Why Obama made friends with Cuba?

I was, of course, delighted when Barack Obama announced the sudden and dramatic imprvement of relations between the United States and Cuba.

As for pretty much everyone else, the news seemed to me to come out of the blue; I hadn’t been aware that Obama had previously been interested in Cuba. Indeed, I’m not really aware of any previous statements from him about the issue.

Reading through the news reports, I see a curious absence: any suggestion of an answer to the most obvious questions – Why? Why now, after so many decades? Why now, when Obama has so many other pressing issues before he leaves office?. Even more interesting, there’s no indication that anyone in the mainstream media has pursued these questions with any great effort.

I have a theory about this. See what you think…

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So it’s been a while…

An email dropped into my inbox today: do I want to buy the .com version of my domain? Well, thanks, not just now. Thanks for asking, though.

I am genuinely grateful, because that email reminded me that this blog still existed! I’ve been keeping up my blogs on Chinese and Russian martial arts, but this domain had dropped so far off my radar I’d forgotten I had it…

This blog, though… Well, back in 2013 when I was looking to exit from Swansea University, I looked into freelance consulting and started to put together a website. Updated it a bit while I was in Russia. Since I never promoted it, it never led to anything beyond a couple of hits on blog posts. When I moved to China, it became irrelevant, and to be honest I completely forgot about it…

So, now that I’ve been reminded about it, what to do with it? The old content, long since of date has gone. The blog’s the only part worth keeping.

I’d still like to do something with my copy of Suvorov, which I brought with me to China. Events in the wider world have moved on quickly, and I’ve been in some heated debates recently about Russia, which raised issues I could usefully develop…

Hmmm. Let’s think about that.

A roof with a view

 
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I’ve been back in Beijing for six months now.

Russia was fantastic. I don’t know that I will fully review my time there in this forum, but during the fifteen months that I lived in St. Petersburg, I met some great people, and truly value being able to see the world – at least to some extent – through Russian eyes. St. Petersburg itself is a beautiful city, and I really don’t feel that I’ve done it justice; there’s so much there that I wasn’t able to explore. Working as an English teacher means extremely antisocial hours, and not a great deal of money; I feel I have a lot of unfinished business in Piter but, if (when) I go back, it’ll be on a different basis.

So, here I am in China once more.

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The art of war and the science of victory

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One reason for taking my MBA in Singapore was that most of my fellow-students would be coming from India, China, and south-east Asia; I would be learning from them all kinds of invaluable cultural experiences and insights. That also happened in the classroom: as well as the normal MBA fodder taught in every business school everywhere, Nanyang Business School offered a course in Sun Zi’s Art of Strategy, taught brilliantly by Professor Wee Chow Hou, an authority on the application of Sun Zi’s insights to business strategy and management.

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Thought provocations

IMG_20140804_225459_0 The famous White Nights are over for this year, and it’s no longer light at midnight. The nights are lengthening rapidly: the sun is now shining through my apartment windows at 7:45am. Only ten days or so ago it was 4am, so this development pleases me mightily. It’s a reminder that things change very rapidly in St. Petersburg, and very soon we’ll be plunged into the sunless winter freeze.

A few nights ago I sat on a cafe terrace close to my apartment, and over the course of a couple of hours – and a couple of beers – saw the moon spin from the far left of the colonnade in front of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, up behind the dome, and down again to the far right of the colonnade. I don’t recall ever seeing the moon move through the sky so quickly. IMG_20140804_230019_0 Like the moon, world events are shifting quickly, but that’s for another post. Still, there’s time to take pleasure in higher things, like art, and interesting people. Continue reading

Globalisation no more

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One of my professional areas of interest is strategic analysis, which I’ve taught to undergraduates and postgraduates in universities in China and the UK.

The tools of strategic management can also be used by individuals, to help plan career directions, and to make significant life choices in an informed way. This is becoming essential; powerful forces of change are overtaking us, and we should all be planning and preparing.

The main issue is that the globalisation of the world economy, a process that’s been underway for almost thirty years now, has reached its limits. Indeed, it’s going into reverse, which is likely to have unpredictable and unpalatable consequences for its biggest beneficiaries: those of us who live in the West.

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A different perspective

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve been on the move. The lease on my Soviet-era flat in Primorskaya ran out, and I’ve moved into a new studio apartment right in the centre of historic St. Petersburg. The availability didn’t quite match, so I had to spend a couple of weeks living out of my suitcases in a temporary apartment in Dekabrovista Ulitsa, just around the corner from St. Isaac’s Cathedral. This is one reason why I haven’t posted any updates for a while – but not the only one! I’ve been setting up some online learning systems, and listening to what my students would like the world to know about their country…

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Skinhead Cossacks and juju warriors. Or: What a fine baby! I’ve killed two like him today.

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A female soldier walked up to Janice and admired Logosou. “Oh, what a fine baby!” she cooed. “I’ve killed two like him today.”

Recalling horrors in Liberia

In his 1994 essay “The Coming Anarchy”, Robert D. Kaplan predicted the spread of failing states and societies, a process driven by a combination of political, economic, social and environmental crises. He characterised the outcomes in a memorable phrase: “Skinhead Cossacks and juju warriors”:

Outside the stretch limo [ie the comfortable, guarded lives of the decreasing number of the affluent] would be a rundown, crowded planet of skinhead Cossacks and juju warriors, influenced by the worst refuse of Western pop culture and ancient tribal hatreds, and battling over scraps of overused earth in guerrilla conflicts that ripple across continents and intersect in no discernible pattern—meaning there’s no easy-to-define threat. Kennan’s [Cold War] world of one adversary seems as distant as the world of Herodotus.

In the decades since Kaplan wrote, disruptive forces have gathered momentum and have been joined by newer ones, such as instability in the financial sector. This is the first in a series of posts in which I want to explore the consequences, which I see as being:

1. the recent elections to the European Parliament, the crisis in Ukraine, and a number of other ongoing news stories are all symptoms of the same underlying crisis;
2. globalisation is finished, and the consequences are going to be difficult for Western nations;
3. and as a result, we in the West need to start thinking hard and thinking quickly about how we’re going to manage the fallout of these consequences.

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Weekly retrospective 18-05-2014

Last week was back to work after my holidays, never a pleasant experience.

What with one thing and another, I haven’t had time to do much exploring. The weather has turned very warm, and most business buildings have now turned their air-conditioning on.

Stepping out from a frosty air-con environment to feel hot sun and hot air is an experience that suddenly took me back a few years, to when I was delivering training at Nokia in Singapore – though St Petersburg’s air doesn’t have a ‘defining feature’ like the mingled smells of vegetation, incense, and food that I associate with Singapore, or the acrid tang of charcoal that will forever be for me the smell the Wudaokou chuan’r environment in Beijing.

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