Revisiting the fall of the USSR

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Found this long and very interesting article about the fall of the USSR based on diaries kept during the last few years. Mostly focuses on Gorbachev.

Diary of a Collapsing Superpower

I also hadn’t know that Gorbachev was partially in favour of German re-unification, to the point that they suggested tearing down the Berlin Wall shortly before it actually happened. I’d never heard much history of the lead-up to the wall falling, so this was good to read here. There’s more info about it here: Berlin Wall.

As I was reading through the part about Afghanistan sounded very similar to Iraq in a lot of ways. There was a lot of internal struggle about whether to withdraw, similar to right now in the US.

Here are some excerpts that caught my eye:

But the Russians faced even more calamities. Afghanistan was one of them. On Oct. 17, 1985, the party leader recommended to the members of the Politburo that the Russians end the war and bring home their troops, who had marched into Afghanistan a little less than six years earlier. By then, the war had become a fact of life. Every day, an average of 10 young Soviet soldiers were dying in a battle against the mujahedeen some 3,400 kilometers (2,113 miles) away. Moscow, it seemed, had become accustomed to the carnage.

Gromyko had been the one to initiate the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, even managing to implement the plan against the resistance of the military leadership, who believed it was unfeasible and pointless.

In October 1985, Gorbachev met secretly with Babrak Karmal, the General Secretary of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan and the Russians’ governor in Kabul. Gorbachev told Karmal that, beginning in the summer of 1986, he would be on his own when it came to warding off the mujahedeen. Karmal was taken completely by surprise. Convinced that Afghanistan represented a vital buffer zone for the Soviets along their southern border, he had not expected such a radical about-face.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a majority within the party leadership — as revealed by the Politburo minutes — suddenly began claiming to have seen from the start that the Afghanistan invasion was a risky adventure. But Gorbachev soon realized that there was also serious opposition to his plan for immediate withdrawal — and that the Afghans themselves were unwilling to accept the departure of Soviet troops.

Afghanistan was now a permanent item on the agenda during meetings of the Kremlin’s inner circle. Gorbachev’s main concern was that the withdrawal be accomplished in an orderly fashion and that the United States and Pakistan not become involved. In other words, Gorbachev wanted to remain in control of the withdrawal. “The outcome must not look like a humiliating defeat. We have lost too many of our boys.”

Quebec as a nation

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All these political games about Quebec being a nation are confusing.

First of all, what’s the point of legislation that says the “people of Quebec” form a nation within Canada? What would that change?

The only angles I can guess at are: a) A purely political ploy to gain votes in Quebec, or b) Hoping this kind of weak recognition will take some steam off the separatists arguments.

What’s even more confusing to me is that this latest legistlation was tabled by the Conservatives. I’d have expected they’d be the last ones to vote for even more special status for Quebec. One of the articles below did reference how the Harper motion was forced to try and head off the stronger Bloc motion.

The almost universal support for this by the parties is also confusing. I think everyone is scared to vote against it for fear of losing support in Quebec. I’m assuming here the motion is harmful because it doesn’t seem to do anything and heads down a slippery slope that will eventually help the separatists. I’d appreciate any other opinions on this.

Pawn to King Four

Quebecers form a nation within Canada: PM

Quebecers form a nation without conditions: Bloc motion

Update: the end is near!

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I’m excited because I got a shiny new pamphlet in the mail today. It’s from the Jehovahs Witnesses. I always look forward to these timely updates on my demise.
I posted this the last time I got a pamphlet and it had quite a few JW’s drop by: Marketing a religion. (There were many more comments there before the site crashed and I replaced the old software with WordPress)

The title of this one is clear: “THE END OF FALSE RELIGION IS NEAR!”. It’s followed by a series of bullet points in the bottom right: “What is false religion?”, “How will it end?”, and my favourite: “How will you be affected?”. Now I’m hooked, please tell me more…

The next page is mostly about war, politics and gay sex. That’s not what I’m interested in here, they promised to say how it would affect me! Finally the next page gets down to some business, although is confusing. Nearest I can tell from the pictures, I’m going to be eaten alive by a 7-headed tiger with some attractive lady in purple riding it.

I do see a flaw in the logic on page 3. They say:

“In a sudden, shocking move, the world’s political powers will turn on false religion and completely destroy her! What will prompt this action? The Bible book of Revelation answer: ‘God put it into their hearts to carry out his thought.’”

That’s a stretch if I’ve ever seen one. How could you conclude from that very vague statement in Revelation the exact method by which false religion will be overthrown? It sounds like they’re doing nothing more than writing a novel. The following is just as true and probable:

“In a sudden, shocking move, Tom Cruise will become a born-again Christian, rally a massive army to take over the world and destroy all followers of these false religions. What will prompt this action? The Bible book of Revelation answer: ‘God put it into their hearts to carry out his thought.’”

In the end, I’m not convinced. The threat of being eaten by a 7-headed tiger is pretty bad, but the last pamphlet had pictures of nuclear war, so I feel like they brought it down a notch this time.

Scientology: new and improved – now with more weird

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Ran into this article: Scientology Leader Gave ABC News First-Ever Interview.

I didn’t know they believed there were alien spirits trapped in volcanoes which caused all our personal problems. Also interesting in the article is how the guy who runs it sees himself as a victim of bad media attention. He also views himself as the victim of religious hate-groups comparable to how the Nazis viewed the Jews. They didn’t really address the topic of what they really do with all that money.
I’m curious if there are any theories about whether Hubbard perhaps underwent some serious physical trauma which caused him to come up with these ideas. I think that’s highly probable based on my expert medical knowledge obtained from watching educational TV shows like House.

Confessions

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This week we saw some surprising confessions.

The CIA admitted that President Bush personally ordered the creation of a network of secret foreign prisons and specifically authorized the use of torture on detainees overseas. While some Americans think such tactics are justified when extracting information from terrorists, Europeans have been very vocal in calling them war crimes. The President himself has been careful to avoid admitting to signing such orders, but has been very enthusiastic about defending them. Whether or not he originated the orders, noone in his administration tried to stop him from implementing them. How much persuasion is acceptable when trying to extract a confession? And if an innocent man dies during interrogation in a secret prison on foreign soil, is that an acceptable loss or a crime of war?

In a surprising move to discredit truth itself, an interview with OJ Simpson is due to air in which he explains how he would have killed his wife Nicole, had he killed her. Is this really necessary? He got away with murder, we get it. Why does he have to keep rubbing our faces in it? Is it some latent guilt that drives a man to confess to crimes in such a public way? Or is he just making money off the only thing he’s still famous for?

The truth can be ugly and unpleasant, but I’d rather know the facts than stay in the dark. They say history will judge these people. History starts with us.

What a difference a day makes

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If you thought democracy was slow to act, you might be surprised by the sweeping changes already taking place in the United States. Democrats haven’t wasted any time keeping campaign promises.

  • Barbara Boxer, newly elected head of the congressional environmental committee, promises to fight global warming. Unlike her predecessor, who blocked greenhouse gas regulations on the basis that global warming was a big hoax.
  • Keith Ellison was elected in Minnesota, becoming the first Muslim elected to U.S. Congress. He didn’t make religion an issue in his campaign, and his views are more liberal than most Muslims, but while he’s settling into his new office, Dick Cheney is getting evicted from his.
  • John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador who’s never believed in diplomacy as a solution, is going to be replaced. This was a no-brainer. The man believed the UN was obsolete and should be dismantled. No wonder he wasn’t invited to UN office parties.
  • And of course, the biggest story was Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation. In a surprising peace offering, Bush served the head of the Secretary of Defense to the Democrats on a silver platter. We can only guess what will become of Rumsfeld, but his replacement is sure to change many of his policies.

See? Democracy does work.

Obligatory US Election Post

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I didn’t realize how nervous I was about the election until the day of.  Probably because of how important I know it was, but also because I lived there for about 5 years and still pay income taxes to them.  (That whole taxation without representation thing)

But anyways, what I’ve found most interesting is the media coverage today.  The media is billing this as “the end of an era”, etc, and the Republicans seem all downtrodden.  Did any of these people actually expect the Republicans would be in power from now until eternity?  Why are these events seen as such a shock?

I understand the media’s reaction because they need to make everything seem like a huge deal.

To everyone else, read a little history.  One of the properties of a 2-party system is that the parties are always in flux.  The parties don’t have a permanent platform, only to bring into their platform whatever gets the most votes.  If the country turns more liberal, the Republicans wouldn’t sit back and let things slide until they had 10 senate seats and 90 for the Democrats.  They’d moderate themselves.  And obviously the same for the Democrats.

Personally, I don’t think it’s to anyone’s advantage in the US to ever have the same party hold all 3 seats of government.  I think that naturally leads to corruption, which is a partial reason for what happened Tuesday.

The End of Seafood

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Readers of this site, being well informed and educated, won’t be surprised by the recent study of the decline of species in Earth’s oceans. According to the study, so many species of fish and even aquatic mammals are threatened, endangered or in collapse from overfishing and pollution that by 2050 there will be no viable seafood left to harvest.

“Unless we fundamentally change the way we manage all the oceans species together, as working ecosystems, then this century is the last century of wild seafood”

The environment is under increasing strain, and fewer politicians have any will to address the issues. Worse, some have actively attempted to hasten the process. Allow me to introduce Dick Pombo, who made Rolling Stone’s top 10 list of the Worst US Congressmen. You may not have heard about Dick, or his ironic legislation, the “Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act” which would have phased out all protection for threatened wildlife by 2015. Republicans like him have hobbled the Environmental Protection Agency and reversed decades of regulations. And their schemes go relatively unnoticed because the majority of the US voting public has no interest in environmental issues. It’s just not a hot button anymore

Maybe studies like this one are too alarmist, too shocking to provoke any response but disbelief. Maybe humans are too shortsighted or narrowminded to truly understand a concept this big. It’s arguable that it doesn’t matter anymore. We may already have passed the point of no return. It would take a synchronized global effort, and many unpleasant sacrifices, to change course now. And noone seems to be in the mood for such efforts.

Enjoy your seafood. But spend a second pondering what you are going to tell your grandkids that fish tastes like.