The Personhood of Ukraine
One of the most fascinating, and underreported, aspects of the entire swatch of Ukrainian protests over the past four weeks centers on the notion of Ukrainian identity. About whether Ukrainians can count as a “people,” or as a “nation,” or even, for some, as a “state.” About whether those people squatting on EuroMaidan or stirring in Lviv or standing in solitary solidarity in Donetsk can be considered a separate ethnographic entity from their formed Soviet master in Moscow. We’ve seen a bit on the etymology of (The) Ukraine – how the word meant “edge” or “periphery,” implying where the center then is. But we haven’t seen much examination of the competing claims of ownership and nationhood. And while this is neither the space nor the time for the theoretical examination of nationalities within former Soviet states – Richard Suny’s work is the best shortcut for that – the recent claims and counterclaims surrounding the words might be worth a moment of time.
I Was Wrong
For some reason, the Iraq War feels an eon ago. A lifetime past. Reading through one blogger’s compilation of real-time reaction - swinging from full-throated Bush-backing to fact-wracked guilt - was one of the more … resonant things I’ve found in a bit. It was a hold. It was a reminder. It was something that helped fill the holes.
Too much to extract, here. Too much to pore through. Most of us have moved past this war we grew with, foregoing how it’s propelled us to where we are. It’s good to revisit. Even if it’s just one path, and just one voice.
Passing Into Financial History
A few weeks ago, I had a chance to run some numbers on federal debt-growth rates under Obama. (Got picked up over at The Washington Post, which I appreciated.) It seemed like the mouthbreathing on runaway debt – all that hyperbole on Obama’s purported spend-now-ask-later! policies – had reached a tipping point, and I wanted to see where, historically, the nation’s debt-growth rate actually stood.
The findings should sufficiently calm the claim that debt’s “exploded” under the current president. (There are a few 19th-century presidents that warrant a closer lookin’-at, though.) But a few of the commenters noted that, instead of looking at the rate of the real increase, a better marker of judging an administration’s financial sense would be to examine the debt-to-GDP ratio. That ratio, as one noted, “gives a sense of how well an economy is equipped to finance its debt.”
Not a terrible idea. As soon as I got crunching, though, a few issues immediately cropped. GDP, of course, is one of the fickler fiscal stats out there. (All that boom of Web 2.0, with relatively little to show for it, etc.) Doubly unfortunate is the fact that the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), tasked with calculating the quarterly GDP numbers, began tabulating GDP only in 1929.
As such, the findings below should be taken with a grain of salt. GDP lets a wealth of funds through unaccounted; pre-1929 GDP numbers, tabbed by a pair of economics professors at the University of Illinois-Chicago, remain unofficial. But they’ll have to do. And when the numbers we have are laid out, we see that while Obama looked entirely normal under the growth-rate rubric, his administration, per these debt-to-GDP numbers, has just passed into the annals of financial history.
Analyzing America’s Debt Growth
Spinning off of the original Washington Post, ah, post, I took a longer look in The Descrier about the recent growth rate of US debt. If the “chart junk” doesn’t suffice, here are some of the findings:
In 1971, for instance, the US posted a 22.04-percent growth over the previous four years, meaning that US debt growth grew 22.04 percent from 1967-1971. Not a bad clip. Lower than what we see today, at least. But it’s nowhere near the 86.10 percent we saw in 1986 – smack in the middle of the Reagan years. Indeed, in ’83, ’84, ’85, ’86, ’87, ’88 – all those four-year averages in which Reagan was the sole presence in the White House – we saw a higher rate of debt growth than anything we’ve seen under the White House’s current tenant. Under Obama, the debt’s grown slightly more than 50 percent. Under Reagan’s first four years, the debt nearly doubled.
Recent *rate* of growth in U.S. debt is not exceptional
Had a chance to contribute to the gang over at Washington Post's Monkey Cage, sharing a few findings on US debt growth rate since 1790. Verdict? The rate we've seen under Obama is, well, nothing special:
What is so interesting about the figure is that it shows that the Obama years – despite a large rise in the nominal quantity of debt – are far from extraordinary in terms of the rate of debt growth over the preceding four years. In fact, if we extend the data series back to 1810, we find that prior to 2009, debt grew in the preceding four years at a faster rate than the rate at which it has increased since Obama took office in all of the following years: 1815-1817; 1839-1844; 1848-1851; 1859-1867; 1917-1921; 1942-1947; 1934-1937; 1978; 1983-1988.
Russia's Perception Problem | Descrier
Crunched some numbers, and tried to place Russia’s reputation in the international sphere. Came out looking far, far bleaker than most:
Because while the Pew survey failed to include any ex-Soviet republics, Russia, through reasons both domestic and exogenous, has seen even its once-taut relationships – with Ukraine, with Belarus – loosen. It’s seen once-tight allies spun off in foreign directions. It’s seen its dreams at a Eurasian Union crumble in a matter of months.
As one Ukrainian analyst earlier noted, “Russia does not have a single ally in the contemporary world.” While that may be a bit wrought – Armenia, for instance, recently elected to join the Eurasian Union for just this alliance – the point, paired with the new numbers, remains.
The Demons of Moldova
Had a chance to contribute to Slate/Roads & Kingdoms ongoing international dispatch series, covering a recent Moldovan exorcism at the Saharna Monastery. (R&K link here.) With 200 people gathered below, the cycle of priests began reading the names, and one woman, hearing her own, screams into the night:
The crowd around her jumps. A man, presumably her boyfriend, muffles her mouth with his hand and sways her back and forth. I look at my watch. It was already 1 a.m., and half a dozen women are screaming. A girl, who looks to be about 20, writhes and presses herself into her boyfriend’s shoulder. Someone hands him a bottle of silt taken from the pool of holy water. He dumps the murky mix into his mouth, swirls it around, and spits it in his girlfriend’s face before pulling her back. And then he smiles.
Why the U.S. Is Building a High-Tech Bubonic Plague Lab in Kazakhstan
In case you’re wondering - yes, this looks like ever other half-constructed post-Soviet building. But it’s so, so much more:
To the Kazakh biologists involved, the lab’s sophisticated profile is the most exciting benefit. Bakyt B. Atshabar, head of the Kazakh Scientific Center of Quarantine and Zoonotic Diseases, the 60-year-old anti-plague institute that will operate the new lab, isn’t kept up at night by terrorism as much as by a number of more naturally-occurring threats, like the incidence of plague that recently killed a teenager in Kyrgyzstan, after he either ate a marmot or was bitten by a diseased flea. …
From a security perspective, the new lab can’t arrive soon enough. In 2006, when journalist Simon Reeve visited the existing facility, he saw Soviet-era buildings and security measures not likely to intimidate a determined terrorist—or a scientist—from sneaking some anthrax or plague out into the wild. Small locks on fridges were all that kept deadly vials from a fast escape.
The Ghost Rapes of Bolivia | VICE United States
Among the other religious-misogynist-educational horrors of this fantastic read:
Yet it wasn’t sexual abuse that finally prompted Agnes and her family to abandon Manitoba, which they did in 2009. Instead, her husband had bought a motorcycle, after which he was excommunicated and the family shunned. When the couple’s toddler drowned to death in a cow trough, the community leaders wouldn’t even let her husband attend his own son’s funeral. That’s when they left Manitoba for good. In the end, driving a motorcycle was apparently a larger affront to the Colony’s leadership than anything Agnes, her daughters, or the rest of the women in the community had suffered.
Rustam Inoyatov: SNB vs MVD — Registan.net
In catching up on Registan’s posts from the last month, one in particular stood out for its introductory detail. Written by “Alexander,” the piece details the recent clan-based history of Uzbek politics - the jockeying, the conniving, the murder. It helps lay a bit of groundwork for the (soon, someday) transition from Islam Karimov to a new government, fleshing out some of the options at hand.
According to “Alexander,” however, the entire debate’s moot — the country will continue in the hands of Rustam Inoyatev, the head of the SNB (successor to the KGB). If anything, recent Uzbek history shows that this theory’s far from certain … but it’s got far more credence than claiming, say, that Gulnara “Googoosha” Karimova will somehow slide her way to the top.
The thing’s lengthy, but worth a look. Clip:
It seems that free and fair elections will never take place in Uzbekistan. …
According to the version that emphasizes the inter-clan rivalry as the main driving force behind the Andijan events, Innoyatov, a representative of the Tashkent group, clearly prevailed in thiscompetition.”The Dilyor Jumabayev interview showed that the SNB did want to get rid of Karimov and could hire “terrorists” to use them as proxies. The MVD is also able to do this and so the bombings in 1999 and 2004 could have been done by the MVD or Jurabekov and not the SNB. We should also not rule out that the bombings and the armed group in Andijan could have been genuine members of the IMU and IJU or ordinary people who were sick and tired of the regime and acted independently from the SNB and the MVD. Mamadali Makhmudov also said that the “appearance of a multitude of extremist movements is a result of the unlimited oppression of the law enforcement structures.” However, due to the compartmentalisation within intelligence agencies, anything is possible, one department could be prosecuting terrorists whilst another actively supporting them.
Detailing Kazakhstan’s Media Muzzling
Just over a year after a public prosecutor first indicted Vladimir Kozlov, the sullied, jailed Kazakh opposition figure, Human Rights Foundation has published one of the most thorough incriminations yet seen of the Kazakhstan government’s handling of the post-Zhanaozen media crackdown. Any criticism, any detailing of the Zhanaozen massacre, seemingly resulted in forced muzzling. There’s a reason Kazakhstan comes in at 160th (out of 179) in the World Press Freedom Index, after all.
The Things We Share
'[T]here are much better ways than opposing same-sex marriage for teaching the essential God-hauntedness, the enchantment, of the world—including massive investments in charity, the further evangelizing of Asia, a willingness to face martyrdom by preaching in countries where Christians are killed simply because they are Christians, and a church-wide effort to reinvigorate the beauty and the solemnity of the liturgy. Some Catholic intellectual figures will continue to explore the deep political-theory meanings manifest in the old forms of Christendom, and more power to them, but the rest of us should turn instead to more effective witness in the culture as it actually exists.’
Innocent Bystander: How One Man Can Win, and Lose Everything
In my final feature for the Press, I detailed the last three years of Roderick O’Bryant, a Houston resident accused of murder in late 2010. While O’Bryant was acquitted eight weeks ago, his ordeal, 30 months in the making, took nearly everything he held dear. All due to moments like this:
When the detective displayed the half-dozen mugs at the same time, Yvette and Deandra both pointed to O’Bryant. Paul, sitting in another room, did so as well.
But things went a bit differently in Paul’s interview, a tape shows. Twenty minutes after they discussed the day’s events, the detective, H.A. Chavez, presented Paul with the six-pack, the photos of the black males in their mid-twenties staring out at him. The boy, quiet, looked over them. He pointed to No. 5 — O’Bryant’s picture. He recognized that one. “Looks just like C-Note,” he said.
The same shape. The same structure. “But,” he added, “it’s not.”
Chavez asked him for confirmation. Paul nodded. It looked like him — “he had a fat, chubby face” — but they were different. “Do me a favor,” Chavez said, leaning over. “Circle the picture, the whole picture, of the one you say looks like the guy that did this.” Paul circled. “Sign your name, date.”
And that was it. No additional note on the paper. Nothing to show that Paul had just said that this one, this fifth man of the six-pack, wasn’t the shooter in question. Chavez then told Paul that his brother had died — the 15-year-old didn’t yet know — and walked out. Paul’s lanky body curled in on itself, and his head fell.