‘The Long, Long Fall of Monarchy’ by Amanda Foreman – The Wall Street Journal

A portrait of Czar Nicholas II, published in a French newspaper in 1896. PHOTO: LEEMAGE/UIG/GETTY IMAGES

A hundred years ago, on March 14, 1917, just before midnight, the ministers of Czar Nicholas II informed him that the army was on the verge of mutiny. “What do you want me to do?” the Russian emperor reportedly asked. “Abdicate,” they replied. After a few minutes’ silence he agreed to go, thus bringing down the curtain on three centuries of Romanov rule. Continue reading…

‘A Brief History of Sledding’ by Amanda Foreman – The Wall Street Journal

The sled symbolizes the all-American way of life—with its freedom, simplicity and comfort—that Kane lost when he gained his riches. It should be no surprise that another quintessential American classic, Frank Capra’s 1946 “It’s a Wonderful Life,” also has an iconic scene of children sledding on a wintry day. Continue reading…

‘Click with care – we’re close to giving the bad guys control of the internet’ – The Sunday Times

Source: Creative Commons

Source: Creative Commons

WHOM do you trust more with your freedom: America or Russia? The Edward Snowden revelations about government surveillance have made that more of a loaded question than it used to be, so I’ll rephrase it. Who do you think is more protective of human rights: America or Saudi Arabia?

You would have to be a moral idiot to choose Saudi Arabia, the country of routine beheadings, public floggings and judicial torture. Yet it’s chairing one of the key committees of the United Nations human rights council (UNHRC). That’s the way things work at the UN: smoke, mirrors and rampant horse-trading. The latest WikiLeaks cache has revealed something of the back story to the Saudi Arabia fiasco.

No doubt there’s a similar load of emails elsewhere that explains how Iran was able to strong-arm its way to chairing the 120-country Non-Aligned Movement, which has many members in the UNHRC. (Using this muscle, Iran submitted a resolution last month that says sanctions are a violation of human rights.)

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‘Money, energy and cunning, the US’s new Cold War armoury’ – The Sunday Times

Photo: Blair Fraser

Photo: Blair Fraser

MORE THAN 5,000 people have died in Ukraine since the start of Russia’s annexation and despoilment campaign. It is not as though the EU and the US have looked the other way during this bloodshed; it’s just that every attempt to engage or contain Russia has so far ended in failure.

Does Russia’s dismantling of Ukraine mean that the Cold War has resumed after a 25-year hiatus? Or is it a new Cold War with America? Or a neo-Cold War against liberal democracies, or a frozen conflict with Nato, or just a regional conflict within the old Soviet bloc?

The reason the categorisation is so important is that the naming of the crisis brings with it a set of ideological and practical responses.

The term “Cold War” carries the unmistakeable baggage of an existential conflict between irreconcilable systems of government. It implies that democracy itself is once again on trial for its life. This is all rather unfortunate timing considering that the major democracies are still reeling from the financial crisis of 2007-8, and in many cases have yet to prove themselves capable of restoring public confidence or fiscal order.

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‘Chest-beating Putin aims his vilest weapon at the West — misogyny’ – The Sunday Times

Photo: Drew Hays

Photo: Drew Hays

I am not a professional Dr Angry. I don’t go round collecting grievances. Nor do I have a brain that categorises everything in terms of “isms”.

So when I say Vladimir Putin’s Russia is one of the most loathsomely misogynistic countries in the world, I am speaking from the heart. I don’t just mean misogyny in a crass, vodka-swilling, male loser way; I mean in a big threat to world peace way.

I have visited a fair number of countries this year in the course of filming a documentary series on the history of women. Some could hardly be described as bastions of tolerance and equality. But only in Russia did I witness sexism bolstered by state-sanctioned menace and contempt. It’s a truly repellent culture that can’t see anything wrong in a poster for vodka showing an alluring woman with bruised knees.

But simply being brutish and boorish is not in itself a national catastrophe. The poison in the well comes from the skilful way in which Putin has encouraged a cultural war— one that equates patriotism and nationalism with hard-fisted chauvinism — in order to bolster his political war with Europe.

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