Unsorted links

Last week, I planned to force myself into writing daily updates here, and it just isn’t working. It’s a pity, because I’m sure I’d be a lot happier if I forced myself to do


every day. When I’m in a foul mood I tend to gnash my teeth at politics, and I need a bit more coherence to write about anything else. It does help to know that nobody’s reading, though!

Anyway, today has been a crappy day and so I’m taking the coward’s way out: a collection of interesting links, with no theme beyond the usual focus on Iraq and the former Soviet bloc.

In the Atlantic, Fred Kaplan has a [subscription-only article](http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/prem/200606/kaplan-iraq) about Enduring Bases in Iraq – nice to see that meme gradually picking up steam, and moving into the mainstream.

[Chernobyl](http://vilhelmkonnander.blogspot.com/2006/04/chernobyl-myth.html) means ‘wormwood’ in Ukranian. That gave an apocalyptic flavour to the disaster, because Revelations says:

“And there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters. And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.”

Much talk of Russia [using energy sales for political ends](http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/04/22/AR2006042201026.html); so what’s new? Ditto for [Uzbekistan closing down NGOs](http://uzbekistan.neweurasia.net/?p=91)

New Eurasia is doing cross-regional commentaries on [HIV](http://neweurasia.net/?p=231) and on [Islam as a political force](http://neweurasia.net/?p=425)

And that’s it. Now I’m going to post this, crack open a can of beer, and mope!

Medicine is magical and magical is art

Well, it looks like in the absence of a Calling we’re reduced to metal and Christianity. Guess I’ll be staying at home, then.

Now, what I really need tonight is a good meal and something to get angry about. Either that or something pressing that Really Must Be Done Yesterday, but there’s a depressing lack of those!

*goes off to cook and stomp*

and, and: Graceland is fantastic. Remember last week somebody put this on at work, and it brought back so many memories of wearing out my tape of it years back. mmmm 😀

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Back last week, I started writing a post about Basra. I forgot about it, and so now I’m returning to a half-congealed mess and trying to squeeze it into shape without covering myself in filth.

To recap: last week Nuri Al-Maliki declared a [state of emergency](http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1786890,00.html) over Basra, scheduled to last for the next month. One of many Iraqi politicians spectacularly worried about the situation in the city, he bragged that he was going to crush insurgents with an ‘iron fist’. It would be unfairly snarky to point at the [90 people killed or injured](http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/5044720.stm) by a car bomb on Saturday, wouldn’t it?

It’s very easy to overlook the lower-level nastiness that’s been going on in Basra since 2003. But however much violence there was, it didn’t reach the current level, with 140 recorded deaths in May, and doubtless many more that went unreported. The spark came early that month, when a British helicopter crashed, and was soon surrounded by an angry crowd which became a riot. Paul Wood tries to explain away the riot like this:

Basra is like that, changing in the blink of an eye from hostility to warmth and back again. It is almost as if the city can’t make up its mind whether it wants the British soldiers to stay or not.

Implausible as that may sound, I think he has a point. Things are bad in Basra – but they aren’t uniformly bad, this isn’t the first time they’ve been bad, and Maliki’s stance is motivated partly by PR, partly by national politics, and partly by concern about losing control of Basra’s oil infrastructure.

##Who does what?

There are several different fights going on in Basra, but they all revolve around the Badr Corps, the Mahdi Army, and smaller Shiite militia groups. They’re fighting each other, they’re fighting the British, and they’re using force to impose their moral standards on the population.

The Mahdi Army has a particularly long history of attacks on the Coalition – in Basra, the height of this came in May 2004.

I’ve no idea who was responsibe for the incident in 2005, when three female university students were apparently [killed](http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4347636.stm) as punishment for not wearing the hijab. No wonder Basra is becoming ever more socially conservative!

The British and American governments blame the situation in part on Iran, which they [claim](http://www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/14677922.htm) is training militants and supplying them with weapons

Then there’s the provincial government; I get the impression of a lot of drama going on there, which doesn’t really make it to British newspapers. Every now and again I hear that the governor or the council has resigned, or that it has stopped talking to the British. And then I don’t hear anything else about it, and I’m left feeling totally ignorant.

And what about the British? You always hear about their softly-softly approach, but what about last September, when they [drove a tank into a jail](http://www.guardian.co.uk/frontpage/story/0,,1769987,00.html) in a misguided attempt to bust out a couple of spies.

####the economy

The other occasional argument is that the politics don’t matter – to understand Basra we just need to look at the economic base.

Back in 2004, food shortages caused anti-British riots. There isn’t currently anything quite as serious, but the economic situation is non-dramatically bad. The healthcare system is [in collapse](http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4900174.stm), for example.

strawberry fair



: I seem to have got into the habit of writing lj entries that make it sound as though I’m pissed off at you all. I’m really not. Sorry!]

I need to stop having such high expectations of strawberry fair. It was a good day, but not as mind-blowingly awesome as I’d been dreaming of. This is what comes of the last four years there having each been fantastic, one way or another. But it turns out that I no longer know the local political types, and it’s not quite the same when you’re with people who hate hippies.

OTOH, Miss Black America are still fantastic.

Now, really not looking forward to working tonight. I suspect my lunch break will be spent sleeping

pinch me, it isn’t true

Not that is tempting. A full academic year in St. Petersburg, studying natural sciences, and learning Russian as you go. Starts in September, goes on to May (presumably). Costs $2500 for the year (i.e. 9 months), including accommodation. Starting in September.

I could pull that one off. Financially – I already have more than £1500 in the bank, even once I’ve paid naranek his rent backlog, and by September I’ll have enough over that to manage 9 months’ living costs. I’ve been wanting to learn some science for aages – see the abortive attempts at taking Open University courses, the time I spent living with fiona_kitty and writing essays on biology every day, and my general grumblings about being too much of an arts student. And even if the course is crap, I’d still be in a university environment where I’d be all-but guaranteed to meet people and learn Russian. Plus, St. Petersburg is (from what I’ve seen) a fantastic place, and from there I can travel both into Russia and into Europe. At the end of it I’d know a lot of Russian, a bit of chemistry and physics, and a goodly number of people in St. Petersburg. What’s not to like?

I’m going to spend some time looking for the secret flaw. It’ll probably be the Russian bureaucracy. I *think* I’m OK to start applying now: all the admin details are in Russian, and I’ve not been through them – but one page said the process took 2 months, and in any case I’m sure they’re desperate for my $2500 and willing to fudge things to get it.

It shouldn’t be this easy. Something is going to be wrong with this. I can’t sort out my life in a single afternoon – it just doesn’t work like that.

back to tonight

In less life-changing (but still enjoyable) news:

I have tonight off work. This means I’ll be at the Castle tonight until they kick us out, and I’ll be at strawberry fair tomorrow.

Anybody wanting to meet up at either: call me, text me, email me, leave a comment. I’m revelling in the idea of having a friday night in cambridge without work, for the first time in, well, pretty much since I started at Jagex.

If you don’t go to strawberry fair, you’re missing out on a lot. Yes, thebiomechanoid, this includes people who don’t yet know what they’re missing out on. Imagine Lupie’s vision of it, only better. And, to be frank, completely different from her vision.

Now: do I have any clean black clothes? *rummages*


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One of those posts where dan is happy

Some of you will have noticed that I have massive, brief highs – for a couple of hours my head is running at full speed, the world makes sense, everything connects to everything else [1]. The real world mixes with the archetypes and they all jiggle around until they make a plausible sense.

It’s not _really_ true, but that makes no odds. It’s about apophenia – that fantastic word for a state where you ‘reconcile the seemingly disparate’ [2], madness blending into genius. It’s about pumping myself with a shot of drama that lifts me past the practicalities. And that’s something I’m taking far too long to learn: the need for drama. As a teenager I was convinced that the solution to life was to avoid drama. I was right – then – I had far more of it than I needed, and any escape into the mundane was a blessing. But I did what I’ve done with every one of my problems: I solved it, and then I overcompensated. Now I need to hold the balance, learn to pump up the drama, then let it down while practical-Dan makes something out of what it produces.

You’ve probably guessed I’m on one of those highs right now. No point talking about the content: in a sense, there is no content, or the content is so divorced from the real world that I’ll never be able to put it into words. But it’s only fair to thank the lj-friends who’ve put me here, wittingly or not: i_am_toast, mazzarc, ioerror, kiad, verlaine, the_alchemist.

The problem now is to convert the feeling into doing, and find a way to extend it through the months ahead when I’ll be drawn back by practicalities, and fear, and knowledge of how silly it looks when put into a balance-sheet. I know (always) that the high me is the real me, and everything else is a warped, inferior copy. But I need to learn how to make inferior-me blindly follow the orders of real-me, without giving up and sacrificing myself to the easy life of spodding, drinking, and never leaving Cambridge.

So: let’s put some things down in writing. In two months time, at the end of July, I’ll be leaving Cambridge. naranek, that means I’ll be leaving my room. raggedyman, that means I’ll be leaving my job. Everybody else: this


what I want to do. It’s me jumping off the cliff, lashing myself to the mast, throwing my cap over the wall. And I’m weak-willed enough that I need your help if I’m going to follow through on it. Please don’t try to talk me out of it, and if I try to back away then bribe and bully me into getting out of here. If I’m still here in August, I want you all to refuse to talk to me. Seriously.

I don’t know what I’ll be doing. The fallback plan is to spend some time in Russia. I can’t get a job there, but I have enough money to take some language classes, and survive for a month or two. After that I can pick a city, get a mcjob, and survive – but survive in a new environment. Dublin, Edinburgh, Bristol, London.

As I said, that’s a fallback plan. If any of you see an interesting job elsewhere in Britain, or


job in another country that would take me, please point me at it and force me to apply.

Now I’m going to post this quickly, because I can already feel the doubts creeping in, and if I give it another read-through I will have convinced myself that it’s a bad idea, I’m too crap to find a job elsewhere, and I’m doomed to spending the rest of my life in Cambridge.

[1] I’d be fascinated to know what’s going on in my head, neurologically, at times like that.

[2] If you’ve not read the Bagthorpe books, go do it. Not because they’re good (they are), but because how much they explain my head (especially when my mind’s in an interesting state)

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Iraq’s refugee crisis

Here’s a spectacular piece of ostrich-like behaviour from the US. An American spokesman in Baghdad says:

We’re not seeing internally displaced persons at the rate which causes us alarm

Huh? Is this real?

As I [wrote](http://ohuiginn.net/mt/2006/04/displacement_in_iraq.html) a while back, the Samarra bombing at the end of February sparked a refugee crisis which should be alarming everybody. There’s no doubt it is happening, and it is ludicrous for the US to explain it away, like they do, as people moving for “personal reasons”

Quible about the numbers if you like; none of the available figures are totally accurate. The


[estimate](http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/RWB.NSF/db900SID/EKOI-6Q54MU?OpenDocument) has recently risen to 97,900 from a previous [68,000](http://www.iom-iraq.net/newsletters.html#marApr06) 68,000, bringing it in line with the 100,000 suggested by the Government of Iraq. But, as the IOM [explains](http://www.iom-iraq.net/newsletters/IOM_Iraq_Newsletter_marApr06_English.pdf), these numbers are more likely to be under- than over-estimates:

Discrepancy between di