30 January 2014


You remember Kremlinologists? Back in the days of the cold war, these people used to look at the blank walls of the Russian government, and divine, almost magically, what was going on inside them: who was in, who was out, and what this meant for us, the Western world.

Looking back, it seems likely that their expertise was entirely self-proclaimed. Like the economic experts before 2008, they somehow failed to predict some fairly important things, but not before they'd made their fortunes by telling the American and British governments exactly what they wanted to hear.

Even Wikipedia is somewhat scathing about the Kremlinologists' techniques:

During the Cold War, lack of reliable information about the country forced Western analysts to "read between the lines" and to use the tiniest titbits, such as the removal of portraits, the rearranging of chairs, positions at the reviewing stand for parades in Red Square, the choice of capital or small initial letters in phrases such as "First Secretary", the arrangement of articles on the pages of the party newspaper "Pravda" and other indirect signs to try to understand what was happening in internal Soviet politics.
 So it seems this was an -ology with all the rigour and testability of feng shui.

Yet compared with valleyology it's an  exact, Newtonian science. There was a flurry of valleyology on twitter yesterday, where all the entrails seemed to point to a calamitous perestroika: Yann leaving; Powell overruled and likely to quit; relegation all but certain. Based on what? At one point the discussion revolved around how long a train journey to Bournemouth would take.I took it too seriously and it left me quite depressed.

Today, Chris Powell has addressed a press conference and, as always, a few words from the great man have made me feel better. Dale Stephens has gone and Yann may - nobody knows - still be going: A couple of players with excitingly unpronounceable names have come in. But still, a load of people are examining every word of the press conference, trying to read a message in the tealeaves. The Daily Mail ran a story saying Powell's position was in doubt, which seems to have been based solely on the alarmist tweets of last night.

Despite the kremlinologists, the Soviet empire collapsed, Germany reunited, Russia became more corrupt and Poland more priest-ridden than ever, and the letters CCCP are now just a stuttering tribute to our leader. They, the kremlinologists, got everything wrong. Valleyologists: look on their works, you might as well, and despair.

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