Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

New projects, new horizons

Hello, all you phenomenal followers of Polygonic, who’ve put up with both my obtuse rants and my long, long silences with absolute aplomb. Your stamina and support bends my actual mind.Image

I wanted to just update you on new projects (and, as the title suggests, new horizons as well… well, they were, at least last year…!)

Rather than blogging about politics lately, which seem to deteriorate into farce with or without me, I’ve been turning my attentions to writing about something I’m feeling more inspired by – travel.

Late last year, I undertook a long overland rail trip (and bus trip… and Lada trip…) from Hong Kong to London, passing through the Chinese provinces of Guangxi, Yunnan, Sichuan, Gansu and Xinjiang, before heading out to Kyrgyzstan, over to Uzbekistan, on through Kazakhstan and into southern Russia, before zipping back through Europe and beautiful (to me) Brixton, South London.

And I’m writing all about it! 

Which leaves me with two updates for you…. one is that Polygonic remains my politics blog for when the mood (typically one of exasperation and fury) strikes, but my blog specifically for the travelogue is A Eurasian Diary. It’s also on WordPress, and will feature the occasional pretty photo from the trip, videos, and excerpts from the book so far. And, on extraordinarily special occasions, poems about football.

The other update is that I’ve also got a pretty comprehensive photo album for the trip up on Flickr. Photos are organised by region, and are all annotated for your viewing pleasure…. Come and enjoy your face off.

With the book, I’m at roughly the halfway point, and I’ll eventually e-publish the completed version around August this year (all things going to plan!). But if you’d like to keep track of all that malarkey, read excerpts, or otherwise just witness my descent into rambling, head-up-arse, self-publishing pseudo-maniac, please do keep a note of the other blog, come say hi, and even sign up. Would be great to keep y’all on board.

Thanks folks 🙂 

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Filed under: Politics, , , , , , , , ,

Old Entish Soldier

Old Entish Soldier

Along the base of Emeishan in Sichuan Province, a network of forest trails connect temples, pavilions, and spots of tranquil contemplation (despite the heaving crowds!). This solitary figure continues to stand tall – though the tree has died, it’s a home to lots of other new life.

Filed under: Politics, , , , , , , , , ,

The emperor’s new clothes: North Korea keeps on marching

Sometimes, you just want to give them a hug.

Pyongyang put on this earnest show of transparency around its rocket launch, inviting foreign journalists into the heart of their futuristic Space Control Centres (SCCs).

Witness the marvels of our microcomputers and our, umm, extraordinarily large antennae!

It was one part quaint, one part chilling. The display was clearly designed to flummox Western voices that North Korea has something to hide, and, if lucky, to also alert the world as to the advanced state of North Korean spacefaring, and the military implications of that.

The problem with Pyongyang’s approach is that what they put on display was utter rubbish.

Watch this BBC video – seriously.

At 0:48, foreign journalists are shown the satellite itself – a locally-designed and constructed device to be launched as a spaceborne weather station. Look at it. Look at it. I am not exactly an engineer, but can we all agree that this is a 100W guitar amp with a tin can screwed to the top? Is one of those foil baubles meant to be a camera? Or some means of adjusting its trajectory? Somehow?

It really does appear to be something a precocious seven-year old might duct tape together in his dad’s workshop, and take to Show and Tell as his real, genu-wine, state-of-the-art weather satellite. So absorbed in his own delusions of imagined grandeur, he could not detect any of the snickers coming from around the class.

At 1:02, we are introduced to North Korea’s apparent Space Control Centre. You’d be forgiven for believing it instead to be the set from a community theatre’s stage production of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Cue big projection screen showing the rocket, awaiting its command! Cue about twelve scientist-folk looking studiously at Google Earth on their enormous computers!

I’m being ultra-glib. But they’ve earned glibness, haven’t they, and moreover, perhaps they will appreciate a candid critique of their offering? Room for improvement and all that?

The assumption among the North Korean hosts must have been that the visiting journalists (and the Western audiences they feed) are actually somehow quite comparable to their equivalents in North Korea itself – woefully undereducated and easily gobsmacked by technology that looks suspiciously like Robotix.

Perhaps their version of MI7 have gotten lazy, with the success of their internally-directed propaganda depending principally on the religiosity of its people, and not the sophistication of their messages. Perhaps it’s a fortunate irony that North Korea’s propagandists are themselves the product of the same propagandist educational system as the people they now propagandise – a feedback loop of loopiness that renders their narrative almost incomprehensible to foreign ears.

All of this serves to reinforce the Wizard of Oz aspect to Pyongyang’s military prowess. The bluster almost certainly magnifies actual capacity several-fold, and someone atop the KPA will have to know that the failures yesterday have exposed their bravado as somewhat unwarranted.

Unfortunately, they’ll seek to correct that – this embarrassment may shock North Korea into reasserting itself with a more tangible display of power. Whatever the delusion in Pyongyang that it can convince the world that it’s a military space-power, the real power they can wield is closer to Earth – firefights along the disputed maritime boundary would rattle markets, shake China’s image in Washington as a robust regional power, and create conditions for big powers to come back for more talks on more aid.

The emperor may have no clothes, but I suspect he knows it and does not mind it. Because there’s no telling what an angry, naked emperor might do next.

Filed under: International, Korea, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Out of Africa

It’s interesting seeing how Canada’s “principled leadership on the world stage” takes shape. One new angle is our apparent diplomatic abandonment of Africa.

From Ze Globe:

If it happens, the closing of the embassies in Africa could be coupled with the opening of new embassies or trade offices in higher-priority regions such as Asia and Latin America. The Harper government has focused much of its attention on the emerging middle-income countries in those two regions, which are seen as more logical trading partners for Canada.

As it is, we don’t even have a consulate in Cape Town – arguably Africa’s most international city, with a thriving blend of cultures, a booming economy, and the most favourable investment climate you could hope for. Canada just isn’t there. It’s like skipping the opening ceremonies at the Olympics. “Well, we thought our athletes might perform better with a bit of shut-eye.”

I’m in Africa three or four times a year with work (so, lemme tell ya, folks), and it seems to me that Cannon’s logic to focus on priority countries in Asia and Latin America comes across like a tragic love triangle. Chasing those who are chasing others.

What does he make of the fact that Asian and Latin American countries themselves are busy increasing their presence in Africa? The Brazilian presence there is extending well beyond the lusophone countries, and Chinese goods, employers, food and even language crop up in the most surprising places. In northern Ghana. In Cape Town. In big places like Nigeria and small places like Lesotho.

Cameroon, for instance. A bilingual country with franco and anglophone sides. Stable, peaceful, well resourced, and a window into francophone Central Africa (where we might have had a peacekeeping role in the DRC if we weren’t wintering in Kandahar and sole-sourcing unusuable fighter jets). It’s a perfectly natural place for Canada to want to engage closely. If we close our embassy there, though, we are closing so many doors it isn’t funny. China’s foreign policy is smart, if ruthlessly so, as evidenced by their heavy and growing presence there.

The Chinese and Brazilians are increasing their muscle in Africa because they see huge opportunities for growth – both economically and diplomatically. Africa’s economic growth in 2011 is pegged for 5%, which actually compares favourably against forecasts for Latin America and G20-hosting Asian tigers like South Korea.

There remains huge gaps in Brazil’s or China’s or other BRICS ability to couple investment with humanitarian and development aid, but they will work towards it to gain influence – all the easier for them when countries like Canada make way.

Ottawa’s recently one-dimensional strategy to “engage the BRICS powers” has merits. It’s very Ignatieffien, actually. But if you want clues as to how and why the amazing, incredible Brazils, Chinas, and Indias of the world are increasing their global influence, you see it in their steady engagement across Africa. Does Cannon think they’re stupid? Or maybe they’re onto something?

Filed under: Africa, Canada, International, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Twist my rubber arm

Norman Spector today points out that Hu Jintao and Stephen Harper met amicably in Toronto today, though had no press conference, no questions from reporters, no official presentation of themselves to the public to make anything resembling a joint statement of friendship etc. etc.

Rationale being that the Chinese delegation were not going to countenance any press gallery that included the Epoch Times. Harper’s PMO, looking to make up for some serious lost ground in kowtowing to the Middle Kingdom, thus agreed that no presser would be forthcoming.

Believable enough, but PMO spokesman Dmitri Soudas appeared suspiciously eager to note his regret that there was no press conference.

“On our side, we would have been more than happy to answer a few questions from reporters,” he said.

Sorry, but pull the other one. Since when has the PMO ever been anything but loathesome when it comes to answering questions from reporters?

I’m certain that, if there’s anything Harper and Hu can agree on, it’s a mutual disdain for facing a free press. Not that the new Sun News will much resemble Xinhua in ideology, of course…

Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, , , , ,

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