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By David Bennett

Ernest Hemingway – Required Reading for Young Writers, 1934

The Blue Hotel by Stephen Crane
The Open Boat by Stephen Crane
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Dubliners by James Joyce
The Red and the Black by Stendhal
Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
Hail and Farewell by George Moore
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Oxford Book of English Verse
The Enormous Room by E.E. Cummings
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Far Away and Long Ago by W.H. Hudson
The American by Henry James

VW – Solutions Are Better Than Fines

It has been widely reported that VW could face fines of $375million in clean air fines. That is on top of the $18billion for diesel car violations.

The fines do not clean the air.

Here’s a better idea: Insist that VW cleans the air that they have dirtied. They are an advanced vehicle manufacturer. Get them to figure out how to clean the air. There may already be solutions out there that they can use. If it costs them $200million to figure it out, they get off cheap. And if it costs them $600million – tough.

Stipulate that once they figure it out, that the solution becomes public property so that everyone can use it.

And if they can’t figure it out, tell them to keep at it. They are bright and they’ll figure it out sooner or later. Isn’t that what we have been telling ourselves for years – that the situation is redeemable, that technology will see us through?

Syria, Homeland, Russia and The US

The first episode of Series Five of Homeland was on TV last night.

I missed most of Series Four, so I had a bit of mental catching up to do, but I soon got in the swing of it.

In this opening episode, the high-ups in the US Government ask CIA operative Peter Quinn to tell them how their strategy in Syria is going. He asks them to tell him what their strategy is and he will tell them whether it is working.

It is his introduction to tell them they have no strategy, but their enemy has.

They ask for his recommendation and he says to bomb the city of Raqqa to a parking lot.

The answer is unacceptable because it is not humane to bomb a city where the enemy is mixed in among the civilian population.

That’s TV.

Real Life

In 2011, Obama said that Assad must go.

When ISIS came on the scene, Assad suddenly didn’t seem such a bad option, and Kerry has made some ambiguous remarks since.

Now Russia is bombing in Syria and Putin claims they are doing a much better job than the US Air Force has done.

The US has protested, but I wonder whether they might not just be glad that someone else is bombing Raqqa into a parking lot for them.

Russia, Syria, Tartus, and Sebastapol

‘Putin’s adventure stokes fears over his real intentions’ This is the language used by Bloomberg News today to describe Russia’s decision to bomb ISIS, and thereby to support the Assad regime in Syria.

There’s been similar language in the media over the past week or so with a fluid mix of adjectives describing Putin as somehow wily and irresponsible.

And what is said of Putin’s ambitions may be true. I wouldn’t know. What I do know from what I have read over the past several years is that there is behind-the-scenes involvement between Syria, Iran, and Russia.

But there is also something far more obvious, clear and undeniable. That is that Russia has a naval base at Tartus on the Mediterranean coast of Syria.

And if the Asad regime goes, so might Russia’s base.

The base is Russia’s only refuelling depot in the Mediterranean. Without it, Russia’s naval vessels would have to refuel and refit on the Black Sea and exit via Turkey, which is of course a member of NATO.

There is of course, Sebastopol – a Russian naval base on the Black Sea. In 2010, Russia and Ukraine ratified a treaty that gave Ukraine access to Russian gas in exchange for an extension of Russia’s lease of the base at Sebastopol through to 2042, with options to extend for further five-year periods beyond that.

Then came the 2014 Ukrainian revolution.

There are contrary views of what the Ukrainian revolution was and is about. Is it a country that wants to express its democratic wish to join the West? Is it a country run by gangsters and opportunists banked by Western companies that see opportunities for a new market if Ukraine joins the Western club?

What you think depends on who you read.

Was Russia’s action in annexing Crimea a a long-term plan crafted to look like a democratic response to the Ukrainian revolution? Or was it was a reasonable response to a desire by the Russian-population of the Crimea not be dragged away from mother Russia?

Again, what you think depends on who you read.

One thing is clear though and that is that the 2014 Ukrainian revolution put the Russian gas-for-bases treaty at risk.

And without Sebastopol, Russia would have to rely on its Black Sea port at Odessa. And the two ports are not the same. Sebastapol has a much more equable climate.

So putting all this together, we get Russia protecting Sebastapol and Tartus. And against that backdrop, its plan to bomb ISIS is easy to understand.