Indulgent self-reflection

I left home almost 10 years ago. Realizing that made me more introspective than usual, so if you'll allow me a bit of 'me-me-me,' here it is.

My first and biggest lesson was that I'm not actually that dark-skinned. I lived for a few good years with that illusion, spending way too much time outside in the sun, mostly on the basketball court. Then I went to university and after a few months under the grey English skies I realized my real color is what some would call a Casper White, or simply just translucent. 

More seriously, I learned (too slowly) over time how easy it is to lose relationships from a distance, not by design but through inaction. You don't see a friend for months, then you visit home and make plans but something comes up or you're too tired and reschedule; you do this a couple of times and next thing you know it's been a year or two or more and you have one more acquaintance and one fewer friend. 

That's because life goes on no matter what little adventures you create for yourself. Being halfway across the globe from family and close friends forces you to grow, and grow quickly. But life back home goes on without you: people form new relationships, people fall ill, people die. And you're forced to handle all of that from a distance or deal with the shock upon return. But the world won't stand still for you, and that can be a tough lesson but an absolutely necessary one because it forces you to reassess your relationships and define exactly what and and who is important to you.

Years ago I would say to myself that traveling and moving around is great because it allows you to meet like-minded people in far away places. Now I believe the real value is that it allows you to meet and connect with people who aren't like-minded, and these relationships are the ones that change your perspective the most. 

What I still haven't managed to do is live more for others, be less egotistic and solipsistic, but that's one of the many things I believe is worth striving towards.

And that's that on the 'me me me' front. 

Putin boasts about the size and capability of his missiles

Today, Putin gave his early ‘state of the nation’ address. Over a few good hours Putin talked about achievements and plans to “strengthen democracy” and prosperity, pledged to halve poverty in Russia over the next six years, and said the country has to double the amount it spends on infrastructure. Most notably, some 30 minutes were dedicated to talking about Russia’s nuclear capabilities and how it is developing missiles that would bypass the US’s missile defence system.

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Notes on Anglo-Americanism

Today, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions thanked sheriffs as a defining institution in the “Anglo-American heritage.”

I want to thank every sheriff in America. Since our founding, the independently elected sheriff has been the people's protector, who keeps law enforcement close to and accountable to people through the elected process," Sessions said in remarks at the National Sheriffs Association winter meeting, adding, "The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement." [source]

Slip of the tongue or otherwise, his use of the term reflects a particular worldview as he is evoking the image of America today as reflecting the character and whiteness of the first colonists, who later came to be referred to as WASP.

It was this self-helping race of Englishmen that matched their wits against French official schemes in America. We may see the stuff they were made of in the Devonshire seamen who first attempted the permanent settlement of the new continent. For a time all that was most characteristic of the adventurous and sea-loving England was centered in Devonshire. Devonshire lies in the midst of that group of counties in the southwest of England in which Saxon ancestry did least to destroy or drive out the old Celtic population. There is accordingly a strong strain of Celtic blood among its people to this day; and the land suits with the strain. Its abrupt and broken headlands, its free heaths and ancient growths of forests, its pure and genial air, freshened on either hand by the breath of the sea, its bold and sunny coasts . . .

The author, Woodrow Wilson, wrote the above in his 5-volume work, A History of the American People, published in 1902. His classification excluded most European populations, and on that he wrote about an 1890 census which taxonomized the population of the US quite bitterly:

Immigrants poured steadily in as before, but with an alteration of stock which students of affairs marked with uneasiness. Throughout the century men of the sturdy stocks of the north of Europe had made up the main strain of foreign blood which was every year added to the vital working force of the country, or else men of the Latin-Gallic stocks of France and Northern Italy; but now there came multitudes of men of the lowest class from the South of Italy and men of the meaner sort out of Hungary and Poland, men out of the ranks where there was neither skill nor energy nor any initiative of quick intelligence; and they came in numbers which increased from year to year, as if the countries of the south of Europe were disburdening themselves of the more sordid and hapless elements of their population.

In other words, countries were not sending over their best and brightest, if they were even capable of producing quality individuals. As Christopher Hitchens succinctly puts it:

[Wilson’s] objection was to the dilution of Anglo-Saxondom. This confusion, between America’s need for labor and the revulsion of the Protestant Establishment toward certain kinds of immigrant, has taken many forms down the years. But whether it is an objection to Jews, Catholics, Chinese, Japanese, lumpen elements, or fifth columnists, it has always had some bearing on the Anglo-American “special relationship.” [source]

For what it’s worth, on the other side of the Atlantic there was considerable agreement in this respect:

In a memo to the British War Cabinet in late 1917, Sir Robert Cecil kept up the great tradition of his family’s arrogance by writing: “If America accepts our point of view . . . it will mean the dominance of that point of view in all international affairs.” He added that “though the American people are very largely foreign, both in origin and in mode of thought, their rulers are almost exclusively Anglo-Saxons, and share our political ideals.” It might seem unfair to make someone even as senior as Cecil into a representative figure (when cautioned by the American ambassador to remember the Boston Tea Party, he replied with composure that he had never been to Boston, nor graced a tea party in that fair city), but he was not unrepresentative either. In his regard for the trinity of blood, ruling class, and empire he took a standard Anglo-Saxon position.

It was at the beginning of the 20th century that Anglo-Saxondom was becoming something more like what Mr. Session was evoking above.

By mutation through war and overseas commitment, the old Anglo-Saxondom had in fact turned into a whitish version of “America First,” with a generally less sentimental attitude toward “the old country” except when rhetoric might by occasion demand otherwise.

There's of course a lot more history behind the term, but this is the essence, the hard core of what the US Attorney General invoked today. 

 

 

 

Lebron fatigue, 2017 edition

It's still early in the NBA season but it's becoming clear who the MVP candidates are, with some impressive all around performances from Harden, Lebron, Antetokounmpo, and Westbrook. It's becoming even more clear that Lebron is not past his prime: going strictly by the numbers, he is having his best season yet since he started 14 (!) years ago.

He is averaging 28.3 points, 8.7 assists, and 8.3 rebounds per game. He has an offensive efficiency rating that ranks 2nd-highest in his career. And his shooting percentage has been an unreal 57.6%, with a just-as-unreal 42% from three - a career best and a dramatic improvement in arguably his weakest spot. His effective field goal percentage (63.0%) and true shooting percentage (65.8%) are also career-bests. The last Cavs game, against Atlanta, Lebron put up 25/17/7 on 85% shooting.

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And yet, even if he keeps this up, we can easily expect the award to be handed to James Harden or Russell Westbrook or maybe even Kyrie Irving if the Celtics finish at #1 in the East. And that's because every year Lebron-fatigue kicks in: while there has been a near-consensus in the past few years that Lebron James is the best basketball player on the planet, the last time he won the MVP was in 2013. You can make the case for the comparative advantage that other recipients have had (e.g. Curry during 2 monster seasons for the Warriors), but it still remains baffling that the best player on the planet did not also win MVP. After 4 awards, we've become tired of giving it to Lebron again, no matter how good he is.

He's now 33, an age at which most other players are already depleted or retired, and putting up career-best numbers on a championship-contending team, after losing his sidekick over the summer. While the Cavs depth is nothing to sneer at this year, they lack the second scoring/playmaking option that they had in Irving last year, so there is that much more for James to do.

Perhaps it's worth remembering that Michael Jordan was only beginning his second 3-peat run at the age of 33. We are witnessing similar sports history these days and we should not take it for granted.

Alabama the Beautiful and the not-so-Beautiful

I woke up to some surprisingly good news this morning, as Alabama's voters elected Doug Jones as their Senator. A lot of joy and enthusiasm all around, which some looked to temper by pointing out that some 75% of white men and 65% of white women still voted for racist, antisemite, and alleged pedophile Roy Moore.

True, but this is after all Alabama, a state firmly in the Red camp since 1997 when Jeff "I do not recall" Sessions took office. It's as close to a political miracle as you will see. If you don't know what I mean, just watch this short video of a focus group consisting of Roy Moore supporters and it'll click. 

The more interesting development is that the vote, which was won by some 20.000 ballots, was carried by Alabama's black community, about which we hear each election cycle that it does not turn out to vote. It seems that, while the good white folks down there did not see much of a problem with Roy Moore, for black people he was scary enough. In fact, exit polls suggested black voters constituted 28% of total voters, higher than the 26% share of the state population, and they voted over 90% for Moore's opponent. 

This is encouraging for the Democrats but it should also serve as a wake up call that they can't continue to look at black voters as a resource to tap into every election cycle, and instead work on policies that genuinely help the community if they want to retain such levels of support. They should also campaign in places in which they assume they stand no chance, in other words follow the Obama model of campaigning as opposed to the Clinton one.

On the demographic point I should note without any pretense of originality that Steve Bannon's brand of conservatism has tapped into the rotten core of white resentment and victimhood. While it did not produce results yesterday, the uncomfortable truth is that America is changing and this change is at the heart of America's new reactionaries. White people will soon no longer be the majority and this change will mean that white sense of victimhood will only grow over the next decades. Trump, Bannon, and Moore are harbingers of something much more visceral and aggressive to come in White America.

Let's talk food...

Food is one of the main ways I keep alive the memories I make wherever I go. I made friends over bowls and plates of food. In Japan I learned how much more there is to Japanese cuisine than just raw fish over rice. Some of my favorite and least favorite dishes are below. Holidays are coming and I will at some point in the near future add a similar post about Romanian food which is all kinds of different, but for now you can drool over Japanese food.

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Don't drink the poison

If the world we live in was a TV show, it's safe to say this would be the point where the different plot lines would come together because the show has dragged on for far too long already, it's getting ridiculous at times, and the writers need to find a way to wrap it all up.

Two absolutely stunning stories today, for instance. The first one involved Slobodan Praljak, one of 6 former Bosnian Croat leaders to face charges from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. In 2013 he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in the Bosnian War of 92-95. Today, the judges upheld the sentence. As they announced it, Praljak stood up, declared he was not a war criminal, that he rejects the court's ruling, and then proceeded to drink from a small glass which he then said was poison. He was carried out to the hospital and was later pronounced dead. 

The second story involved everyone's favorite reality TV show host, Donald Trump. Acting in character for someone allegedly called a "fucking moron" by his Secretary of State, Trump retweeted unverified anti-Muslim videos from a known UK fascist leader from Britain First. 

Now what strenuous connection am I about to make between the two, you ask?

In the 1990's Yugoslavia descended into all-out ethnic war, but in the 1980's no one truly saw it coming. Tito, everything else about him aside, worked to paper over ethnic divisions and grievances during his presidency as a means of solidifying his rule, while Milosevic did the exact opposite and exacerbated these grievances in order to take power. The latter's use of the media was a key element which helped produce disaster.

The author of a key piece of expert evidence in the Milosevic trial stated at the time that "without the media, and especially without television, war in the former Yugoslavia is inconceivable," specifically Milosevic's use of the Serbian state media to create an atmosphere of fear and hatred among Serbs by spreading "exaggerated and false messages of ethnically based attacks by Bosnian Muslims and Croats against Serb people." [source

Milosevic began his efforts to control media in 1986-87, finishing the process in the summer of 1991: "The media offensive launched by Belgrade contributed to the appearance of equally detestable propaganda in other Yugoslav republics and its after-effects would be felt for years," according to the report which quoted former Reuters Sarajevo correspondent Daniel Deluce. "In Serbia specifically, the use of media for nationalist ends and objectives formed part of a well-thought through plan - itself part of a strategy of conquest and affirmation of identity," said the report. [source]

Today, far too many people (most notably pundits and analysts) ignore just how dangerous the Trump effect on American society is. White resentment is what propelled him to the White House. To this day he has not carried out any of his major campaign promises such as starting a trade war with China or pulling out of NATO or any of the other stupid ideas he spewed, because his base does not particularly care about those. That's how he was able to put bankers in charge of the economy and get away with it. His only accomplishments have been playing the media (something at which he is admittedly VERY good) and exploiting his most ardent followers' sense of grievance. Everything he says or tweets suggests (or shouts) that white America is under siege, that the system is rigged in favor of black people, that Mexicans and Muslims pose an existential threat to the country. A presidential bid which arguably started when Trump began questioning the first black president's nationality has turned into a dangerous presidency predicated almost exclusively on race baiting and dog whistles. (more on this in Adam Serwer's excellent long essay in The Atlantic - The Nationalist's Delusion)

The damage Trump is doing to American society will not go away after he's out of the office. The US is not Yugoslavia, but it's hard to see anything good coming out of the current president's flirting with white nationalism.

Put me down as one of the pessimists if you must. But these days we commemorate Srebrenica and take note of Ratko Mladic's sentence, we see Slobodan Praljak evade justice, and America is drinking the poison that Trump is feeding it. At least let's draw the right lessons from one of the most horrid episodes in our history. For whatever good that will do us.

Being Romanian

First off, I have absolutely no intention of drawing a sociological or psychological profile of all Romanians. However, more and more lately I've been asking myself: "In what ways am I really Romanian?" Next year, the country celebrates 100 years of existence in its current form. I have no doubt many of us will come out to explain with more or less pathos how proud we are. That is not my intention here. Below I try to make sense of the question for my own sake.

I am also writing this in English because, as confused as we are, foreign audiences are even more baffled. If you are not a proud descendant of Rome and Dacia, this will either confuse you further or bring you one step closer to enlightenment. Let me know which.

  • I distinctly remember the look of dread of my grandmother's face when I sheepishly told her that I don't think I believe on God and all that. We were watching an absolutely forgettable TV program on the subject and I must've been around 12. Her reaction and subsequent mumbling told me a lot about how important the Orthodox Church is to Romanian identity, especially for older generations. I don't get to tick that box.
  • Years later, I moved to Japan and very early on I came to the realization that most natives hadn't a clue what Romania / ルーマニア was (more on Japan's literal and figurative insularity some other time). I had to explain that it was a country, and that it was a country in Europe, and that we don't speak English over there, and other things of this nature. It was unbelievably liberating. Before this I had lived in England and the Netherlands, countries where my tribe's reputation is not the best. I often felt I had to overcome certain first impressions I made by announcing my place of birth. No, we're not all thieves, yes we speak foreign languages rather well thank you very much, and so on. Whereas with no preconceptions of Romanians I felt freer in a country halfway across the world where I didn't speak the language. There is definitely some lesson in here but I haven't yet managed to find it. 
  • Another constant in my interstellar journey as a Romanian is that I've always hated domestic politics with a passion, but never managed to fully detach myself from it. Not matter how close I get to saying "I'm done", I always come back for more. Maybe because of masochism (defining national trait?), but more importantly because there was always an inkling of hope that things might get better, that one day the country might overcome its tradition of cronyism and poor governance and develop, becoming European in the true sense of the word. This spirit of aspiration in the millions who are willing to take to the streets to protest for a better government is without a doubt European.
  • Speaking of poor governance and cronyism - is Romania a Balkan country? There was a time when I would've answered "no" with a certain amount of indignation. In the meantime I've gotten to know the Balkans a bit better and I feel a certain sense of brotherhood with Croatians, Bosnians et al: along with notable flaws, we share traditions, we eat the same food and drink the same booze and in quantities which defy reason, and at our best we can embrace outsiders with a warmth and passion which I've rarely seen anywhere else. If there's no place in our European identity for that, I'm not sure I want it.

I have other thoughts on this, but none fully baked. I'll leave it at that for now. 

Andrei starts writing (again)

Why (another) blog reboot?

When I first started using a blog, I was still a student. I wrote exclusively about international politics and security not just because it interested me, but also because that's what I was studying. I could fill my days with books and journal articles and manage to produce some half-coherent words. 

Nowadays I don't have that luxury, and as I recently tried to restart the old blog it quickly became obvious to me that I couldn't sustain it. I'm still interested in many of the same things and I still enjoy writing and reading, so this new iteration of 'Andrei writes stuff' is the solution I came up with: I'll continue to write, just not exclusively about world politics. 

Exactly what kind of 'andreisms' can you expect to find here? 

  • Travel notes and photos. I am rarely happier than when I am on the move, and a happy Andrei tends to be creative. We'll see.
  • Food. I'll do my absolute best not to turn this into another form of Instagram, but I enjoy reading about food and the history of food about as much as I enjoy eating said food. 
  • Basketball, probably the most serious topic for me out of all of these.
  • Notes and thoughts on whatever book I am reading at the moment (it's Two Years Eight Months & Twenty-Eight Nights currently, in case you're wondering)
  • Video games because apparently being a dork is no longer socially stigmatizing.
  • Some current/world affairs will inevitably sneak in.

Oh and I also switched to Squarespace because I was curious about it and it's super neat.