And where, pray tell, did the Left go right?

Via Norm I learn that David Aaronovitch is presenting a documentary on Channel 5 in which he:

“[E]xplains where the left have gone wrong on Israel, Palestine, the War in Iraq and the War on Terror.”

That’s good of him, but it would be better for him to explain where the left have gone right on matters of global affairs, as the documentary is only scheduled for 45 minutes and trying to explain in this time where the left have gone wrong is no mean feat.  But I think Aaronovitch is wasting his time as it is staggeringly obvious, and always has been, where the left has gone wrong. 

After all, they were wrong about the Russian revolution, they were wrong about the Russian civil war, they were wrong about Lenin and the intentions of the Bolsheviks, they were hopelessly naive about the Spanish civil war, they were wrong about the threat posed by Hitler, they were wrong about Stalin, they were wrong about post-war Europe, they were wrong about North Korea, wrong about Mao and China, wrong about East Germany and the Berlin Wall, wrong about NATO and the Warsaw Pact, wrong about the Vietnamese communists, wrong about Fidel Castro and Cuba, wrong about the deployment of US missiles into Europe, wrong about Ronald Reagan, wrong about Afghanistan, and wrong on the entire communist experiment and its millions upon millions of victims.

So excuse my sceptism, but if you’re going to make a documentary on where the left has gone wrong, it needs to be a 12-part DVD box set with special pull-out wall chart.  The failures of the left over the last five years may need explaining to some on the left who cannot fathom what is going on within their own ranks, but to the rest of us this is simply a continuation of nearly a century of similar wrongheadedness for which someone else, always someone else, pays in oceans of blood.

Aaronovitch again:

He asks how we’ve got to the point where British Socialists support Islamofascist Terrorism.

My suggestion is that he asks instead how British Socialists supported the cold-blooded murder of an entire family, including the disabled 13-year old son and 4 young daughters, along with their doctor, cook, valet, maid, and dog and the soaking of their bodies in acid before chucking them down a mineshaft in Ekaterinburg.  He can proceed from there to enquire why, when it became abundantly clear that people were dying in their tens of millions in the Soviet Union, British Socialists refused to accept the evil nature of the communist regime, defended its leaders wherever they could, and did everything they could to thwart attempts by British parliamentarians to confront the Soviet government.  

Once he’s got some answers to these questions, understanding how British Socialists are now supporting a different gang of mass murderers should be pretty damned easy.


Time Zones

You know you’ve moved to the arse end of nowhere when you set your computer to the new time zone, and you select:

Magadan, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia



Christians Intolerant of Others at Christmas

This report via the Khaleej Times:

MANY shops and businesses in London continued to withold presents during the days of Christmas at their outlets in violation of the law, John Smith, a resident of Baron’s Court complained to the Khaleej Times Hotline.

“Even after Christmas Eve many of the Iranian and Turkish shops around Leicester Square continued to function as usual. I do not know how they can do it without having any consideration for the hundreds of thousands who are at home enjoying their presents.” “Shops and business’ owners should give presents from their premises. It is not just a violation of law but it is a matter of respect for all those who are celebrating Christmas,” he said.

“With many outlets so openly being mean when they should be giving presents to the public during the Christmas period, the officials should intensify their inspection efforts to curb these malpractices,” he added.

SPEAKING to Khaleej Times, Tony Taylor, Director of Compliance Department, London West, said: “No shops and businesses are allowed to hoard presents on their premises during the Christmas period. The errant outlets will face fines and penalties.”

“During the Christmas period, it is a mark of respect to the faith and belief of those celebrating that others do not refuse to give presents. However, taking into consideration the cosmopolitan culture of London, many shops and businesses have been issued temporary licences to be exempt from the obligation to deliver presents. The public can pick up presents from these places but are not expected to open them on the premises. Outlets flouting the regulation will be subject to fines ranging from £1,000 to £2,000,” he added. Those shops that do not have a licence for witholding presents but need to prepare presents for Christmas Day are permitted to open the outlet but they must not be refusing presents to whomever wants one. By not abiding with the regulations, these outlets can be fined from £2,000 to £4,000,” he said.

Makes me ashamed to be a Brit, that does.


A Week in Sakhalin

So, we’ve been here just over a week and are beginning to get a feel for what the place will be like to live in.  Summed up in one word: grim. 

We have managed to find a very nice apartment to rent for three months until we find somewhere permanent, which is costing my employers a mere $2,700 a month.  Yes, you read that right.  In a country where the average wage is around $300 a month, residents of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk can rent out an unrefurbished dump of an apartment for $1,000 per month, a refurbished apartment for $2000-$3000, and a new apartment for $3000-$5000.  Nice money if you can get it.  The problem is a shortage of decent housing coupled with an influx of expats who are having the housing paid for by the employers, and Russian employees who are earning higher than average wages.  We looked at one place for $1,100 a month which you wouldn’t have put a dog to live in, and another place of $1,800 which somebody did put a dog to live in, and as far as we could tell the owner would not be moving him out if we moved in.

The owners of our apartment are a young couple who managed to save enough money from the husband working as a commercial diver to refurbish the apartment completely.  They did what is the only sensible thing to do when refurbishing a Soviet era apartment: rip out all the internal walls and replan from scratch.  Soviet apartments are notoriously poorly planned for space, and appear much smaller than they need to in the original configuration.  The couple want to start their own business but now have no money left, so they are moving into somewhere cheaper and will use the rental income to start their business.  I am fast getting the impression that young Russian men fall into two categories: those who are smart and prepared to work hard, and drunken wasters who are going nowhere.  Time will tell which group will prevail into the majority. Continue reading


First Pictures from Sakhalin Island

As I mentioned before, your humble blogger had for your benefit hand carried his Sony DSC-R1 all the way from Dubai, and hence is able to bring you some photos from in and around the town of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.  Click on a picture for a the full-size version.


The view from a colleague’s apartment looks nice in the evening sun…


…until you pan the lens back and see what the view is really like!  This is typical of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.

Continue reading


A Wedding in Dubai

Now that we are in full possession of our marriage certificate….hang on, I’ve made a mistake there.  My wife is in full possession of our marriage certificate, following the advice of my father that the woman should be its custodian as she is unlikely to ever want to deny the marriage took place, whereas the man….

So, now that my wife is in full possession of our marriage certificate, I think it’s now safe to comment on the process of getting married in the UAE.  As you can imagine it was not particularly easy, largely because the information on how to go about it is a bit sketchy and contradictory in places.  Having scoured a few websites and ringing the British consulate, I managed to get a rough idea of what to do.  And as there are probably quite a few Brits wishing to marry in Dubai in the future, I thought I’d describe how we went about it such that it may serve as a useful guide for other couples.  Bear in mind this only applies to a Protestant Brit marrying a Communist Russian, and I’ve heard Catholics have to go through a more complicated process.  Jews, of course, should by now have been put to the sword and have no business trying to get married in Dubai. Continue reading


The Local News

Last night my wife and I flicked the TV on, and were fortunate enough to catch the local news which covers Sakhalin Island and the Kuril Islands.  If I once thought the regional news on S4C or BBC Wales was parochial, I now stand corrected as to what that word actually means.

First we had the arrival of somebody, possibly the local mayor, from Moscow.  The cameramen stood patiently on the apron at Yuzhno airport in lashing rain whilst the celebrity climbed down the steps and made his way over to the gaggle of lesser dignitories who were there to greet him.  A short speech was delivered as the luggage was unloaded from the plane behind him, and he went on his way. 

A full five minutes of the news was devoted to a handful of Korean students studying on one of the Kuril Islands which looked no larger than a supermarket car park.  The coverage included interviews with the students, footage of them buying stuff in a grocery store and the subsequent broken conversation with the bleached-haired shopkeeper, and pictures of their school, which looked like a cricket pavilion and was of about the same size.

Sadly I missed the five minutes covering some school orchestra or something, as I went to run a bath.

Then we had the sports news, which consisted in its entirety of highlights of an exciting football match between Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and some team from one of the other Russian provinces.  The match was played in shin-high grass in a park.  They didn’t quite have jumpers for goals, but they weren’t far off.  There were no stands, and the spectators numbered about 12, including the mayor who had flown in to such great fanfare earlier.  Everyone was looking a bit wet, and it was blowing a gale.  The match itself resembled high-school football, with many miss-kicks, hefty clearances, and howling misses on open goals.  There was no formation to speak of, and everyone was chasing the ball much the same way as a swarm of bees chases something.  Extra entertainment was provided for the viewer by the camera zooming to an electrical fire burning gently in the cabling at the bottom of one of the rusting floodlight towers.  Yuzhno won the game and were rewarded with lashings of ginger beer, whereas the visiting team had to eat the tongue sandwiches prepared by the goalie’s mum.

Moving away from the sports, we had the story of a dead bloke who’d been found in the basement of a house in Yuzhno.  Neighbours had noticed a rather pungent stench and had called the militia who, having failed to extract the bribe necessary for him to be deemed alive, pronounced the man dead, picked him up, and plonked him on a stretcher.  All of this was watched by the neighbours and passing traffic, and recorded faithfully by our brave cameraman who brought the footage to our TV screens.

Then we had the round up of traffic accidents in Yuzhno.  We watched with rapt attention as the stories of minor shunts in the streets of Yuzhno were extensively covered, including footage of the cars and interviews with the drivers.  Close-ups of the damage, sometimes little more than a dent, were also included.  As extra entertainment, we were shown footage of passers by stood looking at the accidents, and an old man who had had his wing mirror clipped gesturing wildly at the driver responsible.

Next, also traffic related but obviously worthy of its own report, we had the story of a small lorry which got stuck when crossing a makeshift bridge over a ditch, the ditch in question being about a metre wide and six inches deep.  An interview with the driver was of particular benefit to the viewers.

Lastly, we were treated to a “no commentary” round up of the days events, presumably for those who were unable to take in the whole lot at once. 


A few brief notes.

The lengthy post preceeding this one was mainly written when still in Dubai, I just held off posting it until I was safely beyond the clutches of the UAE authorities who may not like such insolence as somebody thinking that things are not perfect in their desert paradise.  I’m just finding my feet in my new job, and looking for a temporary apartment to move into for a month or two before we find something more permanent.  Rental prices here are in the region of $2,000-$3,000 per month for a 2-3 room apartment, thanks to the huge influx of expats working on the LNG projects: the companies all pick up the bills, so the rental prices have skyrocketed.  The plan is to find a place for the company to buy which we will then move into, but this will take a month or so and we can’t really stay in a hotel all that time, so we have to find somewhere temporary until the apartment is bought and our stuff arrrives.  I don’t have internet in the hotel (it’s $8 an hour!) and there isn’t much chance I’ll have a connection in my temporary apartment, so that leaves me only able to connect when I’m at work which doesn’t give me much scope to write many posts.  What I will try to do is write stuff at home in MS-Word or something, and post it when I’m online in the morning.

The first thing I noticed about Sakhalin Island was from the air, when I noticed it was very hilly and covered in trees.  It never occurred to me there would be many trees here.  And they weren’t the straight standing conifers of Alaska either, they were deciduous trees of a variety of types and all still had their leaves on.  So instead of being attacked by a polar bear and having to flee down a glacier to get home, I was instead grumbled at by a drunk who was enjoying the sunshine and I walked casually through a leafy park to get home.  Yes, for the first few days the weather was very hot and sunny, but today it is grey, overcast, and raining.  Apparently, a typhoon is coming in from Japan later in the day, which judging by initial observations should reduce much of the town to rubble.  Despite a mini construction boom, most buildings still date from the Soviet era with the associated build quality and maintenance programmes.  Walking around in Yuzhno at midday would be almost uncomfortably hot, but in the mornings and evenings when the sun is not at its peak the temperature drops noticeably by several degrees.  And once the wind picked up around the barbecue last night, those of us who showed up in a t-shirt wished we’d brought something a bit warmer.  Seems as though I’m going to take a little time to adjust.  Another thing I’m going to have to get used to is the wildlife.  The mosquitoes are pretty viscious and the wasps have been cross-breeding with the bears.  I haven’t yet been stung by one of these huge creatures, and nor do I want to.  I think I’d lose a limb.  Hopefully the winter will kill them off whilst sparing me.

The second thing I noticed was the huge number of ethnic Koreans here.  Western Russia is pretty homogenous compared to most westerns cities, even in ethnically mixed places like Kazan.  So it is somewhat surprising at first to notice a high percentage of people who obviously don’t look Russian, and even more surprising initially when instead of hearing them speaking the (to me) familiar sing-song Korean they break into fluent Russian.  On the subject of language, I was a bit disappointed to discover that English is widely spoken here, not by everybody but by most.  Almost all receptionists, waitresses, barmen, etc. speak English, which means I am not going to be forced into speaking Russian in a lot of places, which for me is a bad thing.  Nevertheless, I will make a serious effort to command the language as fast as possible, by speaking to elderly shopkeepers and taxi drivers if need be.

As for the name of the blog…I had thought about changing it, as White Sun of the Desert doesn’t seem very relevant now I have left the sandlands.  But if I change it to something related to Sakhalin Island I will not only lose the few links and miniscule reputation I’ve got built up around the blogosphere, but I’ll probably be looking at another name change when I leave here in two or three years time.  I don’t particularly want to lose the White Sun of the Desert name in the internet either, because other than the famous Soviet film whose title I pinched, the name appears to be related only to this site and nothing else.  So all things considered, I’ll be sticking to the original title.

At some point I will be out and about with my camera, and I will post pictures where I can.


…the Cons

Things I will not miss about Dubai:

1.  The weather and humidity in summer.  I might retract this statement after a winter in Russia.

2.  Censored internet.  Blocking anything which is deemed to be contrary to the “moral, political, or cultural values of the United Arab Emirates” is the action of a government which believes it could find itself strung up from lamposts should the population become better informed.  I will be glad when I am no longer affected by this paranoia.

3.  The traffic.  For a small city by international standards, Dubai has a serious problem in this regard.  Unfortunately, there is no way to take an alternative route in Dubai, largely due to there being only a few major arteries and unavoidable bottlenecks at the Creek crossings.  It is also difficult to change your travel times to avoid traffic, as nowadays there appears to be gridlock between the hours of 7:30am and about midnight.  No longer can you nip across town at 10:30am once the morning rush has subsided, it is the same story all day.  By contrast, a traffic jam in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is defined as more than 20 cars stopped at a junction where there are roadworks or an accident.  And after three junctions, you are across town. Continue reading


Hello Sakhalin Island

We made it!  I am now in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, having had a journey which surpassed all expectations.

The trip from Dubai to Moscow was easy enough, flying Emirates Business Class and all that, but the selection of films on show was shockingly poor, which is unusual for Emirates.  So I took advantage of the “On Demand” service where business class passengers can borrow little video cassettes to watch Downfall.  It was very good, but sadly the plane landed as Hitler was dishing out suicide tablets and the Russians were swarming all over Berlin with little to stand in their way except a handful of old men press ganged into joining the Volksturm.  Then again, Hitler was raving about Wenke’s 9th Army linking up with some 12th Army and crushing the Russians in a giant pincer movement just as the screen went off, so I’d be interested to see how this panned out.  No spoilers please! Continue reading