The Parallax Brief

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Unrepentant Subjectivity on Economics, Politics, Defence, Foreign Policy, and Russia

US Occupation of the USSR 1952-1960

The Parallax Brief loves counter-factual history — especially when it revolves around the what-ifs of a potential Warsaw Pact–NATO conflict. So much is he interested in NATO and Warsaw Pact military history that he was even willing to degrade himself by reading a Tom Clancy book, Red Storm Rising. (Never fear, it was a one off, and the Parallax Brief used protection). Imagine his glee, then, when via Matthew Yglesias’s mind-meltingly great blog, he found the pictured, October 1951 front cover of long deceased American Magazine, Collier’s.

Titled Preview of the War We Do Not Want, Collier’s devoted their whole 130 page October issue to how a war with the USSR might ignite and how the US – and its allies from the UN – would win that war. And it seems as if Collier’s took the whole thing very seriously, enlisting government help and even going so far as to tap Edward R Murrow, famous for his wartime broadcasts from London, to write an article titled A-Bomb Mission to Moscow, in which he is implanted into a B-36 bomber crew on a mission to nuke Moscow.

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Filed under: Defence, Russia, , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Fed’s Ten Trillion Dollar Problem

If anyone should have been prepared for the credit crunch it was Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke (pictured right). Much of his academic reputation, which is immense, was built upon his work on the causes of depressions and, specifically, the Great Depression.

Although central bankers and economists assumed that advances in economic understanding — a significant portion of which came from Bernanke — had made depressions avoidable, Japan’s oft-discussed lost decade of deflation raised some uncomfortable questions.

Here was a nation not unlike the US and large Western European countries, with a powerful industrial base, sophisticated financial sector, and a modern, mature economy, which became mired in monetary quicksand, unable to exfiltrate itself from economic stagnation, despite following the playbook economists throught could avoid just such scenarios. Why?
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Filed under: Economics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Taxi Firms as a Business Model for Russian Hospitals

Regular readers will be relieved to hear that Ms. Parallax Brief had her plaster removed last week. The visit to the hospital, the same pit of corruption and negligence she stayed in when the leg was first broken, was instructive.

During Ms. Parallax’s miserable week in traction in Room 101 ward 404 five weeks ago, the Parallax Brief’s views of the bribery and pared care pervasive in the hospital developed from seeing it as being a case of cheeky graft and apathy to be expected of low paid workers in a society where corruption is commonplace to viewing it as a brazen effort by wicked people to exploit for monetary gain their power of life and death, comfort and pain, and full recovery or chronic suffering.

The Parallax Brief felt obliged to play the game in the form of bars of chocolate, a bottle of bourbon and some hard currency while his good lady was under their care, but he now saw no reason to line the pockets of these racketeers for removing the plaster. If they assumed the foreigner in the shirt and tie would recompense them for a job well done because he slipped the odd bribe before, let them think that – no further services were needed, so disappointment for non-payment would not have repercussions.

But the plaster was removed, and farce ensued.

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Filed under: Russia, , , , ,

Charles Krauthammer Nailed for Lying

Regular readers may remember the Parallax Brief’s exasperation with Charles Krauthammer’s wooly and wantonly disingenuous column for the Washington Post on missile defense. To use unsound reasoning is one thing, but the Parallax Brief is noticing that the Right is increasingly crossing the rubric into outright lies to pursue its ends.

Now, the Parallax Brief expects this from unhinged demagogues like Anne Coulter or Rush Limbaugh, but he holds intellectuals like Charles Krauthammer to higher standards. Yet here is Krauthammer, in his very next Washington Post column, “Obama’s Manifesto”, lying:

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Filed under: Economics, Politics, , , , , , , ,

Conservative Russia: Assailing Addiction

Russia is now the largest user of heroin in the world. From bbc.co.uk:

“The head of Russia’s anti-narcotics service, Victor Ivanov, said that seizures of Afghan heroin were up 70%.

Mr Ivanov, a former KGB officer and senior Kremlin official, said the flood of the drug from Afghanistan posed a threat to Russia’s national security. […] He said the drug was partly to blame for rising crime and a fall in Russia’s population. “In recent years Russia has not just become massively hooked on Afghan opiates, it has also become the world’s absolute leader in the opiate trade and the number one heroin consumer,” he said in a report made available to reporters.

“Drug trafficking has become a key negative factor for demography and a blow to our nation’s gene pool… [and] a challenge to Russia’s civilisation.”

The Russian health ministry says Russia has up to 2.5 million drug addicts out of a population of some 140 million, most of them aged between 18 and 39.”

This stunning statistic slams home a malignant double whammy for Russia. Not only does heroin addiction reap its usual icy devastation on individual and community, it also helps oil the motor of demographic decline by doing so to the most fertile age group.
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Filed under: Russia, , , , , , , ,

Conservative Russia

People simply do not realise that Russia is a deeply conservative country.

Fiscal policy is buttressed on a low, flat rate of income tax (13%), and there is virtually no social safety net, with spending on unemployment security, medical provision, disability aid, infrastructure, the environment, and urban regeneration far lower, in both absolute terms and as a percentage of GDP, than its G8 contemporaries.

Similarly, military spending is high in comparison — and growing — medical care is available free in theory, but requires private insurance or additional cash payment in practice, and businesses are in reality pretty un-regulated.

If that doesn’t sound to you like a set of policies Newt Gingrich or William F Buckley would support, then you don’t know your dyed in the wool conservatives from your woolly jumper wearing liberals.

The Parallax Brief believes, however, that these government policies are generally matched by the views of Ivan Six-Pack. Now, the Parallax Brief had been led to believe by his pinko sociology teachers in college that communism taught progressive views on gender, race, immigration and class, so it therefore came as a shock to find when he moved here that after 80 years of Marxist indoctrination, young ladies in Russia often reject feminism, men ooze with unrepentant machismo, and the population appears to generally support a penal code that could have been based on Dostoyevsky’s work.

The Parallax Brief passes no judgment on Russia’s conservatism (beyond finding it ironic that those who criticise Russia the most would like similar policies implemented in their countries (I’m thinking of you Charles Krauthammer, Ed Lucas, Anne Applebaum and the Republican Party)), but does view it as the foundation from which Russia can be better understood, and its news and policies better analysed.

With this in mind, over the coming weeks, the Parallax Brief will highlight news which he believes can be viewed best through the prism of ‘conservative Russia’, and hopes that in doing so he can provide a fresh and oft ignored perspective on Russian life – as well as, of course, stimulating debate.

First up, on Wednesday 11 March, will be Russia’s recent admission that it is the world’s leading heroin user.

Filed under: Politics, Russia, , , , , ,

Parallax Brief Savaged on Missile Defense

The Parallax Brief always hoped that his brazen subjectivity would incite some bare-knuckled debate, and his article on the US Anti-Ballistic-Missile shield seems to have done just that.

More Missile Shield Misunderstandings was forwarded by a reader to a former US Defense Department analyst, who has penned the following withering rebuke of the Parallax Brief’s argument. Although it was originally sent for approval for as a comment on the “About” page, the Parallax Brief believes it is too long for a comment, and well written and tightly argued enough for its own post. It is published in full and unedited. The author wishes to remain anonymous.

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Filed under: Defence, Foreign policy, Russia, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Nicholas Taleb, David Hume and the Arrival of the Unimaginable

Nassim Nicolas Taleb is consumed by the unimaginable, and his life is built on expecting its arrival. Where the Parallax Brief sees bolts from the blue that lead to wildly unforeseeable outcomes, Taleb sees ordinary occurrences.

Taleb’s heroes are empiricists, like David Hume and Karl Popper, who believed that only those things understood through experience can be accepted as real. But Taleb’s empiricism is that of an extreme skeptic, almost an anti-empirical empiricist. He believes that nothing can ever be ruled out — that random events cannot be understood through statistical distribution, even when one’s past experience suggests as much — and that the impossible occurs far more regularly than humans accept.

Taleb’s views are encapsulated by one of his favourite Hume quotations: “No amount of observations of white swans can allow the inference that all swans are white, but the observation of a single black swan is sufficient to refute that conclusion.”

This makes Taleb extraordinarily relevant and important today.

This importance multiplied when Taleb crafted a book on what he, and John Stuart Mill and Hume before him, termed ‘black swan events’: — events written off as impossible but which actually occur, with disastrous consequences, far more frequently than is assumed — and had the good fortune (or prescience) to have it published on the eve of the credit crunch.

It turned Taleb the leftfield doomsayer into Taleb the celebrity soothsayer.

Taleb’s story is engaging and his theories intellectually fascinating, and both are detailed in an extraordinary Malcolm Gladwell New Yorker essay from a pre-crunch, pre-Black Swan theory 2002. Through the explanation of Taleb’s ideas, we learn of Victor Niederhoffer, a supposed genius stock trader who lost it all; why world renowned stock market players like George Soros and Warren Buffett might just be flat lucky; empiricism and its relevance today; and just what it is about the human mind that leaves our societies vulnerable to Black Swan events.

Highly recommended. (Click the link below.)

Blowing Up, Malcolm Gladwell, New Yorker, April 22nd and 29th, 2002

Filed under: Economics, , , , ,

Parallax Brief Review

Siberian Light is filled with insightful and objective writing, and is clearly one of the best Russia-centric blogs around. So good, in fact, that it was nominated for Best European Blog in the 2008 Weblog Awards, and holds prominent positions on all the blog rolls of the major Russia blogs.

It came as a bit of a shock, then, to see the Parallax Brief get a big thumbs up from Siberian Light on Friday:

The Parallax Brief promises “unrepentant Subjectivity on Economics, Politics, Defence, Foreign Policy, and Russia”.  And, from what I can see, it delivers that subjectivity with style.

… as you might expect, there are a fair few posts covering the Russian economy. But it’s not just economics and foreign policy.  There are plenty of slice of life posts – for example, the wince-worthy tales of Mrs Parallax Brief’s trips to both a Moscow hospital and a Moscow Dentist.

Ego-boosting stuff, indeed.

Filed under: Russia, , ,

Special Relationship Put to Test by Brown’s, Obama’s Gifts

At least now the Parallax Brief knows he isn’t the only one to suffer the toe curling holiday season embarrassment of receiving a hugely expensive or deeply thoughtful gift, and having to present in return some cheap tat picked up at the local bric-a-brac store at 7.30pm on Christmas Eve.

Or the crushing disappointment giving a girlfriend a Christmas gift so breast-quiveringly romantic it could have won a place in Elizabeth I’s bed chamber, only to be handed a 10 pound Woolworths gift voucher in return.

From National Review Online:

“British prime minister Gordon Brown thought long and hard about what gift to bring on his visit to the White House last week. Barack Obama is the first African-American president, so the prime minister gave him an ornamental desk-pen holder hewn from the timbers of one of the Royal Navy’s anti-slaving ships of the 19th century, HMS Gannet. Even more appropriate, in 1909 the Gannet was renamed HMS President.

The president’s guest also presented him with the framed commission for HMS Resolute, the lost British ship retrieved from the Arctic and returned by America to London, and whose timbers were used for a thank-you gift Queen Victoria sent to Rutherford Hayes: the handsome desk that now sits in the Oval Office.

And, just to round things out, as a little stocking stuffer, Gordon Brown gave President Obama a first edition of Sir Martin Gilbert’s seven-volume biography of Winston Churchill.

In return, America’s head of state gave the prime minister 25 DVDs of “classic American movies.””

Nothing goes right for poor Gordon. Let’s just hope the Anglo-American special relationship lasts better than did the Parallax Brief’s own special relationship after the Woolworth’s voucher incident.

Filed under: Politics, , , , , , , , , ,