Thursday, 21 June 2012

Yesterday, the BBC portal carried a most interesting story, revolving around the new joint Harvard/MIT programme for online education ( The gist is that, after more than a decade of various experiments with “online” or “long-distance” learning by "lesser" universities, the heavyweights of the higher education world are throwing their hats into the ring, in what is likely to be a huge gamechanger.

The Harvard/MIT gamechanger is the following: once these and similar universities enter the online education business, this will no longer be the province of shady, letterbox universities or decent university “cash cows.” Online teaching will include the best of the best and, once the best of the best become available to the world, the world will not settle for less. The masses will be able to watch star professors previously available only to a select few, for little or no money. What are the implications for the rest of higher education, the non-Harvards of this world? How will Harvard itself change?

Online teaching is a reality. There are no technological impediments to having millions, perhaps billions of students across the world watch the same lecture and there have been none for a few years now. Just as with any YouTube clip, any online movie, one can watch a university lecture. It is merely the content that changes and the internet is, for most intents and purposes, content-neutral.

The true game-changers of the future are two: the quality of the teaching (top-notch professors becoming seriously involved) and the idea that maybe, just maybe, these top-notch professors will be teaching real degrees online. For now, the Harvard/MIT online lectures do not lead to a qualifying degree but that is likely to change once the scheme gathers pace. The stakes are enormous: with potentially billions of students worldwide, even the wealthiest universities will not be too shy to try to cash in.

The implications for the non-Harvard/MITs are evident: weaker universities will suffer, or, rather, their top professors will. With English as the lingua franca of today, the position of local “giants” in many fields will become untenable. Given the choice between one's local prof and a Nobel laureate-it is obvious which way the chequebook vote will sway. Once Ivy League online lectures become qualifying degree courses recognised worldwide, the domination of the local prof will be over within a single degree cycle. Is that good or bad? The answer is: both. 

It is good in the sense that billions of people will have access to world-class lecturers and that local mediocrity will lose its (often foul, sometimes downright evil) fiefdoms. Today, even very good universities count themselves lucky if they can get top-notch professors for a third of the courses that they have to provide. In the future, it will be top-notch for everyone. On the downside, diversity of opinion is likely to suffer: the fewer the lecturers, the fewer the opinions. 

But wait-the sceptics cry! Online teaching is unlikely to displace face-to-face teaching in our lifetimes, for at least three reasons. While a lecturer can easily lecture a million students, he cannot assess them nor usefully interact with them. Thus, first and foremost, even if the technological challenges entailed in preventing cheating are overcome, multiple-choice and similar mechanised tests have their limitations, especially in liberal arts/social sciences, where there is not always (or even most of the time)-a right or wrong answer. Second, even if a million students could speak to the lecturer, they could not possibly all pose their questions within a reasonable time-frame. Last but certainly not least, if online courses by Harvard/MIT professors become available globally, at very little cost, the astronomical fees charged by these universities “offline” will no longer be justified-ergo, these universities would be committing suicide if their online education programmes really took off.

The first two issues can and will be overcome and the future of higher education may well be determined by the way in which this is achieved.

The obvious solution for the assessment/interaction problem is to “franchise” the Harvard/MIT courses to local universities. Commercial risk would be borne by the local university, while reputational risk would be borne by Harvard/MIT. This is the archetypical franchise, that has been around at least since McDonald’s and probably longer. In a fast-food franchise, the franchisor provides the recipes, the design and, usually, some of the foodstuffs. It is also in charge of the global advertising campaigns, with oversight over local advertising campaigns. It provides training and local agents that control the franchisees in any given area. The franchisees are then in charge of actually providing the food to the customers, paying local taxes, utilities, salaries and the like. The franchisors earn money through franchise fees, which are usually either fixed or proportional to sales, or a mix of both. The same general model could be applied to universities in the online era. What Harvard/MIT could do is to sell a “package,” which would include, ideally, a set of audiovisual materials, a programme and the right to use their brand, to universities that meet certain criteria. They would also run the global advertising campaign, train local “staff” and supervise them at a regional level. The franchisees, i.e. the local universities, would provide the physical space and, most importantly, trained tutors. These tutors would mark exams and hold tutorials.

A possible evolution of this process that could backfire on Harvard, MIT and their like is that the great university professors will become independent and sell their courses on the open market. The maths are easy: if one lecturer speaks to a million students, even if he were to charge just one dollar per student per course, that course would be worth a million dollars. These are economies of scale and the top professors would start to behave like top athletes, with a single and unrelenting focus: bums on seats. Very soon, of course, individual professors would realise that they cannot handle royalty collection or quality control for millions of students by themselves. Thus, big institutional players would emerge. These could be either the established universities of today, or a whole new breed of businesses, which would specialise in bundling top-notch courses and then distributing them to what would, again, eventually, become a franchise system of some sort. In this scenario, much like what we see today in professional sports or music, the best of the best of the best would get stock options in the new companies, perhaps even retiring from teaching to take a management position.

As regards the third problem-what to do with actual Harvard/MIT students that are paying top dollar for their “offline” education-this is a non-issue or, rather, an issue that would resolve itself. Initially, those Harvard/MIT students that study on campus would have the advantage of having physical access to the best lecturers. This advantage would be furthered by the initial existence of different degrees (there would be “real” Harvard degrees versus “franchise” Harvard degrees, with a large, albeit narrowing price differential). That advantage would wither away, however, as the best lecturers would become too busy designing and producing better and more lucrative courses. With time, these lecturers would have less and less time for research as well and thus a whole new breed of “superlecturers” would emerge, distinct from other university professors. The latter would, if successful, fall into one of two categories: great (but socially inept) researchers and great tutors. The “superlecturers” would be a peculiar professor/model/actor hybrid and their expertise would be found in conveying, rather than creating knowledge (although a great deal of comprehension would still be required-mere actors would not suffice). The survival of researchers would be secure, as somebody would still have to do the “hard science.” The great tutors would be either aspiring superlecturers or socially functional (but not top-notch) researchers with time to spare. Eventually, the term “university” would become an utter misnomer, as what little is left of universality today would finally vanish, through a stratification of both staff and institutions. Superlecturers would work for course design firms (education franchisors), researchers would work with research firms (this process is well underway, with ever-closer and more fruitful "partnerships" between academic research and big business), while lecturers/assessors would find their niche with the education franchisees.

When all is said and done, following the present uncertain, transitional era, with the advent of online teaching higher education will finally come to terms with market principles, in a way that need not sacrifice quality. The best lectures would become available to all, albeit with a premium for better tutorship/assessment. Top lecturers would match the commercialisation and high earnings of top researchers, while rising global demand for higher education would secure the future of tutors/assessors. The only challenge will be how to preserve plurality, once teaching is concentrated in the hands of the superlecturers. It is likely, however, that this challenge will be met by the openness of the internet (provided it stays open in the future) and the existence of a multitude of local tutors, who will inevitably put their own mark on the centrally approved course materials. University tutors have proven themselves capable, time and again, to evade even the toughest totalitarianism; faced with a financial incentive to keep their franchises going, the course franchisors are likely to exercise only light censorship. As research becomes ever more separated from teaching and as research results become ever more widely available, it is unlikely that superlecturers will become the new "Ayatollahs."

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The Ego Trip of the False Individualist and the Sour Seeds of Revolution (Part Two)

As regards yesterday's individuality, one must limit the argument, at this point, to Western or quasi-Western democracies. Though we like to think that we are oppressed, mankind has more opportunities for individual expression than ever before! Just twenty years ago, there was NO internet. Accordingly, there was NO Facebook and NO YouTube-no outlet where we could express ourselves for all the world to see. Today, we have all of the artistic tools at our disposal that we had twenty years ago-PLUS some that we did not. If we speak about the oppression of government, twenty years ago, could we just “log on” to a web site and download the text of the budget of our country? Could we read the annual report of any major company in the world? Could we access libraries halfway around the world at the click of a mouse or the touch of a screen?

Granted, there are several social groups that suffer unabated oppression in many countries. I have in mind, first and foremost, the LGBT population. In some African and Asian countries, sodomy is still a capital offence. In some Central European countries, the LGBT population is unable to hold a parade because the police refuses to secure a “high-risk event.” In many developing states (and some “rentier states”) today, society still gives women a “raw deal.”

Turning to the West or Western-oriented countries, has it ever been more “okay to be gay”? Has it ever been more okay to wear individual clothes, individual hair, speak in an individual dialect or even language? If you feel that YOUR individualism is suppressed, try turning back the clock a few years!

Granted, individualism in Western society still has two significant adversaries that are alive and kicking: the Church and the Corporation. The Church wishes us to observe a certain “moral code”, while the Corporation acts in a similar way, the main, if not only, difference being that instead of threatening us with God-they threaten us with our paycheck-or, rather, the prospect of its absence. Unlike the State, however, in modern-day Western society, both the Church and the Corporation can be abandoned by the individual. In other words, “we have exit,” as they say in economics and some branches of political science. Indeed, it is one of the most fundamental duties of the modern state to enable the citizen to be free in his religious beliefs-or the absence thereof. Thus, citizens (and revolutionaries in their ranks) are right to be wary of any legislation that reduces the degrees of separation between Church and State. In this respect, however, one can poin to very, very few retrograde steps taken by Western countries, in living memory. This is not to say that “exit” is easy all or even most of the time. Yet, one must not forget that, just a few generations ago, there was no “exit” to speak of.

The Corporation is a different “ball game”, to some extent. The very tangible prospect of poverty on Earth, obvious in its abundance, is, for most people, far more intimidating than the intangible prospect of Hell in an Afterlife that may or may not exist. Thus, it is incumbent on the State to ensure that sufficient economic diversity exists, so as to allow employees to find employers that would tolerate greater individuality. In a competitive environment, employers should be wary of making their “codes of conduct” too oppressive, lest they should lose the best employees. There are legitimate grievances in this respect but again, by and large, one can point to more successes than failures in this respect, in the last century or so.

Amazingly, therefore, one will find relatively few revolutionaries that clamour for greater competition in the economy-an outcome that would lead to greater competition between employers and thus better options for individuality in the workplace. Rather, they criticise competition and similar “neoliberal projects” that “rob man of his dignity.” Even fewer revolutionaries openly oppose the Church or, more pertinently, the slow but evident erosion (in some countries at least) of the barrier between Church and State. Instead, who do the revolutionaries target? First and foremost, the State (including the shadowy powers that seem to dominate it) and the “mass media”, also allegedly dominated by the State and those who dominate the State itself.
It is here that we arrive at the crux of the matter: how “individual” is our “individualism”, really?
Let us throw in, at this point, a few soundbites that fuel today's revolutionaries. Wikileaks-Julian Assange-YouTube-Facebook-Twitter-The Global Financial Crisis-Anonymous-The Eurozone Crisis.

What do all of these soundbites have in common? They are soundbites. Thus, we ALL know of them and we all THINK that we also “know” about them.
We were all shocked by the images of abuse by American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. How so? We all saw the same YouTube clips! We've all heard of CIA interrogation techniques of dubious constitutionality-from Wikileaks! If, by some unfortunate stroke of internet-deprivation you've missed the YouTube clips or the Wiki “leaks”, the BBC, CNN and other “mass media” networks made sure you were “in the loop” too! The various “financial crisis” stories were spun beyond all spinning, beyond Newton's laws of dynamics even, by the same “mass media”. The gory details, the scariest scaremongering stories were left in the safe hands of YouTube and the various online “whistleblowers”-whom we ALL saw.

I ask you then, my dear reader, how “individual” is your information about current events? How are YOU escaping the “bondage” of “mass media”?

This is not to say that the internet is not free or decentralised. Far from it. The real question is: what is the point of all this decentralisation, when we all use it to perpetuate the same stories? If, for example, we believe that one or more of our Facebook friends has missed the latest “financial crisis” news, YOU and I, my dear reader, will reliably push the story right in front of his or her face and make sure everyone stays “in the loop!” We peddle the stories to ourselves and to each other. WE are the mass media, in its most perfect form: operated not only for the masses but also BY the masses themselves. Imagine what Joseph Goebbels could have done if he had social media in his time! Stories with catchy titles, such as: "New research shows Jews love money more than Aryans do" or "Skull found in Bavaria belongs to the first Aryan Man in Europe." Copy, paste to wall, share with friends. Then, through repetition, the story becomes the "TRUTH." "We all saw it. Not in the big media outlets but ONLINE."

I do not mean to belittle the revelations of Julian Assange or the importance of letting the world know about the mischief of bankers. Nor do I think there is a Goebbels out there who is running the popular news stories. I do believe that, thanks to the internet, many secrets from the past saw the light of day and it is good that they did.

My point is entirely different and it is that there is very little individuality in all this. With every day that goes by, the human race is more and more akin to a collective being. The collectivism induced by the internet has surpassed, by far, the wildest dreams of Orwell, Huxley or Stalin. And yet today's revolutionaries join groups in social networks in order to organise their “revolutions,” while seeking salvation from “hackers” whose slogan is: “we are legion; we are anonymous.” The transparent, truthful individual is rescued by a countless mass (legion), which does not reveal its identity (anonymous). I think the paradox eludes no-one.

From the die-hard liberal (in the old, English sense of the word, not the socialist or French sense), my previous comments will elicit a cynical grin of familiarity. In the eye of the liberal, all revolutions eventually boil down to a basic instinct of the masses to collectivise and conform. Why should the revolutions of today be any different?

The answer is: they need not be but they can be. 

Saturday, 5 May 2012

The Ego Trip of the False Individualist and the Sour Seeds of Revolution (Part One)

From the No-Globals, through the Occupy Wall Street Movement, on to the Stop ACTA Movement, the revolutionaries of our time are not linked by a common thread. They are linked by a common rope, off of which only a few individual threads succeed in peeling off.

The slogans and the publicly manifested roots of today's mass protests are well-known. There is a struggle. A struggle against a faceless, nameless, new world order (although the New World Order is a name, it is not the name of any actual order, much less a definition or description thereof, novelty not being, in and of itself, substance). 

According to revolutionary legend, that new world order (or New World Order) seeks to dominate and enslave the human race. It aims to crush hard-earned and battle-won human rights. It desires the elimination of privacy and individuality. Just like Huxley's nightmarish Brave New World, it wants to make us all the same or, at best, all the same within a given social class. “Conform”, “comply”, “fit in” are the keywords of the oppressive global regime-or so the revolutionaries of our time would have us believe.

I do not seek to prove or disprove any conspiracy theories in this essay. I do not know whether there is a New World Order or what that term means-if anything. I do not claim esoteric knowledge of the workings of a “secret elite” that may or may not rule the world. What I do know, as do all of my readers, are the external manifestations of the world that we see today.

One of the most visible external manifestations is that of youths claiming to fight for individuality, against an anti-individualist regime (this regime is either nascent or currently in power, depending on the version of revolutionary lore that you adhere to). Thus, we have individualists on the one hand and anti-invidualists or conformists on the other. This is our mise-en-scène.

We shall not examine, for the purposes of this essay, the truth behind the allegedly all-mighty, obscure, tenebrous, New World Order. Logically, however, if the New World Order exists, being an all-mighty, obscure and tenebrous organisation, it hides the truth about itself-quite successfully. Indeed, the inability of the revolutionaries to unveil the whole truth about this alleged organisation (or state of affairs) is one of their loudest battle cries. We shall not attempt to unveil such truths here. We shall examine instead, the character of those clamours for individuality and claims of the existence of the New World Order-without disputing their veracity.

For the sake of argument, therefore, let the New World Order be our shady antagonist. Let us then cast the modern revolutionary, as we know him, in all his transparency (which proudly distinguishes him from the shady antagonist), as our-protagonist. The revolutionary is, therefore, our main character, as it were.

Now let us examine our protagonist's main claim of superiority over the antagonist: his individuality. We know who he is, we know what he believes and what he believes is different from what the "masses" have been "misled" to believe. These are our protagonist's defining features.

Our protagonist informs his opinions through non-mainstream sources. Though not mainstream, all of these sources dwell, essentially, on the same story: of an oppressive, tyrannical, anti-individual regime that seeks or has already attained global dominance.

The oppression follows, generally speaking, along the same broad plotline, which usually begins with a shady elite of bankers or moneylenders of some sort. In the more anti-Semitic versions, it begins with Europe's medieval Jewish moneylenders, or protobankers, so to speak, established in Venice (operating on wooden tables, banchi, thus the Italian banca and the English “bank”). In the less or non-anti-Semitic versions, it begins with medieval Christian protobankers-most commonly, the Medici family or the Knights Templar. The protobankers, Jewish or Christian, never walk alone and they are intertwined with the Freemasons (sometimes portrayed as part of the same plotline as the Knights Templar, i.e as as an organisation dating back to the Medieval period and at other times as an organisation that emerged in the Enlightenment Period-the official foundation period of what is today known as Freemasonry).

These bankers and Freemasons used their money and their arcane skills to foster false revolutions in France, Italy, the United States and other countries. Under the pretext of democracy, they destroy the sovereign rule of kings and gradually create puppet regimes. Democracy, heavily dependent on campaign finance and characterised by a constant turnover of rulers, is easy prey for the bankers and Freemasons, who have the two vital advantages that elected politicians lack: money and permanence. Currently, the story goes on, we find ourselves in the final stages of the bankers/Freemasons conspiracy, where their dictatorial intentions are laid bare. According to the conspiracy theorists, the greedy banking system is on the verge of collapse, the democratic United States are overtly creating institutions of “oppression”, such as FEMA and Homeland Security. Civil rights are curtailed and the bankers take more and more from the masses. This, more or less, is the standard “revolutionary” plotline of our times. Some versions, found mainly in the United States, distinguish between “good Freemasons” (such as Thomas Jefferson) and the decadent, greedy, corrupt kind of today. Thus, while the Freemasons of the 1770s had good intentions in creating the United States, today there is a different breed, apparently, that tramples on all the “traditional values” of the “Founding Fathers”. The paradox involved in having an institution so permanent, so devoted to its causes as the Freemasons do a hundred-and-eighty degree turn and destroy their greatest creation is, of course, conveniently ignored.

So, what do these New World Order oppressors want from us? To work hard, obey orders and hand most of our money to them, no doubt? That is what the conspiracy theories essentially boil down to, at least the ones that are limited to human motivations (we shall ignore, for the present purposes, those conspiracy theories that revolve around alien races, lizard kings and other extra- or super-human phenomena).

In order to be unquestioning and to surrender our hard labour to the New World Order, however, we must be made compliant. In order to become compliant, we must lose our individuality. Monkey see-monkey do and we will be none the wiser. How does the New World Order achieve that? Through control of mass media, is the revolutionary's reply. As the revolutionaries rightly infer, it is to control of the mass media that all or most of the world's grievances can be traced back. The wars of today, as some like to put it, are “information wars.” On this very blog, I, the writer and you, my dear reader, are, willingly or unwillingly, “soldiers” in that “war.”

Enter the modern-day individualist revolutionary. His historical task is to free us from the bondage of “mainstream media” and unveil the “truth” behind the “lies” of the “regime.” Such “truths” are revealed, it seems, every second, on millions of web pages and blogs-just like mine. While once, my dear reader, you were blind, now you can see. You can realise and develop your full potential and escape the shackles of oppression cast upon you by the moneylending/deceitful New World Order.

Here we arrive at the two gaping voids in the revolutionary plotline and the main point of the present story. The first void is: what was stopping us from being “individuals” yesterday, prior to our blogosphere-induced enlightenment? The second void is: how “individual” is our newly-found “individuality”, really?

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Serbia as the Spear of Destiny in the Coming (or Ongoing) Global Conflict?

I could not help laughing bitterly out loud when I read, on the website of B92, one of Serbia's leading media outlet, a story picked up from Alex Jones' Infowars ( The fact that a reputable, mainstream media outlet relies on Alex Jones as a news source was not the reason I was laughing this time, oddly enough.

The gist of the (conspiracy) story is as follows: the shadow powers in America, possibly the CIA or a similar organisation, have procured the services of the leaders of Serbia's "Otpor" (Resistance) movement-yes, the same one that was instrumental in bringing down Milosevic in 2000! The part of the conspiracy theory that connects Otpor to foreign agents is well-known. This is not, of course, the first time that allegations of Otpor involvement outside of Serbia have been made. Serbian "know-how" has also been linked by some media outlets to the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003 and even the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine in the winter of 2004-2005. What is curious is the idea that "revolution consultants" from an allegedly CIA-sponsored SERBIAN movement would be hired to act on AMERICAN soil-as a false movement no less-whose purpose would be to obscure and obfuscate the legitimate grievances of the American people!

Meanwhile, Anders Breivik, the infamous Norwegian accused of mass-murdering left-wing youths and blowing up government buildings in and near Oslo this summer also seemed to have benefited from Serbian "know-how", according to several media reports covering his infamous 1,500 page pre-rampage rant.

In January of this year, the Economist ran a story that reported that Serbia's arms industry was reporting annual growth of 30% (!) in the period between 2002 and 2010: The revival of Serbia's arms industry is a source of great pride for the Government and ambitious plans have been announced regarding "expansion" into "new markets" such as Angola and Nigeria. The industry suffered a heavy setback this year, due to the toppling of Colonel Qaddafi, one of Serbia's most staunch allies and best customers of arms and military technology. Yet Serbian presence still seems to exist on the ground in Libya, if one believes the allegations regarding Serbian mercenaries fighting on Gaddafi's side in the recent (and, it increasingly seems, ongoing) conflict in that country. Hypothetically, a resurgence of the Serbian military-industrial complex in Libya remains a distinct possibility, even under the new regime, if the example of Iraq is anything to go by. Indeed, while it was Serbian construction companies that built Saddam's famous underground bunkers, it took intrepid state arms dealers from the same country no more than five years from the fall of the Iraqi dictator to the negotiation of fresh contracts with the new Iraqi government.

Last but not least, the leading role of Serbian/Montenegrin crime bosses in the global cocaine trade has become public with the high profile indictments of several prominent kingpins. For the present author at least, it is a mind-boggling prospect to think how gangsters from tiny Serbia and the even tinier Montenegro managed to forge such strong ties with Colombian drug cartels based halfway across the globe. Of all the small nations in the world, the Colombians chose Serbs and Montenegrins as their trusted business partners. Go figure.

Add to all of this the story of Otpor "experts" providing "revolutionary consultancy services" to the Occupy Wall Street movement and one may well see a trend emerging.

Increasingly, it seems that, wherever there is trouble, there is some sort of Serbian connection. What does that tell us? One interpretation is that the we are witnessing the "afterburn" of the 1990s anti-Serbian propaganda in Western media. Serbs are, indeed, easy scapegoats. It is easy to paint a picture-even if it is false-of Serbs as the ideological inspiration for the more maniacal elements of the islamophobic far-right in Northern Europe, as well as mercenaries for dictators in distress. Tragic as it is, this is arguably the less disturbing interpretation. Serbia's image in the West and its media has improved by leaps and bounds in the past few years and afterburns do burn out, after all.

A more disquieting interpretation could be that Serbia's troubles of the 1990s, largely fomented and augmented by the West according to many views, have yielded a unique, macabre "skill set". Although Serbian people are most unwilling to seriously engage in any more conflicts on or near their own soil-whether military or political-past conflicts have left behind a vast body of experience in all manner of subversive activities. If this vast body of experience is, indeed, being tapped today, the obvious question is: for whose account? Could Serbian expertise be merely a subject of Western (CIA or other agency) "subcontracting", similar to the way the KGB allegedly used the Stasi and the Bulgarian secret service for "black on black" operations in the 1970s and 1980s outside the Soviet Bloc? Alternatively, is this body of expertise simply available to the highest bidder-be he American, Chinese, Russian or any other? Finally, is Serbia profiling itself as a silent but potent source of "conflict skills", as an ironic "payback" to a world that painted it so black at the end of the twentieth century? Ten years from now, could Serbia be to conflicts what Sweden is to furniture? "Where did you get this lovely coffee table? Why, IKEA, of course!" could find its equivalent in: "Who is handling your subversion in country X? Why, the Serbs, of course."

The difference today is, of course, is that full-scale global conflicts do not happen or, at least, they do not happen in the same "tanks and artillery" fashion of 1914 and 1941. Today's global conflicts are fought in a multitude of seemingly disconnected and contained theatres simultaneously, without grandiose battles, in a partially overlapping sequence of hugely diverse "wars": democracy wars, currency wars, energy wars and a myriad of other wars that are or that may come in the near future.

As the first victim in this latest trend of limited intensity, seemingly contained but globally significant conflicts, Serbia has a unique position to provide several types of product that are in high demand: from consultancy services for "pro-democracy" revolutions to "boots on the ground" mercenaries and  military hardware.

According to numerous historians, Adolf Hitler and the esoteric elements of the SS and its ideological precursor-the Thule Society-believed in supernatural assistance on their maniacal path to global domination. A key source of supernatural assistance, in their view, seems to have been in the Spear of Longinus, also known as the Spear of Destiny (the spear allegedly used by a roman soldier named Longinus to verify Jesus' death on the True Cross). The artifact, apparently housed by the Schatzkammer in Vienna at present, was believed to guarantee victory for any army that possessed it and Hitler is believed to have possessed it himself. Ultimately, after a series of unprecedented, inexplicable conquests that brought Europe to its knees, Hitler's losses were as momentous as his earlier victories and the sacred relic did not prevent him from being confined to hiding and, according to most accounts, committing suicide in a Berlin bunker, with the victorious Red Army approaching.

Unlike the Spear of Destiny-and in contrast to its patchy record when fighting "solo", for its own account-Serbia has an unbroken record of being on the victorious side of global conflicts. Who knows? It may well be that, by observing the deployment of the Serbian "skill set" in today's struggle for world domination, one may sniff out the future winner.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Western Intervention against Gaddafi-Iran's Global Checkmate?

Ever since the revolution spread from Tunisia to Egypt, I have been asking myself the oldest, most perplexing question of the criminal investigator: cui bono? Who benefits?
Many of my fellow Serbs, biased through their own experience, have been quick to point the finger at the usual suspect-the "big bad" America.... It seemed like a familiar pattern... NGOs, "civil society", "free media", CNN comes in to save the people from their country. If the above combo does not get the job done, bombs are always available. The final act of this play is known: a dictator-perceived or real-gets deposed and "privatisation" begins.
What is unusual about this string of revolutions is: who are the leaders? There is no major "mascot" of the rebellion. There are no clear demands either, except "freedom". There is also a wide divergence in the economies of the countries involved: Tunisia, a fairly good economy with some inequity of distribution; Egypt, a fairly wealthy country with huge inequities; Bahrain, a generally very wealthy country with a Gulf-style welfare state; Yemen, a very poor country.
There is, however, an emerging pattern of who is being overthrown. Gaddafi was a former enemy who became an "almost friend" (only to become an enemy again). Mubarak was a key US ally, while the Kingdom of Bahrain is the seat of the US Fifth Fleet. Tunisia was an ally too, albeit a small one. Yemen, while being home to Al-Qaeda fractions, has been "playing ball"  in recent years
All in all, this is a toppling of (closer or more distant) "allies". No "enemy" or "rogue" Muslim state was seriously affected: Iran and Syria quickly dealt with whatever unrest there was in their jurisdictions. Then there is Gaddafi, who repeatedly claimed that Al-Qaeda was behind the Lybian revolution. Interestingly, no such claims were made by the deposed leaders of Egypt and Tunisia.
So, who benefits?
The oil speculators? Hardly. The markets have grown accustomed to Middle East crises and the fluctuations are not what they used to be. Indeed, if one wanted to raise the price of oil globally, one would be better advised to go after Chavez or the Saudis, perhaps combined with a little North Caucasus stir-up in the "pipeline regions". Or, in a more pacific fashion, to fabricate, as is common, a few "expert" forecasts on a huge surge in Chinese demand for black gold and make sure the global media buy and then resell them.
The Americans perhaps? But why make amends with Gaddafi then, as they did a few years back? Why put the Fifth Fleet in danger, as it inevitably will be if Bahrain falls? Why topple Mubarak and leave Israel in a state of quiet panic that "The Peace" may be broken by a new regime?
The Russians? It would make some sense, as they would benefit from buttressing the price of oil and stretching Western forces if and when  a military intervention took place. Then again, the Russians can always count on Afghanistan to overstrech the US and the British at least. In addition, they can always stir up the Chechens and they have the intelligence to launch panicky economic forecasts, if it is the price of oil they care about.
The odd ones are the "Europeans" (if such a collective term is of any value these days...). France says: "make Gaddafi go away now, at any cost." The British say: "make him go away-soonish". The Germans say that he should go away but abstain from supporting the UN Security Council resolution against the Gaddafi regime.  The Italians are quick to turn against Gaddafi, forgetting, suddenly, the vital role he has played in Italy's security in recent years-both energy and physical (as a control valve on oil and North African clandestine migration).
Al-Qaeda? Is Gaddafi right? This is unlikely. Unlike the US, Al-Qaeda is not known to be in the business of state-building. In any event, even if they did manage to create upheavals, it is difficult to believe that they have the human or financial resources to construct and sustain regimes in five or six countries simultaneously. Besides, if it were them, the Americans would be on to them (one hopes) and this would all have ended with a few street clashes in Tunis. Most importantly, in the long run, Al-Qaeda has no viable alternative socio-politicial scenario to present to the Arab nations: they specialise in terrorism and terrorism does not build countries.
The UN resolution itself is a strange affair: a no-fly zone that may or may not entail airstrikes, but definitely no land invasion, adopted on the eve of Gaddafi's planned assault on Benghazi. Perhaps the Westerners are aware of the city's imminent fall and have decided to take the last chance to clear their public image (after doing nothing for weeks), now that the Colonel's victory is almost assured? It remains to be seen whether they really intend to go against him militarily.
It is the last theory that blends in with the only logical explanation of cui bono: Iran. As Benjamin Netanyahu astutely pointed out in an interview with CNN tonight, fighting for freedom is all well and good-if it is legitimate. Do not forget, the Israeli PM pointed out, that the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was also about "freedom." It is possible, therefore, that the newly "liberated" states in North Africa and the Middle East could fall under the influence of Iran or some sort of home-grown Islamic fundamentalism.
I am going to say what Netanyahu could not, due to his official position: Iran may very well be driving America and its allies into a global checkmate, where Iran takes over the Arab world-wholesale. Worse still, after tonight's resolution, America seems keen to pay for the ride! The Gulf States are willing to share: while quelling the rebellion in Bahrain, they help liberate Lybia. If Lybia falls, how long do they think they can sustain Bahrain or, for that matter, their own regimes? Of course, the outcome of the Bahrain uprising will be a good indicator of Saudi Arabia's intentions: if Bahrain holds, Saudi Arabia certainly will and this alters the cui bono equation fundamentally. Whatever the case may be, intervention in Lybia will certainly not harm America's enemies: when all is said and done, it is American bombs that people will remember-not the ones from the UAE.
Democracy is invariably preceded by chaos-it varies greatly in magnitude but it is omnipresent in states of transition. Chaos is precisely what Iran preys on. If they did not cause the revolutions, they will certainly be standing by to try to fill the ensuing gaps and install Hezbollah and similar organisations. The new Arab regimes will be weak and "lost in space", as all new post-revolutionary regimes are (except the American one in the 1780s-this is certainly part of the reason why Americans persistently overestimate state-building). They may very well look to Iran as the only source of stability-together with Turkey-in the Muslim world. Indeed, if the chaos in the "liberated" countries were followed up with a Turko-Iranian alliance, Western interests in the region and, ultimately, the entire non-Western world, will be dead in the water.
Again, if Bahrain holds and the Gulf States do, Saudi Arabia could fill Iran's role, albeit more weakly, as it has neither the nuclear capacity nor the untarnished image of integrity against the "Great Satan" that Iran does. In addition, like Al-Qaeda, it has no viable socio-political alternative to offer, while it lags far behind the famous terrorist organization in terms of revolutionary novelty, as the Kingdom of the Saud symbolises the status quo of Arab governance.
Whether the emerging axis will be Ankara-Tehran, Ankara-Riyadh or even (unlikely) Tehran-Riyadh, it will certainly cease to be Washington-Riyadh or Washington-Ankara. Western interests will be truly buried in a nailed coffin covered with cement once the Russians and the Chinese, who have no interest in supporting the West indefinitely, negotiate their own deals with the emerging Islamic leadership.
I sincerely hope that the wise Western heads that adopted the Security Council resolution had all this in mind tonight, especially if they have not yet mastered cold fusion or some other sci-fi energy source that will put an end to oil. Master a new energy source they must, as nuclear energy is rapidly losing popularity these days-for evident reasons-and the end of the oil bonanza is the inevitable outcome of a truly multi-polar world.
In the end, the cynic in me must accept the possibility that, perhaps, these are genuine revolutions after all. God knows that Man has always yearned for freedom and dignity. Even so, it should be kept in mind that revolutions can always be instrumentalised ex-post and that, even in the absence of instrumentalization, freedom does not always equate with America in the eyes of the liberated.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Fascist Liberalism or Why The World Got Screwed in 1914

I'm back!

Sorry to have been away so's the day job that's been giving me a headache, you see.

My trouble of the day comes from a joke a man made last night: he told me that he is politically a "fascist liberal." Go figure....

As we say in Serbia: every joke is half true. That got me wondering...what, if anything, could fascist liberalism be and how did we get to making such jokes in the first place?

The absence of ideology from modern politics is plain to see. We have right wing parties that speak for the workers, left wing parties that are "business friendly".... Nobody wants to make any radical moves either to the left or to the right.... The revolutionaries of our day are people who fight against existing structures without any idea of their own (the anti-global movement, or how to present being an urban bum as a political statement). Alternatively, they fight for causes based on evidence churned out by the global elite (e.g. the carbon dioxide crusade). All in all, ours is a sad time for revolutionaries, sadder still for the quiet onlookers....

It was in this atmosphere of living in a desperate ideological void that the joke concerning "fascist liberalism" came out. Let us consider, for a moment, what this fascist liberalism would entail, from the perspective of what young, ambitious, well-meaning people want.

In theory, it could be everything that young people want today and the greatest happiness of the greatest number! Liberalism needs no introduction, as it does not have such a bad rap as the non-liberal ideologies. As for fascism, although it is difficult to say for sure, considering that, so far, the ideology has only been practiced by half-wits, lunatics or corrupt tyrants, we can think of what fascism was meant to be, for the sake of argument, with a little poetic license that borrows from the spiritual father of intellectual fascism-Plato.

Ideally, fascism means a strong state, which protects national interests vigorously and does not make a fool of itself. It is a regime where public officials quiver in fear of the Great Leader who is capable of imparting all manner of unspeakable corporal punishment on them if they fail to fulfill their duties. I think that this is a sentiment we all share, in the face of laziness, corruption and incompetence that chokes the world today (unfortunately, that is the sentiment that brought Hitler and Mussolini to power too but, as I said, this is an intellectual argument, so we are putting reality aside for a moment). Ideally, fascism promotes the strong and capable and casts aside the weak and incompetent. Most importantly, it gets things done: roads, bridges, schools, railroads--much of Continental Europe's modern infrastructure owes its existence, directly or indirectly, to some form of totalitarianism (whether Communist, Fascist or Imperialist).

So, where does the liberal part of "fascist liberalism" come in? I would imagine it would work as follows: as long as you don't mess with the overall supremacy of the state, you respect its basic customs and social tenets and as long as you don't work for the state as an employee, you can do pretty much--whatever you want. No-one will interfere with your profession, your religion, your taste in fashion. Whatever path you choose in life, as long as you don't go against the "basic rules", the state will act as a quiet, reliable protector of your rights and freedoms.

But wait a minute! Let us remember the purest (sane) liberal of them all: Friedrich Hayek. He was liberal as hell, but he also allowed for a "vertical" relationship (i.e. tyranny) WITHIN the state apparatus and within companies, while arguing for a "horizontal" relationship (i.e. freedom) between individuals. However, even the most creative reading of Hayek will not really make him a statist: I cannot see him cheering at the "glory of the nation" or defending the construction of a highway on the grounds of "national interest". No Sir! Not likely.

Wait another minute! Strong state, responsible public officials, major projects, religious freedom, free market capitalism with few restraints, an educated elite reigning over the ignorant masses...Sounds familiar.... Oh, yes! 19th Austro-Hungarian Empire! Oh, yes! 19th century German Empire. Oh, yes! 19th century French Empire! Oh, yes! 19th century British Empire (except for a manic insistence on sexual "propriety" and drab, anti-sexual clothes--the latter tradition outlived the Empire, in the uniform of British Airways stewardesses....).

At the dawn of World War I, the world was progressing technologically almost as rapidly as it is today. Visas and trade barriers were a foreign concept. A global elite trotted the world and spawned most of the ideas that govern our collective psyche to this day: from Nihilism to Freudianism, Communism, Fascism--you name a major, recognised social idea and I will bet you that it existed before 1914!!!

But World War I did break out and the party was over. Nations lingered in a delicate but unhappy balance until they got a chance for a "rematch". After World War I, the world was introduced to the Bolsheviks, the Nazis and a seemingly never-ending parade of other deranged tyrants and buchers. It's all been downhill since then, if we exclude the EU experiment, which, itself, seems to be losing most of its steam in the past few years.

After the death of ideology, a discontented youth of modern Europe should take comfort in the fact that a world of serious states combined with liberalism did exist, at some point in history.

Why, then, did 1914 happen and why can't we have the old world again (improved by modern technology and without the Victorian anti-sex doctrine, of course)?

The answer lies, I believe, in two factors. The first factor is the elusive Holy Grail of political thought, which is left for us to find, as a legacy of humanity: how to make sure that "enlightened despotism" stays "enlightened" and does not degenerate in one generation (ergo the term "de-generation")? This was one of two factors that killed the Age of Empire(s): degeneration. After a brief period of enlightenment, the royal families of Europe degenerated into money-grubbing colonialists, who eventually went to war with each other in pursuit of more gold, diamonds, timber, rubber....

The second answer represents part of the greatness of the turn of the century: the multitude of ridiculous ideologies that it spawned. Psychology was lead by the idea that everything rotates around penis dreams, political thought was lead by the idea that the ignorant should impose their will on the is a small wonder (and a testament to human resilience) that we managed to survive as long as we did!!!

It is the first of the two problems that need bother us still. As for the latter, we are, in a sense, the lucky ones: with the benefit of hindsight, we are aware of the idiocy of the ideas that helped bring down the old world....

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Iceland rejects plan to repay Icesave debts


Voters in Iceland have overwhelmingly rejected proposals to pay the UK and the Netherlands in the wake of collapse of the Icesave bank.

With a third of results counted, 93% of voters said "No" in a referendum.

The British and Dutch governments want reimbursement for the 3.8bn euros (£3.4bn; $5.2bn) they paid out in compensation to customers in 2008.

Speaking to the BBC, Chancellor Alistair Darling said the UK would get its money back, if not for many years.

"It's not a matter of whether the sum should be paid. There is no question we will get the money back but what I am prepared to do is to talk to Iceland about the terms and conditions of the repayment," he told the BBC's Politics Show.

Asked about how long it would take for the UK to be repaid, Mr Darling said it would take "many, many years".

The referendum followed the breakdown of talks on Friday between Iceland, the UK and the Netherlands.

Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir refused to vote in Saturday's poll and said her government was seeking to continue the negotiations.

Akureyi-geitunger, Iceland

With a third of votes counted, 93% of Icelanders have voted "No", less than 2% back the deal, and the remaining votes are invalid.

Johanna Sigurdardottir said that her government would stay in office, despite the "No" results.

"This has no impact on the life of the government," she said.

"Now we need to get on with the task in front of us, namely to finish the negotiations with the Dutch and the British."

During voting on Saturday, hundreds of protesters outside parliament in the capital Reykjavik banged pots and waved banners reading "Icesave No! No! No!".

As results came in, Foreign Minister Ossur Skarphethinsson said talks with the UK and the Netherlands would continue, adding that the referendum result was good for his government's position.

"It certainly doesn't weaken our hand," Ossur Skarphethinsson said.

Referendum defended

The government had hoped to avoid the vote by agreeing a new repayment plan before the weekend.

Icelandic voter: "I voted no of course"

Ossur Skarphethinsson told Reuters news agency he expected a new Icesave deal "in the next weeks, perhaps sooner".

Britain and the Netherlands want the money as repayment for bailing out customers in the Icesave online bank, which folded in 2008 due to the global financial meltdown.

President Grimsson rejected suggestions the vote was meaningless.

"It's not a pointless exercise because the referendum, according to our constitution, is on whether the deal which the British and the Dutch insisted on at the end of last year, should remain in force as a law in this country," he told the BBC.

The rage and the feeling of unfairness here is overwhelming
Ingveldur Eiríksdóttir, Selfoss, Iceland

"It is encouraging that in the last few weeks the British and the Dutch have acknowledged that that deal, on which the referendum takes place, is an unfair deal and that is by itself a tremendous achievement by the referendum... we will be able to continue the negotiations."

Many Icelanders believe the plan should be rejected because they feel they are being penalised for the mistakes of the banking industry.

"I will vote 'No' simply because I disagree very strongly with us... having to shoulder this burden," Ingimar Gudmundsson, a lorry driver, told AFP news agency.

"We want to pay our debts but we want to do it without going bankrupt," Steinunn Ragnarsdottir, a pianist who voted in Reykjavik City Hall, told Reuters.

Britain accused

There is also anger against the UK for using anti-terrorist legislation to freeze Icesave assets in the country.

Some 230,000 Icelanders were eligible to vote on Saturday

Arni Gunnarsson, a former Icelandic MP, told the BBC News website: "We have not forgotten how Britain used battleships against Iceland during the cod wars.

"We find this a very strange method of thanking the Icelandic people for sacrificing the lives of their seamen during World War II.

"The colonial attitude is still going strong. The UK should come to its senses."

The Reykjavik government approved the repayment plan last December but it was blocked by President Grimsson in January, which led to the referendum being called.