Reason; as the supreme authority in matters of opinion, belief, or conduct

Category: Culture

“If there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do us no harm” – African Proverb


An unconvincing charade?

An unconvincing charade?

Simon Ostrovsky’s fearless efforts to bring us the truth in his correspondence from Ukraine have been highly commendable. His report after the recent checkpoint shooting was one of my favourites. It began by showing the two involved cars’ charred remains being transported away from the scene by pro-Russian forces. Bullet holes could be seen on the cars but why the evidence was burnt has of course not been explained. We were assured of the specifics (that favour Russia) by Sloviansk’s self-proclaimed mayor, Vacheslav Ponomarev.

It was Vacheslav who gave a colourful array of different explanations for Simon’s abduction. Like all his explanations, Vacheslav delivered preposterous stories – like that Simon was compiling a report on the SBU facilities from within – with the air of indifference and confidence that his watchers have become accustomed to. For me his demeanour is significant.

Ostrovsky is right, those ‘little green men’; the silent elite soldiers who are clearly in charge; they are the key. If we could see their documents, or their backgrounds, there might be a link to the Kremlin. Frankly their secrecy is enough. That aside, for me it would be astounding at this point if there wasn’t a connection to Russia. Internationally we need confirmation. Even more generally it’s fair to say that in the public sphere, tangible proof is essential. Of course this is great dismay to me personally. Logic alone is irrelevant.

I have watched Vacheslav Ponomarev closely in his public appearances. Wearing his tracksuit he stares people down provocatively, speaking of the repercussions awaiting journalists who ‘lie’. We may not have evidence of Russian forces’ involvement, but can we not learn enough from this man and his surrounding circumstances? This is not a man ‘yielding to the masses’, like we expect of our power-seeking politicians. What I mean is, there is no public facade here. There is no considering, no attempts to seduce public confidence. This is a man who clearly doesn’t feel he needs to be popular, which is the primary objective of most politicians. So why not?

As he dishes out his threats – and they are threats if they’re anything at all – he may betray the power behind him. Vacheslav probably hasn’t ever considered what would make his performance convincing, and I would argue that the absence of attempts to even appear a legitimate politician, to the extreme of such abandon; well to me that suggests he does not fear for the security his power. It is certainly consistent with him being a puppet politician installed as an arm of a higher body.

He seems a thug. Of all his former graces, if you told me conflict or espionage was one I wouldn’t exactly recoil in shock. If he is secret service then the power that might have been the irresistible draw into that line of work in the first place, has left him so brazen now that his illegitimacy is, I would argue, to anyone of any discern obvious. Who could possibly be fooled by this?

I know this is a juvenile fantasy, but I just wish I could be in some of these public showings to ask a few questions of my own. Am I alone in wishing the truth would be put to these people in more glaring terms? Of course, I would love to ask Putin himself if he regrets that Ponomarev is so bad at pretending to be a real politician. But most of all I would have liked to be in one of Vacheslav’s public appearances during Simon Ostrovsky’s detention. “Vacheslav,” I would have enquired, “I don’t know if you are a fan of psychology – I’m an amateur enthusiast – but if you are, I wonder if you ever consider how your actions appear to the outside? You have locked up Simon on the grounds that he was reporting lies, but if they were lies he wouldn’t have been a threat to you. If they were lies, you could have shown us the truth and his credibility would be on the table instead of yours – and your credibility is on the table, let me tell you. The only reason you would detain a journalist is because they are approaching what is for you a dangerous truth. A truth that you are attempting to occlude.”

In recent weeks we have seen more that is hard to digest: A column of APCs, allegedly in Western Russia, that was too long to record reasonably in one video (we can’t confirm that they were full, where they were, or even when the video was recorded); A rally in Donetsk supporting Ukrainian unity, of around 2000 people, was attacked by baseball-bat wielding pro-Russian ‘separatists’; Putin continues to maintain that the only legitimate political position in Ukraine is the pro-Russian movement, and that the intolerable interference from outside will be any that undermines them. Everything points to some hybrid between a clandestine invasion of Ukraine and the engineering of a situation where Russia will claim they have no option but to intervene.

The irony for me is who can throw the first stone? Bull shit is what all these polticians deal in and Putin’s position is no weaker than the positions of other world leaders on any number of intolerable issues. But where will it go next? Can Putin really continue this? Is his pride now a dangerous component? None of us can believe this could lead to large-scale conflict, but what if Russian troops crossed the border? For now, we can only watch. And until evidence shows Russia’s complicity, any opinion can be argued as influentially as the truth.


TED talk: Harish Manwani: Profit’s not always the point


For humanity to unify in our democratic systems and overcome the obstacles that we face in the coming decades and centuries, we will need two things: Education of our own fallibility and, more generally, of humans and the world around will mean we will be better positioned to elect ethical leaders. And secondly, leadership itself is key. Whoever we elect will need to make difficult decisions, and we will need people of great character to make those decisions. People who can take responsibility and lead from the front. Harish Manwani, in this TED talk, sets the kind of example our leaders should be making.

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in” -Greek proverb

A politician… and a good human too?


During his life I turned to Nelson Mandela as the near solitary example of a politician who had made it to the political elite without conceding ground on his personal ethics. Most of his counterparts raced feverishly into a land of dangerous and condemnable solipsism that they then scratch and bite at each other in; in contention of power and personal well being. Mandela had the mental fortitude to stand against the misdirection, lies, sensationalizing and character smearing that are the weapons of choice for the corrupt and hollow men and women that comprise the political average. As far as I see it, the ‘leaders’ of our world fall immeasurably short of leading their people. In democratic systems it takes great character to lead, to be willing to do what you think is right in those common circumstances where that move will damage your personal popularity. It is the quality of a leader and a great person to be able to put your brothers and sisters before yourself. To the question of why politics can be so empty of strong, good people, I need only say that firstly the truth is never as influential as what people want to hear, and secondly most good people don’t want a career of dirty, underhanded and ruthless fighting. The type of infantile squabbling I have been happy, in my own life, to have left in my primary school playground.

But with the passing of one rare beacon of light in this darkest of lands, I have become aware of another. Jose Mujica, Uruguay’s humble President, seems to be a man who is ready to do what is required, a man who is willing to lead his people; to lead from the front. A man who seems to be trying to see and do what he can discern as right. I am happy that after the passing of the greatest example of what most politicians fail to be, we have at least one other leader of conscience. It seems we have at least one repudiation to the tyranny of the selfish and unwise men and women who claw their way to our elected positions of power.


“When everything is beautiful, nothing is Beautiful” – Stanley Kubrick

“It is all very well, such leaders being persons with a superior understanding of the necessities of life who have brought themselves under control so far as their own libidinal desires are concerned. However, there is a risk so far as they are concerned that, in order to retain their influence, they will yield to the mass more than the mass yields to them…” – Sigmund Freud from ‘The Future of an Illusion’

Famous last words

Famous last words

“And so I leave this world, where the heart must either break or turn to lead” – Nicolas-Sebastien Chamfort, his last words before his death in 1794.

An assortment of quite interesting last words spoken or written by some famous names:


The 6th and the 9th of August… 1945

The 6th and the 9th of August… 1945

The detonation of atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, three days apart at the end of the first week of August 1945, were fine examples of the brazen disregard for civilian suffering that characterises war of all kinds, and that is independent of nationality. Two years later Japan’s people would endorse a new constitution that prohibited war, and today are one of the world’s most forward-thinking cultures.

Reading in detail about the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki reveals a great tragedy to be more adorned with horror than we might dare to guess. The death toll of either event is split into two categories; immediate deaths and deaths after the fact, mainly from radiation poisoning, burns or cancer. Looking at Just Hiroshima, for example, the immediate death toll was 70,000 and estimates of total death toll suggest 100,000 – 200,000. What still lingers in my mind since I first read about these events is that ‘immediate’ includes a period of 24 hours after detonation.

The closest known survivor, to the point exactly under where the bomb was detonated, 600m above the city, was Eizo Nomura. Living on into his eighties, Eizo was in the basement of a concrete building just 170m from the point below the centre of the blast in Hiroshima.


Unit 731

In the dark basement archives that detail the history of unethical medical trials it is important to remember that even from the countries or cultures without notable documented cases it would hardly constitute a challenge to find equally distinguishable breaches of ethics, if not perhaps in the name of medical science.

I have to give the introduction above to feel that I am not being unfair to post here the example of perhaps the most shocking single case of atrocious medical research that emerged from a country with a cultural history at least as interesting and rich as any I have come across. Unit 731 was a research facility under the control of the Imperial Japanese Army between 1935 and 1945 in an area of north-eastern China under Japanese control.