Tuesday, April 27, 2010


State-owned Russia Today has an inherent bias (despite the lovely British anchors), but no one else has posted a story set in so much context.  The quid pro quo here is a little nebulous, and closer ties with the white oppressor from the north rightfully makes many Ukrainians leery.  Let's also remember: Ukraine is in its first decade of democratic self-rule.  In our second decade of democratic self-rule, a sitting Vice President shot dead a former Treasury Secretary in a duel to resolve the latter's insult of "Cataline!"  Yulia Tymoshenko can be a bit of a sore loser, but she also knows how to work a sympathetic crowd.  Desultory Eclecticism's best guess is that sympathy for her is diminishing, and stunts like this, while popular in an ever-shrinking circle of Western supporters, do more to sully than support the nationalist cause.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Go West (Bank), Young Man!

"Indifference to objective truth is encouraged by the sealing-off of one part of the world from another, which makes it harder and harder to discover what is actually happening. There can often be a genuine doubt about the most enormous events...The calamities that are constantly being reported — battles, massacres, famines, revolutions — tend to inspire in the average person a feeling of unreality. One has no way of verifying the facts, one is not even fully certain that they have happened, and one is always presented with totally different interpretations from different sources...Probably the truth is discoverable, but the facts will be so dishonestly set forth in almost any newspaper that the ordinary reader can be forgiven either for swallowing lies or failing to form an opinion. The general uncertainty as to what is really happening makes it easier to cling to lunatic beliefs. Since nothing is ever quite proved or disproved, the most unmistakable fact can be impudently denied...Some nationalists are not far from schizophrenia, living quite happily amid dreams of power and conquest which have no connection with the physical world."
--Geroge Orwell, from "Notes on Nationalism" (1945)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Happy Holiday

Desultory Eclecticism first became acquainted with one of its favorite holidays just last year while working in Honduras.  In commemoration of the deaths of Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare (a happy coincidence between the Julian and Gregorain calendars places each demigod's death on April 23 even though they were separated by a few days in Kantian time), and as an addendum to the St. George's Day tradition that compels men to buy roses for their significant others, women are to reciprocate with a book.

Desultory Eclecticism recommends Mikhail Bulgakov's Heart of a Dog.  So inappropriately-titled a gift is sure to precipitate an awkward exchange between you and your significant other as he probes for the symbolic insult you must have intended.  The resulting hours spent in separate rooms cooling off should allow him to get through the book's first few chapters, which chronicle Sharik's heartwarming rise from anti-proletarian stray mutt to Bolshevik cat-catcher in post-Revolutionary Moscow.  

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Still Not Back in the USSR

“We have opened a new page in relations,” Mr. Yanukovich said at a news conference in Kharkiv, in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, where the agreement was signed...
...“I haven’t been a guest here for a long time,” Mr. Medvedev told them. “It’s nice that it has taken place at last. We have just signed documents that are very important for both Ukraine and Russia. They will strengthen our friendship and our brotherhood for a long time to come.” 

Highlighting the Russified elements of today's basing agreement, Clifford Levy portrays a Ukraine drifting east.  помедленнее!  Slow down.  Kiev is still a largely Russian-speaking city.  Kharkiv, near the Russian border, is also unsurprisingly Russophone.  Stop by a village in Kharkivska Oblast though, and you'll hear Ukrainian on the street.  What this has to do with basing rights in Crimea is beyond me.  Today's agreement may be symbolically important, but, as former Foreign Minister and Presidential 3rd runner-up Arseniy Yatsenyuk points out, that's all it is:

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a former Ukrainian foreign minister, said Mr. Yanukovich had no right under Ukraine’s Constitution to extend the lease. “For now, it’s just paper,” Mr. Yatsenyuk said of the deal. “The fact of its signing has no legal significance.” 

Yes, Viktor Yanukovich is more friendly to Moscow than Viktor Yushchenko; he is also shorter than Manute Bol and slower than Usain Bolt.  When it became clear--four years ago--that Mr. Yushchenko was a lame duck President, it also became clear that his successor was bound to shift Ukraine's geopolitical orientation a few degrees north-east.  While Citizen Yanukovich's history demands that his overtures to Moscow be heavily scrutinized, today's events are proof of nothing.  The basing agreement is not a surprise, but rather a small symbolic price to pay for reliable winter heating.  Despite the comments on Korrespondent's message board ("@#$%& зэк и маму продаст" ..; translation: @#$%& convict would sell out his own mother...), let's wait for the Victory Day reunification announcement before proclaiming the resurrection of The Evil Empire.     

Friday, April 9, 2010

Not In the News

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Big Bang Treaty
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

UPDATE/Clarification: Iran is a signatory to the NPT, but was judged to be in non-compliance in 2006; North Korea withdrew its signature from the treaty in 2003.

John Stewart asks how, despite the above, Fox could possibly boast the largest viewership of any cable news network.  The answer is not difficult to find.  As this was going on...

Bishkek spreads from the center through grid streets studded with the carcasses of destroyed buildings -- establishments and homes of Bakiyev's family and those of the unlucky -- that mobs and opposition supporters have been ransacking since the insurrection struck. A charred casino, cards fluttering in the wind, is now a pile of smashed boards and unidentifiable, smouldering embers. Supermarkets have been gutted, leaving empty white-walled spaces and overturned freezers, dangling ripped-out wiring and defaced walls. Looters have been making off with anything they can carry.
"We are with the people" has been daubed on the grilled or barricaded shop fronts by those hoping words will keep rioters away. Petrol stations have been smashed to pieces. A few thieves are still ruffling in the wreckage. Everywhere the malevolent glints of broken glass and the swirl of rumors.
...CNN's homepage featured a story about a perfectly nice young lady who helps donate books to charity.  That's all good and well, but Desultory Eclecticism was occupied with the journalistic coverage of breaking news over at AlJazeera.  While Fox News has found its large, easily-caricatured niche, MSNBC demands a significantly smaller, albeit similarly caricaturable niche.  Left-leaning news outlets seem oblivious to the fact that their natural clientele is composed of educated, thinking information seekers, the sorts of people who prefer in-depth coverage of the recent events in Krgyzstan to Tiger Woods Masters updates (you can't beat ESPN).  That's why Desultory Eclecticism's homepage is not CNN, but AlJazeera English.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter!

It is disturbing to see Marc Thiessen making a nice living off of talking points and tortured logic.  It is more disturbing to see that a major American newspaper finds him to be anything other than a curiosity.  In our Federalist 10 world, the wall separating economics from ethical philosophy is built on more than obscure correspondence; remuneration goes to goods and services that others are willing to pay for, not necessarily for those that are good.  Where one man sees a delusional niche, another sees comparative advantage.  This is not to question the integrity of certain arguments so much as to acknowledge the propensity of people to actually believe anything that their salary/salvation/peace of mind/SUV depends on.  Thiessen's extended Daily Show interview provides a more complete primer than the one Desultory Eclecticism copies and pastes below:

The late William Kunstler was once asked by Andy McCarthy why he never represented clients on the right with whose views he disagreed. Kunstler replied: “They have a right to an attorney, but they don’t have a right to ME.”
Kunstler chose his clients based on his values. And so do the lawyers working with his organization to represent al-Qaeda terrorists.  

Perhaps unfairly moving away from Thiessen's own words to address a Thiessen talking point that rivals his al-Qaeda sympathizer insinuation...pull:

Based on lessons learned from survivors of the brutal North Korean and North Vietnam torture of US military prisoners of war, the Department of Defense ordered all branches of the services to implement comprehensive Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (S.E.R.E.) training programs...
...Now, let’s see Congress: Maybe forty or so students per week, let’s say 100 minimum per month, 1,200 per year for over twenty or thirty years? It could be as many as 40,000 students trained in S.E.R.E. and “tortured” at the direction of, and under the watchful eye of the Congressional Majorities on both sides of the aisle. Be careful that the 40,000 of us who you have “tortured” don’t come after you today with tort claims. I heard it pays about $3 million per claim. 

If the technique is derived from the accounts of servicemen who were tortured by the North Koreans and Vietcong, and if it is used to train airmen and special forces soldiers at high risk of future capture to resist torture, doesn't that suggest that administering the procedure 183 times might qualify as torture?  What about 100? 10? 1?

Last autumn, Desultory Eclecticism attended a Columbia University conference on post-election Iran.  Panelist Maziar Bahari talked about his masked interrogator's self-proclaimed humanity: 'you have seen the barbarities that the Americans commit at Abu Ghraib; here in Iran we do not photograph you naked with other men.'  Bahari suggested that perhaps the Americans, newcomers to torture, had not yet refined the technique, that this inexperience relegated them to the bungling crudity of Lynndie England while Iran's neo-SAVAK secret police combined psychological deconstruction with periodic beatings.  Unfortunately, "Rosewater" was behind on his history; we have come far enough over the last eight years that the former Vice President can advocate waterboarding on national television and respected intellectuals can abandon epistemological sanity:

On Oct. 9, 1994, Israeli Cpl. Nachshon Waxman was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. The Israelis captured the driver of the car. He was interrogated with methods so brutal that they violated Israel's existing 1987 interrogation guidelines, which themselves were revoked in 1999 by the Israeli Supreme Court as unconscionably harsh. The Israeli prime minister who ordered this enhanced interrogation (as we now say) explained without apology: "If we'd been so careful to follow the [1987] Landau Commission [guidelines], we would never have found out where Waxman was being held."
Who was that prime minister? Yitzhak Rabin, Nobel Peace laureate. 

The above passage elucidates two points of interest.  First, Krauthammer is apparently conceding that, at least by the standards of a government that takes tacit credit for sloppily executed assassinations, "enhanced interrogation" may in fact include "methods so brutal that they violated...existing...guidelines."  Second, persons, places, things, ideas--nouns really, but possibly some verbs and an occasional adjective as well--are either good, or bad.  Yitzhak Rabin was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for making a fairly reasonable deal with the PLO, therefore...therefore what?  Does Krauthammer understand that a reasonable chunk of the thinking American left--along with an idiot fringe--criticizes Nobel laureate Barack Obama for the continued existence of Guantanamo Bay prison, that people are inconsistent and complicated, than Nobel laureates sometimes kill flies and commit comma splices?  In his interview on the Daily Show, Mark Thiessen protests that "liberal darling" F.B.I. interrogator Ali Soufan employed methods that Abu Zubayda himself deemed more harsh than some of the latter "enhanced techniques" that the C.I.A. tested on him.  Yes, and...? Anti-torture interrogators are sometimes still rough?  Liberal's condone violence too?  Waterboarding is okay because Ali Soufan is not the messiah (Happy Easter!)?  What's the sequitur here?       

Perhaps similarly tortured logic holds an equally prominent place on the left and Desultory Eclecticism is simply oblivious to it.  As alluded to earlier, there are plenty of liberal idiots.  Their straw man arguments are easily refuted by sensible conservatives like David Frum and are rightly ridiculed and wrongly assumed to be representative by cheerleaders like Sean Hannity (tangent: one of Desultory Eclecticism's prospective D.C.-based brain surgeons was genuinely frightened by this "documentary" in the run-up to the 2008 election).  Keith Olberman may be an openly partisan jackass (and the greatest Sportscenter anchor of all time), but he at least seems to do his homework.  If there is a prominent, influential left-wing nut to rival Glenn Beck, Desultory Eclecticism has not found her.