Friday, August 29, 2003

Successfully fighting guerillas...

...requires losing your humanity. Or, at least, so require time-tested anti-guerilla techniques. The War Nerd makes this point quite impressively.
A perfect poem

Aaron Haspel quotes his favorite poem in English. It defies description, but Aaron manages to lucidly and non-fatally analyze it.

[From my airheaded comment] One might also wonder why America's greatest female poet was a spinster, its (highly arguably, of course) greatest female writer didn't have much of a sex life, either, and the female figure in America's best-known painting is for some reason supposed to be an old maiden as well.

[Profuse apologies to Aaron for having initially misspelled his name. I am probably beyond redemption.]

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Arnold at State Dept.?

Both the length and composition of the California hopefuls list, together with California's status as the largest North American state and the world's 5th economy, are enough to exonerate Europeans for their near-reflexive smirks and sneers. (I'd vote for Larry Flint, but that's irrelevant.) Yes, Reagan was an actor, too (and a far less successful one), and he was quite hollywoodishly immature about the way he complained about high wartime taxes. One would think that paying 90% of a portion of one's income while staying at home in the evergreen, ever Golden State, is quite a good deal to avoid feeding lice in the trenches. But that's irrelevant, too. Reagan established himself as a leading conservative politicial in the 1960s, having converted to conservatism in the previous decade. His 1964 pro-Goldwater speech was quite an event in Republican history; but times change, and we all change along, getting dumb and dumber, so we shouldn't expect much of whoever gets on the rostrum these days.

Foreign-born, Arnold cannot become President or VP, but he could be Secretary of State: Kissinger and Albright aren't native-borns, either. Imagine him switching to German in the middle of a conversation with Villepin -- not to postmodern German but straight, commanding Terminator speak...

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Curiosity kills mostly cats

Another amazing trait of Western civilization is (or was, shall I say?) unbounded curiosity. Watching one of numerous Egypt pyramid 'documentaries' with one eye an hour ago, I wondered why it was Europeans who needed to know so badly, so urgently what those hieroglyphs meant and how those obelisks had been installed. No one else seemed to care; no one cared at all from the fall of Rome till Champollion's second birthday. No doubt this built-in curiosity played a very special role in the discoveries and conquests without which Australia and Siberia, to say nothing of America, would still be aboriginal (please note I'm not making moral calls here).

One major Soviet scientist -- it must have been Nesmeyanov or Vinogradov, either one a chemist -- used to joke that a career in science was an opportunity to satisfy one's curiosity at the government's expense. Since free markets make possible private funding even for theoretical research, we could reword the aphorism to say "somebody else's expense". Nesmeyanov is also credited with the recipe for nesmeyanovka, a special kind of spirit-based cranberry infusion (nastoyka). Considering that Mendeleyev proposed what turned out the best spirit-water proportion for vodka, a further inquiry into by-products of chemists' thought might yield extra fruit.

[Note: In addition to misspelling "curiosity", I was wrong to claim no one tried to understand hieroglyphs before the French -- see C.Bloggerfeller's comment.]
Gopnik and Glucksmann

Once again, Cinderella Bloggerfeller has a rather interesting quote, this time from a New Yorker article on the New Philosophers in the 21st century, by Adam Gopnik.

"Gopnik" sounds perfect to me. Aside from the most obvious decomposition, GOP-nik, "gopnik" means a small-time but violent and habitual criminal in Russian -- e.g., a mugger, -- and in general, someone who is always happy to bloody a good clean citizen's nose. Accordingly, "gop-stop" is somewhat dated underworld slang for a mugging. One of the tricks cousin languages play on each other.

Monday, August 25, 2003

Felled by malady

My heart aches literally, together with my head and stomach. Some sort of the flu, I suppose. I'm not even in a mood to reply to Mike Tyukanov's insightful comment. And it's a good thing that I'm not because a serious discussion of coordination, cooperation and competition would raise some sociological and anthropological issues that I'm simply not qualified to handle.

I was glad to see Fernando Alonso win the Hungarian Grand Prix for Renault yesterday (I'm talking about Formula 1, just in case). Raikkonen of McLaren-Mercedes came second, and Montoya of Willams-BMW third. I think it's the first time Renault has fared this well since the glorious era of their partnership with Williams that brought four W-R championship wins (Mansell, 1992; Prost, 1993; Hill, 1996; Villeneuve, 1997; and, of course, Hill would have won in 1994 had it not been for Schumacher's traditionally perfidious behavior in the last race). Not to mention that Williams-Renault was Ayrton Senna's last team. After Hungary, Montoya trails Schumacher by only a point, and Raikkonen by two, so we should see some serious fighting in the remaining three races.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

More about Europe vs. US

An entry by the same name at EuroPundits, followed by an interesting discussion. Worth checking out, trust me.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Remembering Tarquinius Priscus

Paul Jané cites a Reuters report showing that Brazil is about to become the first nation in Latin America to send not just its astronauts and sputniks to space, but propel them by their own, Brazilian-made rockets. No wonder Paul can’t resist adding:

[Cultural Insensitivity Moment] They might even find the time to provide a large chunk of their citizens with indoor plumbing after this. [/Cultural Insensitivity Moment]

The same perfectly applies to the former Soviet Union, but it was a “command economy”, Moscow allocating resources among sectors and regions. Although space exploration in countries with market economies is also funded chiefly with taxpayers’ money, using tax funds to install plumbing in slums would be frowned at as a form of wealth transfer. The libertarian take, I suppose, would be that the state should not spend on more than the bare essentials; therefore, no public funding for extras, be they space flights or toilets. From a developmental perspective, near-universal access to basic amenities is conducive to both economic growth in general and the rise of a middle class. Moreover, income or wealth transfers (not handouts but benefits like education or health subsidies) might help growth in societies with huge income/wealth disparities inherited from the more illiberal times. But if the poor vote to tax the rich, why do they allow the proceeds to go to space projects that only serve to inflate national pride, instead of channeling them into projects benefiting the poorest?

Of course, indoor plumbing is not just about installing toilets; in densely populated areas, it requires building or extending a sewerage and possibly water supply system. This is where coordination becomes an issue. Moreover, much of development economics revolves around coordination failure. An example from real life, if you believe mine is real: This summer, we are renting a house in a suburban area outside of Moscow. I would estimate around 75% of residents are very well off to rich, judging by the impressive new houses they have erected on their land. However, there is no central sewerage system; homeowners use their own sewage tanks. Most land lots are too small to justify this arrangement, whether one considers the economics or sanitary concerns. There is no doubt the affluent residents could afford to install centralized sewerage provided they pooled their funds. Rumor has it that a certain homeowner paid $12,000 to import and install a proper, state-of-the-art septic tank with clean water flowing out.

So why hasn’t anyone knocked on their doors and said, “I can build a sewerage system for you guys if each of you pays his fair share?” I have a few reasons in mind but I haven’t researched it. Note that economists have encountered this problem many times before and no wonder the statists have suggested that the government step in and provide the service (paid for by the users, in full or in part), acting as a much-needed coordinator. I don’t think it’s the only solution, though. It’s an obvious but also a suspicious one.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Irony off

Sergei Dovlatov, a brilliant Russian story writer, confessed -- only half-jesterly -- that the greatest misfortune of his life had been Anna Karenina's death. As for me, I'm still hoping to catch an echo of Lucy Gray's song.
Collectivism, my rear!

So they say Russians are collectivists? That's partly true. For the most part, though, it's sheer nonsense. Russians have had an overdoze of collectivism, both ideological and practical, -- a forcibly administered overdoze. Now it's table-turning time, which means lots of ex-Soviets have turned into ultra-individualists: destructive, I-don't-give-a-shit-about-y'all individualists.

There are more Russians in the NHL than there are legionaries from any other country. The Russian hockey championship is second in quality only to the NHL. Why, then, can't the national team consistently come in second or third in every big international event? Why lose to Swedes, Finns, Czechs and Slovaks?

Things are not so good for Russian soccer, but still there are enough good Russian players in European clubs, and the Russian premier league is not that bad. With all those pros, Russia managed to lose to Israel just yesterday! (Not to metion past losses to Iceland and Georgia.) I wonder if Israel has as many as three people playing for decent Euro clubs.

I suspect there is no team spirit whatsoever: "I get paid for playing with my club, and I don't give a damn for the national team."

I hope I'm wrong.
Khruschev the buffoon

Just stumbled upon a review of a Khruschev bio. I've known most of the stuff all along, but I still couldn't help laughing at the zebra/cow gig.

No wonder the Political Joke became the greatest achievement and the star genre of Soviet folk lore.
History of the Truth

Pravda means (the) Truth. The best name one could come up with for the voice of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. I like those multiple genitives.

Initially, though, Pravda was a minor, half-legal opposition paperlet in pre-WW1 Russia. In fact, it had to change its name many times. Every time censors found its diatribes impermissible and closed it down, the paper would re-appear the next day under a different title. Pretty simple. At some point, it was named Rabochaya Pravda or something like that. Now with a modifier, it doesn't sound that great, partially because of associations with Russkaya Pravda, "Russian Justice" (pravo is law or justice, pravilo is a rule or steer, pravda is truth -- can you see the logic?), Yaroslav the Wise's code of laws and Pestel's draft constitution. When the Bolsheviks got on top, they established a local Pravda in each dirty little town: say, Uryupinskaya Pravda (Uryupinsk Truth no less) was the mouthpiece of the Uryupinsk party committee. And so on.

But Pravda unmodified for a title was a most ingenious find worthy of a marketing genius. But who was the first to start a Pravda? No, not the Bolsheviks. In 1864, Dostoyevsky applied for permission to publish a journal called, yes, Pravda. Permission was denied -- the government reserved to itself exclusive rights to the truth. Dostoyevsky had to change the name to Epokha, The Epoch.
Yesterday, when a colleague was giving me a ride home, I heard the greatest cover in years; too bad I can't identify the artist. A male, slightly prim, slightly manneristic, deliberately British-accented voice with sugary back vocals was singing -- "Oops I did it again!"

Lovely. Still wondering who it was.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

The Seven in Red Square

Actually, they were more than seven. Ten or twelve or twenty...

Four days after the Soviet-led ìnvasion of Czechoslovakia, on August 25, at noon, a small group of people (three women and five men, one of the women with a pram) in Red Square, in Moscow, unfolded their hand-made slogans, "Long live free and independent Czechoslovakia!", "For your freedom and our freedom," "Hands off CSSR!" (CSSR = Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.), "Freedom to Dubcek!" (the CSSR leader). It was a warm and sunny Sunday; the square was full of people; there was a long line to the Mausoleum. In a few minutes, those whose task was to do away with the demonstration, were running from the far corners of the square to the dissidents, to beat them, tear apart their slogans, drag the protesters to their black cars and take them to a police station.

They were detained for "violation of public order and obstructing traffic," although, as any Russian child knows, there is no traffic in Red Square, and has never been since ages ago. Later, five were tried for "spreading information smearing the Soviet social order".

Vadim Delone (or Delaunay), a student, a poet and essayist, the son of a famous mathematician ("Delaunay triangulation") and (as a legend goes) a descendant of the last governor of the Bastille (whom the victorious crowd tore apart), was sentenced to three years. He died in France at 36.

Vladimir Dremlyuga, an electrician earlier kicked out of college, got three years but served six: three more were added after he managed to make a phone call from his Murmansk prison. Eventually, when threatened with another term, he "repudiated" his views, and was allowed to leave the country. When asked what anti-Soviet literature he had read, he replied, "The Three Musketeers by Dumas." Indeed, he explained, D'Artagnan had no problem mounting his horse and riding to the Channel to board a ferry to England. He, Dremlyuga, would like to mount a bike and ride, say, to Poland. But he had been refused permission to travel to Czechoslovakia, a communist country, -- refused five times. As far as I know, he became a successful real estate dealer in New Jersey. I read an interview with him about 15 years ago where he said something like, "I've always dreamed of becoming a millionaire, and I've managed it."

Nataliya Gorbanevskaya, a poet, translator and journalist, was that woman with the pram (a two-month baby inside). A mother of two, she was released the same day but was later sent to a prison-type psychiatric institution. Those places were really hellish. She wrote a book about her experiences (see the FrontPage link). She lives in Paris and writes for Russian journals.

Victor Fainberg was employed as a metal worker but had graduated from a college. The KGB men knocked out his teeth that noon, and so authorities decided a man with knocked-out teeth would not look good in a court room. Instead, he was sent down to a psychiatric prison. Six years later, he left for the West and lives in France now. He is a human rights activist and has recently visited Chechnya .

Larisa Bogoraz, among the oldest in the group, was sentenced to four years of exile to a remote Siberian settlement (in the Irkutsk region). Since the 1960s, she has been a leading figure in the dissident and human rights movement; he husband, Anatoly Marchenko, died in prison in 1986. She lives in Moscow.

Konstantin Babitsky with his two college degrees (a technical one and one in linguistics), was a talented linguist but was not allowed to take professional employment after completing a 3-year exile for his part in the demonstration. When his fellow dissidents called him and voiced their doubts about the wisdom of the act, he told them, "You do as you want. I'm going alone." His "last words" (according to Soviet/Russian criminal procedure, a defendant has the right for a "last word", that is, to be the last one to address the court) were brief: "One's home land is [like] one's mother. One doesn't get to choose it. But today, I am ashamed to be a citizen of the Soviet Union." He died in Moscow in 1993. His son Andrei, a Radio Liberty correspondent, got in trouble with the FSB during the second Chechen war.

Pavel Litvinov, professor of physics, was a grandson of the Soviet foreign affairs commissar, Max Litvinov. He was sentenced to five years of exile, and left the country soon thereafter. He lives in the US.

Tatyana Bayeva, a student and a daughter of a prominent biologist, took part in the demonstration along with others but her older comrades insisted that she deny her involvement and claim she got there by accident. They let her go.

There were other dissidents in the square that day whose part was to be witnesses.

There were other protests against the invasion. The authorities wanted every citizen to voice their approval; at every factory, plant, reserch institute and college, people were forced to vote for resolutions endorsing the intervention. Not everybody did. Most people didn't care anyway, but for those who cared, abstaining for the vote was the minimum for decency.

Days before the attack, when the better informed knew it was ineluctable, retired general Grigorenko, a war hero, sent Dubcek a letter suggesting a plan of defense against Soviet troops. He recommended that the Czechoslovaks take under control the main roads to the USSR, Poland, East Germany, and arrange for defense of their air bases.

Links. Archives of a mailing list maintained by a Russian scientist working in the USA. The text is in a mix of English and Russian, but if you have some knowledge of Russian, it should be quite illuminating.

An old Front Page Magazine piece. Full of propaganda, but tells the story of the seven correctly.
I don't know if Tupak Shakur was a great artist, but if you read his name the way most Russians do, you get "too-PAHK" -- that is, a sort of blockhead in Russian. If Mark Steyn got it right, which is far from certain, then we're only left to regret that the world inevitably imitates the most impressive pieces of crap America produces.

For example, I have heard a song in Russian, performed by a Russian band, with just one word for a refrain. The wordie was aparently a big fave of Tupak's -- yes, it's m-----f---ah, only they pronounce it in a deliberately Russian manner, so it sounds like mahzahFAHkah. There must have been a lot of irony in the lyrics, but I didn't bother to figure it out. The radio station was not the punk-loving Radio Ultra but quite a mainstream one "experimenting" with new stuff.

This is not to say Russian rap/hiphop has no future, but you've got to really love the original music and the original lyrics to produce a non-trivial something in your own country and language. Underground Soviet rockers not just worshipped -- they loved and tried to understand Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Talking Heads, to say nothing of the good old Beatles and Stones, and the not so old Bob Marley and the Rastas.
Condolences to all who lost their loved ones and friends in Jerusalem and Baghdad.

It is 35 years ago tonight that the USSR with its satellites invaded Czechoslovakia.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Mental associations

When I read or even think of Paul Jané, my mind authomatically links to Jean Genet, and from there to Jean Genie, who, as all homunculi know, lives on his back and all that. However, there is no connection between any of those whatsoever, nor will ever be.

The Zhukovsky air show

The town of Zhukovsky is named after an outstanding Russian physicist who contributed so much to the development of aviation. Located not far from Moscow, it is -- or used to be? -- a major center of (military) aviation research and design. Its streets bear the names of prominent Russian pilots and designers.

Once in two years, Zhukovsky -- or, rather, its adjunct air field -- hosts an air show. According to Reuters, Russian aviation bosses believe this event will be the most important display in 2003. The US, France, Italy, and, of course, Russia are taking part. Americans have brought F-15s, F-16s and the legendary B-52. Russia will show Su-30, Ka-50 (the Black Shark helicopter) and other such wonders. Putin has opened the show with some pomp. While running for President, he once did fly in a fighter plane as a passenger, and emerged pale green from the ordeal, -- this time he limited himself to inspecting the goodies.

Paul Jané is already bemoaning his absence in Zhukovsky. I'm afraid so will be I: we happened to rent a summer house a few miles from Zhukovsky last summer, a year there was no event there (except a rock festival in Ramenskoye, an adjacent town), but this time, we're renting another one. A high turnout is expected, so I anticipate logistical problems. The fields of Zhukovsky's satellite civilian airport, Bykovo, will be converted into a huge car parking. Traffic within the town will be suspended. Only public buses will be allowed in, picking people at certain Moscow underground stations and light train stations in the Moscow region. What a pain in the neck.
Two blasts in one day

The UN mission in Baghdad and two buses in Western Jerusalem.

Apparently, driving trucks into buildings is getting back in fashion. A few weeks ago, a presumably Chechen kamikaze drove one into a military hospital in Mozdok -- a town in Southern Russia. No matter that not only soldiers were treated there.
More on the Russian spirits

The alcohol consumption figure made it to the evening news on Russian TV (RTR). The volume estimates I have cited apparently come from a report by United Financial Group, a Moscow-based investment bank. Therefore, they must be estimates of total consumption -- moonshine included. The State Statistics Committee (Goskomstat) puts hard liquor consumption at 8 liters per capita per year -- way too low compared with UFG's 20 lpc.
As I've said, Mark Ames of eXile is a [self-sensored], but I must have erred along with everybody else when I took his pro-drug piece at face value. "There's a share of joke in every joke," Russians have taken to saying lately. Ames is a raving lunatic, so there's a share of lunacy in his controlled rants. Drugs are fun, and Americans are puritanical killjoys. Fine with me. I don't have the urge to agree or disagree with every bloody statement anymore. Why bother? When I hear, "The Earth is flat," I don't feel like arguing. It's amusing to imagine living on a huge pancake resting on big fat PETA-protected whales. I'd be spending aeons slouching along the edge waiting for a centrifugal force to blow me away.

Nonetheless, I can't hold back my destructive impulses, so here's a few Ames links. (Actually, some are Ames+Taibbi+Chen links, but that's a trifling nuance).

Trenchant Warfare
Moscow's Only Alternative
From Moscow with Lust
eXile on Red Square
If Oprah Can Do It
A Big Fat Greek Lie (kind of movie review)

Have fun.
A bottle of wine for two bucks? Even here in Moscow, where cheap Moldovan wines are in abundance, it's below the minimum. Part of the price is excise tax -- does California charge it too?
Of Ruffs and Brown Bears

Glossary. Yorsh (Russ.), literally, "a ruff", is a mix of vodka and beer. A "brown bear" is a mix of champagne and beer, known at least since mid-19th century. "Northern lights" (Aurora Borealis) is a cocktail of vodka and champagne.

I've never tried any of these mixes (unless a good friend poured some vodka into my mug while I was researching the latest in urinal advertising, and I was too drunk to tell), but I have recently developed a taste for chasing vodka with beer, which is considered deadly even in Russia. I don't drink vodka voluntarily, only on those occasions when it's hard to refuse, and as a new Russian saying goes, "beer without vodka (or vodka without beer) is money wasted," Another maxim contends, "you can't fool your head with just beer."

Now to the statistics. Vedomosti, a leading Russian business daily, reports that Russians consumed 19.7 liters of hard liquor per capita in 2002, the lowest amount in 5 years. There was a 10% rise in hard liquor consumption after the 1998 crisis; the 1999 number was 22.7 lpc. The consumption of beer and wine more than doubled: 2003 amounts are expected at 49 lpc and 5.5 lpc respectively. Therefore, Russians are drinking less vodka and more beer and wine, which is considered a sign of economic recovery, and generally a good sign. High-end brands of vodka (Flagman, Gzhelka) have increased their market share, apparently at the expense of cheap crap. Demand for expensive imported liquor (whiskey, brandy, gin) is also growing.

Still, an average Russian family spent 8.8% of its budget on alcohol in 2002 (10.2% in 2000). An average Russian is estimated to have spent on drinks $105 in 2002 -- way above the average $73 for emerging markets. I wonder how much it is of per capita GDP?

Vedomosti also comments on the composition of the Russian cocktail. Of her total alcohol budget, an average EU citizen spends 34% on liquor, 41% on beer, and 25% on wine. For a New Zealander, the first number is 5%, for a Swiss, 10%. For a Russian, the breakdown is 48-38-14. Not bad, considering that vodka's share was 59% in 1999. Muscovites even spent less on vodka (just 40%) than on beer.

Still the Russian wine-sprinkled ruff is much stronger than its European variety -- consider the relative prices of beer and vodka. I assume that the bulk of the liquor Russians imbibe is vodka. The price of half a liter (pollitra) of the cheapest drinkable vodka (in Moscow) is noted to have been the most stable exchange rate in recent Russian history: around $1 (RUR30 now). Purer, finer sorts sell at $2-$4 per 0.5 liter. Still quite cheap, that is. On the other hand, 0.5 liter of Russian-made beer costs RUR20 or a bit less, which puts a six-pack’s price at $3.5-$4 -- not much cheaper than Mexican beer in the South or Midwest of the US (not sure about Europe). Therefore, the Russian yorsh must have even more vodka than the breakdown of booze spending suggests.

On the other hand, consumption expressed in liters of pure alcohol per capita comes out at just 12 liters – not that much. For comparison, in all of Germany, it varied between 10 and 12 liters per capita from 1975 to 1993 (source).

[Added later] The relative expensiveness of beer vs. vodka also makes the shift away from the latter to the former more impressive than it seems at first glance.

Unaccounted for remains the consumption of various surrogates and homemade moonshine -- samogon. Well-made samogon is scrumptious.
No one is commenting on my comments anymore, and it is not a server glitch. This trickle-down coincided with the death of Slumbering Pierrot. Any causal relationship here?

Monday, August 18, 2003

Alan Henderson links to this photograph, entitling that brief entry, What We're Fighting For. Yes, the bespectacled soldier (or officer?) with the little girl looks genuinely human in the best sense of the word. But the way the shot is set up would make it a perfect propaganda tool. Good propaganda almost always builds on a genuine emotion. The photo struck me as surprisingly familiar: I can't help associating it with the monument to the Russian soldier in Berlin's Treptow park (by Yevgeny Vuchetich). Sweep aside the intimidating overtones so you can see through to what I think was the sculptor's design -- to portray the Soviet soldier as protector of humanity. What bitter irony is there!

Some Soviet soldiers protected children and fed Germans their goulash.
Some raped German women and marauded their homes.
Some did all of the above, and that is the scariest.

Still, who am I to judge them?
Whether or not Stalin ordered John Wayne killed, it is well known that the Great Leader was a big fan of Hollywood movies. As an anecdote goes, he once asked a certain Jewish Soviet composer of popular music whether his brother or cousin lived in the US. The poor musician admitted the truth and answered "yes", trembling with fear (it was quite dangerous to have a relative abroad those days), but even more afraid of lying to Stalin. "It's a pity," said the Leader in his accented Russian, "that you are here and he is there. It would be better if we could swap you for your cousin." The American relative wrote music for Holliwood movies, which Stalin apparently liked. On the contrary, he despised his own pop artists. He liked to despise people; he tended to do away with those unworthy of contempt.

Note an anachronism in the Reason article linked above: allegedly, "he [Stalin] actually ordered his KGB goons to go kill the star." KGB was established in 1954, after Stalin's death. The author should have referred to OGPU, NKVD, NKGB, or MGB.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

What implications will the recent blackout in the East of the USA have for...

a) ...the worldwide deregulation debate? I hope to see a non-dogmatic discussion centering around what kind of investment the sector needs and what regulatory design will help achieve it the most efficiently.

b) ...the ongoing "reform" of the Russian electricity sector? Probably none at all. Proponents of each reform (or non-reform) scenario will reference the blackout as a colorful extra argument in support of their position. A few academic and semi-academic pieces will appear in the next 6 months or so. That's it.
The beasts of burden

I have no problem with Ann Coulter's shriek, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." Obviously, the "conversion to Christianity" means inculcation of certain Western values, and "killing" can be harmlessly replaced by just "ousting". This hysterical screech is in fact a half-crazed expression of a certain interventionist program that I sympathize with, although I realize it must be impracticable and doomed.

If President Bush had put his rationale for the Iraqi invasion in similar, if milder, terms; if he had called for support on the whole Western world; if he had linked the need for the war with a new Burden of the West, it would have had been so much more impressive than his lame references to semi-mythical WMDs. He might not have elicited more support that he actually did, but he would have shown urbi et orbi where he stands from the start.

I don't think the burden befits the beast, though.
I've been reading about the likely death sentence for a key Bali murderer (e.g., at All AgitProp); I'm even ready to admit they probably nabbed the right guy, but after just a second of soul-searching I found out that I don't care.

I don't care what happens to him.

I can relate to his victims, obviously; moreover, it might have happened (God forbid!) to Russian tourists in Egypt. But I can't relate to him. I thought I could relate to various relative-screwers, but he is an alien to me. Yes, it's like he's from another planet. I just don't feel anything.
512 MB of RAM: Where Is This World Going to?

Yes, that's how much RAM Paul Jané claims to have added! My 2-year-old laptop only has slots for a quarter of that! Not to mention that in the late eighties, in my formative years, in the glorious days of Prince of Persia, to have a 80 MB Winchester was seventh heaven.

[Note: I've googled for "where is this world going" and the first hit was... a sermon by Rev. Moon! Oh my... where is it going indeed?! Please remind me to tell the story of the Moonies' Russian Recruiting Campaign.]

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Sometimes, to some people, it makes more sense to die than to keep living. There is suicide; there is voluntary martyrdom; there is self-sacrifice. And there is killing. Many times, the four have combined in one act, but the proportions of each have varied greatly. These days, we see suicide carnages; in days past, we saw tyrannicides.

Sometimes, a manipulative leader encourages despairing youths to kill and die gloriously; sometimes, a man of study and reflection concludes a hopeless act of defiance must crown his career. To water

The Rose Tree

"O words are lightly spoken,"
Said Pearse to Connolly,
"Maybe a breath of politic words
Has withered our Rose Tree;
Or maybe but a wind that blows
Across the bitter sea."

"It needs to be but watered,"
James Connolly replied,
"To make the green come out again
And spread on every side,
And shake the blossom from the bud
To be the garden's pride."

"But where can we draw water,"
Said Pearse to Connolly,
"When all the wells are parched away?
O plain as plain can be
There's nothing but our own red blood
Can make a right Rose Tree."

(W.B. Yeats, 1921)

Friday, August 15, 2003

More Greek affairs

Nik Karanikos of Sphaera Ephemeris responds to this discussion at C.Bloggerfeller's.

One more keyword: under-appreciation.

Which Personality Disorder Do You Have?
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You've worn all black since you were nine and knew,
even as a nine year old living in nowheresville
that you were a New Yorker at heart. Well, you
wont make it in the big city. I'm sorry tike.
Still, have fun while it lasts, because the
rumor is, most Columbia students don't.

Which Ivy League University is right for YOU?
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"Work hard, die easy." Man, I love the saying! Rolling on the fake carpet infested with itch mites, and sobbing.
You are a Hippie. Wow.

What kind of Sixties Person are you?
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Vitali Vitaliev on Brighton Beach, or "Little Odessa". I haven't been to Brighton Beach myself; as I see it from afar, it is a Soviet neighorhood in New York City that speaks Russian with a slight provincial Jewish accent. Most of my peers -- still-young educated urban Russians -- look down with contempt at Brighton and similar immigrant compounds. It's too Soviet and too small-town for them. And I... well, as I've said I've never been there. Business seldom takes me to the center of Moscow these days (except two or three places); thanks to our Turkish friends construction and renovation go fast; so sometimes, when I find myself surrounded by unfamiliar buildings that have arisen (from the dead, too) with mushroom speed inside the Garden Ring, I ask myself, "Quis hic locus? Quae regio? Quae mundi plaga?"

So what's the point of sticking to the old crap?

And no, the real Odessa woundn't be flattered a bit by the comparison.
I'm exhausted after being infuriated by a brief encounter with the lowest levels of the Russian bureaucratic centipede. I'd hate to go into detail; in two words, when the lowest-ranking bureaucrats have to violate federal laws because they have been so instructed by their immediate superiors (bottom fish, too) -- what good can come out of it? Someone's got to take action; should it be me?

Thursday, August 14, 2003

The abominable crime of bloggery

Would make a lovely subtitle, wouldn't it? Nabokov says, in The Gift (Dar), that Hertzen, the famous Russian revolutionary, confused "beggar" with "bugger", mistaking the two words for one, and came to a conclusion that the English must highly respect wealth. Alexandr Ivanovich Hertzen, an illegitimate son of a wealthy Russian landowner, received a first-class education for his time in Russia, which means, among other things, that he had an excellent command of French. On the contrary, English was a language he had to learn more out of necessity in his Albion exile. According to Nabokov, Hertzen's autobiography, which he penned in English, opens with a delectable Gallicism: "I am born..."

Eenuffe whyneinge! Back to business as unusual.

An intriguing post on Greek idiosyncrasies at C.Bloggerfeller's. I'm reprinting my chaotic comments here, out of passion and vanity.

I guess Greeks feel they are an ancient Christian nation betrayed by the Protestant/Catholic world and disliked by the Moslems. They have nowhere to go, no one to hook up with. Britain propped up the hopelessly sick Ottoman Empire throughout the 19th century, and let Turkey continue as a state after WW1, when the Entente could reduce it to an insignificant statelet with Greeks and Italians colonizing its European part and Anatolia. Britain didn't do much to help Greece win independence in the 1820s. Without British (and French -- remember the Crimean war) interference, Russians would have grabbed Constantinople, so it would revert to Orthodoxy, presumably to the Greeks' delight. Not to mention the Greek treasures in Britain's museums. Greece is an ancient country, so these grudges are relatively fresh.

Serbs probably feel much the same. And many Russians (even myself, to a strictly limited degree) perceive Serbia as a proxy for Russia -- i.e., when NATO bombed Belgrade, one couldn't help thinking the only thing that prevented them from bombing Moscow (say over Chechnya) was Russia's nukes. Although there is no linguistic affiliation between Greeks and Serbs, both nations are Orthodox and share a long history of what Russian historians call the Ottoman yoke. It wouldn't surprise me it Greeks felt for Serbia much like Russians do. The trouble is, they are indeed inconsistent and unable to ally themselves, at least temporarily, with larger and more politically important nations, especially those who are naturally predisposed towards Greece. What's the point, for instance, of the Constantinople Patriarch struggling with his Moscow counterpart for primacy over Orthodox parishes in the Baltic? The intervention in Kosovo has played straight into Albanians' hands to the detriment of Serbs -- but Greece still refuses to recognize Macedonia, a Slavic, Orthodox nation with its own Albanian problem. Perhaps they are afraid of Macedonians' ethnic similarity to Bulgarians, who are getting pro-American? Puzzling.

I don't think Byzantia is that far away in time for devout Orthodox Christians. It's a living memory. Also, Greece is, roughly speaking, small, and has never risen to the glory of the Eastern Roman Empire. And small losers are a thousand times more nationalistic and paranoid that big winners.

[Added later]
Based on hearsay, I daresay Norwegians still bear hard feelings against Germans (although the former were technically the winners, and Norwegian resistance was real, it was not quite a clean win), while I haven't met a Gentile Russian overtly hostile to Germany. Moreover, "our" Germany (the Eastern one) was even admired and envied.

The true successors to the Byzantine Empire are, of course, [skipped out of modesty].

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Depressed again

Is there such a thing as a latent depression? You feel normal most of the time, but when some, objectively speaking, minor obstacle comes in your way, you feel like there is no future for you any more. Your plans, desires, appetites evaporate, and you just want to disappear into another world. That's me, right.
Alan K. Henderson briefly mentions the risks of a US war against Saudi Arabia. "Wrong country" was my first response to Bush's insistence on attacking Iraq. Of course, "after" does not mean "because of", and Washington may have an elaborate, long-term plan in mind, but if your country is attacked by citizens of country A, inspired by an ideology similar to that country A promotes, and your president with his men chooses country B as the target for an offensive to be launched a year and a few months after the original attack, -- it does not make much sense to a simple mind.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Hundreds of church bells
were arguing.
It was a Saturday,
John the Divine.

What year was it? Can anyone recognize the source?

Monday, August 11, 2003

A pretty interesting evening news issue on NTV.

A Russian scientist who worked with Kelly on a weapons mission in Iraq says his British colleague did not seem a kind of person likely to commit suicide. He is also convinced that Iraq almost certainly had no bacterial weapons.

Fourteen African students seized the embassy of the Central African Republic in Moscow demanding payment of their stipends (apparently, from their governments).

The Moscow city government enacts employment regulations that virtually equate out-of-town workers with aliens. (Bastards! As if being one of the most corrupt city governments in the world were not enough, they make sure to blatantly breach the Constitution itself.)

A Russian cosmonaut on board the International Space Station gets married to an American girl of Russian descent. CBS broadcasts the cerermony from Houston: the Texas law allows wedding with only one of the wedders present.

A Russian movie director is shooting a movie in Ukraine about three Russian-born German residents who robbed a bank and managed to drive through Germany and Poland escaping the chase, only to be captured by the Ukrainian police. The director does not see his characters as gangsters, rather as people driven to extremes by "circumstances". (Give me a break, man! There are no such circumstances in Germany; and even if there were, robbing a bank is not necessary for survival.)

France has failed to integrate its Moslems, but it is not for lack of trying, right? So what are the French doing wrong?
One advantage of living in a relatively low-tech country with a bribable bureaucracy and sloppy law enforcement is that projects like Admiral Poindexter's Total Information Awareness don't seem feasible here. Too expensive, too complicated, too much training, too many computers, too many miles of cable, etc., etc. Secret services lay their hands on what they can afford to -- for instance, they can monitor an individual's e-communications. They're supposed to get a court order first, but I don't see why they can't just do it at will, since no one would notice. To monitor all users' communications would be, I hope, prohibitively expensive.

[Added later] Putin has recently enlarged the scope of the FSB's competence, merging into it the border guard and government communications agencies (in the early 1990s, the FSB was a much-weakened successor to the KGB). The merger not only gives more power to the FSB's bosses (who are bound to abuse it, for such are laws of nature); it also makes it more difficult to criticize the agency in a non-destructive way. Now if you want to lash out at the FSB, say, in a newspaper column, for tapping someone's phone line, you have to make sure you target only the the tapping department, and not the anti-terrorist or border patrol units, or you risk sounding like a nihilist and turning yourself into an easy target for crude criticism.
Ireland to ban smoking in pubs!

This is plain outrageous, if you ask me. As if California and New York weren't enough. Americans get extremist occasionally, so considering the anti-smoking pathos of Clinton years, the bans were nothing extraordinary. But Ireland? "Cigarettes and alcohol are synonymous, at least in Irish culture," says one bartender. No cig, no sip. As the CEO of a pub owner associations put it, "And there is a huge social impact. There are some places where the only social outlet is a pub." He nailed it right there: pubs are important social institutions -- centers of social cohesion so to say. In the US, churches also play this part, but in a Catholic country, churches are supposed to be places of worship, not hangouts. A whole social network is going to disappear.

Talk about minority rights! If 20% of the Irish are "hardcore" smokers; add the less devoted puffers, and you'll get 30% or 40%. Across Europe, about a third of the adults smoke. If non-smokers are so worried about their own health, let them consider segregation. Why can't smokers have bars and pubs for their own use only?

"Politicians may be reacting to constituents, but they are also responding to the high cost of smoking-related illnesses, which is why ministers of health and ministers of finance often work hand-in-hand to raise taxes on cigarettes," according to the New York Times. How come they are only noticing the high costs now, after decades and decades of high smoking rates; now that those rates are actually falling?

Sunday, August 10, 2003

A universal quest for martyrdom?

Sitting here in a quiet apartment, on a warm summer night, I can easily imagine it's all in another country, another world, another time. But it happened ten miles from here, up north. A few weeks ago, two Chechen women blew themselves up at the entrance to the Tushino air field after a rock concert had begun on the site. 16 people died; fortunately, the women exploded outside the field, at the ticket counters. They did not try to sneak into the audience, knowing the police, who frisk young people at mass events to make sure they carry no knives or alcohol, might easily find their explosive belts.

The Tushino airfield is not far from the Khodynka field, so that some Muscovites think they are the same. During the ceremonies following the crowning of Nicholas II, over a thousand people died in a stampede in the Khodynskoye Pole, or Khodynka. Whoever prepared the Tushino explosions must have had this precedent in mind. News of the bombings could have caused a similar stampede at the rock concert, which would leave many more people dead than the blasts themselves. However, that time Russian authorities did the right thing: they asked the performers not to stop the show and continue as if nothing happened, at the same time insisting that mobile phone companies cut off communications with that area for a few hours. That way, there was no panic and crowd madness.

Yasmine Alibhai-Brown wrote a column on her trying to understand female suicide bombers, including those, but The Independent has started charging for access to their archives, so alas! I'm left out in the blue. I cannot relate emotionally to Chechen or Palestinian female kamikazes, but I should try to understand them, too. One of the Tushino women lost her close relatives in the Chechen wars and earned her living bringing goods (smuggled?) from the Southern border to Moscow rynki, "markets" (here: types of large organized bazaars where Chinese, Turkish, even Western-made clothes, footwear, etc. are sold). These kinds of small wholesalers who move goods across borders are called "shuttles" in Russia. They formed the first large entrepreneurial class in post-Soviet countries, numbering several million. I remember those cheap (and usually poor quality) Chinese and Turkish clothes and footwear from the early 1990s... Later, larger importers crowded out most shuttles, but some have been dragging on. It's a tough business, and the girl's life, as a shuttle and a member of a suspect minority, must have been pretty miserable. But can we say this of the other terrorist? Judge for yourself.

Sure enough, I would like to proceed the standard way: to find parallels in other times and places. I know little about Palestinians, but Russia itself has a history of women's involvement in terrorist activities. We could look at old Ireland and pre-1947 Israel, too. That would be a different type of terrorism, mostly assassinations of the odious and attacks on army units. But how about motivations?

Friday, August 08, 2003

I didn’t want to plunge into this mess, but it just wouldn’t leave my mind. Over at A Small Victory, Michele is unhappy about the way John Derbyshire of the NRO treats gay issues. Well, the Derb seems to be a homophobe in the most literal sense: he is afraid of all things gay. For one, he’s afraid of what he calls “straight flight”, or, in the lingo of economics/pol. sci., “institutional capture” by the gays. Basically, he’s saying that as soon as there appears a critical mass of gay members within a certain circle or organization, straight male members begin to opt out of it. Take Broadway or the fashion industry. I can distinguish two assumptions behind the reasoning. One: straight males don’t like to be associated with, or be mistaken for gays. Two: when gays get in groups, they can’t help acting like a group, not as individuals. Derbyshire is afraid the same will happen to marriage: when it gets popular with gays, only gays will get married. I’m not going to argue with his assumptions – what’s the point anyway? – but with marriage, I’ll be you anything there’ll be no “straight flight”. Hopefully, straight weddings – embarrassed by the showy tastelessness of the most publicized gay ceremonies (my risky conjecture) – will just get more modest and non-kitsch. Fine with me.

The Derb also likes to stress the incompatibility of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism. Divorce on demand, he argues, creates demand for welfare. Liberal drug laws would boost demand for government-sponsored rehab programs. Apparently, gay marriage will also beget extra demand for gov’t spending in some way. Well, it’s just democracy in action: when people want easy divorce or cheap dope, they vote for it. Perhaps they are just too stupid to realize they’ll have to vote for more budget spending, but that’s they way it works. Social conservatives try to change popular sentiment before it turns them into a minority standing in the libertine majority’s way. That’s understandable. But whatever you do, do it for the right reason. My problem with Derbyshire’s argument is that his definition of demand is too narrow. Demand for child care and single parent support is not necessarily demand for welfare. Drug legalization may not boost drug consumption, but if it did, the derivative demand would be not precisely for federal or state rehabs but for specialized medical care.

Next, talking demand is not enough. How about supply? If you believe in free markets, you should assume they are able to meet whatever demand society generates for whatever services. Period. Libertinism might make total overheads too burdensome, impeding economic progress. Perhaps. But it’s a different story.

Is Derbyshire a Straussian, by any chance?

Thursday, August 07, 2003

I turned on the TV tonight and the first thing that caught my eye was a Russian atomic missile-carrying submarine getting scrapped. It turned out to be K-19, the one in that movie with Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson. A former electrician from K-19 spoke about that incident; about the repairmen who had gone into the reactor area to fix the problem and got a deadly dose of radiation in the ten minutes they spent there. He said the movie reconstructed that episode, which he witnessed, quite realistically. They even showed a few seconds from the film -- the return of the hopelessly sick repair crew. It was all part of an extended news program, I think. When a military ship is sent down for scrapping ("utilization"), there is something of a burial about it, with a proper ceremony with flags and (for K-19, at least) throwing flowers into the sea. The camera closed up on them, floating in the ever cold Arctic water.

A few years after the reactor incident, K-19 collided with a US submarine; in three more years, there was a fire aboard the ship. For this trail of tragic incidents, sailors nicknamed K-19 "Hiroshima". The "Widowmaker" is a good coin, but has no Russian equivalent, and not a drop of black humor.

I risk sounding airheaded, but I recall one scene from Thornton Wilder's Theophilus North: the protagonist leans over his old, old car he has just sold to a spare parts dealer, and whispers:

Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.

A plea for help

Can someone identify the blogger who has recently discussed In Time of Pestilence, a poem by Thomas Nashe? I've been unable to google it up so far.
I walked down the Ostozhenka street tonight on my way from the office to a Georgian restaurant to meet with a bunch of old friends. I had not taken a leisurely walk in the center of Moscow for many months. It felt so good to see the old, solid buildings on both sides of the street, most renovated -- even the two 19th-century houses turned into posh apartment complexes. Hospitality, good ample food, and homely wit... I thought I was sick and tired of this town, but it can still reward a good-faith spectator.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

The notion that the French are cowardly and prone to surrender is just plain absurd. France surrendered in 1940 not because of the nation's cowardice but because the Wehrmacht had outflanked the French Army in all senses, and the only way to save the army and Paris from physical destruction was to give up (or so it seemed to France's politicians). Russians or Germans would have probably fought to the last man in that situation, but even Field Marshal Paulus surrendered when he realized he got trapped. And who do you think fought in WW1? The French lost the bloom of ther army and their youth, and never really recovered from the sacrifice. But for 120 years before WW1, France was a great military power. Its only major defeat was a consequence of Napoleon's ill-conceived invasion into Russia. Wellington, you say? He didn't have much luck against Napoleon until Waterloo, where he won only with considerable Prussian support. Mosquito bites in Iberia don't count. For all Nelson's greatness, naval campaigns only succeeded in containing Napoleon's conquest. In short, Napoleon had the best army in the world at the time; where is the Old Guard now that France needs it so?
"Brevity is the sister of talent." -- Anton Chekhov.

"Brevity is the sister of fascism." -- Vladimir Dmitrenko, a "tender and impressionable young man, a studend, web designer and decadent", and a "Eurasianist" at that. The Russian Journal published an ICQ interview with the guy, to which I link only because I like that maxim.

Totalitarian ideologies not only explain the world, but simplify it to the utmost. No wonder they can afford brevity. A simple, ready-made picture of reality offers an ordinary person firm ground to stand on amid a confusing complexity of modern society.

Monday, August 04, 2003

Well, the France-bashing is continuing in the blogosphere and right-wing US media. It is puzzling why a brief war in some third-world domain should set one great country against another and tear apart the Western world. I would understand it if the debate were cast in terms of Babylonia, home of the most ancient civilization we know of, and over the rights of inheritance in some sense, -- but it is not. Intellectually, all of us, regardless of our skin color or mother tongue, come out (non-exclusively) of Europe; millenia of shared glory and infamy are behind us; the legacy of unparalleled achievement in every realm of culture and science is ours. The Cold War is over and it's time for the West to re-unite, -- but what do we see instead? Shame on you guys.

There's nothing particularly offensive about this cartoon, is there?

When things are getting particularly nasty (like this), I feel tempted to fly le drapeau tricolore from my window. There's one sentence in that pathetic Fox News piece worth quoting, though.
"Anything the French do is considered artful, including inventing the guillotine (search), which turned "beheading into an art form," as an ad for a guillotine-style cigar cutter read in a Sky Mall catalogue."
Hehe. "Murder as a fine art" has been a recurring theme in English-language literature since the early 19th century or earlier. In particular, Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts is a production of the inimitable Thomas De Quincey's pen. Calm down, ye frog-obsessed: the 'De' in the author's name is not of Gaul. He added it to the prosaically-sounding 'Quincey', I suppose, for mere euphony.
I didn't know (the eccentric singer-orchestra) Bob McFerrin's father Robert McFerrin was a prominent opera singer, "the first black man to be signed to New York's Metropolitan Opera" (1955). Thanks to Lynn for the info.

Apart from the traditional opera repertoire, McFerrin Sr. sang in Porgy and Bess, and that brought me back to one old question I had. Surely these days, if someone made a black character speak the type of English Bess does, wouldn't it sound racist and gross? Even if the scene were set in Mark Twain's time. However, when Ira Gershwin wrote the libretto, I'm sure he aimed to show that common black people, despite lacking in education, were capable of true love, suffering and religiosity that always seem to be getting preciously rare. In this sense, the opera is humanizing. Of course, it is also THE American opera.
I hope I will never adopt the condescending tone that I've been addressed in recently. Too much discomfort from a dispute over some trifling book. As usual, I'm defending esthetics against ethics-based attacks. Nothing else.

Oh, and by the by, one has at least to read a book, at least a good chunk of it, to come forward with a qualified opinion of it. Some people prefer to get by on book reviews.

[Yet not all is bad. "An author who can't do a good job explaining his creation isn't much of a communicator. One's clarity of expression is a pretty good indicator of one's clarity of thought," says McGehee in the midst of the bickering, unexpectedly rephrasing Marx. I do have a problem with the first sentence applied to fiction; in fact, I think it is just wrong. Else, why write fiction at all? And any good book should have a healthy sprinkle of fiction!]

[More: I've just noticed that I made a funny mistake in a comment at Michele's: in keeping with good PC practices, I used "her" in reference to a "Frenchman".]

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason and a Volokh Conspiracy contributor, has produced a paper on "how economists use the rationality assumption". I have only scanned it without reading, but I would already recommend it strongly to anyone interested in the basics of modern economic thought.

Poor rationality assumption! It has survived so many unfair attacks, mostly from those who have never quite grasped it.
There is more to the funny von Mises statement I quoted earlier than the juxtaposition of the three names, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Lenin ("the ideas of Gandhi, Tertullian, and Mussolini" would sound lovely, too). Apparently, the mention of Lenin is related to von Mises' rejection of violent class warfare, and Dostoyevsky stands for his aversion for non-trivial, mystical religiosity seeping through to public life. But Tolstoy? His ethical teachings have something oddly in common with von Mises' philosophy: dull rationality. There's a lot of sad truth about Tolstoy's moralism, as well as von Mises' economics, but both are uninspiring.

Let me explain this. I think Marx was an extremely gifted man with a very shrewd judgement and a great sense of humor. Yet Marxism as an all-encompassing philosophical/economic system was a failure. It should have been obvious from the start, so why did this realization come too late? Because Marxism was a quasi-religion. Hence more people martyred themselves for it than will have ever done so for libertarianism. Freud was a great psychiatrist; Freudism as a philosophy is highly suspicious; and it's a shitty religion. Von Mises was by all accounts an outstanding intellectual, but it's just not enough to win the world. His teachings are lacking the fervor of Schumpeter, the feistiness of Ayn Rand, the bon mots of Marx, and whatever else would inject a drop of hot blood into them. But even hot blood is not enough; there ought to be a transcendental element in the mix. It can be surely found on, and in, American soil -- but -- but it's still missing from modern libertarianism.

Or am I dead wrong?
Charles Krauthammer obscenely revels over the display of the Hussein boys' bodies. He is forgetting the basics. For us to still be able to claim that we, the West, are the greatest civilization (or at least one of the greatest ones) ever to emerge, we need to stick to our fundamentals. To name one, Decency, which prohibits displaying heads on spikes. We must not act like savages under any circumstances. Else, nous sommes foutus.

Saturday, August 02, 2003

As many Russians, especially intellectuals, I deeply mistrust and sometimes fear the Russian "state" and government. I have good reasons to be wary of Putin or whoever is in power, as well as of the silent majority of my compatriots. Yet when some intemperate American neo-conservative plunges into analysis and commentary on Russian matters (you know the rap: Putin's KGB past, imperial ambitions, corruption, etc.), I begin to lose my composure. They think they know everything -- or, rather, the precious little they know is enough to pass judgement. It's all a piece of cake to them.

Well, I pass judgement on American politics, too, so look who's talking! But there is an obvious asymmetry between them and myself. I have learnt their language; I have lived in their country; I have long been interested in their literature, history and culture; and if love is too strong a word, I am affectionately fascinated by their country. To sum it up, I've been making good-faith efforts to understand them, and I care about America, strange as it sounds. And they -- they don't really care about anything but their homunculus-like, lifeless ideas. (We still stand united by one universal concern -- that for the state of our pocketbooks.)