Check Mate?

A friend recently said ‘despite having amazing chess players, Russia seldom can think more than a moves ahead.’

280x425Nice sounding analogy but in reality very few long-term geo-political policies work out. There are simply too many variables (actors, lack of information, random events). No one predicted the Wall would fall when it did. Many (including me) have predicted north Korea will collapse and it hasn’t. No one saw IS arriving and no one foresaw 9/11 and the consequences of that. Fukuyama’s repeat of Hegel’s End of History thesis proved equally myopic.

The idea of control is elusive and explains why Iraq fucked up because not only did the US not really a plan, it didn’t understand the region. This critique also extends to journalist who admire power (mostly right wingers or capitalist for obvious reasons). Forbes named Putin the most powerful man in the world in only May 2014.

However Russia is complex, far more so than the US in terms of the opaque nature of power, the coalitions that have to be made, the fact that almost no serious business makes an official profit but still makes an unofficial profit, the sheer breadth of the nation and the organisation it takes to run a country which is inefficient and constantly relies on soft and hard power inside the country to get anything done. Only China and India have greater complexity.

On this issue, the lack of diversity in the economy, the lack of bankable profit, the inefficiency of the state and its people, coupled with the difficulty getting standard investment due to instability, US & EU sanctions and a basic lack of trust of the state coupled with the crippling drop in oil prices by Saudi to primarily cripple Iran is royally fucking the state and as the state is the economy, the people.

Putin is in a tough position. He controls the media and it’s been very light on the crisis so far. However, news is out and it’s not long until panic begins to creep in. A run on the banks would be disastrous. Usually the West would be blamed and Putin is still popular enough to get away with it. But in the depths of winter, Russians are cynical enough. Right now the rouble will continue to sink. No traders are touching the rouble and Russians are hoarding dollars and trying to shift their money out of the country. In a country where serious wealth is controlled by only a few hundred people, this is ruinous for the rest.

What happens next? 1. Putin negotiates. 2. gets aggressive or 3. the state, meaning Putin, collapses. If its option 1, he will be playing for time. If its option 2, it gets scary but the West will have to face him down. If its option 3, in the long-term, that the best option but in reality, with the oligarchic power and so little political, civil society, it may simply be a shuffling of power rather than any fundamental changes.

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Dan’s Awards 2012

DSCF7883Person of the Year

Gabriel Almonacid for being a great mate in Colombia providing me with a bed, a guide in Bogota and the ‘nearby’ old towns and staying with his great family in Armenia. I even heard he and Claudia tried to call me the other night!

Comeback of the Year

Christine Leclerc. After living together for a year many years ago, I can say I have missed that big laugh and smiley face a lot.

DSCF1214Newcomer of the Year

Jan Thomas Ødegaard, the slightly eccentric Norwegian gets the nod.

My Christ Its Been a Long Time

Bobbi Coombs met me at the airport in Winnipeg after not seeing each other for about 3500 days (aka 9.5 years) and then had me to stay for a few days. We ate Easter dinner with her family, watched hockey together and I got well and truly plastered with her brother Doug.

DSCF8918Meal of the Year

Eating the freshly-caught fish in Colombia with Jenni and Kati.

Sushi with Ronnie and Debs in Ontario

Tapas and red wine with Gabrielle in Bilbao.

What the hell happened Last Night drunk night

3. The Sarajevo dancing night.

2. Post presentation with Oli Bigland in Oxford

1. Waking up in the morning in a Ukrainian mental hospital. I still don’t know what happened.

PANO_20120516_183803Sight of the Year

Kotor in Montenegro blew me away. Waking up in our house in Salento in Colombia. The sight of Venice from the train station. Its everything you’ve heard about.

Random Moment Award

Jumping off the NY subway to be with Bora.

The house gig with Em in Bavaria

Cultural Event of the Year

Taking part in the La Merce festival in Barcelona with Ilo. Fireworks, burns and dancing masks.

DSC_0392-1Sports event of the Year

Big year for games. I saw maybe 10 and 5 or 6 were football derbies, the Yankees and the Knicks play in New York but it has to go to the Belgrade derby. Red Star against Partizan Belgrade.

Films of the Year

Moonrise Kingdom or Cloud Atlas

Favourite album of the year

Japandroids

Moment of Violence Moment

Getting chased and hit with a truncheon by a rabid Bosnian policeman before the Sarajevo derby was pretty exciting.

Bar of the Year

Tijuana bar in Belgrade, the night of the French music with Mirjana and Jan.

Hospital Bar in Kiev with the flaming helmet

Scariest moment of the Year

Seeing Emmi somersault off her bike and land on her head in Bavaria. Luckily she was wearing a helmet and only broke two neck vertebrates.

Big Balls Moment

Heading back in a taxi from the beach with Jenni and Marioka in Santa Cruz, Colombia, we saw a neighbourhood street party. We changed in the hostel and walked there. the police were outside telling us not to go in as it was a cartel party. We looked at each other and walked over. After some drinks and flour thrown over us, we ended drinking the local firewater outside the convenience store with some truckers until the early hours.

Standing up to another huge, sneering policeman before the Sarajevo derby was fairly scary.

Would I do it all again?

Hell yeah. I’d like to thank everyone for helping me along the way 🙂

The Shah of Shahs/Minor Rant

The Shah of Shahs by Kapucinski

kapuscinskiBrilliant Polish journalist/storyteller Kapucinski wrote up his notes from the Iran revolution and gives a lesser- known insider track to the build up of frustration and fear under the Western-installed and backed Shah.

It’s incredible to think that for reasons of political, security and economic convenience, the leaders of coups can be deemed a natural leader a generation later. The Shah’s father was a military colonel who overthrew the government with the support of the British named himself Shah. After his downfall, again at the instigation of the British, the democratic government was overthrown by the CIA help and the Colonel’s son was installed as the new Shah, as some kind of rightful heir!

And after his overthrow from by the people, his family still get to swan around as the most shameful of aristocracies using the money the Shah stole from the country. I saw the grandson on CNN talking about democracy in Iran despite his very position, wealth and education was bought on the broken bones of the original democratic activists during his father’s regime. Absolutely fucking shameful.

On the same point, I’ve always wondered why Prince Philip is still mentioned as the Prince of Greece. Note to aristocracy and Hello magazine; if your country throws you out as a gluttonous abuser of the people with no productive role, you are no longer a prince of that country

Milan Derby – AC Milan vs Inter Milan

IMG_20121007_212732Timing is everything but this year has been curiously fortunate. Not only have I met old friends who happen to be in towns not usually associated with me (New York, Philadelphia, Frankfurt, Belgrade, Salzburg as examples) I’ve caught festivals and events on the per chance of being there. i speak of the Barranquilla Carnival in Colombia (the largest in South America after Rio), catching the end of the ice hockey season in Canada, the Knicks vs Nets game in the USA, the end of the snow in the Alps, the Festes de la Mercee in Barcelona, the film festival in San Sebastian (Penelope Cruz et al) and another random trip with Jan. Along the way, I’ve met more old friends than I can state and new classic additions to the roster. Certain ideas have been reinforced, new ideas bred and mistakes averted (or at least seen early rather than late).

On a lighter level I’ve seen sport in many of the countries. Ice hockey in Canada, basketball and baseball in New York and football in Colombia, Serbia, Bosnia, Wales, Italy and soon, Ukraine. I wrote before about Serbia and Bosnia, the derbies there were intense, if slightly lacking in football. But football, like many cultural and collective events are signifers of culture development. Development blazes in many directions and could be said to be directionless and football, like most sport (sorry Mr Cameron, Johnson and Coe) is relatively unimportant but becomes interesting when used as a propaganda. Let’s all cheers success and latch on. Forget the rest. Cheers or be damned.

The crowds at the games reveal some of society. Colombia’s crowd were cheerful, mixed affairs full of boos and cheers, chants and relaxation. Serbia and Bosnia were tribal, male affairs where football sat in the background as male antagonism and group mentality led the chants of anger and negativity. The chants took no account of the game. It revelled in the violence them and us, the false assumption bred by facture, ignorance and discord. The celebratory stories of fear and menace sounded like England in the 70s and 80s. The Ukraine vs Montenegro international in the huge

In Italy, I timed myself to Milan perfectly for the biggest game of the year so far, AC Milan vs Inter in the San Siro. Outside the ground there was a casual police presence and yet outside and inside the crowd was mixed. Friends or couples walked or sat in opposite colours. The lack of hostility indicated a maturity within football and society in general where differences fall into the background, the foreground of commonality of issues, problems and culture are debated and upheld. 85,000 people understood the true value of the game.

IMG_20121007_224738The game itself was a classic of noise, missed chances, whistles and humour. The home in the curva sud and away in the curva nord fans were in opposite ends, unveiling humourous banners to each other and generally having a good time. The majority of the stadium was mixed seating and better for it. The lack of animosity and acromony created a relaxed atmosphere allowing the traditional exaggerated Italian body language to overtly exert itself at every chance.

Inter won one-nil despite being down to 10 men for 40 minutes. Milan had the ball in crossing positions down the left all game but desperately lack a striker. Robinho also continues to prove himself as one of the greatest wastes of talent in the game. Inter weren’t much better and how Milito is considered world class is beyond me. Cartman from South Park moves quicker. All this explains the team’s missed chances but only fortunate timing describes mine.

1908 v 1948 v 2012

London has staged 3 Olympic Games which must be a record in itself. Recent comparative analysis made me wonder which I’d prefer to go between 1908, 1948 and 2012. I’m going for the former. My reasons are near as facetious as our recent purchase of world darts finals tickets.

The BBC has a short summary of the 3 games here and there is something endearing about 1908. Being there by today’s standards might be disappointing. There were no fireworks, little media coverage and many irregularities. But that doesn’t take much away for me. While an athlete now might lament they’ve worked their whole their for this moment, back then triple gold swimming medallist Henry Taylor went back to run a pub in Oldham.

I love the inclusion of the tug of war, the fact it’s sponsored by oxo, Wyndham Halswelle ran (and naturally won) the men’s 400m by himself after everyone else was disqualified or withdrew or that some athletes individually withdrew on a matter of conscience. The story of Italian marathon runner collapsing on the final straight and being helped across the line by the crowds is heart-warming even if he was later demoted. Derek Redmond’s Dad would probably now be shot as a terrorist. It was run privately by the Olympic committee with no government intervention or financing. .

1948 took place after the Second World War when rationing was still in place. The quirky highlight now must be the medals for painting and sculpture.The games also included Fanny Blankers-Koen, winner of 4 gold medals and named Female Athlete of the Century in 1999. Oh and guess what, it made a profit!

I can’t comment on 2012 as it has yet to happen but even now I can say this. Despite years of university courses, books and marketing itself, the marketing industry still has much to learn about making a poster!

Political Science?

The New York Times ran an article on Sunday by Professor Jacqueline Stevens titled Political Scientists are Lousy Forecasters. In it, she cites evidence of how poor most political science modelling is, mostly because it is government or think-tank funded and therefore comes down on the ‘right’ side of the debate. She also quotes Karl Popper who laughed at political sciences pretensions at science believing science can only be conducted in isolation or controlled conditions, a notion totally at odds with human emotional rather than rational (take note economists) behaviour.

However after returning to university and continuing to work there is some capacity, my advice to political scientists would be do some actual research. You know ‘go out there and ask questions bringing some science into what is right now is political pontificating in ivory towers. I am constantly surprised how reluctant/cowardly academics in political science are to getting their hands dirty and talking to people.

It reminds me of the row between the value of academic Laura Seay and journalist Tristan McConnell. Seay criticised journalist’s understanding and analysis in the Congo. The fact she did it in Foreign Policy, a noted top-down rag is a bad starting point. Despite Congo being her research area, she wrote this piece from Texas. She lamented the incomplete analysis while welcoming the exposure of issues of poverty and violence. While we all wish for thorough research, this can take years. While our professor is happily writing away, getting paid and going home to the family, these problems are not going away. Thorough analysis is welcomed but NGOs and journalists on the ground are savvy and intelligent enough to get to the nub fairly quickly.

What i think we are really hearing is the ground lost by academia in the public mind and to some degree its relevance. Academic research didn’t highlight or predict the fall of Yugoslavia or report the massacres to the world. Its prescription has also failed Bosnia since. If they do comment, it all comes too late. I was even invited to a conference on whether academics should be more public involved. Naturally the first day was reserved for debating what is ‘involved!’

Sociology is always the way forward.