard.)

          Ostensibly the raison d’etre  for the foundation lies in the fact that other post-Soviet countries have expats abroad (presumably because there was fleeing involved) and as far as diasporas go, Continue reading

Where in the World is Atticus Finch?

          Well no matter how you slice it, the world is happy that there is soon to be a grown-up in the white house.  After eight long years, it is just possible that the US will not be the lone hold-out in world opinion on such topics as ethics, equality, the environment, trade, diplomacy and, well, everything. Okay, okay; to say “lone” is actually a scurrilous exaggeration. Poland sent lotsa troops to Iraq. Kazakhstan did not sign the Kyoto Protocol. Somalia, like the US, has not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. And there’s more! Just don’t ask me to look it all up; its too depressing, and right now there’s euphoria in the water, and I don’t want to spoil it by recognizing that there will be puh-lenty of opportunities in the offing to find out just how reprehensible all politicians are, no matter how dignified and generally Atticus Finch-y they might look at first. Perhaps it doesn’t take much to resemble a tall, spreading, sturdy and all-encompassing oak when you’re being compared to – in the words of the inestimable Molly Ivens: The Shrub.

          It shouldn’t have been a surprise that the oak won even though it was, since every worldwide poll or mock election favored Obama by a landslide, and any international paper you pick up Continue reading

let’s get unbalanced

          It is that stalwart of American Democracy, John Stuart Mill whom we should be thinking about today, don’t you think? I mean, he was the guy who said that only if votes were public could people be trusted to vote for the public good over their own interest. And it is today that an expected record number of Americans are casting their secret ballots; presumably for their own good- and why not?-  since we are all a long way removed from the great JSM’s understanding. Who doesn’t look after their own good – oh, I mean besides people from Kansas. And Jesuits. Oh, and of course, the visionaries of democracy like JSM, who never, not even once, succumbed to a sound bite. And that just might be why he argued that free speech is necessary for intellectual and social progress.  We can never be sure, he contends, if a silenced opinion has some Continue reading

Buy, buy, buy!!!

          During the Greenspan era the Federal Reserve took it upon itself to vigorously fend off recession by lowering the prime rate to unprecedented levels. This made it prudent for people to borrow and spend rather than save.  The ratio of private debt to the Gross Domestic Product rose by 50% in five years, while the personal savings rate fell to 0.  This kind of “stimulus” to the economy was like so much caffeine (by the way, did you know that the average German drinks 77,000 cups of coffee over a lifetime? You didn’t? Well, now you do.), which we all know can only keep you pumped up for so long.  Now it’s time for an enforced economic nap, folks, so nix that planned trip to Montserrat and learn to like cozy evenings in front of a fire (fuelled by your furniture, natch…) with a book. And be sure to read the provocative (dare I say ‘inflammatory’?) books first, before they’re banned and you get to Continue reading