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TAPpeti volanti e manganelli

Londra 

Nonostante il blog sia inattivo, mi preme scrivere un attimo di TAP, soprattutto dopo l’indegno articolo de Linkiesta: Tragicomico Sud: la protesta insensata contro il gasdotto in Puglia.

Potrei-ma-non-voglio sottolineare che Francesco Cancellato, autore del pezzo e direttore de Linkiesta, sia quanto di più distante ci sia rispetto a chi in Puglia, sulle sponde dell’Adriatico e alla foce del gasdotto ci vive. Lombardo che scrive che una protesta in Puglia è da “tragicomico sud”, autore di pezzi che ammiccano all’Azerbaigian (anche se solo tangenzialmente) e “vidimatore” di altri pezzi che ammiccano all’Azerbaigian.

Anche io sono fisicamente distante dalla Puglia e dal movimento contro il gasdotto, ma a differenza del Cancellato, qualcosina di energia e di politica internazionale ho studiato.

Qui mi limito ad elencare una lista dei problemi che ho trovato nell’articolo e un’altra lista di problemi proprio del gasdotto.

La Grammatica

Parliamone, di un corridoio lungo 878 chilometri, di cui 550 in Grecia, 215 in Albania, 105 sotto il mare Adriatico e 8 – sottolineiamolo, servirà: otto – in Italia, dalla spiaggia di San Foca sino al confine del comune di Melendugno, in Salento, dove si connetterà con la rete dei gasdotti italiani, che già oggi, con i suoi 13mila chilometri di lunghezza lineare – sottolineiamo pure questo: tredicimila.

Not a sentence. Non ha la caratteristica di una frase, direbbero i miei amici anglofoni (e i miei insegnanti di italiano).

Miracoli dei congressi di partito, oggi pare aver cambiato idea.

Idem come sopra.

Parliamo pure dei 3 milioni di euro che pioveranno nelle casse del comune di Melendugno durante tutti gli anni dei lavori, che si protrarranno per qualche anno.

Qui non è chiaro se i contributi arriveranno ogni anno o se i 3 milioni siano complessivi.

Oltre la grammatica: la supponenza

Per smettere di fare dell’Italia […] la barzelletta d’Europa. E del Mezzogiorno, la tragedia d’Italia.

La maggior parte delle opere incompiute sono (state) finanziate da fondi statali, cioè qualcuno ci mangia. Una sostanziale parte sono anche fondi europei non/mal spesi che sono ritornati a Bruxelles. TAP con questo non c’entra nulla. Se chi protesta viene ascoltato, l’opera si farà e verrà portata a termine.

Nota a margine: oggi il Mezzogiorno è la tragedia d’Italia, ma non mi pare che i giornali italiani abbiano parlato di quei fannulloni mangiapaneatradimento del nordovest quando si protestava la TAV. L’insulto gratuito al Mezzogiorno è forse l’aspetto che più di tutti de-legittima l’articolo di Cancellato.

Il NIMBY

Qualcuno ha già scritto che non si tratta di NIMBY, non è campanilismo di quarta serie, ma attenzione per l’ambiente. Molti pugliesi vogliono che TAP si faccia, solo non dentro una riserva naturale. Altri pugliesi non la vogliono per ragioni di NIMBY, altri per motivi politici, ma perché buttare tutto in un calderone “tragicomico”?

Il contributo di TAP al fabbisogno italiano/europeo

L’Italia consuma tra 65 e 75 miliardi di metri cubi di gas all’anno. Il 90% di questi è importato dall’estero. Il 51% del gas importato viene dalla Russia attraverso gasdotti di epoca sovietica che attraversano (e riforniscono) mezza Europa. L’Europa consumava oltre 500 miliardi di metri cubi di gas all’anno fino al 2013, adesso si attesta a circa 470 miliardi. Di questi l’Europa importa circa il 70%. La Russia, che non ha mai tagliato i rifornimenti (se non all’Ucraina) continua a esportare gas come sempre e si prepara a dover pagare anche qualche penale per aver imposto un prezzo troppo caro un lustro fa. Circa il 40% dei volumi di gas importati in Europa arrivano dalla Russia.

TAP, sponsorizzato in lungo e in largo quale risposta alla dipendenza dalla Russia, porterà sulle spiagge pugliesi ben 10 miliardi di metri cubi di gas. Il 2.5% del consumo annuale europeo. Trattasi di niente. Se fossimo dalla parte dell’ambiente, chiederemmo alla Russia o all’Algeria o alla Norvegia di fornire ulteriori 10 miliardi di metri cubi senza costruire altre infrastrutture. O meglio, se veramente fossimo dalla parte dell’ambiente, troveremmo il modo di consumare il 2.5% in meno di energia.

E poi, Cancellà, risparmiaci i dati sui gasdotti che non subiscono incidenti al di sopra di un certo millimetraggio. Vai a vedere i danni ambientali che incidenti (che ovviamente sballano le statistiche) che coinvolgono il gas naturale hanno causato in tutti gli angoli del pianeta.

La politica internazionale del gasdotto inutile

Il Dipartimento di Stato americano e Bruxelles hanno spinto così tanto per il famigerato Southern Gas Corridor come risposta all’egemonia energetica Russa che si sono trovati con nulla in mano. Il maestoso progetto Nabucco si è trasformato in TANAP (16 miliardi di metri cubi dall’Azerbaigian alla Turchia) + TAP (10 miliardi di metri cubi dalla Turchia all’Italia attraverso la Grecia e l’Albania). Dalle enormi ambizioni alla striminzita realtà.

Trans_Adriatic_Pipeline

Per usare un titolo che quelli in giacca e cravatta responsabili di quest’inutile infrastruttura capiranno: “Ghiaccio su pene

Ma perché si spinge così tanto? Perché conviene. TAP è un consorzio di compagnie registrato a Baar, in Svizzera, dove molte entità offshore fanno il bello e il cattivo tempo senza pubblicamente dichiarare i loro bilanci. Oltre a BP, l’altro principale shareholder è SOCAR, la compagnia di bandiera azera. E c’è pure Snam, quindi ci sono interessi italiani con i quali Cancellato avrebbe dovuto fare i conti: non è “solo un investimento straniero che stiamo rifiutando”.

Ma stiamo in Azerbaigian, lungamente criticato per l’oppressione delle libertà e dei diritti umani, dove giornalisti e attivisti vengono arrestati ogni giorno, letteralmente. Ma vabbè anche Putin è cattivo e quindi non importa la qualità del regime per scegliere i fornitori di gas. Dalla chimica alla metafora, il gas puzza ancora meno del denaro.

I problemi sono di trasparenza: l’Azerbaigian è stato di recente espulso dall’EITI, un’iniziativa transnazionale per assicurare che certi standard amministrativi, ambientali e finanziari siano rispettati dalle compagnie che si occupano dell’estrazione e della vendita di materiali del sottosuolo, tra cui ovviamente il gas. Secondo l’EITI, l’Azerbaigian non rispettava gli standard. La Banca Europea per la Ricostruzione e lo Sviluppo l’anno scorso aveva lanciato un monito: se l’Azerbaigian non migliora gli standard di trasparenza, il prestito promesso per TANAP+TAP potrebbe saltare.

I manganelli

Dopo aver visto la polizia entrare con forza in una biblioteca universitaria a Bologna e dare mazzate qua e là pensavo di aver visto abbastanza per quest’anno. E invece no. Il Comitato NO TAP ha protestato a San Foca nel sito dove TAP sta conducendo i lavori preliminari di scavo e di espianto di ulivi ed è stato caricato più volte, nonostante la protesta fosse incredibilmente pacifica. Un pacifismo quasi esagerato, visto che c’erano ulivi su camion che venivano portati via come automobili su un carroattrezzi.

Ebbene, chi sta difendendo cosa? La polizia (e il governo che ce l’ha mandata) in tenuta anti-sommossa non difende il territorio, ma una compagnia di dubbia trasparenza che vuole costruire un gasdotto di dubbia importanza nel bel mezzo di una riserva naturale.

Chi, a distanza, difende il “progresso” senza capire le ramificazioni politiche, sociali e ambientali è “tragicomico”. Oppure, ma non vorrei essere maligno, è a libro paga di un dittatore.

Back to school

2016-09-20-11-26-03

Edinburgh, UK

After three years of incredible personal, professional, and business growth, I take my leave from The Conway Bulletin to undertake a doctoral degree at the University of Glasgow.

When I started at the Bulletin as a Kazakhstan correspondent, the newspaper had only 3 pages. Back then, everyone was excited about the start of the Kashagan offshore oilfield, which would have soon disappointed hopefuls when its pipes broke. Interestingly, Kashagan just re-started a few days ago. But now the Bulletin counts hundreds of subscribers, not just dozens, runs 12 pages packed with news every week and has a fully-working archive with over 7,000 news items from the past six years.

Now, after writing well over 2,500 news stories and around 200 news wires, covering  elections around Central Asia and the South Caucasus, and doing an immense amount of daily research, it’s time for me to move on to my next challenge, back into academia.

At Glasgow, I’ll fold back into my research of Kazakhstan’s energy sector, with a particular eye this time to its social impact. This means that I will travel more to Central Asia, attend more academic conferences, and write more for a diverse range of outlets.

For a brief period, I will continue to work part-time at the Bulletin, hoping that my replacement can be found soon. And I will stay on in Edinburgh until there’s a good reason to move.

After almost two years, the blog is back. Or is it?

Racism and confusion

Queens, New York

A poor count by both the police and The New York Times greatly underestimated the “Millions March” that took place in New York on Saturday. At least 50k turned up, although participants who hung around, clapped from the sides, and came out of their houses at night in Brooklyn made even that figure seem too low.

I was there with friends, joining chants and carrying signs. It was almost too peaceful, with the crowd respecting the lame opening up of the streets, one block at a time, as if the protest was less important than Christmas shopping. But the tranquil action was accompanied by the enraged voices of those in the crowd, who didn’t always find catchy ways to express their anger. It wasn’t a poetry contest, it wasn’t a stadium.

image

All came out well and one must expect follow up actions soon, but this is just the backdrop of my reflection here. On the other side of the country, a place that I can claim to know well, something interesting was happening.

In the middle of the UC Berkeley campus, someone hung and displayed effigies of lynched black victims from decades ago with the hashtag #ICantBreathe. At first, passersby were shocked, especially black students, who felt mocked by a disgusting joke. Uninformed observers shouted: “Racism hits one of the liberal capitals of the country!!” as if racism respects zip codes. Others took care of tearing down the effigies and started enquiring about the possible perpetrators.

An art collective came out (without naming names in their flier) and said the action was an artistic, albeit possibly offensive, attempt to link the past and the present, making sure to underline that racism is as systemic now, as it was then.

The identification of the collective as “queer black and POC artists” did not stop critics. “Black and POC have different histories, they can’t claim to have a common history with the slavery era” is the summary of the common reply on twitter. Defining and detailing the identity of those who dared show this “art installation” on academic soil became the pet peeve of observers behind virtual keyboards. They started classifying, cataloguing, and assigning rights of speech. If you’re such-and-such you can say this, otherwise it’s wrong.

I see racism as a political threat, a choice. You’re not born racist, society makes you one (or not, that’s why it’s a choice). Politically it should be countered and called out every time. I agree with the art collective, racism is systemic and knitting past and present together only helps understand the causality and origin of some actions that can be thought of as isolated.

If an art collective of diverse racial background cannot use powerful, borderline-offensive imagery to portray what racism has done and is doing to America, then I shouldn’t have gone to the March. I’m white, why should I hold up a sign that says “Black Lives Matter”? That should be as illogical as a Latino artist hanging up portraits of lynched victims, in the critics’ eye.

Instead, this is ours, of all the people that take a stand. It’s about your political choice, not about your family tree.

Long live Berkeley, where artists are misunderstood and politics are confused.

Street Boy, I Think of You – Part 2

Croton-on-Hudson, NY

Well, Rodriguez has made it into my daily routine. I remember his lyrics, his riffs, his pauses. It’s time to post a review of his second and last album so far, “Coming From Reality”.

There is little doubt that if “Cold Fact” didn’t make it into the US charts, there would be no game for “Coming From Reality“, which came out only one year later in 1971. Rodriguez was playing around in Midwestern bars while Jimi Hendrix was already a legend and the Beatles had already disbanded. Johnny Cash was The Man In Black and Bob Dylan was living his fame. Rodriguez was to become only a musician by night: his new album sold only few copies in the US and his record label dropped him… two weeks before Christmas, as he mentions in “Cause”, although the song was recorded months before the release and the sacking. He would move on to work in factories in pre-crisis Detroit.

“Coming From Reality” is a dark album. There are almost no cheerful lines in Rodriguez’s poetry here. Climb Up on My Music seems a call to the listener, it’s about trust, Rodriguez says: there was a girl named Christmas, / Did I tell ya she drank gold?. Not much sense, just blind trust is what Rodriguez needs from his audience. At least at a first glance. His guitar laments his way into the next track A Most Disgusting Song, which is perhaps the cleverest, reflecting on the craft and the stress of being a musician. The simplicity with which he treats his audience is reflected in the casual name-dropping (Jimmy “Bad Luck” Butts, old playboy Ralph, Mr. Flood, Linda, Tim, Tom, Martha…). The message targets the routine, the dullness, the literally disgusting never-ending present: everyone’s drinking the detergents / that cannot remove their hurts … every night it’s the same old thing / Getting high, getting drunk, getting horny. Then, oh, a sweet love song… about a lost love; I Think Of You is not a song about the break up, but tracks the nostalgic feeling that comes months, years after the end of a relationship. A psychedelic trip starts suddenly thereafter with Heikki’s Suburbia Bus Tour, a crazy ride, with verses that chase each other in a hectic and messy manner: Rodriguez warns to look out for the cops and the itchy trigger fingers, but no-one disagrees that happiness is free on Heikki’s suburbia bus tour ride. A lullaby-like love song turns the mood back to sad-mode: Silver Words? is about the odd feeling of having a chance with the person that made you fall in love. The violin gets introduced by the end of the song and comes back in the next track Sandrevan Lullaby – Lifestyle, back to the real blues, but with string instruments resounding like an orchestra. “America gains another pound / Only time will bring some people around / Idols and flags are slowly melting” – it’s always winter in Rodriguez’s calendar. To Whom It May Concern is actually addressed pretty accurately, despite the title, to those who are waiting for love. The song would thematically fit perfectly in between “Silver Words” and “I Think Of You”. Then It Started Out So Nice throws you into a magic world… of sorrow and melancholy, of course, but still magic. Again some name-dropping, this time mythical: Genji, the Ixea mountains, Orion, etc. From the sea to the skies, it was a great love, remembered with the words of somebody who knows, that love is lost. Coming from fantasy, back to reality, Halfway Up The Stairs is another song about missed opportunities, half-baked ideas, unfinished tasks. Here comes the masterpiece of the album: Cause. From his oft-cited inner city to the local factory, the working class seems to cry through Rodriguez’s voice: Cause they told me everybody’s got to pay their dues / And I explained that I had overpaid them. The album ended here with an Estonian Archangel, Molly McDonald, Willy Thompson, and Annie Johnson, the common names of common people, exceptional figures of the constant, flat present.

Three more songs were added in later editions of the album, particularly in the bootleg version distributed in South Africa, where Rodriguez was a constant feature on the radio (the few allowed tracks) and in basements. I’ll Slip Away, Can’t Get Away and Street Boy are about journeys, of course. In the first track, Rodriguez communicates the uneasiness of conformity and the inability to continue a relationship, be it a sentimental or a political one: Now I’m tired of lying and I’m sick of trying / Cause I’m losing who I really am / And I’m not choosing to be like them. In the second song, Rodriguez explains his origins with a touch of color: Born in the troubled city / In Rock and Roll, USA / In the shadow of the tallest building / I vowed I would break away, but he can’t. Then, my personal favorite, Street Boy, which speaks of a nomadic and innocent life, perhaps naive. The singer gives some grown-up advice to the boy, but acknowledges his need to get away and find himself. The last word is a warning though: you’ll never find or ever meet / Any street boy who’s ever beat the streets.

This concludes my two-part praise of my new favorite musician and songwriter. Click here for the first part and here for more guesses on the meanings of his lyrics.

Street Boy, I Think of You – Part 1

Croton-On-Hudson, NY

I met Rodriguez only three weeks ago, on a lazy post-graduation morning. It shattered my views on American ballads and protest songs in one, jaw-dropping experience. I wanted to watch the documentary Searching for Sugarman for a year, since I saw the poster and the mysterious aura around it in the streets of Tallinn. Only three months ago, I was concentrating on Viktor Tsoy’s Russian lyrics, which are bare-boned and melancholic. Then Rodriguez blew my mind.

Rodriguez, Sixto, Jesus, whatever his name, is better than Bob Dylan, better than Johnny Cash. Who’s Neil Young? Why is Paul Simon not showing up, overshadowing this little known songwriter? How does a blue-collar working man-turned musician (and/or the other way around) get to #1 in someone’s 2014 ranking by releasing only two albums in 1970 and 1971?

The quick answer is: I have no idea, but it did.

I saw the documentary, almost in tears for both the story and the depth of the lyrics in his songs, masterpieces of songwriting. I’m of course not a musician or a songwriter, but my brain and my ears keep exchanging high-fives. Every word is spelled out as if it was the last one coming out of Rodriguez’s mouth. Every song has a rhythm that fits the verses, which are built carefully, like a domino structure: once you hit play, something beautiful unravels. Here’s my take on “Cold Fact“, released by Sussex in March 1970 in the United States, which sold only a few thousand copies until success hit back in the 90s and after the release of the documentary. Thirty minutes of awesomeness buried deep in radio station archives, until better PR got it to the masses.

The repetitiveness of Sugar Man closely resembles the addict hailing the pusher for more. This song is the formal entrance by Rodriguez into your veins. Only Good For Conversation brings you to a harsher sound of protest towards some customary behaviors, more to come, undoubtedly. Crucify Your Mind is the masterpiece: Was it a huntsman or a player / That made you pay the cost / That now assumes relaxed positions / And prostitutes your loss? Again, the entrance punches you at each pause. Then a long title that would never make it through radios, charts, or memories This Is Not A Song, It’s an Outburst: Or, The Establishment Blues, a protest song that reminds me of Simon & Garfunkel’s The Only Living Boy In New York only because it has a better weather-related verse: Public gets irate but forget the vote date / Weatherman complaining, predicted sun, it’s raining […] I opened the window to listen to the news / But all I heard was the Establishment’s Blues – try to get more contemporary than that. Hate Street Dialogue is against the state’s monopoly on the use of violence against its own citizens: A dime, a dollar they’re all the same / When a man comes to bust your game. / The turnkey comes, his face a grin / Locks the cell I’m in again. There’s one or two things Johnny Cash could learn from Rodriguez’s crude images here. Thanks for your time, then you can thank me for mine, that’s the first verse of Forget It, about love that has worn out. No begging, like to the local sugar man, just forget it. Inner City Blues is another angry song which repeats the album title Cold Fact over and over, while building clever braids with lyrics that could make sense even if you listened only to one every two verses. Will it ever all be straight / I doubt it, says Rodriguez, while making again Christian references. Then comes the bass. The supporting band for his first concert in South Africa played the riff for minutes, while the crowd was cheering  their idol, before he could finally open the song with the now-famous verse I WonderI wonder about the love you can’t find / And I wonder about the loneliness that’s mine – an uneasy song, less lyric-focused but an incredibly catchy tune. Like Janis is again a great ballad with snappy and clever verses that are better served with the music. A bit more disturbing to the ear is Gommorah (A Nursery Rhyme) is a surprising blues track with an actual nursery rhyme within. Help your kids to dream with a Biblical tale about hate, says Rodriguez. Once more, a protest song follows. Rich Folks’ Hoax has an ironic take on the class-system: Rich folks have the same jokes / And they park in basic places. Jane S. Piddy is a weird song that will be repeated in its concept in the second album. Among incredibly poetic lyrics, random name-dropping happens. Who are all these people, nobody knows and nobody cares, I guess that’s the message.

I saw my reflection in my father’s final tears
The wind was slowly melting, San Francisco disappears
Acid heads, unmade beds, and you Woodward world queers

If this has not been enough for you, then don’t bother to wait for the next post, which will take on Rodriguez’s second and last (so far) studio album.

The Brain and the Ball #WC2014

Almaty, Kazakhstan 

The World Cup is over. The German perfect machine won, the pretentious teams that thought their name would win for them lost, and teams who bet on their country’s youth fared well. But here I briefly look at my favorite players. 

I wasn’t that good at playing football/soccer/calcio: not so fast, not so good at handling the ball, with bad eyesight… what made me almost a provincial champion half-my-age ago, then? Apart from my monstrous team, my brain. I knew where to be in the pitch, read my opponents well, and loved to break their game, get the ball and pass it to my more talented teammates. That’s why I can get excited for Argentina-Netherlands 0-0, a semifinal that excited 1% of the watchers, while the other 99% complained it didn’t show as many goals as Brazil-Germany 1-7.”Boring” they say, I say “genius”. If three players aren’t that good for one night (Van Persie, Higuaín, Agüero, I’m talking to you), it doesn’t mean that the other 19 on the pitch didn’t play well or weren’t exciting.

What  fascinates me is their ability to read the game and to change it through their intelligence, rather than their talent. That’s why in this list you will not see Messi, Robben, James Rodriguez, Ochoa, Götze, Neymar, Sanchez, or Di María (the latest being the best player I’ve seen in 2014) – all of them are intelligent players, but their skills are disproportionate with respect. You will see through Benzema‘s short hair which were made stand on hand by Neuer, look into Mascherano‘s wide eyes, get scared by Vlaar and Lahm‘s eyebrows, and get yelled at by Müller. The formation I created represents my selection of players who would play for a sort of “Clever FC”, which could not be beaten by a corresponding selection of the most-valued players in activity today. Germany demonstrated it: whatever name is on your jersey, you will be destroyed by our team’s football intelligence. Rojo and Darmian‘s great performances demonstrated that even young players can be tidy and cunning. Pirlo is probably growing so much hair because he wants to hide all the cerebral matter that is overflowing his cranium. Hummels is one of the best defenders of our time, Kuyt and Shaqiri run more than is humanly possible, but don’t get tired because they run with a clear idea in mind. Lavezzi is above Di María in this one because the latter needs to learn from the former about teamwork. A special mention goes to Argentina’s Perez, you’ll see what I mean in the nearest future.

Enjoy!

My very own "Clever FC" for the 2014 World Cup

My very own “Clever FC” for the 2014 World Cup

Скоро кончится лето – Кино

Almaty, Kazakhstan 

I’m writing my dissertation, that’s why I’ve been so proficient in procrastinating. But it’s crunch time, so I promise this will be my last post until I’m done with my academic writing.

When Viktor Tsoi died at 28 in a car accident in Latvia, the Baltic country had just declared its independence from the USSR. It was June of 1990, a time of change, or “перемен” as Tsoi would have sung it if he had lived to see it. A truly Soviet character, Tsoi was a Korean-Russian with some roots in Kazakhstan’s former sleepy capital of Kyzylorda (his father was born there). A profoundly uneasy artist, who even sounded dark when he sung his less-than-happy songs with his band, Kino.

Every 21st of June, the former Soviet youth celebrates its own Christmas. The birthday of Tsoi revives the Soviet rock scene from Almaty to St. Petersburg. Even a street artist was able to get away with painting a mural in his honor in Almaty, avoiding the ever strict Kazakh police. But I digress. I conducted a very quick analysis of the lyrics sung in the most famous songs by Kino. As I casually listened to the words used, it became clear that the choice made by Tsoi in the 80s was more original than many other songs that usually play in my iTunes.

A mural for Viktor Tsoi - Almaty (Arbat) 2014

A mural for Viktor Tsoi – Almaty (Arbat) 2014

Next to very Soviet words like звезда (star), война (war), земля (land), вперёд (forward), город (city), there are several ones related to natural phenomena – солнце (sun), трава (grass), снег (snow), огонь (fire). Other recurrent words reference the body: кровь (blood) and глаза (eyes). The choice of verbs is also interesting: молчить (to be silent), спать (to sleep), встать (to wake/stand up), остаться (to stay/be left). One very peculiar word that comes up often is брод (ford, “a shallow place in a river or stream allowing one to walk or drive across” tells me the dictionary).

Often, Kino’s songs address uncomfortable situations that disturb the “normal” living experience. When Tsoi talks about being stuck in either an Elektrichka (“Suburban Electric Train”) or on a Trolleibus going East, you can feel the problems that the singer was facing within. You won’t find любовь (love) or сердце (heart), except in their un-romantic meanings. “Love” is used in the locution я не люблю to say “I don’t like”, whereas “heart” is more often the source of pain than excitement.

There is so much sub-text in Kino’s songs that I should dedicate a month to it, not 30 minutes. But time flies, so I’d better go back to my dissertation, listening to Tsoi’s tunes, of course.

Socialism and the crisis in Ukraine

There are sOCIALISTS and Socialists. The former’s take on Ukraine and the Eurasian Union is dangerous to the latter. This needed clarification.

Vostok Cable

Paolo Sorbello explains why the Eurasian Union’s fellow travellers will never see the ultimate triumph of their post-capitalist ideal.

Russian Air Force Star. Image by Mboro. Russian Air Force Star.
Image by Mboro.

Samir Amin, a renowned Marxist author and the director of the Third World Forum in Dakar, Senegal, wrote a short piece for Monthly Review in March, suggesting that the “people” – i.e. the socialist public that reads his leaflet – support “the policy of Russia as developed by the administration of Putin to resist the project of colonization of Ukraine”. His arguments, in the short and bullet-pointed piece, are scattered and typical of a confused leftist who tries to justify some aspects of the past, make parallels with the present, and spite all that is not socialist; although, all the great figures that the contemporary intellectuals cite from the past, did not go back in time themselves to find their raison d’être. Times have…

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Calcio-spettacolo – #JZ4ever edition

Almaty, Kazakhstan

Finalmente sono stati decisi gli ultimi orari delle partite della Serie A, così posso completare il mio umile studio della follia del calcio italiano, che non fa più vedere la luce del sole ai calciatori. Stasera, un’altra nottata per vedere l’ultimo Zanetti.

Trentotto partite. Una squadra che mangia tutto, un’altra che lascia qualche briciola e tante altre mediocrità. Alcune mediocrità hanno speso tanto e hanno fallito i propri obiettivi, alcune altre mediocrità sono salite sul piedistallo e hanno lanciato campioni giovani e maturi e a volte sono state tutt’altro che mediocri, ma solo a volte. Insomma, mentre ancora mi fanno male gli occhi per le partite che ho guardato, ho pensato al motivo per il quale mi sono dovuto fare le nottate qui in Kazakistan. Tutte le cavolo di partite sono giocate la sera!

Spalmare il campionato su più orari, più giorni, più pre-pranzi e pre-cene per vendere meglio i diritti tv. Va bene. Ma bisogna dare un senso a questo “spettacolo”, soprattutto vista la sua qualità. Ho fatto un breve calcolo per le cinque squadre più seguite:

Juventus: 20 partite in notturna (20.45 o 21) e 7 nel tardo pomeriggio (18/18.30/19) – 11 con il sole

Roma: 22 partite in notturna (20.45 o 21) e 3 nel tardo pomeriggio (18/18.30/19) – 13 con il sole

Napoli: 23 partite in notturna (20.45 o 21) e 6 nel tardo pomeriggio (18/18.30/19) – 9 con il sole

Inter: 24 partite in notturna (20.45 o 21) e 3 nel tardo pomeriggio (18/18.30/19) – 11 con il sole

Milan: 26 partite in notturna (20.45 o 21) e 3 nel tardo pomeriggio (18/18.30/19) – 9 con il sole

Soltanto in 3 giornate le partite sono state giocate allo stesso orario (5a, 10a e 30a), tutte alla sera (20.45). Il resto è stata una scelta di palinsesto televisivo. Ora, per chi come me non vive nello stesso fuso-orario dell’Italia ed è costretto a fare le notti per vedersi “la partita”, ecco che le occhiaie cominciano ad allargarsi. Se poi tifi una squadra di Milano, su 76 partite, ben 50 sono state disputate in notturna. Visto il rendimento e il gioco espresso dalle due squadre milanesi, si può solo concludere che queste siano state notti sprecate.

C’è ancora una notturna in programma per l’ultima di campionato, ma quella che brucia di più a un’interista è quella passata domenica scorsa. Stare sveglio fino alle due e non vedere Zanetti sul campo per il derby è stata una ferita simile al 5 maggio. Se oggi, l’ultima a San Siro del capitano di una vita, quello scempio si dovesse ripetere, torno a piedi in Italia e tolgo le zeta dal cognome del mister.

Kazakhstan at the Center of Eurasian Energy (an unconventional article)

Almaty, Kazakhstan

Several things have changed since I wrote this article in October 2013. It was never published and since it’s not topical anymore and it’s not deep enough to pitch it anywhere, I want to embark in an experiment: I’m going to comment it with a seven-month delay to check what has changed in the meantime. Comments are in bold. The original piece was written on October 9, 2013.

October has been a busy month for the energy sector of Kazakhstan. After a very hectic summer, with the launch of Kashagan oil production in September, Almaty and Astana hosted two very important international meetings.

In Almaty, the 21st Kazakhstan International Oil & Gas Exhibition (KIOGE) opened its doors on October 1st and saw the presence of local and international companies involved in the Kazakh energy sector, in particular in oil and gas from the upstream to the downstream. At the KIOGE Conference, on October 2nd, several influential figures took the floor and talked about the main successes and prospective challenges in the Kazakh extractive sector. Of particular interest, due to its recent developments, was the start of production in Kashagan, which had been the object of several years of investments and drillings in severe climatic conditions. At the press conference, the Deputy CEO of Geology and Projects at the national oil and gas company KazMunaiGaz (KMG), Kurmangazy Iskaziyev dismissed the rumors that regarded the stoppage of production soon after its start. “In such difficult conditions” he said, “it is business-as-usual to encounter such halts to production, it was fully accounted for by the consortium”. Now we know that the stoppage was not a short-term hiccup, but a structural problem which will delay production until the end of 2015, at the very least. Also, why do they always choose to start production with the winter season approaching?

When talking about the export options for Kashagan oil, the main option for the consortium is still the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC), which goes through Russia, to the port of Novorossiisk, where oil is shipped to the world markets. The input of new oil into the market goes hand in hand with the expansion of the CPC, which plans to more than double its throughput capacity in the next few years. Without additional input from a source other than TengizChevrOil, a 56/60 mta pipeline will be hard to fill. And if Kashagan is crucial to the “Future Growth Project”, then what does the consortium hope in terms of further oil supply? 

Otherwise, short-length shipping from Atyrau to the hub in Samara, or barge shipping from Aktau to Baku are both viable options, but less palatable economically. According to Reuters’ head of Commodities in the CIS, Aleksander Yershov, the government’s preference for CPC is “logical”. Quietly present was also the Chinese option, because its viability depends on the expansion of the pipeline network that connect Western Kazakhstan to Western China (an option that is not yet being served at the pipelines table). A few key questions for Kazakh energy were brought to the fore: the maturity of the fields that are being exploited in the country, the need for an improvement of the energy transportation infrastructure, and the beginning of the era of hard oil, also called “inaccessible oil”. This last point was echoed at the VIII KazEnergy Eurasian Forum that took place last week in Astana (8-9 October). There, several experts and famous politicians reminded the energy industry that the “end of easy oil” would entail an  increased of the role of the state in the extractive industries. Only by doing so, countries can ensure that the energy mix in domestic consumption and the portfolio for export can remain balanced. Wim Thomas, Chief Energy Advisor at Shell, depicted two scenarios that varied in the state intervention in the energy sector. Only a scenario that gives more power to the market would be successful according to the head of one among the top companies in Kazakhstan. At KazEnergy, the speakers mentioned repeatedly the ‘shale gas revolution’ in the United States as a game changer, because of its indirect effects on several market nodes down the chain of energy trade. These effects have yet to be seen in Europe, as gas is not yet traded without the link to the oil indexes, which is telling of how slow developments in this sectors can be when the resource is either still in the ground or not-so-easy to transport.

The official line of the Kazakh government is that day-to-day pragmatism has to be kept in place, while new development policies are drafted. Ministers and deputies mentioned the Green Economy legislation as the first step and unveiled on October 8th the Project ‘Evraziya’, which can become a platform for transnational companies and littoral governments in the Pri-Caspian region. The main partners will be Russia and Kazakhstan. Their public officials have promised to take the necessary steps to declassify their geological data in order to allow for an informed period of monitoring through the creation of an international consortium, under the auspices of the Ministries of Energy in Moscow and Astana. KazEnergy has been the broker of this project since the meeting last year, and the signature of an agreement by the end of the year would signify the success of the Forum in its mediation efforts. Nobody has talked about it since then, hopefully they’re working on it behind closed doors, but it would be interesting to check back at the next KazEnergy Forum. 

According to François Fillon and José María Aznar, both former Prime Ministers in France and Spain respectively, the role of the government in these matters should be one of balancing domestic needs with regional and global aspirations, but also one of attracting and encouraging foreign investment. This aim can only be achieved by guaranteeing a stable and reliable legislative framework, something that was repeatedly stressed also at KIOGE by several representatives of foreign companies that work in Kazakhstan. In particular, the new tender system, the question of health and safety of the workers, and the general issue of transparency were addressed. (Although some issues created conflicts among workers in the past months.) However, this last point about transparency was addressed by the V National Conference on the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in Kazakhstan, held at the end of KazEnergy on October 9th. In this occasion, the working plan for a new study of the penetration of transparency standards in Kazakhstan was laid out, which set in stone the collaboration between Astana and the Oslo-based organization. Competing interests were brought together during these two forums, with the two different understanding of energy security being spelled out by both importers and exporters. The participation of the representatives of the European Union and those of the Persian Gulf countries is telling of the efforts that Kazakhstan puts in place for the solution of one of the most complex equations of the 21st century. The placement of the Central Asian country at the center of the picture, increases the importance of Kazakhstan in bridging the interests of consumers and suppliers from Europe to Asia. No words were spent on India, which had just been sidelined after their offer for a stake in Kashagan was matched by KMG in the summer of 2013, and was later sold to CNPC by the Kazakh state company. Now, the recent developments of the new tenders in Kazakhstan, especially the successful exploration in the Abai offshore bloc, could revive the partnership.

Final note: in the past months, an increasingly depressing picture has been painted on the fate of Kashagan. This is especially true since the problem that it faced at the end of September 2013 is likely to strengthen the Consortium’s headache. Ramping costs, environmental fines, and production delays can only hurt the balance sheet of the operators of the field. Plus, the inability to enjoy the time of high oil prices can also have a negative effect, since the paradigmatic shift in Europe is ensuing and could bring down oil prices. If the “easy oil” era is expiring, the “inaccessible oil” epoch has still to come for Kazakhstan