Clean blogging in Russia

Russia’s crackdown on bloggers includes an obscenity ban. From August, Russian blogs will be banned from using хуй (‘cock, prick’), пизда (‘cunt’), ебать (‘fuck’), and блядь (‘whore’). From the New York Times:

“We feel like we are back in kindergarten again when they said, ‘Don’t pee in your bed and don’t eat with your hands and don’t use that word,’ ” said Viktor V. Yerofeyev, a popular writer. “On the one hand, the Russian government says the Russian people are the best. On the other hand, it doesn’t trust the people.”

[via Language Hat]

Teaching Ovid, rape and all

Liz Gloyn worries how to teach the rapey bits of Classics — especially given that, statistically, it’s likely that some of her students will have been affected by sexual violence:

I have a pedagogical duty to frame those texts in ways which do not diminish them, do not side-line them or pretend they are not there. Ignoring the uncomfortable bits is not only lazy – it’s also potentially dangerous, because it does not challenge narratives which a feminist pedagogy should. It does not challenge students to read this material with a critical eye, to see what is actually going on in them – which is a skill we would expect them to demonstrate when reading any other text. Incidentally, it does also not require us to judge the ancient texts anachronistically. We are not asking the Romans to share our standards. What I am asking is that my students appreciate just how different these texts are from what we would see as socially acceptable, and to read them with that in mind.

Russia’s ‘defensive’ invasion

Tony Wood in the LRB argues that the catastrophe in Ukraine comes down to Russia acting



For Russia, the basic goal has until recently been a symmetrical pushback: to keep Ukraine out of Western security and economic structures, at the very least as a neutral state, if not as an active member of a ‘Eurasian Union’ dominated by Russia.

With Yanukovych ousted and his Party of Regions crumbling – 77 of its 200-odd MPs deserted before February was out – Moscow no longer had any political leverage in Kiev. At this stage, its goals correspondingly shifted: to force the US and EU to take Russian interests into account, and ideally agree on a new government for Ukraine that it found more congenial.

I agree with one strand of this. Russia’s aggression


defensive. Annexation is just a means of reclaiming influence that Russia had, and believes it deserves. Nobody expects that, when the storm passes, Russia will have more influence in Kiev than it did last year. The past — a mostly unified state mostly subservient to Russian needs — was ideal for the Kremlin. Now they are just hoping to cobble together some inferior replacement for that power, through federalism and rebellion.

I disagree, though, that the West is Russia’s primary antagonist. Far from cunningly establishing control through Soft Power, Western policy has mostly run on autopilot and disinterest. Yes, there are wonks still playing out strategies of Cold War geopolitics. But real attention and resources have only turned up at times of crisis, namely the Orange Revolution and today. Eurocrats seem as nonplussed as anybody to see EU flags turn up as symbols of protest.

And if the West is only half-heartedly pulling Ukraine into its sphere of influence, those ‘pro-Western’ Ukrainians seem far more interested in escaping Russia’s influence than in joining the EU’s. The real drive — and Putin’s real fear — is a truly independent Ukraine.

Why are Depeche Mode’s awful lyrics so compelling?

I discovered Agata Pyzik because of her recent book on Eastern European politics and culture, which I’m still making my way through.

Meanwhile that has led me to her blog, which includes this outstanding post on the atrocious-yet-compelling lyrics of Depeche Mode;

The power of Depeche Mode’s lyrics lay in a perfect combination of vagueness and a resemblance to agitprop, ending up somewhere between the political sloganeering of the falling Communist bloc and the promises of the Big Capital offered by the West.

If after pop art, everything could be important for 15 minutes, the pop lyric makes sense only during the provisional three minutes of a single. The words hold meaning within the context of this magical moment, and nowhere else. It’s a metaphorical space of transformation, where temporary unions and associations can form. A pop utopia.

She also captures something of their iconography, that odd blend of high futurism, coldness and romaticism:

Depeche could appeal to both Soviet Bloc and America, because aesthetically and lyrically they consciously flirted with both sides of the Curtain: heavy industry, Red Army, red stars, looming nuclear catastrophy and Potemkineqsue battleships for one side and lust, orgies, stock market, Eastern Tigers, money, high contracts and cocaine binges for the other.

Chocolate-throwing satanic lesbians

The exorcism business is booming, reports the

Washington Post

, under a Pope who is a fervent believer in the power of Satanic forces. Demonic possession is all about the growling, explains one expert:

“Two lesbians,” he said, had sat behind him on the plane. Soon afterward, he said, he felt Satan’s presence. As he silently sought to repel the evil spirit through prayer, one of the women, he said, began growling demonically and threw chocolates at his head.

Asked how he knew the woman was possessed, he said that “once you hear a Satanic growl, you never forget it. It’s like smelling Margherita pizza for the first time. It’s something you never forget.”

Clearly I lack Rev. Truqui’s Proustian sensibilities, having no idea of the smell of my first Margherita.

The rest of the article is good, but seems determined to contrast Francis’ progressive reputation with his “old school” views of the devil. Perhaps it’s my near-total ignorance of Catholic doctrine, but I don’t see the problem here. There is little interaction between how you see the devil and how you deal with poverty, homosexuality, etc.

Bruno, again

Chris Baldwin’s Bruno was my first great webcomic love. The eponymous Bruno was a depressive twenty-something struggling to find the plot of her life. For eleven years the strip followed its protagonist’s ups and downs, with a wordy style that gave Baldwin space to get under the skin of his introspective heroine.

But the internet moves on fast. Bruno wound up 7 years ago, and has now dropped silently down the memory-hole. I thought it was worth flagging up this appreciation of Bruno, along with the rest of Baldwin’s work:

A typical Bruno strip consists of a single long panel of characters talking over coffee, sprouting a half-dozen word balloons crammed with conversations about philosophy, sex, wine, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Beyond Bruno’s circular quest for fulfillment, there’s virtually no plot to speak of, to the point that in one sequence Bruno climbs out of the strip, demands that Baldwin make something happen, then hangs out in his apartment for several weeks. In the mid-1990s, an era of webcomics based on Star Trek and anime references, Bruno stood apart, the cutting-prone hipster in a crowd of AV club geeks.

UK/USA intelligence collaboration

Last year’s annual report of the UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee doesn’t mention Edward Snowden. It does, though, offer a few hints about the relationship between the NSA and its UK counterparts — a relationship which has always been extremely close, and which the leaks suggest may have involved GCHQ helping the NSA sidestep some of the legal restrictions it faced.

While the USA is not mentioned directly, it’s clear that Britain’s intelligence services are coming to accept the UK’s role as a secondary partner, specialising in particular roles, but unable to cover its entire function without American help. According to the head of SIS:

countries will play to their strengths and the joy of partnership, as we all know, is that two people or two organisations bring different strengths to a partnership and the total is more than the sum of its parts and that is what we are trying to create…

Intelligence priorites, also, are very much dictated by US priorities. Significant effort is being spent chasing Islamists without any real links to the UK. This, of course, fits snugly with American proccupations:

The trend that we noted last year for an increasing amount of counter-terrorism work to feature an ‘upstream’ element has continued (‘upstream’ refers to aspects of an investigation such as attack planning, preparation or direction occurring outside the UK, and terrorist groups with little or no presence in the UK). In the first three months of 2012/13, a significant proportion of the Security Service’s ICT investigations “ were focussed on upstream threats which did not have a substantial UK footprint”. This has driven closer working with SIS and GCHQ, who are able to collect intelligence and pursue disruptions overseas in support of these investigations.

Corporate hacking in the UK

When corporations have their computers hacked, they generally don’t talk about it. It’s awful publicity, and in most cases there is no legal requirement to disclose attacks. So sweeping it all under the carpet generally looks like the best response.

That means we have

no idea

how much sensitive data is being stolen from companies, or how many websites are paying protection money to avoid DDoS. The issue is somewhere on a spectrum between “significant worry” and “undiagnised catastrophe” — but, short of more mandatory disclosure laws, we can only speculate precisely where.

We can get a few hints, though, from the annual report of a committee overseeing the UK intelligence services. Perhaps through hosting “information exchanges” of companies involved in critical infrastructure, they have gathered some knowledge of the problem.

[One company] concluded that they had lost at least £800 million as a result of *** cyber attacks, and that’s quite a lot of money, even for a major company. But it’s very helpful, because otherwise you are just saying, ‘Well, some information has gone. So what?’

They also note a trend to getting sensitive information indirectly by hacking the “soft targets” represented by lawyers, accountants and other professional service firms.

Turkish guns in Syria: an update

A few months ago, I helped Hurriyet’s Tolga Tanis


that Turkey had exported weapons to Syria. The government had been furiously denying this, but our report finally backed them into admitting that they had allowed the sale of “non-military” weapons.

With a few months’ more trade data now available, we can see that the reality was worse than even this admission. In December, even as the politicians reluctantly confessed selling “sports guns” to Syria, their clerks were recording unambiguously military sales. Turkey-Syria export figures for that month include “munitions, components, and parts of bombs, torpedoes, mines, missiles”

This all comes with the usual disclaimer that trade data is rarely 100% accurate, and that in military terms these amounts of weaponry are pretty insignificant.

Tales of Swiss money-laundering

The Annual reports of the Swiss Money Laundering Reporting Office (MROS) are slightly more entertainig than you might imagine. In particular, they have a section full of vignettes from the past year’s prosecutions.

the foreign client had indicated that incoming funds transferred

to the account would come from the sale of protective vests. However, it turned out that the payments related to the sale of tanks and high-calibre weapons


Particularly suspicious were undated contracts signed with the Ministry of Defence of an African country as well as other documents. The bank could not exclude the possibility that these contracts had been falsified and, given the close ties that the client maintained with African government officials, that the client was also involved in corruption


[MROS] concluded that the beneficial owner of the account was involved in extensive deliveries of weapons to Africa

They have plenty more — the 2012 report includes everything from “Brothel in the Caribbean”, to “Graft and cronyism in the South American energy sector”