Sayonara . . .

The shifts in geopolitical alignments haven’t slowed, nor has the broad direction of movement changed. China and Russia’s gravitational pull is slowly drawing in a disparate group of nations, all in their different ways eager to lessen US influence.

If America won’t cede its post-Soviet hyperpower status and accept a more balanced and complex world, it’s likely to be a troubled decade or two. With their foreign policy heavily driven by desire and politics rather than reality, it’s not easy to be particularly hopeful.

And then there’s the economic storm clouds massing just over the horizon: gross overindebtedness; persistent imbalances; central banks and governments fighting symptoms rather than causes; looming demographic shifts; and so on ad nauseam.

Interesting times, certainly.

As for me, I haven’t felt any desire lately to comment on these developments, fascinating though they are. Whether that will change any time soon, I don’t know. So, for the moment, sayonara.

‘Tony Abbott running from the law’ | The Saturday Paper

Abbott is not a conservative here. Separation of powers, habeas corpus and court scrutiny of government are conservative doctrines. All prime ministers bridle at the restraints of the law. But Abbott has been willing to a remarkable degree to push the law aside to appease populist fears and populist contempt for human rights.

This plays beautifully to his base but across Australia it raises old trust issues with Tony Abbott. The evidence of the polls can’t be doubted: Australians trust courts far more than they trust politicians. Attacking courts, judges and the traditional ways of the law makes Australians uneasy.

via Tony Abbott running from the law | The Saturday Paper

Galbraith: Varoufakis and the recent negotiations

James Galbraith spent eight days in February traipsing around Europe with Yanis Varoufakis.[1]

“I stayed with the tech teams, from the 11th to the 17th, including the Brussels meeting,” says Galbraith. “I was in the boiler room with the Greek guys, the working stiffs.”

BELGIUM-EU-FINANCE-EUROGROUP

He’s shared the experience via an article in Fortune. The frequent lack of professionalism and coordination on the European side shocked him. Continue reading

‘The Global Economy Has Entered The Crack-Up Phase’ | Interview with David Stockman

Interesting interview with David Stockman about the many malformations brought about by decades of monetary and fiscal mismanagement. Since the crisis official intervention has been relentless and extreme. In Stockman’s view, the room for manoeuvre is narrowing rapidly.

The fundamental error throughout has been official unwillingness to allow creditors to suffer. It’s led them, and therefore us, into a terrible cul-de-sac. Continue reading

What’s Wrong With Public Intellectuals? | The Chronicle Review

Mark Greif has written a long, lovely meditation on the heyday of public intellectuals and their audience in mid 20th century America. That period, in his view, was best epitomised by the Partisan Review.

My sense of the true writing of the “public intellectuals” of the Partisan Review era is that it was always addressed just slightly over the head of an imagined public—at a height where they must reach up to grasp it. But the writing seemed, also, always just slightly above the Partisan Review writers themselves. They, the intellectuals, had stretched themselves to attention, gone up on tiptoe, balancing, to become worthy of the more thoughtful, more electric tenor of intellect they wanted to join. They, too, were of “the public,” but a public that wanted to be better, and higher. They distinguished themselves from it momentarily, by pursuing difficulty, in a challenge to the public and themselves—thus becoming equals who could earn the right to address this public.

It was born of unique influences: a world emerging from unutterable darkness and eager for the light; a prodigious influx of the finest European intellects before and during the war; and, a widespread sense that bettering oneself was not only desirable, but possible. We can hardly wish for such a confluence to reoccur; no period of intellectual excellence could justify the cost. Nevertheless, Continue reading

‘School lessons and shelling forge new identity in east Ukraine’ | FT.com

It’s refreshing to see some genuine reportage about Ukraine appearing in mainstream western media.

While some may see this week’s Minsk memorandum, which calls for a ceasefire in east Ukraine and the eventual re-establishment of national borders, as the first step towards the DPR’s disbandment, there are few signs in the region of a rebel leadership preparing to relinquish control — or a society that wants them to.

After a months-long siege that has destroyed local infrastructure, and left the population under the near-constant percussion of artillery, a new sense of regional identity has taken hold in Donetsk. Though some of it is being transmitted through top-down initiatives such as Ms Prussova’s class, much of it has come through the Ukrainian army’s shelling, which has turned many formerly pro-Ukrainian locals against Kiev.

Courtney Weaver’s piece for the FT included this sad but amusing quote from a previously pro-Ukrainian 20-year-old student Continue reading

Merkel and Hollande in Moscow

The tragedy in Ukraine grinds on. After the comparatively peaceful period ushered in by the Minsk agreement in September, renewed fighting has broken out in recent weeks. Russia is copping most of the blame with the US (and more aggressive European players) considering sizeable arms transfers to Ukraine.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. In (most) western eyes, Russia is ipso facto guilty. That Ukraine has failed to honour their side of the Minsk agreement is never mentioned. The obligations, it seems, are entirely one-sided.

At any rate, the more important (or at least intriguing) news is that Merkel and Hollande are in Moscow this weekend. They arrived on Friday night, direct from Kiev, and went straight to the Kremlin where they remained closeted with Putin for an initial five hours. Media were not welcome; apparently photographers were allowed in for about 30 seconds and not a word was spoken.

German Chancellor Merkel gets into a car upon her arrival at Moscow's Vnukovo airport

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gets into a car upon her arrival at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport February 6, 2015. (Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin) – Courtesy RT

What does this all mean? Continue reading

5 Charts That Explain 2014’s Record-Smashing Heat | Mother Jones

2014 was the hottest year since record-keeping began way back in the nineteenth century, according to reports released Friday by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. According to NASA, the Earth has now warmed roughly 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, and most of that increase is the result of greenhouse gases released by humans. Nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000.

Here’s the last (and arguably most interesting) of the five:

Attri bution of Long Term Trends

via 5 Charts That Explain 2014’s Record-Smashing Heat | Mother Jones

(h/t The Big picture)

‘A New Antibiotic That Resists Resistance’

Some time ago I noted the dangers of bacteria becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics, to the point where some are now “pan-resistant”. In other words, untreatable with existing antibiotics. Those dangers assuredly still exist but a few days ago a bit of good news arrived for a change.

More [classes of antibiotics], hopefully, are coming. A team of scientists led by Kim Lewis from Northeastern University have identified a new antibiotic called teixobactin, which kills some kinds of bacteria by preventing them from building their outer coats. They used it to successfully treat antibiotic-resistant infections in mice. And more importantly, when they tried to deliberately evolve strains of bacteria that resist the drug, they failed. Teixobactin appears resistant to resistance.

Bacteria will eventually develop ways of beating teixobactin—remember Orgel—but the team are optimistic that it will take decades rather than years for this to happen. That buys us time.

via A New Antibiotic That Resists Resistance – Phenomena: Not Exactly Rocket Science

‘Good’ Blasphemy | The American Conservative

The American Conservative, a publication I usually quite like, has been vocal in its reaction to the Paris shootings with four posts so far by one author, all beating the same drum. I ended up posting a comment on the latest thread.

It starts with a quote from Rod Dreher’s fourth piece (which also encapsulates his argument):

“But when some within that civilization punish blasphemy with violence and murder, then, says Ross, we all had better defend that blasphemy to protect our own right to speak and to worship as our consciences dictate.”

I then continue as follows:

Rousing stuff, but a false syllogism. It’s conflating two separate issues. Worse, doing so is probably reacting exactly as these bastards hope we will.

Instead, why not staunchly defend the legal right to freedom of speech while deploring those who choose to use it in a juvenile, destructive fashion? Equally, unequivocally condemn any use of violence while holding onto enough heart to grasp the anquish such sophomoric “journalism” triggers for many ordinary Muslims.

What you seem to be missing is that this atrocity was probably intended to foment division. Doesn’t the rather doctrinaire, self-righteous response you’ve repeatedly indulged in so far play directly into their hands?

Cui bono? Worth asking before letting rip.