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Category Archives: words

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.

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.

(Non) va bene

Almaty, Kazakhstan 

Tra mille nuove idee, un freschissimo e IMPORTANTISSIMO progetto (, ogni tanto è bene cercare su Google il proprio nome. Anche se si fa quasi a tempo perso. La “presenza online” è importante per chi si occupa di giornalismo e ricerca accademica, ma anche per chi volesse capire quanto della sua vita sia stato condiviso sulla grande rete.

E fu così che trovai un paio di citazioni dei miei lavori. Un articolo di un collega dell’Università tedesca di Siegen, Michael Sander, che ha pubblicato un ottimo articolo sulla pregevolissima rivista Energy Policy, un faro nella ricerca accademica per quanto riguarda l’energia. L’articolo citato è quello scritto a quattro mani con Elvira Oliva, che tra l’altro è anche una colonna portante del progetto Energy Brains di cui sopra.

Un’altra citazione è nella recensione della letteratura della tesi di Master di un giovane ricercatore norvegese. La citazione riguarda il mio libro sul ruolo dell’energia nella politica estera russa nei confronti del Kazakistan. Leggere come gli altri interpretano la tua analisi fa molto piacere (soprattutto quando il messaggio che hai provato a inviare è arrivato a destinazione). [Anche se l’ammontare di bibliografia e analisi copiata e incollata mi fa dubitare del sistema accademico norvegese]

Fin qui tutto (molto) bene. Poi incappi in infocusnewsanalysis (un’accozzaglia di parole-chiave tutte nel titolo!), che in un’analisi sulla situazione in Ucraina del dicembre scorso riporta, quasi per intero un mio articolo scritto per AGIenergia. Senza inserire né il nome della fonte, né un link di riferimento. Non va bene. Ringrazio per le belle parole, ma così muoiono sia il giornalismo, sia l’etica di chi scrive.

Lavorare con un settimanale britannico (The Conway Bulletin) mi sta insegnando che lavorare gratis non è un vanto, una buona azione che serve a farsi conoscere. È un danno prima di tutto ai colleghi che di giornalismo ci vivono (a fatica) e innesca meccanismi tali per cui si può copiare e incollare, senza sentire il bisogno di citare in maniera appropriata.

Bottom line: andatevi a cercare su Google, ci saranno probabilmente belle sorprese, ma quasi sicuramente qualcosa che non vorreste vedere.

Stampa estera, Foreign press, зарубежная пресса

Almaty, Kazakhstan 

This is a trilingual post, perché non mi capiscono когда по-итальянский говорю.

Dieci giorni fa, un blog kazako ha ripreso un mio articolo apparso su “L’Indro” sull’Affaire Ablyazov.Fin qui, ero contento.

Poi ho scoperto, che per un problema di interpretazione dei pronomi utilizzati, il curatore dell’articolo aveva fondamentalmente travisato il messaggio che avevo scritto.

Avrei detto che un giovane imprenditore sarebbe diventato il prossimo presidente del Kazakistan. E lo sapevo solo io?

No, secondo il blog, la loro fallace interpretazione delle mie parole rifletterebbe un sentimento condiviso nella stampa estera.

Di nuovo, contento di essere letto con attenzione in Kazakistan, ma contrariato dall’incapacità di tradurre per bene (dall’italiano al russo).

Ho lasciato un commento sul post, ma solo dopo che più di 4.000 persone avevano visitato la pagina.

Ora capisco come si creano i cicloni di false notizie.

Andiamo avanti.

Ten days ago, a blog in Kazakhstan reported an article of mine on the Ablyazov Affaire, published on “L’Indro”.Up to this point, I was happy.

Then I discovered that, due to a problem with the interpretation of the pronouns I used, the person that blogged the piece fundamentally missed the point of my message.

I apparently said that a young entrepreneur would have become the next president of Kazakhstan. And was I the only one who knew?

Not according to their blog. In their opinion, the fallacious interpretation of my words reflects a feeling common in the whole foreign press.

Again, I’m happy that people in Kazakhstan read me, but I’m grumpy, for they are incapable of translating well (from Italian into Russian).

I wrote a comment on the post, but only after more that 4,000 people had visited the page.

Now I know how small mis-interpretations become hurricanes of false news.

Let’s go forward.

Десять дней назад, блог в Казахстане сообщил, мою статью на Аблязова Affaire, опубликованным на “L’Indro”.До этого момента, я был счастлив.

Тогда я узнал, что, из-за проблем интерпретации местоимений, которые я использовал,  блогер существенно ошибился мысль моего сообщения.

Я, видимо, сказал, что молодой предприниматель стал бы следующим президентом Казахстана. И был я единственный, кто знал?

Не по их блога. По их мнению, ошибочна интерпретация моих слов отражает общее мнение, которое можно увидеть на зарубежной прессе.

Опять же, я счастлив, что люди в Казахстане меня читают, но я я недоволен, потому, что они не смогли хорошо переводить (с итальянского на русский).

Я написал комментарий на блоге, но только после более 4000 человек посмотрили страницу.

Теперь я знаю, как маленькая плохая интерпретация становятся ураганы ложных новостей.

Давайте вперед пойдём.


Giarre, Italy

I haven’t posted a thing in a while, mostly because of my crazy schedule for the last 45 days. Today it’s raining and I have to do several other things, so here I am posting a very French story. In other news, I have updated my list of publications in English and Italiano.

So, a French calcio-player that I never liked (Anelka) celebrates a goal with a gesture invented 4 years ago by an Anti-Zionist (and a little too far right) French comedian, which was quickly linked to anti-*semitic* behavior. French president (Social Democrat) bursts: “We must approve and support the government and the interior minister in the face of words or actions whose anti-Semitic character cannot be denied,” Hollande told journalists during a visit to Saudi Arabia.

In this instance, I find myself on the side of the player and the comedian. When I first read the news, the gesture was characterized as anti-semite on the title and anti-zionist in the body of the articles. Which goes to say how well educated journalists are nowadays. However, Jewish (and also Zionist) associations started shouting around that this behavior was inadmissible. The president did the same, from his very socialist political position and from his visit to the very democratic country of Saudi Arabia [I think I had an overdose of sarcasm here].

How can a self-declared revolutionary socialist stand by a far-right (so the papers say) comedian who invents a stupid gesture that looks like (with a bit of imagination) a reverse Nazi salute? Because if it’s an anti-zionist gesture, it is as another person said in a video: “You the Zionists who using the Holocaust to terrorize us and to prevent us from criticizing a neo nazi state that is the state of current Israel, this manipulation does not work anymore, that’s what it means”.

“But they do those gestures at Holocaust remembrance sites”, they say. Well, that might be offensive, but can also be a rupture with the self-censorship that refrains from saying that what was wrong then is wrong now. There cannot be a double-standard with the subject who, alas, created the first standard. The suppression of Arabs, the colonization of their land, and the increasingly uncompromising stance in international relations by the Israeli leadership clearly define who’s far-right and who’s against them.

Then again, this could be just a cover to justify Nazi behavior and anti-semitic hatred in Europe (would they accuse Israel of Nazi behavior, though? I’m not sure). But wasn’t it a (Communist) Frenchman who warned of the existential glitch in the personality of Jews that could turn them into involuntary anti-semites?

Il #petrolio di #Rosneft va in #Cina

Tallinn, Estonia

È cominciata oggi la mia collaborazione con L’Indro, una testata giornalistica indipendente che viene pubblicata ogni giorno online. Mi occuperò dell’area post-sovietica (esclusa la Russia) con due articoli di analisi ogni settimana. Le questioni energetiche e internazionali, naturalmente, saranno oggetto di particolare attenzione. Mille parole, studio approfondito del tema ed esposizione chiara per addetti ai lavori e non.
Qui sotto, un “articolo di prova”, per fare capire al pubblico come saranno trattate le notizie. In questo blog inserirò, dopo la pubblicazione, titolo, link e breve sommario di ogni articolo, sperando di stuzzicare il vostro interesse.


Nuova politica energetica russa

Il petrolio di Rosneft va in Cina

A est, mutano gli equilibri di potere tra Gazprom e Rosneft

I nuovi accordi commerciali del gigante russo del petrolio mutano gli equilibri di potere interni tra Rosneft e Gazprom. Il monopolista del gas si indebolisce a ovest mentre la compagnia di Igor Sechin trionfa a est.

TALLINN – Rosneft ha incrementato in maniera sostanziale il suo potere nel settore energetico russo in meno di un mese. Lo scorso 21 giugno, al Forum Economico Internazionale di San Pietroburgo, il colosso petrolifero russo ha raggiunto un accordo di fornitura di greggio verso la Cina del valore di 270 miliardi di dollari per 25 anni. Questo non è il primo segno di una forte collaborazione tra Russia e Cina in termini di commercio energetico. Dopo un decennio di negoziazioni altalenanti, le trattative relative al petrolio sono state risolte grazie alla mutua volontà delle parti e alla capacità di fare incontrare domanda e offerta, questione chiave sia per le esportazioni russe, vitali per il bilancio di Mosca, sia per le importazioni cinesi, imprescindibili per sostenere la crescita della potenza asiatica. Nel 1993, la Cina divenne Paese importatore netto di petrolio, a causa della coincidenza tra l’esaurimento delle risorse interne e dell’aumento vertiginoso dell’attività industriale. Da allora, Pechino ha sete di idrocarburi e cerca fornitori nel mercato internazionale.

Attraverso l’oleodotto ESPO (East Siberian – Pacific Ocean), la Russia è entrata nel mercato petrolifero della regione asiatico-pacifica. Inaugurato nel 2008 dopo un tiro alla fune tra Cina e Giappone per stabilirne la rotta, ESPO rappresenta il principale collegamento tra Russia e Cina, attraverso il quale vengono trasportate 15 milioni di tonnellate di greggio ogni anno. Igor Sechin, che da Vice Primo Ministro partecipò all’inaugurazione di ESPO, in questi giorni sta mostrando al Presidente Vladimir Putin i gioielli commerciali che ha conquistato da amministratore di Rosneft. Ai tempi della presidenza di Dmitri Medvedev, Sechin ricopriva due ruoli fondamentali: vice primo ministro nel governo Putin e amministratore delegato di Rosneft. Con un colpo di coda inaspettato, Medvedev impose la separazione delle cariche di Sechin e altri ‘siloviki’ (ex-agenti segreti sovietici riciclatisi in politica). Con grande astuzia, Sechin rimase alla guida di Rosneft, lasciando l’incarico governativo, sicuro della rielezione di Putin. Tuttavia, gli scontri Medvedev-Sechin non sono terminati: il primo ha proposto di vendere il 19% di Rosneft, abbassando la quota statale al 56%, mentre il secondo ha rifiutato categoricamente questa opzione. Sechin ha comunque ricevuto un ammonimento da Putin, sebbene timido e informale: «stai proprio occupando una posizione da monopolista», riferendosi in particolare ai territori orientali della Federazione Russa.

Nel suo terzo mandato da presidente, Vladimir Putin ha scelto di percorrere senza indugi il vettore asiatico della politica energetica russa, ma le due compagnie a partecipazione maggioritaria statale, Gazprom e Rosneft, hanno avuto fortune diverse. Nel caso di Gazprom, il gruppo manageriale ha commesso numerosi errori commerciali nel tentativo di risolvere il dilemma delle esportazioni in Europa, dove dal 2009 il transito del gas naturale attraverso l’Ucraina è diventato instabile e insicuro. Gli esagerati investimenti in infrastrutture titaniche (Nord Stream e South Stream), intrapresi anche grazie alla partecipazione delle maggiori compagnie europee, sono diretti a mitigare le conseguenze delle ‘crisi di transito’, ma creano buchi profondi nel budget della compagnia russa. Per quanto riguarda le esportazioni, Gazprom sta soffrendo appunto perché si trova costretta a portare a termine progetti molto costosi, nonostante la produzione non cresca e i prezzi diminuiscano.

Gazprom e il governo cinese hanno ottenuto un’intesa sul prezzo del gas russo da esportare nella Repubblica Popolare nel marzo di quest’anno. Ciò aveva sorpreso molti analisti ed esperti, considerato che nei sei anni precedenti le negoziazioni tra Mosca e Pechino avevano ripetutamente disatteso le speranze. L’intesa, tuttavia, non costituisce necessariamente un accordo e la costruzione del gasdotto è ancora solo un progetto sulle mappe. Senza gasdotto, infatti, i protocolli di intenti sulle forniture di gas naturale non possono essere tradotti in realtà. All’interno della Russia, Gazprom sta inoltre cedendo terreno in termini di produzione, dove Rosneft e Novatek stanno erodendo fette di mercato  domestico sempre più rilevanti. Proprio Rosneft ha completato a fine maggio l’acquisizione di ITERA, compagnia specializzata nel settore del gas e recentemente uscita dalle grazie del Cremlino. Insieme agli asset, Rosneft ottenne anche i diritti sui giacimenti di ITERA, diventando così un avversario concreto per Gazprom, con cui doveva fondersi nell’ormai lontano 2005. Oggi è forse più plausibile che Gazprom venga spezzettata in varie compagnie più piccole e dedicate a ciascun settore della filiera energetica, dalla produzione alla distribuzione, come suggerito a marzo scorso da ‘The Economist’.

Quest’anno Sechin ha esercitato una forte pressione affinché il monopolio sulle esportazioni di gas naturale, appannaggio di Gazprom dal 2006, fosse eliminato. Questo permetterebbe a Rosneft di pianificare un programma industriale di lungo periodo per l’esportazione di gas naturale liquefatto (GNL) dai propri nuovi giacimenti nel nord della Russia. Da lì partirebbero anche le esportazioni di Novatek, che ha raggiunto un accordo con la cinese Sinopec per la produzione di GNL nella penisola russa di Yamal.

Rosneft è impegnata in una campagna a tutto campo in ambito internazionale. Al Forum di San Pietroburgo nei giorni scorsi, la compagnia russa ha creato delle joint ventures con ENI per lo sfruttamento di risorse petrolifere nel Mare di Barents e nel Mar Nero. Inoltre, ha messo nero su bianco diversi accordi di produzione e commercializzazione di petrolio e GNL con compagnie giapponesi, americane, olandesi e norvegesi. Sul sito web della compagnia si può trovare un contatore che segnala il numero di accordi raggiunti nella città di Pietro il Grande. Ad aprile Rosneft ha inoltre acquistato alcune quote della Saras, per aumentare la sua capacità di raffinazione. Nel corso dello scorso inverno, la compagnia di Sechin ha completato l’acquisizione di TNK-BP, joint venture nata nel 2003 tra alcuni banchieri russi e la britannica BP. Quanto successo è stato utile per mantenere un buon rapporto con BP in vista delle possibili esplorazioni artiche future, dopo quelle fallite nel 2011.

La Cina considera positivo l’incremento del potere di Rosneft, visti i problemi negoziali avuti con Gazprom in passato. La compagnia di Sechin è anche in buoni rapporti con il Kazakistan, che dal 2009 fornisce annualmente circa 10 milioni di tonnellate di petrolio alla Cina occidentale. Dall’Asia centrale arriva anche gas naturale dal Turkmenistan, nuovo partner chiave della Cina, a dispetto di Gazprom. Pechino ha tutto l’interesse a circondarsi di “amici energetici” affidabili e lasciare al proprio fato il lunatico management di Gazprom. Questo mutamento in termini di potere relativo nel settore energetico russo tra Gazprom e Rosneft non è invece ben visto da Putin, il quale preferirebbe una strategia più equilibrata per la nuova politica estera energetica che guarda a oriente. Tuttavia è probabile che la conclusione del terzo mandato di Vladimir Vladimirovich coincida con la fine dell’egemonia di Gazprom, confinata alle attività europee, e con l’ascesa di Rosneft e Sechin a est.

Recent Past and Near Future

Glasgow, UK 

The fact that I’ve let this blog go even under one post per month can be a huge disappointment – or a great relief – for my few followers. I have now a few related announcements to make in order to explain my past and future absence from this platform. The absence will be interrupted by wordy posts, however. Because I can’t keep my promises.

– Collaboration with The Hidden Transcript (student-run online magazine)

For forthcoming articles, refer to the page

– Conferences, roundtables, workshops in the next 2 months

  • Dublin, DCU – Irish Association for Russian, Central and East European Studies (IARCEES) Conference

    • presentation of a paper on Pipelines and Hegemony in the Caspian Region (a neo-Gramscian appraisal)
  • London, UCL – School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES) and Centre for East European Language-Based Area Studies (CEELBAS) Roundtable on “Energy and Institutions”
    • presentation on Pipeline politics and Energy Security in the Caspian (the case of Kurmangazy)
  • Cambridge, UK – British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies (BASEES) and International Council for Central and East European Studies (ICCEES) Congress
    • panelist and discussant for panel 3.4 “EU Energy Security since 2004: Import Dependency and Russian Gas Supplies for an Expanding Union”

A couple of book reviews will also be coming along.

Word choice

Oakland, CA

As the date of my departure from the United States approaches, I look back at some reading I did a week ago and how it crystallized my opinion on the importance of words. Of the many that our bottle-shaped brain contains, only a few words emerge in times of excitement, i.e. lack of thoughtful planning (for example when we speak or when we write a blogpost off sudden inspiration). Sometimes words go missing, sometimes they are misplaced. But what makes it through the neck of the bottle sometimes would be worth keeping under the cork.

“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.” So let’s be sincere: I like George Orwell (pen name for Eric Arthur Blair, an Englishman who lived the earliest 47 years of the past century). So when I found his archives on the internet, I chose to read his short article ‘Politics and the English Language’ (Horizon London April 1946). With his attack vis-à-vis the twilight of the language (an expression I here use on purpose to show what he was going against,) Orwell tries to make sense of a language that is perhaps the youngest, most lively, and most influenced of all. He acknowledges the poetic appeal of Latin, Greek, or foreign words. Nonetheless, he draws a well-defined border between poetry and prose: while poetry could be the art of playing with words, worshiping or slaying them, “in prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them.” He speaks to the writer, begging s/he to “let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around.” It’s very hard to do so in a world where all we get from the mass media is sensationalistic headlines and synomyms and acronyms have substituted (and simplified) phrases and concepts on Twitter.

Times change: true, “but if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” Orwell is very wise on this point. It is politically relevant to consider what words are being put after another. Sometimes we think there’s no better way of phrasing our thoughts than with a weird roundabout of meaningless foreign-sounding buzz words. In fact, there’s almost infinite ways of phrasing what comes to mind, especially because the second it pops up is probably a yet-underdeveloped thought. Think more about it and you’re going to use more words to define it. Put it on paper and you’re going to cross out some of those words and add some others to specify what you are thinking. Then you define your audience and you choose whether to adjust to it or try to impose your way of understanding and defining your concept. It is the writer (or the speaker) who defines the standard of effectiveness. To publish a best-selling book is not a big deal once you’ve been chosen by a major editorial company, which can operate a giant advertising machine for you. To write that book well and to reach the goal of entertaining, stimulating, and educating people – which goes beyond statistics and royalties – is a much harder task, which most of the times is not reflected by the ranking of the book on the New York Times or Amazon charts.

When it comes to politics, the whole lingo of specific parties and the politically-charged semantics activate a whole sector of academia (political discourse analysis) and deviate the attention from the actual meaning of the propositions. Politicians and political writers are also conscious that the public’s ears need to be unlocked by a few keywords and they are willing to carefully review the “impact factor” of certain words in their oratorial flow in order to both attract consensus and to maintain their “branded” standard on record. Obama is not going to say “job creators” as well as Romney is not going to spell out “government intervention”, although neither of them thinks either concept is too far away from their politics. The official political discourse sometimes seems artificially constructed in order to create a rift in the way politicians refer to issues as opposed to their actual position on them.

All things considered, I agree with one of Orwell’s main points: the reason of the impoverishment of the language and the possible remedies. His analysis is far from being a defense of archaism and of pretty and well-thought styles. He thinks the goal of a writer should be to “make pretentiousness unfashionable” and gain back the meaning. Towards such purpose, he proposes a few rules that should accompany the craft of writing (and I would add: of speaking). Here are his rules, posted here as a friendly reminders, to my readers and to myself:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

I just wish I had a deeper knowledge of the English language to make this post sound as it should according to those rules. However, a question arises: should romance languages, (or for that matter any other language) have the same kind of goals? Who decided that prose can’t be poetic? Darn, I just circled back into the atavistic dilemma of the genuine motive behind the kidney of language… Oops! Orwell just threw up in his own grave.

Capitalist Anti-Semitism

Oakland, CA

Jean-Paul Sartre tickles my mind. So, when I come across one of his books that I haven’t already read, I grab it and I  take it home. There it sits for a while, until the time is ripe (and my mind is free). This time I didn’t go for either a novel or a theatrical piece. I approached a libellum titled “Anti-Semite and Jew” written in France in 1944 (date and place are important in this respect). Knowing that Sartre is not Jewish and that he is politically a Marxist, I couldn’t answer the riddle that the title created until I read the first pages. In line with much existentialist literature of the time, JPS chose an issue of current socio-political relevance in order to abstract the fundamental question further up to a more general level. Just like Sartre in his narrative, here I would like to express my pleasure for reading the book and my take-home lesson with a very simple language.

Jean-Paul Sartre’s Anti-Semite and Jew (here I include free versions: html and pdf) was written in 1944, after the Nazi occupation was over in France, but well before the war ended and the crimes against the Jews were fully disclosed and accounted. The title in French is more elusive: Réflexions sur la question juive is less provocative and more to the point. In this book, JPS deconstructs anti-Semitism and portrays the customs of (French) society for what these really are. Jewness is harder to spot in a person than skin color. For this reason, the reading that I filtered through from the book is more far-reaching than what one can imagine at the beginning. At one point, especially if you’re just starting to understand race in a more systemic way like I am, you can read beyond the characters on the pages and play more with the crude words of the French philosopher.

Sartre, apparently using Instagram

Sartre starts by making everybody in France who carried the book – or read part of it in Les Temps Modernes – feel anti-Semite. There aren’t anti-Semite opinions. There are just anti-Semites. People who buy into stereotypes of street culture (and fascist propaganda),  people who turn a blind eye on the issue, people that cannot shake off from their mindset the prejudices against a race-less, nation-less (at the time) community. JPS also marks the distinction between the authentic and the inauthentic Jew. The latter being someone who denies himself, his roots, his personality, in order to appear less of a Jew to his fellow compatriots, who in addition advocate for the universal man, the Frenchman, devoid of any characterization besides his nationalism. [note: here I use the same gender courtesy that the translator used in the version that I read. Both the anti-Semite and the Jew are male types – French is a romance language and the masculine is commonly used as a neuter gender.] Crooked noses and curly hair are simply not enough to define a Jew, but are chatacteristics that can be singled out in a Jewish person. The path of the deconstruction of anti-Semitism is very long for JPS, who winds to all sides of human behavior and psychology.

He argues that anti-Semitism is driven by passion. One not justified by a direct provocation, causing anger not through logic. But, as he notes, one must “consent to anger before it can manifest itself.” So the anti-Semite has chosen to hate. In opposition to a concept, not something real. The anti-Semite’s Jewish friends are never a direct target of his anger. But when the crowd shouts: “I hate the Jews”, he joins. Sartre also discusses the reason for Jews’ attachment to money and possession, as the only legal, tangible means to emancipation that an outcast of society can seek for. Here’s the twist: JPS portrays the anti-Semite as member of the middle-class, angry at the Jew, member of the nonproducer, burgeois class. But “The Jew is free to do evil, not good” and therefore he is also a ruthless Bolshevik ready to destroy France in the name of Socialism. The anti-Semite’s arguments are very hard to sort out: he believes in Good and Evil and is certain of his position and of the position of the Jew in this configuration. JPS’s Marxist soul appears here to throw light on the essence of the class struggle is between two world orders, alternative in their administration of humanity and nature, both far from the perfection typically associated with the archetypal symbols of Good and Evil. Sartre pulls also the existentialist card by noting that the anti-Semite is afraid of himself, his consciousness, and his liberty, not of the Jew. The anti-Semite is a coward who would rather be a stone than a man.

One-third of the book is already gone and JPS has just acknowledged what the XXI century reader has already figured out: the anti-Semite only needs the Jew as a pretext; his counterpart elsewhere “will make use of the Negro or of the man of yellow skin”. The second chapter is dedicated to spiting the democrat, the universalist, the enlightened, etc. who only recognizes man, “man always the same in all times and places”. The democrat’s acceptance of the Jew as a man leads to the denial of the latter as a Jew. What follows is the creation of the inauthentic Jew as a way of mini-salvation for the Jew. Sartre aptly describes this condition in Part III as a conscious choice and dwells philosophically and pragmatically on it (the term is of course devoid of any moral blame, as the philosopher clearly states). There, he also rejects the definition of race as “that indefinable complex into which are tossed pell-mell both somatic characteristics, and intellectual and moral traits.” At the same time, JPS slashes those who “can’t see race,” but only individuals. Then he goes on against the defenders of the true France and the purity of the Frenchman. As usual, Sartre takes everybody to court. Interestingly, the theme of the judgement comes in the book with the assimilation of the condition of the Jew to that of the hero of Franz Kafka’s The Trial.

For JPS, however, there is a clear culprit: “It is our eyes that reflect to him [the Jew] the unacceptable image that he wishes to dissimulate. It is our words and our gestures – all of our words and all of our gestures – our anti-Semitism, but equally our condescending liberalism that have poisoned him. […] It is we who force him into the dilemma of Jewish authenticity or inauthenticity”. The choice of inauthenticity stands before the Jew who is “haunted by the spectre of violence”, and chooses to deny himself in order to be left alone.

One of the chief problems with Sartre’s argument is the treatment of Zionism just as a byproduct of all this hatred. It becomes harmful for the authentic Jew and an additional weapon in the anti-Semite arsenal. JPS only lightly touches upon the issue of the colonization of Palestine under Zionist principles. But our dear philosopher could not imagine that the course of the events would have taken such inflexible path.

The fourth, and last part sums up the argument and deals with solutions. The “regressive social force” of anti-Semitism is to be countered by propaganda and education, which alas will not prove effective enough. Let’s not forget that the anti-Semite is the champion of legality in France. Anti-Semitism is the product of the burgeois division of society in classes, communities, and sections. The Jew cannot accept assimilation in such a world – he must fight for a society without anti-Semitism. “What is there to say except that the socialist revolution is necessary to and sufficient for the suppression of anti-Semitism? It is for the Jew also that we shall make the revolution.”

The revolution indeed. What struck me the most about this book is the possibility to cross out and substitute the words anti-Semite and Jew with analogous oppressor-oppressed dynamics (white-all other colors/types; even rich-poor, although most of his reasonings remain relevant through racial arguments). Only a change in the type of society we live in may bring about the obliteration of such dynamic. White oppression is synonymous with capitalist oppression. It’s about time that we realize it.

In the words of Richard Wright: “There is no Negro problem in the United States, there is only a White problem”. There’s no poverty, racism, inequality, exploitation, pollution… there’s just their root-cause: capitalism – the Evil we should fight against.