IHT makes LJ look calm

October 28th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

Wow. The International Herald Tribune wades into the fray over Six Apart’s deal with Sup over Russian livejournal, and comes down firmly on the side of paranoia:


What’s so pernicious about the deal is that it replicates the very Kremlin model that poisoned the rest of the Russian media.

The argument is that Sup is a Kremlin hack (dolboeb, “a former associate of Gleb Pavlovsky, the Kremlin’s spindoctor”), backed by an oligarch (Aleksandr Mamut), and that therefore they are obviously going to turn the abuse team into politicial censorship. Therefore, “the days of the Russian blogosphere buzzing with criticial opinions are numbered“.
Well, the IHT has certainly managed to make bloggers look like a picture of reason and calmness, compared to foreign correspondents in the MSM. Much better commentary by Veronica at [Global Voices](http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/-/world/eastern-central-europe/russia/), and [Bradfitz' list of complaints](http://community.livejournal.com/sup_ru/33527.html) about the deal is alternately sad and hilarious.

Dariga

October 28th, 2006 § 2 comments § permalink

Off on a different tangent today – dynastic politics in Kazakhstan. [Nathan Hamm](http://www.registan.net) and [Sean Roberts](http://roberts-report.blogspot.com/) are far better informed on the nitty gritty of Kazakh politics than I am. But there’s one bit that’s just too much fun to leave to the professionals: Dariga.
Dariga Nazarbayeva is the President’s daughter. She’s had a privileged life, and she’s run with it. Degree in history from MGU, PhD in politics, speaks four languages, even moonlights as an opera singer (how well is open to question). Yes, it’s easy to [go overboard](http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1307812,00.html) in singing her praises, and she can only do it because of daddy – but when did you last hear anything about her sisters, who have had lives just as charmed?
Anyway, the past few years Dariga has been managing her rise to power – with a lot more panache than most can muster. You’re never sure quite where she’s going to come from next. She started with the media, when daddy put her in charge of state media company Khabar. She’s no longer officially in charge, but there’s no doubt that a lot of journalists will do what she tells them to.
The reason she’s no longer officially running Khabar is that it conflicted with her move into politics. In December 2003 she founded the ASAR party. Different folks have different views on how much this was her decision, and how much she was playing puppet to her father. She [claims](http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1307812,00.html)

‘I was not forced to found this party….but there comes a moment when just to observe is dull because there is a a self-satisfaction in the pro-presidential camp which can turn to stagnation. The business and political elite is in crisis.
‘My father tried to convince me not to do this….But when I discussed with him my vision of his party, I told him: “I will be dealing with your team.” I want to take away this piece of cake from his party. The new party will involve real people, not state officials.’

But one pundit [said](http://www.iicas.org/2004en/publ_24_02.htm) at the time:

Big politics do not like impromptu actions, and any initiative not coordinated with political partners is punishable. Therefore, if the daughter is in the Asar party, then the father is also present there, but his presence is hidden! Asar is not a whim of the president’s daughter, it is a project of the whole Family, dictated by the need for new methods of retaining power.

Either way, her party was doing really rather well. It’s growing success made it likely that Dariga would eventually become Speaker of parliament – a position open to the head of the largest party, which carries with it the chance to replace the president if he dies. Then daddy decided to close down her political adventure, and arranged for her party to be merged into his own Otan party. Since then, she’s seemed desperate for some other route into the centre of politics.
What’s next? Her current fantasy seems to involve painting herself as a democratic reformer. She’s got the media nous to fake it to the West – look at her spot-on approach to the Borat affair (making a point of getting the joke), or the article “[Deja Vu](http://www.caravan.kz/article/?pid=11&aid=472)” that she wrote in March which combined revelations from the inner sanctum of Kazakh politics with the kind of angry rhetoric you’d expect from [Craig Murray](http://www.craigmurray.co.uk/) or a Western journalist.
And she’s making more substantive moves. And, as [Sean Roberts](http://roberts-report.blogspot.com/2006/10/are-miner-strikes-in-temirtau-merely.html) reports, she is becoming a champion of trades unions, supporting a group of striking miners. Then there’s her [involvement](http://roberts-report.blogspot.com/2006/10/husband-for-monarchy-wife-for.html) in a ‘commission for democratization’. But, again, nobody can tell how much this is Dariga, and how much it’s her father trying to paint a rosy picture of a reforming Kazakhstan.
In the end, everything Dariga does comes down to a question mark about her relationship with her father. He clearly gets his way when he wants to – witness the way he had her political party merged into his this summer. But the rest of the time, she can more or less get away with stirring things up (the ‘Deja Vu’ article is a good example).
One explanation is that Nursultan Nazarbayev wants Dariga to be powerful, but only as one person within a balance of power. This strategy makes sense given the political situation. The President’s power is pretty much unassailable – partly because of the constitution (Nazarbayev was re-elected for six years last december), but mostly because Nazarbayev is one of the smarter leaders in the region, and he’s made the GDP rise by something like 9% a year. If he can keep it that way, his position remains secure and the bloody battles move down a rung.
Dariga, along with her husband, is one of the blocs of power. (see [this analysis](http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2006/3/DB5B3199-34BD-4D3E-BD3F-8B74FC42000F.html) for a rundown of the rest). If she gets too powerful, she’ll be cut down to size. If she falls, she’ll be picked up. So she does what anybody would in those circumstances: she experiments.
More information: [Wikipedia](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dariga_Nazarbayeva), [Dariga's own site](http://dariga.kz/fam1.php), [Taipei Times](http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/world/archives/2004/02/01/2003097047), and some [semi-official profile](http://www.eamedia.org/orgcom.php).

October 28th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

This medieval bestiary feel very much like the etymologies in Sanskrit works like Yaska’s _Nirukta_. Both of them shift between what we’d now think of as etymology (i.e. finding plausible historical roots for words), and a more alien sense that the word, through etymology, somehow captures the entire nature of the thing described. I suppose in the West this goes back to the “Platonism without Plato” that drives medieval scholasticism, and there is something pretty similar in India.

The he-goat is a wanton and frisky animal, always longing for sex; as a result of its lustfulness its eyes look sideways – from which it has has derived its name. For, according to Suetonius, hirci are the corners of the eyes. Its nature is so very heated that its blood alone will dissolve a diamond, against which the properties of neither fire nor iron can prevail.

Also, like all these books, it is a very pretty thing.

October 25th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

These are some spectacularly beautiful images.

Edit: turns out the artist’s name is Jacek Yerka – there is a wikipedia article and a book about him, a nice blog post here,and more paintings here.

October 24th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

If they’re going to set a Dr Who spinoff in Wales, aren’t we under some kind of obligation to write “Under Torch Wood“?

[props to Kevin for the idea]

Hungarian protests

October 23rd, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

[crosspost from [livejournal](http://oedipamaas49.livejournal.com)]
Despite what a few people seem to think, I really didn’t [come here for the rioting](http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/6078052.stm). Still, I did spend a couple of hours wandering around the town centre – I may be spending most of my time at home, but you can’t listen to sirens and helicopters without getting a little curious.
In case you’ve missed the backstory: the political right have been pissed off for the past month or so, since somebody leaked a recording of the Prime Minister admitting (in pretty colourful language) that he lied to win the last election. Partly because of that, his party did badly in the local elections a few weeks ago. The president hinted that he wanted the Prime Minister to resign, the PM won a not-particularly-resounding vote of confidence, and things settled down a bit.
Then comes today, which is the 50th anniversary of an uprising against the Soviets. So that gives an excuse to start the whole thing again. Everybody has the day off work, there’s lots of flag-waving anyway, and it’s not hard to turn it against the Prime Minister who, being a socialist, gets painted as a sort-of communist clinging on. Veterans refuse to shake his hand, the opposition organise a demonstration, and by lunchtime it’s moved on to teargas and rubber bullets.
So I walked around a bit, stood around with a crowd of similarly-uninvolved gawkers and watched the police tear-gassing a protest. Then decided it’s a bit silly to get too involved in it all, given that I don’t even agree with the rioters. Plus there was far too much flag-waving for me – it’s something I have a not-entirely-irrational loathing of. Would have taken some photos, but -despite all your advice – I’ve not got my act together enough to buy a camera.
As before, there were an impressive number of 60-something-year-olds, although the angry young men were out in force again. Also: a total absence of ghouls around the edges selling whatever the right-wing Hungarian equivalent of the Socialist Worker is, and generally a sense that people don’t know what they’re doing. It’s nothing like, say, France, where everybody knows what happens at protests, they treat them as a fun day out, segregate themselves into little blocs and cliques.
Anyway, I think I’ve now fulfilled my quota of paying attention to Hungarian politics, so now I’ll just sit in my room and see how many hooligans get beaten up by the police.

October 23rd, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

Despite what a few people seem to think, I really didn’t come here for the rioting. Still, I did spend a couple of hours wandering around the town centre – I may be spending most of my time at home, but you can’t listen to sirens and helicopters without getting a little curious.

In case you’ve missed the backstory: the political right have been pissed off for the past month or so, since somebody leaked a recording of the Prime Minister admitting (in pretty colourful language) that he lied to win the last election. Partly because of that, his party did badly in the local elections a few weeks ago. The president hinted that he wanted the Prime Minister to resign, the PM won a not-particularly-resounding vote of confidence, and things settled down a bit.

Then comes today, which is the 50th anniversary of an uprising against the Soviets. So that gives an excuse to start the whole thing again. Everybody has the day off work, there’s lots of flag-waving anyway, and it’s not hard to turn it against the Prime Minister who, being a socialist, gets painted as a sort-of communist clinging on. Veterans refuse to shake his hand, the opposition organise a demonstration, and by lunchtime it’s moved on to teargas and rubber bullets.

So I walked around a bit, stood around with a crowd of similarly-uninvolved gawkers and watched the police tear-gassing a protest. Then decided it’s a bit silly to get too involved in it all, given that I don’t even agree with the rioters. Plus there was far too much flag-waving for me – it’s something I have a not-entirely-irrational loathing of. Would have taken some photos, but -despite all your advice – I’ve not got my act together enough to buy a camera.

As before, there were an impressive number of 60-something-year-olds, although the angry young men were out in force again. Also: a total absence of ghouls around the edges selling whatever the right-wing Hungarian equivalent of the Socialist Worker is, and generally a sense that people don’t know what they’re doing. It’s nothing like, say, France, where everybody knows what happens at protests, they treat them as a fun day out, segregate themselves into little blocs and cliques.

Anyway, I think I’ve now fulfilled my quota of paying attention to Hungarian politics, so now I’ll just sit in my room and see how many hooligans get beaten up by the police.

October 22nd, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

Trivial thought of the day brought to you by “I need to buy a *lot* of postcards some day soon”

Does anybody else feel silly writing somebody’s full name on envelopes? I mean, assuming there aren’t seven Mary-Sue’s or whatever at an address, it makes no difference to getting the thing there. And I’d never use the surname of a friend in conversation, unless there was some confusion over who I was talking about.

Yes, folks, you’ll have to head elsewhere for heartfelt confessions and words of wisdom tonight.

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Civil war? What Civil war?

October 18th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

From [Anthony Cordesman's latest paper](http://www.csis.org/component/option,com_csis_pubs/task,view/id,3537/), via [Abu Aardvark](http://abuaardvark.typepad.com/abuaardvark/2006/10/cordesman_iraqi.html), a chart of violence in Iraq:

Spot the Askariyya mosque bombing.

LJ is civil society

October 18th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

Do you ever get the feeling of this is where it’s at? That’s what I’ve been feeling as I start following Russian livejournals more closely. Every time I look, I find another embryonic political or social movement, full of potential to change Russia – and being largely ignored by the outside world.
Take the debates. Run by the youth movement “[Democratic Alternative](http://www.daproject.ru/)(*)” Every few weeks in Moscow, some of the leading lights of Russian livejournal get together for a [public political debate](http://dadebatam.ru/). They’re judged by the audience, and by a panel of popular bloggers.

The audience at an earlier debate
Many photos from yesterday’s event here

Their latest event was yesterday, pitting nationalist [Dmitri Rogozin](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dmitry_Rogozin) against economic liberal [Boris Nemtsov](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boris_Nemtsov). The debate was about Georgia, and Rogozin won, but the transcript of the debate hasn’t been posted yet.
Also, this blog doesn’t seem to like cyrillic much. I wonder if it’s Movable Type in general, or my setup, or what?
*: I’m not sure who funds them or what their background is, but they feel less astroturfed than most Russian ‘youth movements’

I’ve joined Global Voices

October 17th, 2006 § 2 comments § permalink

Since I’ve been reading so many Russian livejournals recently, I figured I should do something useful with it. So I’ve got involved in Global Voices, a blog translation project. The plan is that I’ll post occasional snippets from Russian blogs, once a month or so. Here’s my first post, translating a Georgian post about the treatment of Georgians in Russia.

Serbia and Georgia

October 16th, 2006 § 2 comments § permalink

If Russia decides to escalate the dispute with Georgia, one option is for it to recognize Abkhazia as an independent state. Abkhazia is [pushing](http://www.regnum.ru/english/722014.html) Russia to do just that.
What makes this a plausible scenario is Kosovo. From Russia’s perspective, the situation of Abkhazia within Georgia is parallel to that of Kosovo within Serbia: regions enjoying de facto autonomy within hostile states, and pushing for formal self-determination. In [Putin's words](http://www.ft.com/cms/s/b55abaf4-dfc0-11da-afe4-0000779e2340.html):

“If someone believes that Kosovo should be granted full independence as a state, then why should we deny it to the Abkhaz and the South Ossetians?”

The implied ‘someone’ is the UN, where glacial negotiations are moving towards the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state. Russia is unlikely to let this through the UN without demanding a similar decision on Abkhazia. It might not even wait for Kosovo to come up at the UN – ten days ago, for instance, [Mikhail Gorbachev](http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2006/10/5b958386-975f-40ca-9824-90f0c1f1048f.html) wrote that the “logic of international development may lead Russia to a situation in which we will have no other choice but to recognize Abkhazia

Hindi goes as well

October 15th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

What I didn’t mention in the last post – because I didn’t believe it – was that Sanskrit isn’t the only course going. Cambridge is also closing the Hindi department. This is something like the fourth most widely-spoken language in the world, 400 million speakers (many more if you include urdu speakers, and speakers of hindi as a second language). How does nobody think it might be useful for somebody to be able to speak this language?

Cambridge stops Sanskrit

October 14th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

I’m breaking off the Georgia blogging for howls of rage that my old university course is being shut down. Apparently, Cambridge university sees no value in teaching Sanskrit to undergraduates.
Right now, I feel like running into the streets and screaming at the imbecility of the world.

October 14th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

Interesting take on the Lancet figures from Marginal Revolution:

A very high deaths total, taken alone, suggests (but does not prove) that the Iraqis were ready to start killing each other in great numbers the minute Saddam went away. The stronger that propensity, the less contingent it was upon the U.S. invasion, and the more likely it would have happened anyway, sooner or later. In that scenario the war greatly accelerated deaths. But short of giving Iraq an eternal dictator, that genie was already in the bottle.
If the deaths are low at first but rising over time, it is more likely that a peaceful transition might have been possible, either through better postwar planning or by leaving Saddam in power and letting Iraqi events take some other course. That could make Bush policies look worse, not better. Tim Lambert, in one post, hints that the rate of change of deaths is an important variable but he does not develop this idea.

No more sanskrit

October 14th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

Ug. Is this true? No more undergraduate Sanskrit at Cambridge?

I just checked. There are over 200 undergraduates in the Classics department. But:


“Sanskrit manuscripts number roughly one hundred times those in Greek and Latin combined. In the exact sciences alone their number is greater than the total number of Greek and Latin manuscripts.” [source]

I’m not entirely convinced by those figures, but there are certainly an immense number of Sanskrit texts. Many (most?) have not been properly edited, let alone published or translated. Do people honestly believe that there is nothing of value in any of those?

Fuming…

October 14th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

Russia has made a point of maintaining transport links to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, despite the blockade of Georgia. It’s something that Georgian politicians have complained bitterly about. Now they’re driving it home by sending a train to South Ossetia loaded with $741,000 of humanitarian aid. Behind this is Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who is even more energetic than Ken Livingstone in maintaining his own foreign policy agenda. Luzhkov calls the train “a symbol of Russian assistance to South Ossetia, which wants to live independently and not to obey those, who have subjected these people to genocide,

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