Tuesday 13 December 2016

non-state actors

I am indebted to the Happy Mutants at Boing Boing for bringing to our attention a matter of Brexit negotiations first proposed two weeks hence (I suppose none of us can be too hard on ourselves for missing the sensical compromises that present themselves every so often in this shrill and demanding newscape), seeing that we had completely overlooked the notion of ‘associate-citizenship’ that might be extended to UK citizens residing in the EU, so that they might be allowed to stay and afforded the same freedom of movement as enjoyed before.
Coming just as the British government announced a firm date to invoke Article 50, to tender its divorce-papers, this offer shows a tremendous amount of goodwill has been held in trust and whilst corporate entities might not expect nor deserve such kindnesses, it was hopeful to see that individuals might still be able to choose their affiliation with sovereignty independent of their representative governments. It is possible that the current regime might reject the proposal for its potential to undermine the will of the people it’s championing at the moment and the only recourse is paradoxically petitioning one’s local council that was either committed to leave or bremain in the first place. It also has me hopefully, personally, as a long term US expatriate, wondering if I might too be granted such an option, especially considering what by force I might be repatriated to.

Monday 12 December 2016


As the Reykjavรญk Grapevine informs, former Icelandic interior minister ร–gmundur Jรณnasson granted a lengthy interview to EU think-tank Katoikos, with a warrant to speak for those sometimes feeling exiled in their own or adopted homes, in which he addresses his thought on the rise in nationalism, the financial crisis that ravaged the tiny island nation and—perhaps most sensationally, his standing up and eventual dismissal of the FBI.

There had been some discussion and rumours circulating around the 2011 incident, but Jรณnasson had not yet spoke about it candidly beforehand. After having been approached (and received in a cold manner, though the message did not seem to go through) in the early summer about touring the servers that were reputed to be hosting some of the data of the WikiLeaks platform. Despite the initial rebuffing reception, three months later, a whole planeload of agents came, with designs on framing the WikiLeaks founder. This act of defiance is certainly significant despite the fact that I wonder if Julian Assange has gone a little stir-crazy and am reminded nowadays of Harvey Dent’s line to Batman: “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Jรณnasson made it understood in no uncertain terms that the FBI had no jurisdiction here and should leave immediately, the minister far more willing to side with the whistle-blowers over the domestic intelligence agency. At this point in our story, Assange had already surrendered to UK authorities, having leaked his major caches of communiques throughout 2010 but had not yet secured asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London

great leap forward

The Atlantic presents a rather sweeping, comprehensive list of political, foreign policy milestones and anniversaries that will occur in the upcoming year, illustrating how fraught diplomacy with compounded legacies not easily shaken and those foundations probably ought not to be tempted.
February marks a quarter of a century since the European Economic Community embarked into a new system of greater legal and political integration—beyond trade deals, with the Maastricht Treaty, which led to the creation of the contemporary EU, though it now stands at a crossroads. It is the centenary of the Russian revolutions of 1917 that created the Soviet Union as well as the fiftieth anniversary of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Of course cultural movements and revolution don’t exclusively cause contemporaries to confront (and tackling “on this day” is only contending with a shadow of the original event and certainly not its precedents—and perhaps in the moment of memorial, not its antecedents either) the past only on round birthdays (there are many more events covered in the article) and the nostalgia for chronicle and a surfeit of past to the fill the present has become a sort of a touchstone lately—and hopefully the trivia can tease out some curiosity into the deeper history and influences as well—and perhaps shows that the whole jabberwocky of bookends needs respect and continual servicing. What do you think? Perhaps there’s also a strong desire to step away from a present in hopes that we can bound it—and whatever slurry of 2016 won’t wash into the new year.

Sunday 11 December 2016


Whilst the US president is only bound by tradition and the Emoluments Clause, being unable to receive gifts from foreign powers nor himself being able to grant grace and favour appointments that would otherwise amount to bestowing title of nobility, the presidential cabinet of advisors and other appointees are subject to quite specific laws to stave off conflicts of interest and ulterior motives.
Aside from the other potential baggage that the presumptive Secretary of State, Top Diplomat, the head of a petroleum concern and decorated with Russia’s Order of Friendship—a high civilian honour, the appointee will also come into the office with stocks in his own company worth a quarter of a billion dollars.  Because of regulations in place (some might argue that the incumbent Secretary of State was given a pass since he receives ketchup royalties through his wife of a nickel every time so one uses it) the appointee will have to resign from the company and he will have to divest himself of all those pesky, burdensome ties to his former career tax free. We here at PfRC are not here to question anyone’s civic-mindedness and view public service as a noble calling which could well benefit from an infusion of experience from the private sector (no matter how corporate welfare might have supported his rise in the industry) but it seems to me that having several hundred million or billions even exempt from taxation would be motivation enough to take a turn in serving the public and one would not even bother invoking anything else.

Thursday 1 December 2016

haber process

Informed by Super Punch, The Atlantic presents a primer in a geopolitical snarl that’s potentially more significant for humanity’s surviving and thriving than the cartel of petroleum producing countries and all the economic booms, bubbles and bursting of the past: the virtual phosphate monopoly held by Morocco and its contested territory of Western Sahara.
Back in 1918, chemist Fritz Haber was awarded the Nobel Prize for inventing the process that fixed atmospheric nitrogen to phosphate to synthesize ammonia for fertilizers and other applications that allowed the world population to climb to the billions through improved agriculture—and while nitrogen is essentially unlimited, phosphate is finite and there’s no substitute. Currently, Morocco—which is very sensitive on the subject of Western Sahara, akin to a One China Policy or Kurdish independence but the controversy has been successfully muted and the plight of the aboriginal Sahwari people is largely unknown—cannot leverage the rest of the world with its reserves but that could change any moment, with wealth-redistribution and climate change, and suddenly food-security might mean that the Earth can no longer sustain us in the lifestyle we’ve grown accustomed to.

Wednesday 30 November 2016


Since seeing that raw tweet put out by one major news organisation—since amended—announcing the death of Fidel Castro with the parenthetical instructions to update the number of US presidents he’s survived if George HW Bush were to perish first, I’ve been thinking about how the media keeps its reckoning for the dead in a very much animated manner, updated continuously for all persons of note. Sadly, this year has seen quite enough in those columns. Kottke takes a look at how another bulwark of journalism has been morbidly drafting and then revising Castro’s obituary for nearly six decades on a set recurring basis as well as every time intrigue or rumours began circulating—the Cuban leader having outlived not only several successive regimes but even print journalism, various formats of media storage and some of the industry’s other institutions.

Monday 28 November 2016

the art of the deal or fool me twice, we don’t get fooled again

Via the always brilliant Boing Boing, we are directed (despite the redirections and distractions, “You can call us Aaron Burr from the way we’re dropping Hamiltons) to the New York Times’ massive expose on the president-elect’s outside business interests and potential for conflict of interest. Whilst there’s no law banning a sitting president from having commercial investments and like the expected nicety of disclosing one’s tax returns, it is strongly suggested—per the reasonable person clause, but there’s no teeth to it.
Scholars cite the emolument clause, which was inserted into their constitution to prevent future British monarchs from becoming too cozy with the president, and could be interpreted, abstractly as billeting foreign heads of state at his own hotels rather than the rink-a-dink White House. More than just disdain for tradition and perception (also begging what sort of legal precedence and ruling could be construed in this environment) one needs to ask when leader negotiate with the US president, whom are they addressing: the politician with the American public’s welfare at the fore, or a business man looking after the continued prosperity of private ventures. The reporters believes that this conflict has already been demonstrably challenged by the president-elect’s accord with the government of Agrabah Turkey over its purge following a staged-coup attempt that saved his resorts on Bosporus Riviera and persuaded people to overlook all that talk about banning Muslims—or previously with golf courses in Scotland and Ireland. Of course corruption and graft have always accompanied politics and arguably full-disclosure and transparency in the vein of a media-magnate like Silvio Berlusconi might be preferable to those whose connections are behind the scenes. What do you think? It’s not as if from one day to the next the president-elect’s empire came into being, but to protect those properties, the stakes for the wheeling and dealing just got exponentially higher, trillions to investment valued in the tens of millions and untold fringe benefits for foregoing a salary of a couple hundred thousand dollars per annum.

Tuesday 22 November 2016

the great dictator

As if we aren’t already living in times fraught with chilling and terrifying things, Paleofuture—with a bit of digging—uncovers the reductio ad Hitlerum and finds that the pledge to make Germany great again was indeed uttered sometime prior to the year 1934 by the chief mover and shaker of the moment.
The farewell tour of the incumbent included Obama passing the mantle of protector of the free-world to his counter-part in the person of the chancellor.  Without drawing parallels as nationalist movements tend to resolve the fact that despots are elevated to power not because but rather despite of (or excused for) their less digestible views, quite enough scary things are being proffered in the here and now, threatening to erode the precious progress that American and the world has made for peaceable and responsible co-habitation.

Sunday 20 November 2016

pam 21-41

Covering the entire gamut of good manners and etiquette becoming to both an officer and a gentleman, in 1949 the US Army issued a fantastically illustrated Personal Code of Conduct publication for soldiers, not just acclimating those who found themselves newly stationed in strange and exotic locations but also a day to day guide for common courtesies like tact, self-control, respect for women and being ambassadors of good will. I agree that we especially need this sort of civics manual to fall back on in these times.

Saturday 19 November 2016

ford v carter

The other day I came across this logo for US election night 1976, and was surprised by how contemporary the design seemed. On closer investigation, however, this convention developed by television anchor-men at the time was not the standard adopted by broadcasters universally and was in fact the opposite to the colour-coding in use today.
Until the 1980s, following the European system with red being associated with Communism and the left-leaning politics, the relatively and presently liberal Democratic Party was symbolised with that colour—though not by all media, and the Grand Old Party was represented by blue—harking back, according to some sources, to the blue uniforms of Unionist soldiers during the American Civil War. The colour schemes remained relatively mixed—with some outlets assigning one colour to the incumbent party and the other to the challenger, without respect for affiliation—until the contested outcome of the 2000 that took weeks to resolve and to less than a majority’s satisfaction between Al Gore and George W Bush. When the interpretation of the prevailing votes mattered not only state by state but county by county and precinct by precinct, all networks had to get it right (too much was at stake) and so adopted the same protocols for reporting and calling. The convention of Red States and Blue States for the media has held since.

Wednesday 16 November 2016


If you’re gullible enough to believe the so-called experts in their Ivory Towers, Oxford dictionaries has pronounced “post-truth” as the international word of the year. 

The formal definition for the adjective that beat out the terms alt-right, Brexiteer, and hygge and the polar opposite of last year’s honouring of an emoji reads “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Though seemingly born of the moment, post-truth has been in parlance since 1992 essay addressing the Iran-Contra Affair and the first Gulf War.

Thursday 10 November 2016

alt-right or barrel of deplorables

Here’s a brief biographical look of some of the freshly be(k)nighted members of European Alt-Right, coming soon to an election near you—you know, so you can avoid awkward encounters at parties. Thankfully, most have a day-job to fall back on—since idle hands... With the exception of the do-over election in Austria, this dossier only introduces those without some tenuous claim to authority.

Frauke Petry, chemist and chairwoman for Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, founded 4 July 2015.

Lutz Bachmann, advertising executive from Dresden and founder of the PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident) October 2014.

Marine Le Pen, attorney and French politician and president of Front National, October 1972.

Albert Rรถsti, political consultant and national chairman of the Swiss People’s Party, founded September 1971.

Geert Wilders, Dutch founder and leader of the Party for Freedom, February 2006.

Matteo Salvini, Italian journalist and leader of separatist movement Lega Nord, founded in January 1991.

Norbert Hofer, contested president of Austria and member of the Freedom Party (FPร–), founded April 1956.

oh, inverted world

With everything seeming so unreal and draining—including the stages of disbelief that we or they as the cognizetti had to confront as assumptions collapsed—I was hoping to awake from this bad dream and find ourselves in a place where all the progress towards social justice as imperfect as it is and as far as we have to go was not refudiated and undone by the victory of chauvinism and exceptionalism.
America’s relevance that so many are clutching after is diminished both domestically and abroad, and as tragic as it is to valid the insecurities of groups whose support comes at the disenfran- chisement of others—no protection for the minority, the greater threats come in the form of contagion in this nativism, emboldening tyrants and charismatics globally, and in laxer attitudes—verging towards ignorance—regarding climate change and responsible stewardship for the environment. Not that we’re custodians of the Earth, but rather having the passion and curiosity to make the pursuits of the sciences accountable and transform our world safely. It’s bad enough that those holding power are loath indulge that sometimes uncomfortable and inconvenient self-critique that one’s presumptions may be wrong and sustain the intellectual and emotional wherewithal to wonder why others might see the same things differently, but it’s not just as if we’ve given some mustachioed caricature of a villain enough rope to hang himself but also an arsenal of nuclear weapons and a surveillance system without parallel at his disposal. With such toys, why aspire to anything higher?

Tuesday 8 November 2016

revue, redux

Via the always marvelous Everlasting Blรถrt, we are given to a bit of nostalgia with a retrospective look at this quite interminable campaign season through the lens of some of the best political cartoons and memes that documented the entire bizarre and self-mocking careening career of the 2016 election.
Of course we are not nostalgic over wanting to relive or particularly revisit any part of it—rather I think it’s coming to terms with the fact that this ideological war does not end once the votes are counted, even if there are no disputed precincts and there’s no ties. Neither party could claim a victory, much less a mandate, and I fear the division will only continue and no reconciliation is forthcoming. What do you think? What sort of coda is going to be pinned on what already seems like the longest, most contested election in history?

Sunday 6 November 2016

wendell wilkie or prospect park

Every four years during the US election season a Brooklyn artist decorates her lawn not signs for the pugilists of the day but rather spares a thought for those defeated in past battles. Apolitically, the artist is inviting passers-by to imagine how history and our present direction would have been different if elections had gone the other way.

Saturday 5 November 2016

the fourth estate or deplorable me

Budding entrepreneurs in one particularly enterprising digital corridor of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia could be said to be influencing political sentiment in America as much as much or more than any coordinated hacking attack by capitalising on a business-model that is very much the Frankenstein’s monster of social media, albeit not in a way that is quite so sensation nor begging of response in kind.

Having abandoned positive articles in favour of the candidate Bernie Sanders for propaganda having to do with the last contenders remaining—especially what’s been found more profitable and proliferate in undermining the competition, several score Macedonian webmasters have taken to generating content that recursively perpetuates whatever misinformation that the internet sustains and catering to the partisan who long for nothing more than conformation-bias. That social media sites are pledging to filter out the catch-penny content that they’ve encouraged and depend on is irony enough, but it seems all the more just in a way in the context of so many Albanians and their compatriots being duped by Nigerian princes and other schemes when the internet first came into being. What do you think? Our economic-models are already based to a great extent on flattery, but how does that become more or less incorrigible when planted directly in unchallenged echo-chambers?

Friday 4 November 2016


When the German government failed to respond to the extradition demands of Turkey to turn over some four thousand suspected dissenters and dissidents who were party to the failed coup attempt thought to reside in Germany, the Turkish government accused Germany of harbouring terrorist elements, which will boomerang back and destroy Germany. The tense exchange comes right after a series of purges and censorship of the press. It is unclear which persons of interest Turkey is hoping to be offered up or whether radicals are of the established variety (Berlin said to antagonise Ankara over its tolerance for the Kurdish minority) or if they recently fled the country. There was not a rush of political asylum-seekers but many lawyers who suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of the coup did seek sanctuary in Germany.

Tuesday 1 November 2016


I was a bit floored by the by posturing and threats that Russia had for Norway over plans to host a rotational detachment of some three hundred US Marines in Vรฆrnes near Trondheim, not so much for the way plenipotentiaries are want to escalate anything to do with the perception of NATO expansion, but that Norway wasn’t already host—or considered host to US troops. I didn’t think the small but continued presence at Stavanger was a secret (or had closed shop)—we even passed by it, and maybe the locations are secret but the US is known also to store vast amounts of materiel and munitions in tunnels and bunkers in the fjords and mountains as forward supply in case tensions were to rise. Who would have guessed that policies and plans implemented back during the Cold War era, and sustained out of inertia, would now be the object of scrutiny and contention?

Monday 31 October 2016

reprise or i know what my people are thinking tonight

The doggedly diligent campaign reporters of Nation Public Radio’s Politics Podcast have been working virtually non-stop during this entire physically and emotional taxing election cycle in America, serving up a refreshingly thoughtful and reflective reporting on the election despite the usual common discourse and the pace of change. Now they’re working even harder with daily broadcasts, but recently to bridge the weekend presented a really interesting episode from this summer that I’d missed before—before all these dread realities began to coalesce and was not a regular listener. Encore examines the role of music—specifically musical theatre in the shaping of campaigns and presidencies.
I knew that FDR with “Happy Days are Here Again” (Chasing Rainbows, 1930) and Truman with “I’m just Wild about Harry” (Shuffle Along, 1921—for addressing social justice questions) had capitalized on popular, feel-good songs of their day—just like other rallying standards, but I didn’t realise that the Kennedy White House did not become characterised as Camelot organically but rather became known as such because the Lerner and Loewe Broadway production about to be adapted to film was so popular. Musical numbers might not have the same purchase on cultural currency as they did in decades past—at least not one that’s immediately recognisable—having been replaced by other power-ballads, but it’s interesting how the discussion touches on one candidate’s invoking of songs from The Phantom of the Opera as part of his regular playlist (plus some number with those damn dancing cats, whereas perhaps “Tomorrow belongs to Me” from Cabaret may work better) because of his connection to New York and the Great White Way, and the other who backed away from her rather accidental though intended as flattering comparison to Eva Perรณn.

Saturday 22 October 2016

bashnet or the hunting of the snark

There’s no evidence that the massive internet outage that did not just affect single platforms but rather significant geographical swathes of access by a coordinated and sophisticated assault on one of the structural switchboards is the work of those that might want to disrupt the US election.

It is, however, certainly a foretaste of how the smartening up of every aspect of our lives might have been not well thought through and how everything from car-pooling, couch-surfing, ordering a la carte, grocery-lists and free-wheeling banking might needn’t have been untethered from one thing to be tied to a conspiracy to make our days seamless and coordinated. If allowed to remain an ad hoc and arguably unnecessary network of interlaced parking meters, baby-monitors, or fast-food tray liners, then we there’s a huge front of least resistance to exploit, and hackers can deploy unlimited foot soldiers in the form of botnets that can’t be easily repelled and countermeasures can be countermanded. If the internet becomes subject to takedown, does the growing reliance on the Internet of Things become a handicap and a liability? What do you think? If this temporary static elicited such a panic, it’s hard to imagine what a true and sustained outage might look like—although, thankfully, we wouldn’t of course be posting live about it.