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.

One of the classes I teach is in-company at a large Russian bank. It’s a great group, all of whom are very smart and very ambitious. We were discussing the Victory Day event of the previous week, and they asked me: how much do people in the West know about the Soviet contribution in the Second World War? It was rather embarrassing to admit that it’s really not very much.

We in the UK have our national myth of the plucky little island standing alone, and the US has its own narrative that we’re all familiar with from Hollywood and TV series like Band of Brothers – but the war on the Eastern front isn’t taught in schools, and is generally unknown.

The truth of the matter is that the fighting in the USSR was far more savage than anything that happened on the Western Front. The Germans pursued a policy of ethnic cleansing and mass murder that simply didn’t happen in the West. Belorussia in particular suffered terribly. The Soviet film Come And See depicts an event that happened all too regularly; the scriptwriter fought in Belorussia as a partisan, and much of the film depicts things that he saw happening for real. This clip is pretty brutal; don’t watch it if you’re easily upset.

As I’ve discussed several times on my other blog, memories of these experiences are still strong in contemporary Russia – though as the wartime generation fades away, there is concern that younger Russians are losing touch with the sacrifices of the past.

Apart from that, there are some big stories building in the wider world, and gradually getting more attention in the mainstream media. These stories are going to change all of our lives in one way or another.

The first is the drought in the US. The impact of this is going to be enormous, and yet nobody seems to be talking about it. The effects are going to be global, though. It’s going to cause rising food prices around the world, boosted by other problems, and that’s going to increase instability – quite possibly tipping more countries into unrest or even collapse.

Also on the looming food crisis:

  • This blog is a bit too shrill for my liking, but he does a good job of aggregating stories. There’s a lot to read in this post about rising meat and seafood prices.
  • In the US, Vermont has passed a law mandating the labelling of GM products. Monsanto has launched a lawsuit to stop it happening. I guess they’re worried about ‘consumer choice’.

Where could the vastly wealthy and powerful US agriculture lobby access fertile land to replace the dying Californian soil? Oh yes, Ukraine. I’ve read a couple of good articles on the Ukraine crisis recently:

Moving closer to home, this is an interesting perspective on how Wales might be catapulted into independence if the Scots vote Yes in their forthcoming referendum. Personally, I think it would be wonderful to see Wales independent; it can’t come soon enough. An article has been circulating on how Scots have “been dying of a broken heart”, based on the dramatic increase on ill-health in Scotland over recent decades. The article suggests that this is due to Scots being marginalised in the UK, by an overwhelmingly dominant English culture that has different values and is contemptuous when it even bothers to think of the Scots. I can’t help noting, though, that the same charts show similar health issues in the Welsh-speaking heartlands, and likely for the same reasons.

I’d like to end on a positive note: Rob Hopkins writes about setting up a positive feedback relationship between two local companies: a micro-brewery and a mushroom farm.

Unfortunately, I can’t. This article makes me seethe at the waste of irreplacable resources on a vast and ongoing scale. If ever an article showed how stupid, wasteful, and short-sighted our society has become, it’s this one: Where old cars go to die.

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