We don’t need no SA-80

Cinema goers in the UK are to be shown a shocking spoof shopping channel ad offering AK-47 machine guns for sale.

reports the BBC, who are seemingly unable to differentiate between an assault rifle and a machine gun.

Amnesty International says it aims to highlight the ease with which weapons can be bought and sold due to lax controls on the international market.

Highlight to whom? British cinema goers? This may come as somewhat of a surprise to Amnesty International but the AK-47 assault rifle is made in Russia, not the UK.

Spokeswoman Sarah Green said: “The arms trade internationally is completely out of control.

She added it was “within the power of ordinary people to make a difference”, and that the group wanted people to sign its petition calling for an international arms trade treaty to regulate the trade.”

She said people in Britain must “make it clear” to the government they were not prepared to let manufacturers supply arms that would “eventually end up in places like Congo, Colombia and south Thailand, where children and men and women are killed ruthlessly”.

Amesty International would be better off screening their adverts in Moscow cinemas. No amount of lobbying the British government is going to have an impact on small arms like the AK-47 turning up in their thousands in conflict zones, as people fighting those wars rather sensibly do not favour British weaponry.

See also here.


Russia forges stronger ties with Uzbekistan

Remember the days when the likes of Craig Murray were claiming that:

As seen from Tashkent, US policy is not much focussed on democracy or freedom. It is about oil, gas and hegemony. In Uzbekistan the US pursues those ends through supporting a ruthless dictatorship. We must not close our eyes to uncomfortable truth.

Even as late as May 2005 he was claiming:

… US firms were contracted to build a pipeline to bring central Asia’s hydrocarbons out through Afghanistan to the Arabian sea. That strategic interest explains the recent signature of the US-Afghan strategic partnership agreement, as well as Bush’s strong support for Karimov.

Well, it was bollocks then and is bollocks now, especially given that the US subsequently reduced the amount of foreign aid to Uzbekistan, became openly critical of the Karimov regime to the extent the US was ordered to leave, and no move by a major US company or US government official was ever made on the Uzbek oil and gas market, including the building of pipelines.

So I wonder if Murray and his ilk are going to change the record, go strangely silent, or simply ignore current events and continue to lambast the US in light of recent developments concerning Uzbekistan:

Gazprom boss Alexei Miller will travel to Uzbekistan today to try to gain control of the country’s biggest gas fields in return for Moscow’s political support, according to Russian media reports.

In a report published today, Moscow-based financial daily Kommersant newspaper said Miller planned to secure control of the Ugra, Kuanysh and Akchalaksky fields, which would triple Gazprom’s imports from Uzbekistan from 5 billion to 6 billion cubic metres per year to 17 Bcm to 18 Bcm annually.

Kommersant added that the move, should it go ahead, would give the Russian gas giant a de facto monopoly on gas exports from the Central Asian state.

In return for the gas reserves, Russia would help Uzbekistan to deal with anti-government protests and protect it from the West, Kommersant said.

Given that Murray’s concern seems to lie primarily with promoting himself and scoring points against Western governments rather than helping the situation in Uzbekistan, I can’t see Russia being pilloried for this move.


Ex-Soviets in Dubai

This article on people from the former Soviet Union in Dubai appeared in the Gulf News over the weekend:

[D]espite their increasing success in a variety of diverse professions, … many Russian speakers still suffer from a negative stereotype in the UAE.

A label perpetuated by the criminal activities of a few, the numerous women fighting poverty through prostitution here (and elsewhere) and a poor understanding by other nationalities about the post soviet region is frustrating, especially for a community trying to re-brand itself and succeed in a highly competitive environment.

“Many people can’t even locate Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan or Belarus on a map. They don’t even know what the Commonwealth of Independent states (CIS) is and they think every Russian speaker is Russian,” [says Alexander Orlov, manager of Troyka, Dubai’s most popular Russian nightclub] .

Indeed. People’s knowledge of the former Soviet Union is pretty limited at the best of times, and it is true that the image of Russian speakers in Dubai is generally poor.

However, Marina Golovkova from Kazakhstan seems to understand why:

“Although I haven’t experienced any overt discrimination I think people from the former Soviet Union are partly to blame for any negative stereotype they suffer. We could do more to promote a better image of ourselves,” she says.

Indeed. Russians everywhere, not just in the UAE, put almost no effort into improving or maintaining a positive image of Russia and its people. And this is a shame, because Russians are in my view the most friendly and hospitable people in the world under the right circumstances. There is a reason for this, though:

Marina claims that despite the changes witnessed in Russia and the CIS and the region’s exposure to the rest of the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a culture of “not complaining” and “not promoting personal achievements” lingers from a shared communist past. She believes this affects a Russian speaker’s image in the eyes of other nationalities.

She says the post Soviet community in the UAE is having to work extra hard to change their image because in an increasingly competitive and self-promotional world they have to change themselves at the same time.

“Not standing up for ourselves as individuals comes from our cultural background. During the Soviet era we were taught to be modest and humble. We were not supposed to say ?I this’ or ?I that’. We had to wait to be praised for our achievements. In western culture you celebrate your merits,” she says.

Marina’s exposure to the multi-national communities in the UAE has taught her to promote herself and do more to promote understanding about her own culture. She passionately insists this should be the duty of every Russian speaker here.

“I wouldn’t have learnt how to stand up for myself if I hadn’t come to Dubai. I have become more European here and learnt how to say the words ?I deserve’. Russian speakers have to be more assertive if they are to be better understood. I didn’t learn this in Moscow. You have to leave Russia to learn this.”

I might also add that the Russian and CIS governments do practically nothing to improve their image in the UAE though their embassies. Russians often have a hard time here, that much is true, and I really hope that they can work together to help themselves as a community.


Lukoil to make “big announcement”

From Upstream Online:

Shares in Russian explorer Lukoil broke through 2000 roubles ($70.22) and $70 for the first time today on the back of solid results and management promises of a “big announcement”.

Lukoil, which is 16% owned by US supermajor ConocoPhillips, also whetted investors’ appetites by saying it would make an announcement at the end of the month which would significantly affect their view of the company.

Russian newspapers said the announcement would probably be about a major find in the Caspian region.

I’m going to take a punt on this, and predict that the announcement will be regarding a partnership with a Middle East operating company. 90% chance I’ll be wrong, but let’s see.


Eastern Europe?

From today’s Gulf News:

A couple from Eastern Europe who were caught half-dressed having sexual intercourse in a small car on Shaikh Zayed Road have been jailed.

The Dubai Public Prosecution had charged the 19-year-old female, from Kyrgyzstan, and a 20-year-old male, from Kazakhstan, with having an illicit relationship.

Since when have Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan been in Eastern Europe?

(Hat tip: anonymous comment on Secret Dubai Diary)


Prostitution: to legalise or not?

The legal status of prostitution seems to once again have come up for discussion in the UK. It is a subject, living in Dubai and taking an interest in all things Central Asian, of which I know a little.

I used to have clear views on whether prostitution should be legal, but now I’m not so sure.

Opening up prostitution as a legal way of earning a living is going to come with a mountain of problems, I suspect from the girls themselves. When you give girls an opportunity to earn money this way, they will take it, and in large numbers.

When the Soviet Union was still in existence, the girls there did not have the opportunity to practice prostitution (the need was there all right, life was crap for the residents of Bishkek then as it is now, although probably not to the same extent). When they were given the opportunity to become prostitutes, by allowing them to travel, thousands of them took it. Many girls did not do so out of desperation, as is commonly believed to be the sole reason for a girl turning to prostititution, but just because it was an option which would lead to them making a lot of money (similar to why some people turn to crime when they are not desperate). In short, it was a career choice.

As a libertarian, I cannot say they should not have been allowed to do it. But I will say that somebody should have discouraged it. The mental health of somebody working as a prostitute, especially those who get into it in their late teens, deteriorates rapidly. My Russian teacher, who taught loads of these girls English, has educated me pretty well on the subject, and she has yet to meet a prostitute who has worked for more than 2 months or so who does not have some sort of mental problem. Paranoia, and extreme swings between elation and depression are the normal ones (without the aid of drugs, mind). This happens, but to a lesser extent, even if they have been treated well in their jobs and the evidence seems to be that even if everything goes swimmingly well, the effect on them is the same. Quite what the former Soviet Union is going to do with these girls when they get too old to work and return home, I don’t know. In my opinion, it is a time bomb which will go largely unnoticed, as thousands of girls turn to suicide or die lonely deaths somewhere. Still, it is their choice and I generally don’t judge them either way.

But do we really want to be encouraging girls to take up the profession? If brothels are legalised, then the number of girls practising will increase dramatically, as many will take an opportunity previously not open to them. This has happened in the former Soviet Union and will almost certainly happen in the UK, and we will be faced with a situation where there are thousands of prostitutes working. From what I’ve seen, most girls who go into it don’t consider the long term impact of what it does to them until it’s too late. I’m all for individual freedom, but if we are going to allow girls to practice, then we have to expect there to be an enormous number of prostitutes in the country, most of whom have serious mental health issues. At the moment, only the very strong or very weak are going into prositution, and in small numbers – so it isn’t much of a problem. If the profession becomes legal and open to more “mainstream” girls, it will be. And I’m not sure that those who advocate legalising prostitution will be prepared for the enormous number of people who will be practising it (and there will be many) and the subsequent problem of having to pick up the tab for caring for what will be a serious number of very mentally sick girls (and thanks to the joys of socialised healthcare, this burden falls to Johnny taxpayer).

Also, if we are going to open up brothels in the UK, it will be law that any EU citizen can work there without a visa. It is pretty much given that Eastern Europeans will be willing to work in the trade for a lot less than the Western girls, so if brothels are allowed then they will be filled with Eastern Europeans and the British girls will have to go elsewhere. Also, there is little reason why ex-Soviet and Central Asian girls cannot come to the UK to work as prostitutes under such a system, especially as there will be plenty of companies willing to give them sponsorhip for employment. So licensing brothels in the UK would not help British girls much without breaking EU law.

My own view on this is mixed, and I’m not sure if legalisation is a good or bad idea. But one thing I do know is that when prostitution is allowed to be practised, the number of women practising far exceeds expectations; the mental health effects of the women will be the same as they are now (support systems and worker protection brought in with legalisation will help, but only to a degree) but there will be far far more cases; and that generally, places with a large number of prostitutes are far from pleasant.

In short, any benefits to be gained by legalisation (better protection for women, etc.) must be weighed against the enormous impact it will have in other areas. Thinking it through, I think the legislation governing where and how they can work would have to be so rigid as to make little difference to the status quo, as the women would simply carry on doing what they are doing now. Would they be banned from picking up men in shops, bars, and clubs for example? Just as when brothels are banned, brothels exist; if brothels were legalised, women would be working in the clubs; if working in clubs was legalised, women would be touting their wares in shops and shopping centres. This is something that actually happens, it is not just theory. Dubai is witnessing this very occurence as the number of girls coming in increases and the law turns more of a blind eye to what’s going on.

My final thought is that if prostitution is made legal, an enormous effort must be made to discourage girls from actually doing it (which sounds a bit contradictory). For many, as with crime, prostitution looks like an easy way to make a lot of money and looks more attractive than earning a living another way. It is anything but, and a huge effort should be made to discourage anyone from taking up this work unless they absolutely have to.


A Forum with a Difference

This is a bit sick. On a message board for Honda enthusiasts, a wife of one of the regular contributors starts a thread in February 2002 with the following post:

As most of you here may know i am lifsatrip7’s (Todd’s) wife. i havnt been on in a while we have been pretty busy. this past monday the 18th Todd died during the night, ill spare you all the details but we were asleep in bed and a cause of death isnt yet determined. They performed an autopsy tuesday and that was inconclusive and were waiting on the toxicology report to come back (4-8 weeks) So he’s not going to be around any more. i will be here to learn more about the honda then i already know… well im not sure what im going to do with it but as of right now i cant get of it. he couldnt so how could i??? well anyways.. i just wanted to let you all know

Naturally, the other forum users – some of whom appeared to know the deceased personally – are shocked and offer her condolences, prayers, and best wishes. This carried on until Page 3 of the thread, when nearly 4 years later in January 2006 somebody puts up the following link on Post 75 :


SAN DIEGO – Cynthia Sommer didn’t fit the role of a grieving Marine widow.

Shortly after her husband died suddenly, she hosted boisterous parties at her home on the base. Authorities say she showed Marine wives her newly enhanced breasts — paid for with her husband’s life insurance policy. And within two months, she had taken up with another man.

Military investigators say Sommer wanted a life that was out of her reach as a mother of four working at a Subway restaurant and married to a strict Marine — and she allegedly poisoned her husband with arsenic to get it.

Sommer, 32, is in a Palm Beach County, Fla. jail fighting extradition back to San Diego. She is charged with first-degree murder for financial gain, a special circumstance that could carry the death penalty. The San Diego County district attorney’s office has not yet decided whether to seek it, prosecutor Laura Gunn said.

Marine Sgt. Todd Sommer, 23, died in February 2002 in his home at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego. His death initially was ruled a heart attack, but tests of his liver later found levels of arsenic 1,020 times above normal, court documents show. Arsenic is a colorless and usually tasteless poison that causes stomach distress followed by death.

Following a lengthy investigation by military and civilian authorities, the San Diego County Medical Examiner concluded in October 2005 that the cause of death was acute arsenic poisoning.

Only his wife had the motive or the close access to poison him, Navy Criminal Investigative Service agent Rob Terwilliger said in a court statement filed last month seeking a warrant for Cynthia Sommer’s arrest.

According to the statement, Todd Sommer began showing symptoms of arsenic poisoning on Feb. 8, 2002 — 10 days before he died. That day, his wife visited a plastic surgeon’s office and inquired about breast augmentation, authorities say.

It was a $5,400 surgery that her household income would not allow, according to Terwilliger’s statement. A credit check showed she had more than $23,000 in debt, Navy investigators found.

But Todd Sommer’s death left his widow a $250,000 lump-sum payment from his servicemember’s life insurance policy as well as a $6,000 death gratuity, according to Terwilliger. She also was entitled to receive $1,871 a month from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Cindy’s excuse for the lifestyle she started living after (her husband) died was that he was very strict, he didn’t like for her to go out partying, staying out with friends,” said former Marine Brent Applebee, who told military investigators the widow showed him her still-taped up breasts.

“Todd also didn’t want her to get her breasts enlarged, so I think that she was living out the fantasy life she really wanted.”

Two weeks before her husband’s death, Cynthia Sommer paid $16.95 for an Internet dating service, authorities say.

During an 2001 investigation of child neglect-abuse, she allegedly told a North Carolina caseworker, “I have four kids. It isn’t like I could leave them and go anywhere. No one wants to baby-sit four kids.”

Murdering wives posting news of the death on Honda forums, hours after the act. The internet never ceases to amaze.


The shorter James Zogby

Dr James Zogby could have saved a barrel or two of ink when writing the article that appears in today’s Gulf News:

The situation unfolding in Gaza and the West Bank is, in some significant ways, an inevitable consequence of factors beyond the control of the Palestinians.

The lawlessness, the intra-Palestinian violence and the general social unrest, were all predictable. When any society has been subjected to prolonged repression and deprivation, it usually reacts with violence, first directed against the perceived source of the oppression. Only in later stages, after this repressive situation has been sustained over a long period of time, does the violence turn inward in self-destructive and anti-social behaviour.

In large measure, of course, Israel bears significant responsibility for this tragedy.

A shorter version could have read:

Palestinians cannot help shooting the shit out of each other, and it’s wrong to expect any better of them. But it’s all Israel’s fault anyway.

Dr James Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute in Washington, DC. Shame he thinks so little of his Palestinian brethren that he considers them unable to do anything other than carry out acts of violence.


Lord of War

Just before I went off to Korea, I went to see Lord of War at the cinema.

Nicholas Cage stars as Yuri Orlov, a Ukrainian-American from a poor family in New Brighton Brighton Beach who becomes an international arms dealer. The film follows Orlov from the beginning of his career to him becoming the world’s most prolific gun runner busting sanctions wherever they get in his way, and being chased by the authorities in the form of Ethan Hawke along the way. The character of Orlov is a composite of five real arms dealers, one of whom is almost certainly Victor Bout, and the film had several gun runners advising on the set (who were rumoured to be more helpful and efficent that the film crews themselves).

The film itself is highly entertaining, and Cage plays the part well, offering as good an insight as any into the way an international arms dealer would work. There is plenty of humour, albeit mainly of the sort which portrays Ukrainians as drunkards and bandits (I watched it with a Russian, who found it highly amusing), and the camera work is in places very impressive. The story is gripping, and makes some very good points, one of which is also made here:

Since the end of the Second World War, tens of millions of people have been killed by conventional weapons, mostly small arms such as rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Sales of advanced weaponry — fighter jets and high-tech electronics, sophisticated long-range artillery and warships, and “weapons of mass destruction” — tend to receive the most press coverage. But these costly, sophisticated weapons have not proved as deadly as ordinary guns and grenades that are easy to buy, easy to ship and easy to use.

Low-tech, handheld weapons and explosives do the vast majority of the killing today. There are more than 550 million small arms currently in circulation, many of them fueling bloody civil strife in countries from Sri Lanka to Sierra Leone.

Which is a point worth remembering. Next time you see pictures of a massacre in Africa or Asia, take note of what kind of weapons were used to carry out the killings. Any money you like it was small arms and mortars. Which was why I was somewhat dissapointed to see that Lord of War, somewhat contradictorily, makes a further point towards the end of the film that the US sells more arms than anyone else, which in terms of sales figures, it does. And this is the charge that the opponents of the US like to hold up with glee whenever there is talk of arms sales into dodgy regimes. They may have a point that the US should not sell arms of any kind to dodgy regimes, but they might like to look at what sort of arms are being sold by whom, and which ones are doing most of the killings.

The US sales figures are largely made up of the high-tech equipment such as fighter jets mentioned in the excerpt above. You generally don’t see US-made rifles, mortars, and landmines scattered willy-nilly around warring African tribes. What you do see is Russian made rifles, mortars, and landmines scattered amongst anyone anywhere who is willing to have a fight, and right behind them you see the Chinese knock-offs of the same. (It always struck me as odd that the US supposedly armed Saddam Hussein yet his army had not a single American piece of kit and an awful lot of Russian stuff, until I realised that it was not the US that armed Saddam but the Soviet Union).

It is the Russian and Chinese weaponery that is has caused and is still causing the deaths of tens of millions of people the world over, not the US high-tech kit. Yet oddly, Russia and China are seldom vilified by the peace activists and do-gooders in the West for flogging millions of rifles and grenades to anyone who wants them, whilst at the same time protesting voiciforously when the US or Britain sells an air traffic control system to Tanzania or India. Were they to actually take into account which weapons were actually causing the mountain of misery in places like Sudan and Sierra Leone, they’d be surprised to see that it is Russian and Chinese kit doing the killing. But then again, these are the same groups who insist that the US armed Saddam Hussein with Mig aircraft, T-72 tanks, and AK-47 assault rifles so it is little wonder they’ve not got their facts straight, and even less wonder that western governments ignore them.

But back to the film, it is well worth seeing, for a number of reasons which I have listed above. And it is hard to get away from the political message in the film, which contrary to most films containing political messages is in all likelihood true: that the proliferation of small arms around the world is causing misery of biblical proportions. The film ends by pointing out that the world’s largest suppliers of arms: US, UK, France, Russia, and China are also the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, hinting at the irony that those in charge of ensuring peace in the world are the same as those who sell the tools which fuel the conflicts. I think the film missed the main point, and there is no irony in the statement. The truth is, those five nations are the permanent members of the UN Security Council precisely because they have a near monopoly on the arms trade, not despite it. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.


Leftists, Russians, and the Concept of Press Freedom

What have leftists in the West got in common with Russians? Not a lot I’d say, but not nothing. Konstantin on his Russian Blog gives us one such example:

Sometimes I find articles that recover my trust in the freedom of press in Europe. In case with the Russian-Ukrainian gas conflict 99% of Western mainstream media were printing articles using blueprint: “Russia is imperialistic because it enslaves its neighbors with cheap gas. Russia is imperialistic because it enslaves its neighbors with market prices.” But from time to time one find out that there are some dissidents even in the UK.

That is, if the press is not covering events the way they want them to, it must only be that freedom of the press is restricted to the point that an alternative view (i.e. their own) is forbidden from being aired.

Popular with both leftists in the West, and a good number of today’s Russians. Probably for different reasons, though.