March 24th, 2012

Godzilla, default

The most Badass Republic Ever, Master Great Novgorod:

The more I've read about Medieval Russian history, the more it impresses me. In particular there's the largest (in terms IIRC of land area at least, not sure of population) Republic of Medieval times, with a name the likes of which should appear more in fiction: Gospodin Veliki Novgorod, or "Master Great New-Town." Seriously, the town's *named* Master Great. If that's not badass I don't know what is. Novgorod in Ancient Kievan Rus was a power center equal to Kiev itself, and was one of the first European societies to ditch autocracy for what evolved as a republic. There is an argument that the Novgorod Republic was much more oligarchial than democratic, but so was ever other pre-modern Republic. In fact the pre-modern concept of a republic *was* essentially oligarchy.

The most fascinating element of Master Great Novgorod, however, was that it in quite a few ways seems more modern than one expects of pre-modern states. Starting with a clearly commercial element, and of course its big invading enemy was the puritanical, crusading Teutonic Knights, a precocious example of the German national past time of attempting and failing to conquer others and steal their shit. Novgorod had a full-fledged assembly and a concept that the rulers, of which only one is actually famous enough in his own right, Alexander Nevsky (in part because of the USSR 's pattern of grossly distorting elements of prior Russian history when it suited them to do so), had no power to coerce or to compel, only to execute the will of the assembly. The difference is that Russia's Athens, like the original one, was conquered by the crude and repressive autocracy of Moscow, and ultimately razed to the ground by Ivan the Terrible, the last Rurikid ruler of Moscow when his brand of politics was "Kill it with fire".

The point of all this is that Master Great Novgorod shows one fundamental rule of the past about societies that is directly relevant in today's time of the Arab Spring and the return of China and India to global influence: what we hold to be most immutable about societies isn't always so. Russia had as its great center of medieval culture a commercial republic, not the violent and willful autocracy epitomized by Moscow, yet it would reach actual global power not under the republic but the Moscow autocracy. Equally, what societies are now in terms of their influence by no means predicts what they will be. In a world where the total global picture of wealth is rising and starting to resort to its default pattern of Europe and North America as sideshows for a Sino-Indian global picture, this is something to consider. Both in terms of promise, but also in terms of danger. Because the societies that seem benevolent one day can all too easily become crude parodies of themselves the next.

Your thoughts?

Orania, the anachronistic enclave

"Apartheid is dead, long live democracy!", is what we hear very often here at the bottom of the world. But meanwhile, also "Apartheid is not dead, it has only transformed!" And in many ways, that is true too. But there is even a place, although a tiny one, where apartheid is really alive and well, and is authorised at an institutional level. It is a place where a small local community of white Afrikaners has voluntarily segregated and isolated itself from the outer world, and where they live according to their understanding of a society. And they do not let anyone else in, especially if he or she is black.

That place is Orania, a small village at the edge of the Northern Cape territory, on the banks of the Orange river. Or Oranjerivier, as it is called in Afrikaans. Because Afrikaans is exclusively the language that is spoken there.

I have visited Orania just once, 3 years ago during a huge 3-week long tour across South Africa and a few neighbouring countries. It was a great experience... a dozen vehicles and families forming a big convoy of crazy tourists. And Orania was one of the first stops along the way.


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Time to cut corporate taxes, I guess?

Apple says $60 billion will remain overseas until US tax law changes

"Apple made an aggressive pitch for a corporate tax holiday Monday, stressing that it plans to keep more than $60 billion parked offshore until Congress makes it easier for companies to bring those profits home.
The warning from the nation’s most valuable company came as Apple announced it would pay a dividend to shareholders and buy back stock, moves that will cost about $45 billion over three years."

I'm sorry Apple, but I call BS on the tax issue being used as the biggest excuse for preventing companies from creating more jobs in the US. Actually the market principles show that if there's a growing demand for some product, the companies would hire more employees because they need more labor force. If they're making just about enough of the production they need with their current labor force, then they wouldn't need to hire more people. That's it.

If taxes were lower, the big executives would just pocket the bigger profit. It won't trickle down, forget this meme, it's stupid. Nope. They won't use that extra money to hire more employees, especially when they don't need all that additional labor force in the first place. They won't use the extra cash to expand, they'd mostly buy yachts and mansions. Want evidence? Just look back through the last couple of years. But the meme still persists among some circles, doesn't it?

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