Afghanistan, some Sneering and Jeering.

When confronted by that internal scribbling contradiction between maintaining blog gravitas and the need to indulge in a bit NOTW populism, letting the beast off its leash has its own reward.

I was planning to go straight into a piece centred on Rodric Braithwaite’s very recent book on the Soviet Union’s misadventures in Afghanistan, that manure pile which has laid empires low, but feel the need to comment on the state of the blogosphere and Beijing’s recent weather. The latter is fully justified given my latest tweet.

ChinaGeeks and Peking Duck are lost forums of late. Predictable trench warfare involving semantic interpretation, grudges and repetitions by the usual suspects. Half-arsed calls for moderation, backsliding, plus a bit of ineffective name calling, built on news items (re)circulating on a number of similar forums.

Adam Cathcarts and Justrecently’s sites, possibly because they continue to adhere to their original non-populist mission statements, continue to attract a loyal readership (speaking for myself) In fact, they downright sparkle at times, and this is in spite of their stricter commenting guidelines.

Sinostand and Seeing Red in China can be viewed as bookends. Both share a common characteristic in that they appear to have a clearly laid out scribbling plan, focussing on different aspects of expat life in China in a very systematic manner. I opt for the former even though it appears to attract little comment activity. The latter reads like a calculated attempt to provide a 101 PRC Primer and, annoyingly, a significant number of commenters conjure up images of a Greek praise chorus. Nonetheless, both are worth a regular visit

Isidor’s Fugue is a sea of serenity after this cacophony with its consistently great photos. I suggest a visit when you want to take time out for a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit.

Late entry in the Sino-juvenile humour department. The China Daily Show HERE Always good for a giggle since warlord Yan Xishan HERE died of exhaustion on his giant kang surrounded by his favourite concubines.


Now to smoggy-foggy Beijing. Even my cat is aware of the ‘crazy bad’ or ‘off the index’ pollution being experienced by this uber power metropolis in the last few days. Undoubtedly, the best photos of this chemical soup are to be found on Chinasmack HERE, plus some pointed comments by Chinese netizens about the politics of asphyxiation. For the novice, background can be read HERE and HERE. And all are aware of the air cons which filter out PM2.5 particles installed in the offices and homes of senior govt cadres. 10,000 flights were cancelled, 4 major highways were closed and food prices took a hike.

When you consider deforestation, salinization, seriously depleted aquifers and the spoliation of agricultural land (10%), China’s aspirations to be an equal to the US/West are but a faint hope. At this rate of environmental attrition, there will be a lemming-like exodus in rubber ducks in a decade or so. Toxic Avenger by Sino-Troma Productions. The same folks who brought you Surf Nazis must Die.

Troma Productions

Back to the plot, the Global Times reports that Beijing is to get an online water quality index:

Citizens in Beijing will be able to check the quality of the water they use every day by accessing an online checking system, set to be established by 2012, the Beijing Times reported on Tuesday.

The system will be launched by Beijing Health Inspection Institute, which also plans to build 20 water quality monitoring centers in the city, the report says.

So far, Beijing has built a number of monitoring centers to check on potable water, however, it does not mean tap water at home is safe to drink.

The water, despite being safe when it comes from the pumping station, could get contaminated on the way to people’s homes,” said Zhang Junfeng, founder of the non-government water resource watchdog Happy Water Journeys.

“Broken pipes, sand deposits in the pipes and aging storage tanks in residential communities may deteriorate water quality,” Zhang noted.

Although the water index can be provided, many still believe that the system will not be good enough to judge water quality.

“It’s good to have this system, but I’ll still have to see myself if there’s limescale residue in my kettle,” said Li Jie, who lives in Shuangjing.

Note the caveats and Mrs Li’s concern about limescale and die laughing. Also keep in mind that Beijing’s water supply is piped in from hard scrabble farmland 150km plus away. You can bet the farm that rural-urban conflict over diminishing water resources will rise to the fore in the near future. And here I refer to a previous POST.


You have only to read Lenin’s margin comments on documents which passed his desk to know that he was a thorough bastard of the first order (pace historian Richard Pipes). Being a total Philistine in regard to music, literature and opera, Lenin spent a lot of time gazing at a map of the world and thinking:

all that British Empire Pink and administered by exactly 21,000 officers employed by the Foreign Office. Why are my Bolsheviks such a talentless bunch?”.

Now it you plan to travel one of the Old Silk Roads from Kashgar to Herat, your first task is to buy a copy of The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia by Peter Hopkirk. You get to revel in tales of derring-do and the annihilation of the 16,000 officers, other ranks and camp followers who retreated from the British Residency in Kabul in 1842.

Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars provides an excellent but one-sided account of US-ISI-Mujahadin machinations to lay low the Russian Bear in Afghanistan – from the takeover by the Afgan Communist Party in April 1978 to the castration of Najibullah in the UN compound in September 1996.

Rodric Braithwaite is an up-there historian of the very first order, fluent in Russian with a military background, plus long stints in the Foreign Office working in the British Embassy in Moscow during the collapse of the Soviet Union.

AFGANTSY: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-89 Profile Books 2011 is a comprehensive and sympathetic account of this venture which began on a very indecisive, but well-intentioned note, and ended in general humiliation. After reading this extremely well documented tome, one comes away with two lessons.

The Russians supported the Afghan Communist parties for the best of intentions – the emancipation of women, the provision of general education and much-need infrastructure construction – in contrast to US counter-measures centred around cynicism and Great Empire real politick. Secondly, the wash up after the withdrawal of Soviet troops, helps explain the rise of Putinism and his Great Fatherland autocracy. This is not to gloss over the routine atrocities performed by both the Russians and Mujahedin which Braithwaite outlines in documented detail.

The Soviet Union’s army was a broken instrument even before entering the Central Asian crossroad which is Afghanistan. Yet it continued to muddle on, and for an insight into the mentality of the Russian rank and file soldier, who was hazed, shorted on food, equipment etc, I also recommend Nicolai Lilin’s Free Fall on the butchery in Chechnya HERE.

Finally, a concluding factoid.

When he was a communist party youth activist, Najibullah hit visiting dignitary George Bush Senior with a rotten tomato during an anti-US demo in Kabul. Both went on to become presidents of their respective countries, and this is a fact not mentioned by Braithwaite.

5 Responses to “Afghanistan, some Sneering and Jeering.”

  1. Lorin Yochim Says:

    Being new to the blogosphere, I appreciate your tips on China blogs. RE seeing red in china, my theory is that the generally low level of China competence required to relate to Tom’s writing is the reason his comments sections are so active. When I read yours, sometimes all I have to say is *Like*. Might I suggest lobbing some softballs or, alternatively, some obvious inaccuracies to incite the masses? 😉

  2. kingtubby1 Says:

    Thanks Lorin. I write mainly for my own pleasure and a few Dear Readers, most of whom have their own sites, and not for the great unwashed or Sino-uneducated.

    Anyway, my pieces are all over the shop in terms of subject matter, and so are unlikely to attract the general PRC monomaniac.

    More of a self-indulgence and an opportunity to riff on about movies and music.

    Blogs are great since we can all create our own mould, and then fill it in with our own musings, trivial or otherwise.


  3. Lorin Yochim Says:

    Agreed. I’ve become a regular reader of yours. At times I laugh, at others I nod, at still others I find myself booing and hissing. Sometimes I settle for a head scratch. All of which are a few steps above my reaction to most of the comments on seeing red in china. But I’m learning to be nice.

  4. justrecently Says:

    I think the Peking Duck thread does include fewer “ad-hominems” (if any). The main reason for the latest thread being out of control, or hard to follow, is the entrenched exchange of long, “strictly logical” arguments between two commenters in particular. One of the commenters said that his eyes were becoming glassy. The only thing that can help you to keep track of particular interlocutors is to use the “find” function on the browser.

    Re Najibullah: when he was tortured to death by the Taliban, the American public could have taken note of the kind of “allies” they had supported to fight against the Soviet Union – but I guess most people there had long lost interest.

  5. kingtubby1 Says:

    Couldn’t agree more, and I will throw in another couple of reads on Afghanistan soon which will highlight your point.

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