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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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, , , , ,

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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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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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.

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More Missile Shield Misunderstandings

As a kind of appendix to the previous post regarding Charles Krauthammer’s woolly and often wantonly disingenuous Washington Post column on Obama’s missile shield stance, the Parallax Brief would like to explain just why Russia is concerned about the possibility of a US missile shield in Europe.

An argument the Parallax Brief often hears against Russia’s view of the missile shield as a threat is “what use are the ten interceptors against Russia’s thousands of missiles?” To a certain extent, that’s true: a few interceptor missiles as part of a US missile shield would be useless against a Russian first strike.

However, that’s not the issue. As far as the Parallax Brief can deduce, Russia is not concerned about its ability to perpetrate a first strike, but its ability to offer a credible deterrent against one.

To understand this, we need a better understanding of the various options available to the US and Russia in a potential nuclear war.
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Krauthammering Away At Russia, Missile Shield

Charles Krauthammer is clearly a smart guy, which makes the Parallax Brief wonder seriously why he penned last week a combination of flab and fallacy on US-Russia relations, titled Obama’s Supine Diplomacy, for the Washington Post.

Krauthammer justifies the titular accusation thus: that Russia has already provoked the US on several fronts:

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Levine’s Lackluster Labyrinth

The Parallax Brief was last year so looking forward to the release of Putin’s Labyrinth that he pre-ordered it on Amazon and had a friend pick it up on a trip to the US. Its author, Steve Levine, had written a well respected account of the post-communist scramble for Caspian hydrocarbons, The Oil and the Glory, and penned consistently solid analysis on the activities of Big Oil for Newsweek.

But what a disappointment.

Weighing in at less than 200 pages, Putin’s Labyrinth is a shallow, banal examination of Putin’s Russia. The book suffers from tired writing, poor investigative journalism, personal subjectivity, a paucity of research and a seeming absence of understanding or experience of the subject matter, as well as an unwillingness to think in nuances rather than absolutes, on the part of the author: Nothing that hasn’t already been repeated ad infinitum is said, no new analysis is offered, no fresh insights are provided and the conclusions drawn are risibly passé and wholly, in the Parallax Brief’s view, wrong.

In fact, the Parallax Brief has been meaning for some time to get around to savaging Levine’s pathetic effort to chronicle modern day Russia, but after stumbling upon Stephen Boykewich’s review of Putin’s Labyrinth in the unlikely confines of the Virginia Quarterly Review (VQR), he decided that now was the time.

Written through the prism of his own experiences in Russia, Boykewich’s essay on Putin’s Labyrinth is sensational, and is so well written, tightly constructed and acutely observed that the Parallax Brief suddenly understood the difference between those who get paid for this stuff, and those who have to set up their own blogs on freeware platforms like WordPress in order to satisfy their burning ego.

Boykewich’s 5000 words contain more thoughtful and fresh insights into modern day Russia than Levine’s entire book – a damning indictment of Levine’s effort – and all those interested in Russian politics or foreign policy should click here for thoroughly recommended weekend reading.

Filed under: Foreign policy, Politics, Russia, , , , , , , , ,

Can Lasers Rescue Moscow’s Pedestrians?

Traffic in Moscow is appalling. Jams clog every main road during rush hour like fatty deposits in a 60-a-day smoker’s arteries. Famously, traffic from one of Moscow’s main airports, Sheremetyevo, is so bad that the car journey from terminal to city centre can take anywhere from forty minutes to eternity.

All this is true, and widely reported, but a worse problem, in the Parallax Brief’s view, is the average Moscow driver’s complete disregard for any traffic law. Not only does this mean that unnecessary jams are caused by drivers’ refusal to follow rules in place to ensure the smooth flow of traffic, but it makes crossing roads incredibly dangerous for pedestrians.

For instance, just the other day the Parallax Brief was crossing at a pedestrian crossing when the light was on green (red for the cars), only to reach the middle of the road and find cars whizzing infront and behind him at about 60 mph, accompanied by much angry horn honking. The Parallax Brief would like to take this opportunity to apologize to the drivers for putting their cars at risk by foolishly expecting them to stop at a red light, because the fact of the matter is that in Moscow zebra crossings are completely ignored and traffic lights at pedestrian crossings are treated as a kind of ‘suggested guideline’, rather than sacrosanct.

This, as any Moscow resident will be aware, creates a certain frisson every time a busy junction is crossed, and while this may be good for thrill seeking adrenaline junkies, the Parallax Brief is of a more sedate disposition and would prefer something to be done.

Perhaps Korean designer Hanyoung Lee has the solution: lasers that will vaporise offending drivers. Well, not really. The concept involves a (non-lethal) red ‘laser wall’ which will project the silhouettes of pedestrians and make drivers more aware of both the red light and where their space ends and the pedestrian space starts.

Of course, the Parallax Brief would prefer something that could atomize transgressing cars, but this is a fabulous concept nonetheless.

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