How to Feel Like a Total Loser on Halloween

“So, Professor, have you prepared treats for trick – or – treaters?” students asked me today.

I said yes and explained about the multicultural candy.

N and I made a point of getting home early,  turned on the porch light, prepared the candy, and sat down to wait. Five hours later and not a single trick – or – treater in sight, we realized that something had gone terribly wrong. The street was empty and deserted and nobody’s lights were on.

So we went online to investigate. And that was when we discovered that our town had decided – for no reason we have been able to discern – to move Halloween this year to yesterday. It was held from noon till nine pm. I’m not sure who can be expected to be at home at noon on Thursday and why anybody would want to move Halloween. But here we are, having missed it completely and feeling like total immigrants. 

At least, my students will be happy because I will give them the multicultural candy.

P.S. And please, please, please don’t tell me I should have asked colleagues with small children about Halloween’s date. Who in their right mind would even think of asking people if Halloween has, by any chance, been moved? It was done on October 31 last year. Google says Halloween is October 31. There are people in costumes all over the place every October 31, including today. How the flying fuck should I have known to ask?

One good thing is that I was too tired to get a costume tonight. Or I would feel even more stupid.

Putin’s Appeal to the Masses

Putin has something that Obama, Merkel, and Co either don’t have or don’t feel like sharing.

He has a vision. It is a consistent and appealing vision that he has shared very openly in this speech (as well as in many others.) The appeal of the vision is that it offers relief from the scary, fluid, rapidly changing modernity. He is telling people, “You feel scared, confused and lost? I have a recipe for what is ailing you. The problem isn’t that you are backwards, barbaric, uncivilized and incapable of keeping up. The problem is that this fluid world is the product of American efforts and ideology. I can offer you an alternative. I will not force you – like the evil Americans do – to accept this new reality. I know what to do to take you back to the times when you didn’t feel as lost and confused.”

Of course, it’s a lie. Nobody can turn back the clock. The world has changed and will keep changing. But the fantasy of being able to check out from the demands of the rapid transformation is very powerful.

Putin will keep selling this Brooklyn Bridge for as long as he needs to grab world dominance. He will not deliver on his promises because that is not within human power. But the world will pay a very high price for allowing the nostalgia and the fear of change to lure us under Putin’s wing.

My Analysis of Putin’s Speech, Part III

Putin’s favorite justification for his invasion of Ukraine was that the US made him do it:

But the United States, having declared itself the winner of the Cold War, saw no need for this. Instead of establishing a new balance of power, essential for maintaining order and stability, they took steps that threw the system into sharp and deep imbalance.

Putin has been reiterating this overwhelmingly stupid idea for years and doesn’t seem to tire of it. This is understandable since it’s his only justification for invading one country after another (the one before Ukraine was Georgia, and before that there was Chechnya.) 

The Cold War ended, but it did not end with the signing of a peace treaty with clear and transparent agreements on respecting existing rules or creating new rules and standards.

Here, of course, Putin is treating his listeners as the idiots they probably are. The world is changing for a variety of reasons, and none of them are even remotely related to the absence of presence of post-1991 treaties. Putin himself has been breaking the post-1991 agreements like a man possessed. This doesn’t seem to bother him a whole lot when he is the one violating “clear and transparent agreements.”

Pardon the analogy, but this is the way nouveaux riches behave when they suddenly end up with a great fortune, in this case, in the shape of world leadership and domination. Instead of managing their wealth wisely, for their own benefit too of course, I think they have committed many follies.

There is nobody who knows what nouveaux riches are like better than Putin because his oligarchy is based precisely on surrounding himself by this sort of people and ensuring that nobody but them ever has a chance to do anything in Russia.

The hand-wringing over the end of the “objective and just” Cold War era goes on for a while:

We have entered a period of differing interpretations and deliberate silences in world politics. International law has been forced to retreat over and over by the onslaught of legal nihilism. Objectivity and justice have been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. Arbitrary interpretations and biased assessments have replaced legal norms.

I want everybody to stop and ponder the excruciating shamelessness of calling the world order that existed between 1945-91 “objective and just.” We are arriving at the extremely important part of Putin’s speech and it is crucial that we understand exactly what he is saying.

My Analysis of Putin’s Speech, Part II

Putin ensures that the audience understands the gravity of the situation. This is exactly what I’ve been doing with my posts on the collapse of the nation-state. Sadly, the only American politician that I have seen touch this subject, however lightly, was Bill Clinton in a recent interview. Putin says:

First of all, changes in the world order – and what we are seeing today are events on this scale – have usually been accompanied by if not global war and conflict, then by chains of intensive local-level conflicts.

Now, let’s not assume that Western leaders don’t know this. Of course, they do. But they don’t share this knowledge with us because nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news. As I have discovered on this blog, people tend to identify the person telling them about the end of the nation-state almost with being the cause of the nation-state’s demise. But since Putin doesn’t exist within a democracy, he doesn’t have to fear antagonizing the electorate. So he isn’t afraid of sharing the bad news.

This is the point in Putin’s speech where the intelligent part ends. The rest of the speech is a descent into insanity that offers few insights into the future of the planet but tells us a lot about what is happening in Russia:

Yes, many of the mechanisms we have for ensuring the world order were created quite a long time ago now, including and above all in the period immediately following World War II. Let me stress that the solidity of the system created back then rested not only on the balance of power and the rights of the victor countries, but on the fact that this system’s ‘founding fathers’ had respect for each other, did not try to put the squeeze on others, but attempted to reach agreements.

This is, of course, a very self-serving and dishonest retelling of what the Cold War like. The “respect” of Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt (later Truman) for each other can only be discussed in the context of a joke. The entire experience of Cold War was precisely about the warring factions trying to put a squeeze on each other. This fanciful rewriting of the 1945-91 era is Putin’s way of reiterating his favorite talking point about the demise of the USSR being the greatest tragedy of the XXth century. There are few things this cynical insect believes but the greatness of the USSR seems to be a sincere belief of his.

My Analysis of Putin’s Speech, Part I

As I mentioned before Putin made an important speech at the final plenary meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club’s XI session in Sochi on 24 October 2014. I am convinced that it is crucial for us to pay attention to what Putin says and also to what message he is trying to transmit. Here is my analysis of this speech.

From the very beginning of the speech, Putin refers to the consequences of the destruction of the nation-state model:

We need to be direct and blunt today not so as to trade barbs, but so as to attempt to get to the bottom of what is actually happening in the world, try to understand why the world is becoming less safe and more unpredictable, and why the risks are increasing everywhere around us.

We have discussed the nation-state a lot on this blog and we know that “the world is becoming less safe and more unpredictable” is a way to refer to the transformation of the state model. (If you are a new reader, please do the search with the words “nation-state” to access these posts.) Putin tackles the new reality head-on and addresses the issue that everybody is noticing but few people are discussing with the attention the emergence of a new state model deserves. This is a very smart thing to do because the people who start a discussion will be in the position to direct its course.

It would be phenomenal if the US didn’t lag behind in this conversation. We are all seeing that “the world is becoming less safe and more unpredictable.” Why isn’t our President giving a foundational speech to explain what our shared course will be? Why are we snoozing while other people are talking about this and trying to figure this out?

Today’s discussion took place under the theme: New Rules or a Game without Rules. I think that this formula accurately describes the historic turning point we have reached today and the choice we all face. There is nothing new of course in the idea that the world is changing very fast. I know this is something you have spoken about at the discussions today. It is certainly hard not to notice the dramatic transformations in global politics and the economy, public life, and in industry, information and social technologies.

We all know that it’s hard to dislike Putin more than I do. However, it is great that he is talking about this epochal transformation and not pretending that it will be business as usual from now on. It isn’t and it won’t be. WTF, people? Why do we need Putin to broach the subject? Have we no leaders of our own?

Roots of Terrorism

I just came across something very weird in an article in The Atlantic:

Today, Maher presents Muslim terrorism as purely a product of religious pathology, ignoring the tremendous ongoing violence the United States and its Western allies commit in majority-Muslim countries.

OK, if that’s what Maher does, then he’s an idiot. But what does the “tremendous ongoing violence the United States and its Western allies commit in majority-Muslim countries” have to do with the rise of terrorism? Is this weirdo trying to blame “the United States and its Western allies” for the rise of terrorism in “majority-Muslim countries”? (Sorry for over-quoting but this journalist’s writing is so stilted that I have no choice.)

“Tremendous ongoing violence” that Russia has been exercising against Ukraine for much longer than the US was even in existence hasn’t led to terrorism. “Tremendous ongoing violence” inflicted on Latin America hasn’t either. There is zero evidence that “tremendous ongoing violence” causes terrorism. Zero, none.

Now, in order to remove the religious aspect of the discussion, let me remind everybody that Islam is 500 years younger than Christianity. Let’s strain our intellects and remember what Christians were doing 500 years ago. Burning people in city squares, feeding the babies of the infidels to dogs, trying to keep women locked up and subjected, beheading all and sundry – in short, exactly what ISIS is doing today, minus the YouTube component. I’m not sure what the Jews were doing 3,500 years ago, but maybe this is a normal developmental process for these monotheistic religions: 1500 years into their existence they kill and persecute everybody who doesn’t practice their religion “correctly.”

Soon I will publish a review of a book that discusses terrorism intelligently. Stay tuned.

Weird Article on Screens

Against Public Video Screens

This is an example of an article that starts well but then collapses into complete neurosis. I also find loud restaurant music annoying, but this author seems angry at the entire world for distracting him. Surely, the activities that it’s so easy to distract one from are not worthy of being engaged anyway.