History Rhymes – the Betrayal of Kurds

In my country, the Munich Agreement is still perceived as one of the most important lessons of history – the lesson being that western allies are not to be relied upon and that meeting the demands of fascist authoritarians only leads to further demands.

The recent betrayal of Kurds by the USA, via their imbecilic and barely literate president, has many similarities. And many more will follow, including mass graves.

The behavior of Turks, as I observed it on Twitter – before turning away in disgust – is jingoistic and racist, celebrating the violence being perpetrated and cheering the prospect of Kurds being driven into the desert. It drives home another similarity – Turks see Kurds just as Germans saw Slavs prior to WW2 – as lesser, as subhuman, as beings not worthy of consideration. Racism towards Kurds is, at this moment, one of the most prominent and defining features of being a “true Turk”.

Turkish persistent denial of the Armenian genocide is a stain on the country’s reputation and now they are starting another one. And the USA, the self-appointed world policeman, just watches and supplies weapons. Turkey is in NATO after all.

Behind the Iron Curtain part 32 – Money Lenders

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give a perfect and objective evaluation of anything but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty-eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


Lending money was a very tightly controlled activity behind the Iron Curtain. The regime had a de-facto monopoly on big lending and strictly regulated the activity. It was only possible to get a loan from a bank, and many young people did so when they started a family, just as they do today – to buy or build a house, an apartment, furnishings, etc.

My sister got a loan too when she got married. So did my parents.

I never heard of anybody having trouble with payments. The law regulated what rates can be given, what securities can be required and what payments can be requested, so for people getting into financial trouble this way was not common. Loan sharks existed – on those another time – because organized crime existed. But it was that – a crime. If it was possible for anyone getting into insolvency or personal bankruptcy because they could not keep up with their legal payments, It was rare and I never heard of it.

That has changed rapidly after the Iron Curtain fell. The bad thing about that was that our first finance minister and late president Václav Klaus is Randian libertarian, and he governed the state finances with the assumption that “the invisible hand of the free market” is a panacea for all problems. One of the legacies of that time was the abandonment of many regulatory laws, including those that defined and outlawed loan-sharking. Suddenly it became legal to loan money at thousands of percent interests, with short payments, exorbitant fees, etc. etc. A few thousands worth of debt could, and still can, balloon into thousandfold and suddenly you pay more in monthly fees than the original debt was worth. Speculations with debts became rife and a whole money-sharking industry emerged from the free market quite naturally.

Only it is not a solution, but a cancerous growth. Today roughly 8% of our little country’s population got caught in these financial traps. Some people even very obviously through no fault of their own – they were indebted by their careless or clueless parents or inherited a debt without knowing it.

And thus the free market provided a new class of people – the working poor, the debt-slaves and the homeless. I think this too was one of those few things the regime did actually handle properly, or at least better than the current one which still did not catch up with this entirely unnecessary crisis and still did not put the money lenders on a short leash.

Of paper cups and plastic straws

Paper cup with coffee, creamer and sugar on the side.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

We all know that climate change is real, we all know that we need to fucking do something about it, yet nothing seems to happen. What is being endlessly discussed is always one small thing or the other small thing, like a ban on plastic straws, or how we should use reusable cups for our coffee. What is more is a tendency to declare one’s own behaviour to be benign while pointing the finger at others and it’s getting on my nerves.

You can easily find this one Twitter, where people proclaim that them getting a new phone every year and flying to X isn’t the problem, but people going on cruises is. Vegetarians point at people who eat meat as “the problem”. Folks in cities with a good infrastructure declare that “nobody needs a car”. There are lots of good discussions about how just making shit more expensive (like a proposed increase in taxes on meat, which will make factory farmed cheap meat slightly more expensive, but still enough to become a problem for poor people, while making ethically farmed meat a lot more expensive, thus discouraging people from buying it) is making fighting climate change poor people’s problem while those rich enough to go on three fucking cruises a year and flying to New York for a shopping trip will just shrug their shoulders.

In line with this is the argument that the problem isn’t people’s consumption and behaviour, but it’s just those evil companies, or to quote a tweet (not going to link to it, this isn’t about the person, but the argument), that:

100 companies produce 71% of CO2 emissions. The idea that climate change is an individual problem is a lie bought & sold by these companies to stop us from holding them responsible. If all academics stopped flying for a year, the planet would still be under their control.

Now, I don’t doubt that the number is true, and believe me, I have absolutely no sympathy for capitalist companies who will happily burn the planet for shareholder value, but how do you think they produce all that CO2? Hint: They don’t produce it by burning coal at the company barbecue. They produce it by making all those damn consumer goods that we buy every day. Yes, by producing your new phone. By producing your steak. By shipping your yoghurt container three times around the world because that’s cheaper than doing it all in one place. By producing the electricity you need to post that shit on Twitter. So a lot of the discussions well meaning people are having can be summed up by the German saying “wash me but don’t wet my fur”: I want to see results, but I am not willing to go through the process (obviously a saying from before the advent of dry shampoo). Of course, individuals are often caught up in this trap, without having good alternatives for more sustainable behaviour (if i wanted to take public transport to work, I’d have to leave home at 1 am or so before the train connection ceases for the night, because the earliest train in the morning wouldn’t be early enough to catch the buses I’d then need to take…), and an individual changing their behaviour will not make climate change stop (I dramatically reduced our meat consumption, the planet is still getting hotter), yet in the long run everybody will need to change.

To come back to the title: Of course 3 billion fucking single use cups a year in Germany are bad and unsustainable. But we won’t solve climate change by just all bringing our reusable cups. But we also won’t stop it while using three fucking billion cups a year. The solutions will have to be manyfold and they will have to change the way we live, before climate change changes the way we live without us getting a say.

Mni Wiconi- Water is Life: In Memory of Caine

A year ago today our community was devastated by the death of our beloved Caine. The team here at Affinity struggled with how to honor Caine on this day and we finally decided to carry forward her message to love and honor the planet. Caine stood with the tribe at Standing Rock in their struggle against the DAPL and today we’re passing on a few stories about the continuing struggle of Indigenous communities to protect the land and water. We are in no way qualified to speak about Indigenous culture or history, but we do so today with great respect.

First, a few reminders of the meaning of Mni Wiconi – Water is Life.

Mni Wiconi – The Stand at Standing Rock

Mni Wiconi – Water is Life

Hear the message of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Honor tribal sovereignty and the Earth we inhabit by telling President Obama to deny the easement by calling 202-456-1111. We need every person to call Obama this week before Dec. 5th. Please share. For more information visit standwithstandingrock.net#NoDAPL#StandwithStandingRock#standingrock#bankexit

Posted by Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Also:

In an article on Indian Country Today, Woonspe—Education Gives Meaning to Mni Wiconi—Water Is Life they tell of the origin story behind the meaning of Mni Wiconi.

An origin story of the Oceti Sakowin, the Seven Council Fires, which make up the Lakota, Nakoda, and Dakota people, tells us that the blood of First Creation, Inyan, covers Unci Maka, our grandmother earth, and this blood, which is blue is mni, water, and mahpiya, the sky. Mni Wiconi, water is life.

The entire article is worth reading and the above link will take you right there.

♦♦♦

 

Many Standing Rocks: Three Years and Still Fighting, by Tracy L. Barnett – The Esperanza Project)

LaDonna Allard, center, and Cheryl Angel at a march led by the women of Sacred Stone to the backwater bridge one week after a brutal attack there by law enforcement. (Photo from social media) – The Esperanza Project

 

So water is in danger, globally. Right now Indigenous communities are still at risk, and they are standing up, because they have to stand up.  When you finally realize — WATER IS LIFE — you understand why you can’t sit back down.

People keep saying “after” Standing Rock – but I’m still of the same state of mind, I still have the same passion for the water,  it has to be protected. It was when I was at Sicangu Wicoti Iyuksa that I learned about the aquifers that were in danger and when I was at Standing Rock I learned about the rivers that were in danger.

We encourage you to read the article. Cheryl Angel passes on wisdom from a lifetime spent in activism for the planet. Her reflections on the movement at Standing Rock are insightful, as is her take on the ongoing struggle to protect water and land resources.

♦♦♦

Next, we’re providing links to 2 reports on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s website.

SRST – No DAPL Remand Report Final, from February 5, 2019.

This first story is a damning and infuriating report on the deficient Corps of Engineers Analysis of the environmental impacts of the DAPL. The courts finally sided with the Standing Rock Tribe, but then decided that since the pipeline is already built they will let the oil flow.

Impacts of an Oil Spill from the Dakota Access Pipeline on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe from February 21, 2018, so that you can see just how much is at stake.
Both stories connect you to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s website and we encourage you to have a look around. The About Us section contains lots of information about the history of the tribe and the reservation, as does the section about environmental issues.
♦♦♦
Next, we’re going to point you toward the Indigenous Environmental Network.
IEN is an alliance of Indigenous peoples whose mission it is to protect the sacredness of Earth Mother from contamination and exploitation by strengthening, maintaining and respecting Indigenous teachings and natural laws. Adopted in 1994 by the IEN National Council, Denver, Colorado
The IEN website has a broad focus and they carry a variety of interesting stories about the ongoing fight to protect the land and water. It isn’t all just talk, though. The IEN runs several important environmental campaigns including the Keep It In The Ground Campaign run by Dallas Goldtooth. Dallas was born into an activist family and stood as a water protector at Standing Rock. He’s an accomplished activist, teacher, writer, poet and comedian who uses story and humor to tackle difficult subjects.
Here he is with his comedy troupe, The 1491’s, at Vasser College in 2018. His message is full of hope.

And finally, we leave you with a clip found on Twitter 2 days ago by rq. It’s a true message of hope from The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the it’s the perfect way to end this post.

 

Behind the Iron Curtain part 31 – Freedom of Speech

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give a perfect and objective evaluation of anything but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty-eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


If you have read enough of my writings and comments, you know that I am no free speech absolutists. I do think that there should be legal limits to what, where and how is discussed because unregulated free speech is actually not free at all – it allows toxic ideas to spread at the detriment of sensible ones. The old paradox about tolerating intolerance does definitively apply.

However I do on occasion wonder how much of this attitude is due to my growing up in an environment where freedom of speech was de-facto nonexistent. Oh, people were allowed to say anything they want about whatever they want – as long as it did not contradict the official party opinion on the matter. Criticizing USSR or the Communist Party was not allowed and the punishments for transgressions were not trivial either.

During my life, the regime has mellowed a lot already, so people did not just disappear overnight for saying something wrong, but they still could get into trouble if they said something critical of the regime and it got to the wrong ears. And it could be enough if one of your kids babbled in the school about how one of their relatives was criticizing the communist party.

I have found myself in this situation as a kid. One of my uncles was a fervent follower of the party in the 60s, then he got shortly out into West Germany in the 70s and after seeing the standard of living there in comparison to our “socialist paradise”, he made a U-turn in opinion. The only reasons he and his wife got back were their two sons, who were still small and whom they did not have with them – and whom they might not get back if they emigrated illegally.

Ever since that he did not have a kind word for the Communist Party and he vented often in front of the TV during the evening news. I was present a few times for that and it caused me great discomfort to hear what he said. It was in direct contradiction with the “truth” that was told in school, with the “truth” printed in Pravda, and with the “truth” on TV. He was critical of all those amazing and all-knowing party officials! At the time I had no way of discerning on whose side the actual truth lies, but luckily I did not go to our teacher for answers, but first to my parents. Who have told me that I should try not to think about this and to never tell anyone what my uncle was saying because he could go to jail.

After the fall of the Iron Curtain, this was summed up in a saying “One of the most difficult things in parenting was to convince your kids to tell the truth at home, and not to tell it in public”.

Finding the right balance between unregulated speech and an iron grip on what people are allowed to say is not an easy task and I do not have the answer where the exact line lies. I have seen both extremes in action in real life and on the internet and both extremes do not work in the long run. Too much regulation and you end up with an isolated bubble, an echo chamber (and I do not mean state regulation only). But too lax or absent regulations lead to toxic environments overrun with those who shout the loudest and who have no squabbles to spout lies faster than they can be reasonably debunked. So I can only say the balance is worth seeking.

YouTube Video: What is white supremacy? – A Response to Steven Crowder

Shaun’s videos are always excellently done, and this one is no exception.

I am a bit torn after seeing this video. I did not know much about Steven Crowder, apart from that he is a climate change denier and a typical American conservative in many other aspects. After this, I am even less interested in him.

However, one young and exceptionally talented knifemaker on YouTube is following Steven Crowder and Ben Shapiro. He is only 19 years old, so there is still a chance that he grows out of that shit because legalities notwithstanding, at that age a person is not yet fully developed and I myself was definitively a twerp at that time. But also that age is definitively high enough to know that racism is a bad thing and the excuse “he’s just a kid” does not hold water anymore.

Two years ago I stopped watching one interesting blacksmithing channel after I learned that the blacksmith is Trump voter. I just could not stand the idea of supporting a person who does something as vile as voting for an open and unapologetic racist and misogynist and wannabe fascist. I am not at that stage with this young knifemaker yet, but…

Brexit means Brexit means ….????

Oh my, I have stumbled onto the twitter account of that bumbling nationalist buffoon Nigel Farage and my blood began to boil.

What really gets up my nose about this posturing pustule is that not only has he not done any meaningful work to clean up the mess he helped to make – he only stands on the sidelines, making potshots adding to it even more – but that he still pretends that the daft referendum has represented democratically the will of the people.

It has not.

The ever so vapid Theresa May likes to repeat “Brexit means Brexit”,  as if it were some meaningful statement saying something.

It is not.

A popular theme among the Brexiters is “people have spoken” as if people were actualy asked what they want.

The were not.

There is one important point ignored by Brexiters over and over again – the referendum did not ask people what they want. It does not represent the will of the people as they say it. It cannot.

The question posed was “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” as if it were a binary vote. But it is not, as recent shenanigans in British government shows, it is a very complex issue which cannot be reduced to a simple binary. There is only one way  to stay in the EU – but there is a multitude of ways to leave. There never was a majority to leave – there was a majority to remain and multiple minorities with mutually exclusive ideas about what leave means to them which were lumped together under one umbrella because some idiot did not think things through (or perhaps did? nah I think that gives these bozos too much credit). And now those mutually exclusive ideas about what Brexit actually, really, means bear fruit in the inevitable inability to decide on a deal and stick with it, as the different brexiter fractions keep posturing and demanding and not willing to compromise on anything, which is actualy necessary in any functioning democracy.

The only democratic way forward is to put to people a second referendum, this time with a list of multiple viable options, just like in the indicative votes last week. I do not think it will happen. I think the destructive self-centered assholes and those dupes that voted for them are going to get their no-deal, because that is the default option if they manage to disrupt and obstruct long enough – and they are determined to do exactly that.

And thus the whole country is piloted by these people towards a crash in one huge and completely unnecessary Brexikaze, a fanatical and futile act of self-destruction almost inevitably bound to make more damage to UK than to that which they seek to destroy.

Slavic Saturday

My oral graduation exam in highschool* was not looked forward to by my Czech language and literature teacher.  All the others (Biology, Chemistry, German language) have expected me to do reasonably well or even excel, but he had some reservations. I already had a 1 for my essay writing, but the oral exam was essentially going to be about history of Czech literature, and I had great dislike towards learning that history.

The reasons for this were multiple. Firstly history was taught as a sequence of dates  and names to memorize, and I have always had very, very poor memory for numbers and names, despite having excellent memory in general. It is extremely difficult for me to remember birth dates, even of the closest people I know. Secondly I was never convinced by the argument that learning history is important in order to avoid repeating mistakes, because I saw very early on that the whole of history actualy consists of repeating said mistakes by people who knew about them. And thirdly I did not go on well with that teacher on personal level.

So my knowledge of Czech literary history and theory was very, very sketchy. I have honestly tried my best to memorize all the dull and unpalatable shit that I was supposed to know for the exam, but it just did not hold. About the only thing I had a really detailed knowledge about was Karel Čapek, because I liked his books and I have read everything he wrote that I could get my hands on. The teacher knew this and later on I learned that he actually expressly said that he is apprehensive of my exam because “Čapek is all (Charly) knows”.

I was lucky during my exam. I have drawn a question where the main component was some poetry shit I knew nearly nothing about, and secondary question was something vaguely connected to Karel Čapek. I took my chance when preparing my notes and during talking I managed to drift to Čapeks works just after a few sentences and I stayed there talking in minute detail for the whole 15 minutes the exam took. The teacher, relieved, has let me. The observing teacher (an independent assessor from another school) did not intervene either, for whatever reason. And so I got lucky and passed.

Actually, to say that I liked Čapek is an understatement, I admired him greatly. Čapek is in my opinion unsurpassed in Czech literature. Very progressive for his time, and, above all, a fervent pacifist. In today’s world he would probably be left of Bernie Sanders, but he would not be radical leftist in a real sense of the word “radical” not how it is viewed in Anglophone world today, where anyone arguing that not everything should be privatized is labeled as radical leftie. He might even be accused of centrism by true radicals.

Čapek was very outspoken critic of Nazi Germany and its policies, so much so that his personal safety was threatened by local Nazi sympathisers. Allegedly some friends recommended to him to carry a weapon for self-defense after he received death threats, but his commitment to pacifism was such that all he could manage to do was to carry a small starter pistol and when confronted about it he replied “I know that I won’t hurt anyone this way”. Many of his works center around criticizing authoritarian regimes, social injustices and war horrors, and there is absolutely no uncertainty about where he stood on social issues.

But he did not like Marx and communism. And neither do I. And to this day I think his essay “Why I am not a communist” bears weight. Some parts are of course not well aged after nearly a hundred years (the casual sexism f.e.), some parts can be seen as predictive of the massive social and scientific failure that was Russia under Stalin. If we are to learn from the mistakes of the past, I would everyone recommend to go, read that essay and think about it.


*the closest translation I can get to anglophone equivalents)

 

International Women’s Day

March 8 is International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter.

A balanced world is a better world. How can you help forge a more gender-balanced world?
Celebrate women’s achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.

There are events worldwide to celebrate the day and I encourage you to check the site International Women’s Day to see what’s happening in your area. They have a search feature by country and city so plug-in and see what’s up. The site also has a wealth of resources and they’re hosting an international photo competition.

The world is still a dangerous place for women and there is much work to be done before that will change. International Women’s Day is a chance for us all to stand up and say we want a better world; a world where women are paid on parity with men, where access to birth control and abortion services are freely available, where rape is regarded as violent assault and no woman ever is accused of “asking for it.” Every woman I know has a story of inequality or harassment or worse. Let’s change that so that the stories of the next generation reflect a world where people are judged by the content of their character, not the content of their underpants.

Those Evil Unelected EU Bureuaucrats!

I glanced at comments under a video about the brexit clusterfuck and that made me want to very shortly address one of the most frequent – and in my opinion most nonsensical – objections against EU, used by brexiteers and euroskeptics everywhere. The idea, that unelected bureaucrats in Brussels should not be able to “dictate” sovereign states what to do and not to do.

Firstly people do elect representatives into EU parliament, and it is only sad that many people do not know this and that these elections have generally low turnout.

But what about those other bodies, I hear them cry, those are not elected!

Well, neither are such bodies within the different states. People who voice this criticism fail to realize that in Europe we have usually representative democracy, so our elected representatives do not usually decide directly about anything. That is not their function. The elected representatives negotiate and decide the rules for decisions – like laws and regulations – and those decisions are always, always put into action by unelected bodies following some common rules. For example the minister of agriculture in CZ is not voted into office, they are selected by politicians after the election and confirmed by a president. And the bureaucrats working in the offices are not voted at all and most of them carry over from one administration over to the other. They are employees of the state(s) and blaming them for deciding things in accordance with the laws and regulations that were decided upon by the politicians people voted into office is, to put it mildly, idiotic.

By this logic people in some district in Wales could argue, loudly and obnoxiously, that those unelected bureaucrats in London should not be deciding about what they can and cannot do and how!

Unfortunately, there are actually people who use that sort of argument too…

Behind the Iron Curtain part 28 – Guns

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


Guns were not something one would see every day and in every household. They were indeed very, very rare. But they were not non-existent, there was some limited access to guns for the general populace and I got to see and even handle guns as a child. In fact, shooting was a skill that was positively encouraged, although gun ownership was not.

The most obvious case are hunting rifles and shotguns. I live in a small rural town, and there were plenty of gamekeepers around who were sometimes seen walking through the town with their guns slung on the shoulder whilst on the way to/from the forest. The safety requirement was for them to carry the guns unloaded and I do not remember anyone not observing this.

One gamekeeper was a leader of very small (5 people at most) local pionýr club which I attended, centered around nature and care for it. I learned a lot in that club, including how to shoot a varmint rifle. The gamekeeper took us one day far into the forest, to an inaccessible spot near a place where WW2 american aeroplane fell into bog, and he allowed us to take turns in shooting varmint rifle at a paper box hung from a tree. I still remember how my childhood bully (who was unfortunately also a member of the club) got dismayed that my shooting was better than his. But the best shot in the group was of course boy who had a gun at home.

A gun at home, you say? Impossible! Well, air guns were not illegal, although they were not cheap and easy to come by. Everybody got a chance to shoot them at some point. Shooting competitions were very common on fairs when the merry-go-rounds came into town, and they were also ubiquitous in summer camps for kids. Boys and girls were equally encouraged to learn shooting from the regime, although the general culture saw this more as a “boy’s” thing.

The regime wanted everyone to know at least the basic of how to shoot a gun, and since military service was compulsory for men, every man eventually learned how to handle firearms, including automatic and semi-automatic weapons. Not everybody got a chance to handle those weapons outside of military or People’s Militia, but in my town everybody got to see them. Because it is a border town near the iron curtain, and the border patrol was everywhere. Seeing an AK-47 was not something completely unusual, especially outside the town limits.

But getting your hands on one was more difficult. And getting your hands on ammunition even more so. The access to guns was very tightly regulated, and this had one positive outcome – no mass shootings whatsoever. When Olga Hepnarová, an infamous mass-murderer, has planned her deed, she initially wanted to either set off explosives or shoot a crowd from an automatic weapon. She learned how to shoot – which was easy – but was later forced to change her plan due to the difficulty of getting a gun and ammo So she decided to use a truck instead and managed to kill 8 and injure 12 people. American gun-nuts would no doubt use this as a proof of “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”, but to me it is a proof that gun regulations work, because there is no doubt that had she had easy access to guns, the damage she would do would be even greater.