Friday, May 23, 2014

Five Things on a Friday: The new Eastern Alliance

Yes, that title is a very obscure reference to the original Battlestar Galactica.  If you caught the reference before I called it out, please let me know.  Sometimes I think I'm the only one who thinks about this stuff.

1.  China and Russia sign huge gas supply deal, pricing unclear
“China and Russia signed a long-awaited, $400-billion gas supply deal on Wednesday, securing the world's top energy user a major new source of cleaner fuel and opening a new market for Moscow as Europeans look elsewhere for their energy…
The deal is a political triumph for Putin, who is courting new partners in Asia as customers in Europe attempt to reduce their reliance on Russian gas to bolster their bargaining positions with Moscow after its seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.”
We’ve been talking about this for the last few weeks, and now here we are.  Speculation I’ve seen in the media has said that Russia isn’t in a position to demand good prices from this deal since Europe is even now moving away from Russian gas sources, thereby decreasing the size of the Russian export market.  But.  With this week’s indictments of Chinese army officers for industrial espionage/hacking in the US, I think maybe the Russians and the Chinese need each other.  For one thing, China has also spent the week calling for a new security pact with both Russia and Iran, so there is every reason to think that they’re pissed about the current state of international relations.
To me, the better question is this: in which currency will these sales be denominated?
Don’t think it’s relevant?  Consider: the Chinese have been manipulating their currency’s value for decades in order to boost the value of their exports.  In real terms, that means that Chinese workers make less for their labor than their counterparts in other countries, which has manifested in the West as decades of declines in real wages.  Thus, if these sales are denominated in yuan, the Russians really are getting screwed because the yuan is typically undervalued.  Think: "Natural Gas!  Half Price Sale!!!"
On the other hand, these sales could be denominated in rubles, but who the Hell would do that?  I don’t think the Russian financial system has ever been particularly robust, but it definitely hasn’t been since the West’s sanctions took hold.  For starters, the Russian stock market is in tatters, and Western foreign direct investment (FDI) has fallen off a cliff.  No Western company wants to risk being on the wrong side of a serious return to the Cold War.  With that in mind, you could denominate the sales in rubles and come out with a fair price, but there’s always the possibility that the ruble will collapse—that’s a real possibility; it has happened before—and if it does happen, the whole deal falls apart.
Finally, the sides could just do what the rest of the world does and denominate the sales in either US dollars or euros.  That would work, and it would ensure a fair price on an ongoing basis, but it would also prove the point that the sanctions are working, that neither Russia nor China nor the two sides taken together are yet large enough to truly challenge the West economically in a meaningful way.
Yes, these are the perils of the Command Economy.  They are many, and they are real.

EDIT: More required reading, same topic:

2.  X-Men: Days of Future Past

Jennifer Lawrence looks good in blue body-paint.
As I write this, the Days of Future Past sits at a whopping 94% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.  I’d have figured this one would be a mess, but it looks like people are digging it.  Guess I'm gonna have to make some time to get out to the movies this weekend.

For what it's worth, I was a giant, monster fan of the X-Men as a kid.  I loved the book right before and after Secret Wars.  But I re-read Days of Future Past a couple of years ago, and it didn't do much for me.  Maybe that's colored my expectations for this movie, I don't know.  The Dark Phoenix Saga still resonates, and I really liked the Claremont/Miller Wolverine when I re-read it last year while we were on vacation, but this Days of Future Past movie looks more like a live-action version of the "Wolverine and the X-Men" cartoon from a couple of years ago, and that just hasn't got me as excited as I could be.  

But hey.  If 94% of critics liked it, it must be speaking to somebody, so what do I know?
3.  The 9/11 Museum Opened on Wednesday
My favorite coverage of the event came from Buzzfeed.  I’ll quote the same part they quoted over at Slate:
“I think now of every war memorial I ever yawned through on a class trip, how someone else’s past horror was my vacant diversion and maybe I learned something but I didn’t feel anything. Everyone should have a museum dedicated to the worst day of their life and be forced to attend it with a bunch of tourists from Denmark. Annotated divorce papers blown up and mounted, interactive exhibits detailing how your mom’s last round of chemo didn’t take, souvenir T-shirts emblazoned with your best friend’s last words before the car crash. And you should have to see for yourself how little your pain matters to a family of five who need to get some food before the kids melt down. Or maybe worse, watch it be co-opted by people who want, for whatever reason, to feel that connection so acutely.”
I’m astonished that the author even went to the museum opening at all, but he wrote about it with courage and with dignity that I personally found moving.
“Tolkien was 34 when he finished the translation, one year into his post as a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford. Ahead of him lay decades of Old English scholarship and study, as well as The HobbitThe Silmarillionand the Lord of the Rings trilogy, for which he’s best known. “I have all Beowulf translated, but in much hardly to my liking,” he wrote to a friend in 1926. He would later go back and emend the manuscript as his thoughts on the poem evolved; the edition coming out this month splices the heroic narrative with extras and deleted scenes—notes, commentary, a poetic condensation of his prose translation (the Lay of Beowulf), and a colloquial retelling, the Sellic Spell, that reads a lot like fan fiction.”
I can’t wait to read this thing.  Beowulf never really spoke to me before, but I have a feeling that it’s because the translations—which usually try to maintain the meter at the expense of clarity to modern sensibilities—make it harder than it’s supposed to be.  Regardless, this thing looks fascinating, even if it’s just for the commentary and “colloquial retelling”  of the story.  I mean, it’s still Tolkein’s colloquial retelling.  Maybe’s it’s “fan fiction”, but it’s fan fiction from the genre’s greatest author.
5.  Stray Voltage
 -- In case you haven’t noticed, my blogging hiatus is officially over.  I finished drafting my book last week, and now I’m taking a break from writing fiction, and with that comes a renewed focus on the blog.  I hope you like it, but honestly, it doesn’t really matter overly much if you don't.  My purpose here is more to think my thoughts and clear my head for the inevitable rewrites later this month than to necessarily entertain.  I mean, I like writing fiction, but it's exhausting.  Blogging is way easier.
With that said, I’ll be putting up a few more increments of “The Return of Dr. Necropolis” over the next few weeks and (eventually) writing an epilogue for my book, tentatively titled “Rags to Riches to Rags Again.”  That’sTolkeinesque, right?

 -- Today's my birthday.  I'm now 41 years old.

I had a physical earlier this week, and if you're wondering, I have a slight mitral prolapse in my heart, but it looks like it's stable.  Yay exercise!  By which I mean, "Thank God I still can!"

 -- This weekend is Memorial Day, traditionally my favorite weekend of the year.  We have a barbeque planned for Saturday and then a weekend full of other barbeque-related plans.  I’m planning to put up a little memorial to my dad on Monday, so if you’re interested in that, stay tuned.

 -- Have I mentioned that I’m on Twitter?  You should totally follow me.
See what you're missing?  As of this writing, I've got 78 followers.  My goal is to get to 100.  You can help make that happen, and it won't even cost anything.

That’s all I’ve got.  Tri practice tomorrow is a bicycle ride.  
See you next week!


  1. As far as the museum goes, I don't think it needs to be viewed from the perspective of those people who will take it for granted, some kind of morbid vacation attraction. You can view anything through the eyes of those who don't appreciate it. We all have opinions like that. You have something like the 9/11 museum for those who won't have the immediate connection, fifty years from now. It'll remind them, not of the horror, but the whole portrait of those events, which to my mind has always been understood best by how New Yorkers came together, how even for a fleeting moment everyone forgot, well, their worst and most petty instincts. And how everyone became New Yorkers. Last year's Boston Marathon bombings had the effect of creating the Boston Strong movement. In a very small way, being even a small part of that (I lived in Burlington, just outside of Boston, for three years), having the logo as my Facebook photo, it gives me an idea of what that was like, for those who more actively participated in the aftermath of 9/11. I'd like to think, anyway.

    1. That's a fair point. We have, for example, talked with the kids about it. I suppose I could see their classes taking a field trips down there. But speaking personally, I do not want to go.