Czar Vladimir Echoes Czar Nicolas

Nicholas’s answer was filled with grievances against the West. Nicholas shared Pogodin’s sense that Russia’s role as the protector of Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire was not understood and that Russia was unfairly treated by the West. Nicholas especially approved of the following passage:[31]

France takes Algeria from Turkey, and almost every year England annexes another Indian principality: none of this disturbs the balance of power; but when Russia occupies Moldavia and Wallachia, albeit only temporarily, that disturbs the balance of power. France occupies Rome and stays there several years during peacetime: that is nothing; but Russia only thinks of occupying Constantinople, and the peace of Europe is threatened. The English declare war on the Chinese, who have, it seems, offended them: no one has the right to intervene; but Russia is obliged to ask Europe for permission if it quarrels with its neighbour. ….. We can expect nothing from the West but blind hatred and malice….

[Comment in the margin by Nicholas I: ‘This is the whole point’.]

“The Long History of Russian Whataboutism”


Karl Nesselrode

More Thoughts on Aikido

An open runnIng page with comments  inspired by my tentative return to the practice of akido after 17 years. For context, see my earlier Thoughts on Aikido


There is a r-shirt which reads, “Touch me and your first lesson in aikido is free”.

This is decidedly not the public ideology  of aikido. But it does reflect some of the underlying passive-aggressive emotion whch is part of its pacific stance toward the world. The reason it remans plausible for aikido to claim it is an ethicslly different martial art is that all of the techniques start sith, indeed cannot occur without someone touching another persn,in ghe strong sense of the word ‘touching’,: hitting,, grabbing, assaulting with a weapon.. 


Aikido is spun off from Japanese feudalism and part of its attraction is that it enables us to retrieve, if only within the comparative safety of the dojo, the sense of nobility among equals samurai or budo warriors practiced.

Outside of the dojo things are, alas,  much more democratic.


When I suggested to a Russian-speaking resident of Odessa, now definitively Ukrainian, a friend with whom I practice aikido, that both sides in the current war might look to the lessons of aikido, he replied, yes, but unfortunately Putin’s preferred martial art is judo.

What this might mean can be seen in an excerpt from Paul Wildish, Principles of Aikido: p. 63:

[The difference between aikido and]  judo and other jujitsu styles, is that in the latter, uke [the attacker] is most often held down on his back by the weight and pressure of nage’s [the defender’s] body on top of him,  restricting his movement and ease of breathing..

To supplement these physical hold downs there is a sophisticated range of choking  and strangling techniques designed to cut off the supply of blood to the brain and ultimately bring unconsciousness.  This requires considerable exertion  on both nage and uké’s part and is a contination of the close grappling character of judo on the floor.

Aikido has discarded this element of classical jujitsu or judo techique from its curriculum, eschewing any grappling or contention on the floor, [relying] instead on techniques that can be applied from a standing or kneeling position to keep uke pinned face down to the floor.

Not clear what this metaphor means in terms of the Russo-Ukrainian war, except that after three months of less-than-successful engagement Putin, a black belt in judo, has decided to draw his adversary into a ground game.







Unedited Winter Musings

19 January;

[Musical discussion] All of these are beyond my non-existent abilities.

Which does reminds me of an anecdote.
My year in Paris in 1972-3 coincided with a sabbatical of a Montreal friend, Jean-Eudes Vaillancourt, who was a pianist and director, and who had some high-falutin’ friends in the Paris musical world, among them the trumpetist André Bernard.
I ended up often in the presence of professional musicians. Always, when introduced, I’d get asked what instrument I played, the presumption being that I too was a musician. I’d always tell the truth, that I was a humble autodidact on the guitar, but continue on that I was an amateur, in the original sense of the world. A lover.
One memorable response: Mais, monsieur, sans les amateurs, nous autres, on jouera seul sans public. On a besoin de vous. On vous aime.

[9 Jan]

Dear P,

If the Neph’s ambition is Theatre Production, even a perfect Iranian candle wil not be able to help him meet Heather’s hopes ;-).

That snarky remark notwithstanding, congrats to all. You are certainly right that said nephew would never have gotten a job in his chosen field in the US (bcuz race), just as my entire career as a Africanist became possble because I went back to Canada. And was in the French playpen. This is something I say brazenly round here, usually to a yawn.

As for the NYR of Books, no need to bring me further evidence of its cliches and stereotypes, which reflect those of its “Yankee” left-liberal readers, a population which is addicted to buzzwords. One thing John has right in his anti-woke screed is that sticks-and-stones approach to “persuading” the enemy is destined to fail.

We are all racist in one way or another, even with members of another race whom we happen to love (one of Baldwin’s great insights). Those who are or have become invidious, violent racists (of which there may well be less and less in actual numbers), are not going to stop being violent or invidious because of this badge of honour being bestowed on them. Those who are marginally racist, wel, they are going to be offended and vote against their accusers.

There are, however, a few signs that Biden understands this: his decision to use positive messaging rather than negative messaging. But it is not worth pouring over the details.

I personally consider the whole thing to be so fundamentally fucked that it is barely worth the pixels. Ditto the French fiasco.

But I do have one minor correction of Zemmour’s bio, though I haven’t read and won’t Destin français. He hails from a Berber Jewish background, immigrated in the 50’s, would have spoken Yiddish, if he does at all, because of his frequentation with an Orthodox community.

A confession —  I admire and respect Haredi orthodox, Yiddish-speaking communities, who have à leur décharge in my mind the fact that they are anti-Zionist /

I am also pro-Berber, albeit only notionally, but at least I know they exist and that the Berber Jews were only a fraction of them. Below, a pik of Nasrin and me in touristy-Berber costume, as the behest of our wonderful guide Wahid. Two years ago.

As a Berber Jew, Zemmour comes by his islamophobia “organically”, trice-removed, as it were. It is typical of the pro-Zionist cultural community which is the target readership of the NYR to deny the serious splits in the world Jewish community.

As for Latinx, I speak and read Spanish, not as much as I would like, to be sure, but I’ve never seen or heard the word in mouth of anyone who is not a an academic. Kiss of death.

Tonorrow I’m making a Sicilian Frittata of cauliflower, garlic and anchovy.

That’s about it.

Cheers, George

[18 Dec]
J –

Passing this to you because of the Rimbaud reference, typical French lit bafflegab.
Now I wrote on Yambo Ouologuem, the putative Rimbaud stand-in, directly at least trice when I was active. And I exploited the Rimbaud motif in a review Yambo Ouologuem: Critical Essays, by Christopher Wise, Research in African Literatures, 31.1 (Spring 2001), 136-38. 
So I’ll leave off here, not to murk the waters.
Do note Sarr’s previous “gay” novel, which might be esp interesting from a queer perspective.
[4 Dec]
Dear P,
I’ve tried to retire the Guardian from my rotation, but have never succeeded, in part because it is the “tabloid of the soft Left”, as I once had the wit to call it. There is no other tribune for the Left, unfortunately. Maybe because there is no Left left.
Still prefer it to the the NYT and WaPo, despite its manifest BS / PC drivel. Yet calling Nina Hagen “punk” is a minor misdemeanor. She called herself such: I’m known as someone not particularly fond of (especially US) popular culture and music. But I “got” euro-punk in its time more than most, including many Americans.
See below for a pik of Ingrid doing Hagen during Fasching circa 2014. She was very special, loved singing Brecht and other oldies but goodies in Kraut. Even did a Kraut version of Girl from Ipanema, Das Girl von Innsbruck. We used to sing Dreigroschenopen together.
I share your disparagement of German pop music being too often in English. But I’ll give it to them over the French in this regard, since at least most Germans I know do know English well enough to sing along. Austrians, even more.
Recently subscribed to the Monde and …. to the South China Morning Post, my fav English language read, these days. Not to be provocative, but I am pro-China, and in many ways. Put that in your pipe ;-).
I share your discomfort with the follow-the-science litany, esp when “they” don’t follow it themselves. But note that your understanding of things is a scientific one.  No one should be surprised by the emergence of Omicron (“little O”), nor by the rest of the Greek alphabet. But while it is true that we won’t know what damage they will wreak, how things will work out, we do know what’s going on. It will not end with Omega (“big O”).
What rots my socks is that we love attributing “thinking” to viruses. Unless folks are willing to alter what they think thought is, viruses don’t think. They mutate. Sometimes it “works out for them”, sometimes not. Omicron is an example, it is already scientifically safe to say, in which it’s worked out for SARS-CoV2, in terms of various functions, esp transmissionability.
(Of course, maybe thought itself is just a series of mutations, of electro-chemical reactions ….)
Despite subscribing to Monde, I am not really interested in the elections. Zenmour will have the effect of re-electing little Macron, playing into his hands by shifting the elections to the right. Which is where Emmanuel belongs anyway.
But to open a can of anecdotal worms, let me take up your proposed topic of DeGaulle. To answer your question I’ll have to go back to my first full Sunday diner with a French family, sometime in October, 1965.
I didn’t move in with Helena until December, 1965 and we maintained the social fiction that we were not lovers thoroughout. Until that time, I was hot in pursuit of a young French thing I’ll call Gisèle (forgot her real name). Now I never saw Gisèle socially after Dec, though I was that point getting close to the big O. Heavy petting, FIV, etc. — smelt like clean shit. But she, like all French women for the rest of that year abroad, didn’t buy our story that Helena and I were sibling-like. She knew. Probably all the French boys, swarming around Helena like proverbial bees, knew but didn’t care. The fact that I was having my way with her only served to incite them further, since if that twerp Georges could, maybe they could too.
In any event, one indication that I was getting close was that Gisèle had me meet her family, who lived in the burbs of Grenoble. The father was a fine old chap. He vetted the shit out of me. Taught me pétoncle — err.. pétanque. Shared cognac with me.  But at that first Sunday diner, late luncheon it was actually, there was a row between him and his brother-in-law. I couldn’t believe it, arguing about a then century and a half old figure, so I asked Gisèle. I admit that most of the nuance of the luncheon debate did escape me at that point in my apprenticeship in French, but really, I had gotten the gist.
Gisèle, who in retrospect had keen insight, explained simply that they were arguing about DeGaulle and Algeria, but couldn’t quite say it. The Vercors, a mountanous plateau just west of Grenoble, had been a centre of the Resistance and families were still divided about that, but also about the conceivably treasonous choice of DeGaulle to decolonize Algeria. It took years before I heard reference again, even indirect, in bourgeois settings to Algeria.
I had been taken in hand by the local student Trotskistes, the only frogs I knew who were reliably friendly with foreigners. Several of them, who had an admitted impact on my slowly forming decision to resist the draft, had spent time in the brig for passing arms to the Algerians. But I also admired Malraux. My BA comp lit honours thesis was a comparison between Hemingway’s and Malraux’s take on the Spanish Civil War. And Malraux had gotten in bed with DeGaulle.

A mere three years later it was 1968. De Gaulle played his cards beautifully and France finished off the Trente Glorieuses intact. I would have despised the man, De Gaulle; he me. But I do have a certain respect for him. And admit that he harboured une certaine notion de la France, one which is widely shared. The way things are shaping up, it is will be shared even more.
Let me also admit, just to you, that I am tempted to espouse the French CP attitude, contra Sartre et al, that Algeria was France. And to wish for an alternative reality in which it might have stayed true.
Thanks for the follow-up on Big Ed and SHA. We’re all racing to the finish line.


Notes on Abdulrazak Gurnah

This is a stub. It will grow and change over time. 

Abdulrazak Gurnah won the Nobel for Literature for 2021.  I had never read him. Follows a potpourri of links and reading notes as I begin to do so, starting with his  1996 Admiring Silence.

Life’s like that, clinging futilely to the very objects that imprison us.
< Admiring Silence.


Recalling my 2000 piece, African Literatures in the year 2050, which will serve as an occasional frame-of-reference, in particular the concept of “novels of disillusionment”, which originally referred to works  from the second wave during the 1970s and which I explored further in Text, Identity, and Difference (1987). Also linking here Through a Prism Darkly, 1991 (pdf). and Jihad, Ijtihad and Other Dialogical Wars, 1996 (pdf), which were ground-breaking, ahem, pieces I wrote on Islam in African literature.


Ch 1

The tone of the first chapter of Admiring Silence reminds me of Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, the former reflecting the racism of the English and their immediate insular subjects, the latter the particularly vicious forms of it as practiced in the US.

Ch 2

“Gurnah integrates bits of Swahili, Arabic, and German throughout most of his writings. He has said that he had to push back against publishers to continue this practice, while they would have preferred to “italicize or Anglicize Swahili and Arabic references and phrases in his books.”[11] Gurnah has criticized the practices in both British and American publishing which want to “make the alien seem alien” by marking ‘foreign’ terms and phrases with italics or by putting them in a glossary.[11] < Wiki Gurnah:

Ch 3: Independence was quickly followed by the Zanzibar Revolution

The prog’s Uncle Hasim had been part of the mainstream nationalist movement. His father and aunts were as well, but they were pro-Omani, hence were executed once the Revolution took hold.

Okello’s  order not to kill white people, only Arabs and Indians

Ch 4

“Don’t tell them those kinds of stories. They’ll just lap them up and start up on their racist filth” < Emma, the hero’s English lover-wife. “I even suggested we get married, for the baby’s sake, but Emma laughed at my bourgeois anxieties.”


During Mwinyi’s terms Tanzania took the first steps to reverse the socialist policies of Julius Nyerere.[3] He relaxed import restrictions and encouraged private enterprise. It was during his second term that multi-party politics were introduced under pressure for reform from foreign and domestic sources. Often referred to as Mzee Rukhsa (“Everything goes”), he pushed for liberalization of morals, beliefs, values (without breaking the law) and the economy.[4]

‘It’s going to be a girl,’ I said. ‘And we were thinking of calling her Pocahontas.’”

Part Two

‘Your Self’s grown gross, a dog that sleeps and feeds.’ Farid ud-din Attar, < The Conference of the Birds (1177) 

Already by chapter three part one in Admiring Silence, the picture becomes clearer when Gurnah depicts the havoc wrought by the Africanization, the black Africanization of Tanzanian nationalism, though he passes over in silence, so far, the slavery and the … evil of Omani hegemony, reserving his satirical barbs for the English, and letting his own family, including the pious patriarchy of his Uncle, off the hook. 

Part Two shows even more the disillusionment of which many other African wrters expressed after independence.

How telling it has become that we now read works of aictionn in terms of whom they blame.

He was, after all, a Wahhabi, those lovers of the unadorned word of God, zealots of the Sunna, the muwahhidun. The original Wahhabis were the fundamentalists of fundamentalists, and could proudly take their place among the fanatical crazies of any religion.

Omanis (64%)   Bububu, which was a kind of heartland of Omani occupation. (56%)

So they had one of their mad conversations in the Revolutionary Council for the Redemption of the Nation, and decided that these women were racists, God’s truth. That was what these racists to shame all racists arrived at as a way of forcing those women into their beds, may God strike them with vile diseases in old age. Racism is an evil which our nation cannot tolerate, the radio announced the same evening. (66%)

Part 3 

Why do I say our societies when we are all so different, from Timbuctoo to Algiers to Havana to East Timor? Because in this we are all the same, that we keep silent and nod – for fear of our lives – while bloated tyrants fart and stamp on us for their petty gratification. (87%)

Adui = SW the enemy

Admiring Silence belongs in the category of the second, post-independence phase of novels of “disillusionment” (dKwei Armah, Ouologuem, even Soyinka), a tendency commented on, including by yours truly in trhe 70s and 80s),but which is casually omitted by contemporary critical theory or poco…

The tragedy of mixing blood. (Obama’s paternal grandfather was absolutely opposed to having “the Obama blood sullied by a white woman” (p. 126, Dreams from my Father)

’‘I don’t think I ever got over those early days, though. Even after all these years I can’t get over the feeling of being alien in England, of being a foreigner. Sometimes I think that what I feel for England is disappointed love.’ (93%)

lBut now I spoke in Kiswahili,”Ala, mtu wetu,’ he said. You’re one of us. ( 90%)I made up the whole pack of lies which was my life with her because I could. (97%)


Early Swahili History Reconsidered, Thomas Spear

The Swahili, Derek Nurse and Thomas Spear.

hadithi sahihi au si sahihi SW = tale true, tale false SW = correct or incorrect story.