Nov 9 2017

The Greatness of Russia and the Greatness of Texas

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The Greatness of Russia and the Greatness of Texas

Russians call World War II, “The Great Patriotic War,” and Dr. Victor Davis Hanson, whom I almost never agree with, has a decent article out today acknowledging Russian greatness/sovereignty (derzhavonst/державонст), writing:

This Veterans Day, we should also remember those heroic Russian soldiers. In bitter cold, and after losing hundreds of thousands of lives, they finally did the unbelievable: They halted the march of Nazi Germany. [1]

What do I mean by Russian greatness? I mean things like:

Putin’s favorite quote these days is, “We do not need great upheavals. We need a great Russia.”[2]

As Nina Kruscheva, daughter of Nikita Khrushchev, has recognized:

Putin maintains that Russia’s problem today is not that we, the Russians, lack a vision for the future but that we have stopped being proud of our past, our Russian-ness, our difference from the West. ‘When we were proud all was great, he said at the Valdai International Discussion Club meeting last September. While he may bemoan the death of the Soviet state, Putin’s search for greatness extends even further back in history, to Byzantine statehood…. Why is Putin’s idea of going back to the future attractive for Russians? …. But our [Russia’s] problem is that our idea of greatness doesn’t involve such small stuff. It is extreme, everything or nothing.[3]

I find Russian greatness comparable to Texas and its culture of greatness:

If one southerner can whip twelve Yankees, how many Yankees can six southerners whip? Although the premise of this problem seems to have been somewhat unstable, it evidences a spirit of confidence that for a long time seemed lost to the New South. It may be, however, that the aggressiveness and boastfulness so characteristic of the Old South instead of dying out after the war simply followed the trail of cotton and migrated to Texas. From the time they annexed the United States in 1845 until their recent singlehanded and unaided [“not so fast,” said the Russian veteran!] conquest of Germany and Japan, Texans have been noted for their aversion to understatement. But it is possible that when Texans talk “big” they are speaking not as Texans but as southerners. Certainly, that Texan was speaking the language of the Old South when he rose at a banquet and gave this toast to his state: “Here’s to Texas. Bounded on the north by the Aurora Borealis, bounded on the east by the rising sun, bounded on the south by the precession of the equinoxes, and on the west by the Day of Judgment.” [4]

And:

“That’s why I like Texans so much … They took a great failure [the Alamo] and turned it into inspiration… as well a tourist destination that makes them millions.”[5]

NOTES

wood

[1] Victor Davis Hanson, “Remembering Stalingrad 75 Years Later,” National Review, November 9, 2017.

[2] Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy, “Putin and the Uses of History,” The National Interest, 117 (January–February 2012) 21–31 at 23.

[3] Nina L. Krushcheva, “Inside Vladimir Putin’s Mind: Looking Back in Anger,” World Affairs, 177 (July–August 2014): 17–24 at 19, 20.

[4] Robert S. Cotterill, “The Old South to the New,” Journal of Southern History, 15 (February 1949): 3–8 at 8.

[5] Robert T. Kiyosaki Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach their Kids About Money that the Poor and Middle Class Do Not, (Scottsdale, AZ: Plata Publishing, 2011) 132.


Oct 27 2017

Reading about Russia on Friday

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Reading about Russia on Friday

Via Catapult.co, Sabrina Jaszi translated a short story “Bluebells” from русский to English (for the first time!), written in the late 1950s-1960s by Reed Grachev (1935-2004).

Also, Scott Neuman reports on “Documents offer Insight into Soviet View of JFK Assassination,” NPR.org, October 27, 2017.

Although, on this particular issue, I think it best to turn to Norman Mailer’s (1923-2007) investigation Oswald’s Tale (1995).


Oct 16 2017

From Russia with Grub = Salo from Ukraine

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From Russia with Grub = Salo from Ukraine

So after reading this review “Russian House Through the Eyes of a Russian Transplant in Austin,” (Austinot.com, September 19, 2017) by Yulia Dyukova (@TheFoodieMiles), I decided to check out this Russian House (Доме России).

I tried the salo, which looked like raw bacon, but was actually salted pork belly.

The homemade mustard and horseradish was probably the best I’ve ever had, best in Austin for sure.

I also randomly came across some “Revolutionary ceramics and textiles: USSR, 1919-1931,” this morning via TheCharnelHouse.org.

 


Oct 13 2017

Recent Thoughts on Russian Conservatism (with Literary Comparisons)

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Recent Thoughts on Russian Conservatism (with Literary Comparisons)

The structure of these regional directorates has remained largely unchanged for decades, which, when combined with the FSB’s system of personnel rotation, means that the fossilized provincial state security offices shape the FSB from within.

–Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, “Russia’s New Nobility: the Rise of the Security Services in Putin’s Kremlin,” Foreign Affairs, 89 (September–October 2010): 80–96 at 93.

*****

Russia has the third-largest gold and currency reserves in the world, but has become an international anti-model—a byword for non-modernization (and even de-modernization), uncompletitiveness, and chronic corruption….

One of the principle themes to emerge here is the Kremlin’s reluctance to graduate from its preoccupation with traditional security and geopolitical priorities to tackling a new global agenda.

–Bobo Lo, Russia and the New World Order, (London: Brookings Institution Press, 2015) 58, 72–73.

*****

Russian strategic theory today remains relatively unimaginative and highly dependent on the body of Soviet work with which Russia’s leaders are familiar.

–Maria Snegovaya, “Putin’s Information Warfare in Ukraine: Soviet Origins of Russia’s Hybrid Warfare,” (Institute for the Study of War: Washington, DC, September 2015)  7.

wood

For comparative purposes only:

The generation’s insularity began to change in the mid-330s. For some members of this generation (most notably Praetextatus) the early 330s saw their initial foray into public life, a step that certainly increased their awareness of the age’s political developments. Others, like Ausonius, would have seen their awareness increase when they began studying law or pleading cases. As members of the final pagan generation moved into their midtwenties, their focus shifted from the classrooms and parties of intellectual centers like Athens and Bordeaux to the social and political life of members of the imperial elite. These young men began assuming the duties and responsibilities of mature citizens. As the next chapter will show, they did so with a mixture of seriousness and conservatism that would become characteristic of their approach to public life.

–Edward J. Watts, The Final Pagan Generation, (Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2015) 58.

*****

“It was said [by Burke], that, as she [France] had speedily fallen, she might speedily rise again. He doubted this. That the fall from an height was with an accelerated velocity; but to lift a weight up to that height again was difficult, and opposed by the laws of physical and political gravitation.”

–“Substance of the Speech in the Debate on the Army Estimates in the House of Commons,” Tuesday, February 9, 1790. From The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund BurkeIn Twelve Volumes.” Vol. III. John C. Nimmo, London. 1887.

*****

What floods ideas are! How quickly they cover all that they are commissioned to destroy and bury, and how rapidly they create frightful abysses!”

–Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), III, iii, § 3.

*****

Historical experience [in intelligence gathering], even if inadequate, is the most reliable guidance system in existence. It may have to be discarded on occasion, but it must never be disregarded. In this sense, then, conservatism is mandated by prudence.

–Walter Laqueur, A World of Secrets: the Uses and Limits of Intelligence. (New York, NY: Best Books, 1985) 283.


Sep 29 2017

Recently in Russia: four links

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Recently in Russia: four links

I guess (readingwise) we’re going to Russia this weekend. Here are four interesting reads today:

 


Sep 11 2017

Things Read Over the Weekend: Vikings, Dickens, Russia

pencil shavings

Things Read Over the Weekend

Famous Viking warrior burial revealed to be that of a woman,” by Jamie Seidel, News.com.au, September 10, 2107.

***

How guest Hans Christian Andersen destroyed his friendship with Dickens,” by Vanessa Thorpe, The Guardian, September 9, 2017.

***

Girls and Men: On Svetlana Alexievich’s ‘The Unwomanly Face of War‘,” by Oksana Maksymchuk, Max Rosochinsky, Los Angeles Review of Books, September 8, 2017.

***

Traveler Restaurant: this small-town Connecticut restaurant gives each diner a free book from its vast library,” Atlasobscura.com.


Feb 7 2017

Three Articles on Russia

Mark Twain in Athens

Three Articles on Russia

Three things I read about Russia over the weekend:

*

Putin’s Intelligence Crisis,” by Amy Knight, New York Review of Books, February 3, 2017.

*

Exxon, Rex, and Russia: a Deep Drilling,” Dana Snitzky, LongReads.com, February 3, 2017.

*

An Activist is Mysteriously Ill in Russia; and the U.S. Needs to Speak Up,” Editorial Board, Washington Post, February 2, 2017.

 

 


Feb 1 2017

Reading About Russia (and other things)

pencil shavings

Reading About Russia (and other things)

An excerpt from Victoria Lomasko’s book  In Tbilisi ‘”It’s forbidden to be sad in Georgia,” in n+1 magazine. Also Benjamin Cohen’s “Letter from Ukraine: Don’t Let Refugee History Repeat Itself,” in The Forward, January 31, 2017.

*

Meanwhile, stateside: Aaron M. Renn’s “The Real State of America’s Inner Cities,” in NewGeography.com from February 1, 2017.

*

And it was a rather London morning in Austin earlier:

 

#Morning #fog and streetlamp, #Austin

A photo posted by Christopher Landrum (@landrumc) on

Update: color photographs of the Soviet Union in the 1950s from On Wednesday, we wear red Tumblr:

 


Jan 25 2017

Our Reconcilable Differences with Russia

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Our Reconcilable Differences with Russia

“It is a singular anxiety which some people have that we should all think alike.”

––Thomas Jefferson

 “We are wiser than we know.”

––Ralph Waldo Emerson

“When everybody is alike, anything different becomes shocking.”

––George Santayana[1]

I dunno, Waldo. We may not be that wise. I don’t know what to make of Lee Smith’s January 17 piece in The Tablet Magazine: “What Obama Owes Putin—and Why Donald Trump is Let Holding the Bag.” It essentially takes the position I commented on by McCrew on January 9 and turns it on its head, arguing that rather than Putin, “misdirection has been Obama’s guiding principle for seven years.”

Instead of the U.S. being on the receiving end of an information war propagated by Russia, Smith seems to argue that the U.S. and Russia are actually allied on good number of things, and that the only ones left in the dark about how reality really works are everyday American and Israeli citizens who are the targets and victims of a Russo–American disinformation campaign with regard to Syria and Ukraine. Susan Hennessey and Jordan A. Brunner’s January 25 piece of LawFareBlog.comWhat Do We Know About Investigations into Trump’s Associates’ Ties to Russia?” seems to show that while friendliness between the two counties may not exist, a certain absence of malice has started to emerge.

I agree we Westerners should not goad literature to explain the world’s problems. Reading translations of Russian nineteenth-century literature is no panacea for twenty-first century political engagement. Yes, this can become a form of so-called “orientalism”—but outside the acolytes of Edward Said, does anyone in the East or the West of 2017 even believe or act on or behave as if orientalism is something related to tangible reality?  Something tells me no. Something tells me those ideas remain trapped in the 1980s (like New Wave music).

How do we proceed? When we are actually confronted with specific answers, we soon complain of being suffocated or inhibited, of being denied the opportunity to contribute “creatively” and “freely” on our own; and we at once begin—usually with some success—to pick holes in what has been presented us. But as soon as we feel we have pushed all this aside, and at last stand free and ready to make our own contribution, the human heart shrinks at its new nakedness and its new gift of what Santayana calls “vacant liberty.” We start once again to crave specific direction, and turn reproachfully, notebook in hand, on those who are now exhorting [strongly urging] us—in the very spirit we had before demanded—to “go and do likewise….”

––Walter Jackson Bate (1918–1999)[2]

On this issue of misappropriating literature for political purposes at her Tumblr account, Sandra Afrika complains (via Alexey Kovalev) about clickbait coming from Harvardpolitics.com, as if that URL alone wasn’t enough of a warning sign not to read any further. I think her complaints are a little overblown. A little. I wouldn’t believe anything from Harvardpolitics.com, or Kremlin.com, or Breitbart.com, or the Wrap or the Onion or Rotten Tomatoes.  These sites are made for nothing but clickbait, and one cannot legitimately complain and moan at a baker for baking bread.

But that doesn’t mean old literature has no use or relation to the world’s current problems. I don’t think I was wrong to recently pull some of my favorite quotations from Russian works, again, translated into English, amid a discussion of the (non)relationship between the White House and the Kremlin. But I nonetheless need to be more careful about doing so from now on.

So perhaps we are not wiser than we know. Perhaps the world is too wise for us.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;––
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

––Wordsworth

NOTES

[1] For Jefferson and Santayana see: Kallen, Horace. M. “The Laughing Philosopher.” The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 61, No. 1. (January 1964.) 19–35 at 24–25. For Emerson, see “The Over-Soul.”

[2] Bate, Walter Jackson. The Burden of the Past. 1970. Harvard UP, Cambridge. p. 56. Continuing with Bate:

In a very real sense, therefore, human feelings, at least potentially, work outward toward reality, hoping to re-enforce and secure themselves by the ‘stability of truth.’ To this extent, they contain their own tension upwards and outward, if only in their need for reassurance, for external justification and support. But in order to use this to advantage there must first be some sort of exposure to what will arouse or satisfy us; our desires cannot clarify themselves or find objects to satisfy them unless we know or suspect the existence of such objects. Unless we have first tasted what we desire, hunger often remains only an uneasy and painful sensation, without a clear object. Accordingly, as a contemporary of Johnson pointed out, very young babies, suffering from physical hunger, often fight against food unless they have already experienced the taste of it….

The channeling effort toward achievement, in other words, constitutes a certain limitation: to be one thing is, by definition, not to be another. It is limitation, at least, when compared with what Santayana calls ‘vacant liberty,’ even though this blank liberty to drift without purpose in the dark is meaningless until it is again channeled into specific aims and renewed efforts. The history of human achievement is strewn with compulsive by-products—and with by-products that become, if not more pronounced, at least more striking, in proportion to the degree of concentration on the end desired. Too often, of course, we find a tendency to interpret the achievement as either the flowering or else the compensation of the secondary traces that accompany it, putting the hoof-prints before the horse, and regarding them as a pre-determined path. We are never unwilling to ‘lessen our disparity.’ We all feel disturbing psychological quirks in ourselves; and it is not unpleasing to imagine that if we allowed them to be a little more pressing, the achievement we are interpreting could be our own. (The Achievement of Samuel Johnson. Oxford UP. 1955. pp. 140–41, 155)


Jan 16 2017

Things Recently Read on Russia, Obama, Democracy, Christianity, & Community

Palazzo Re Enzo, Bologna, Italia

Things Recently Read on Russia, Obama, Democracy, Christianity, & Community

Reshared this week at First Things Magazine is an article where David Novak asked 21 years ago: must community exist prior to democracy? If it does, then it is possible, Novak argues, that the community, particularly the Jewish community, can be religious and its governing democracy secular.

Opposite the idea of several religious communities being collectively governed by a secular democracy is Tolstoy, who sought, in Thomas Larson’s recent words in the Los Angeles Review of Books, “spiritual self-reliance.” And Count Tolstoy finds the best examples of spiritual self-reliance in the lives and beliefs of Russian peasantry—something that espoused by someone today might lead them to later be accused of promoting an ideology of what Tim Strangleman at NewGeography.com this week called “working-class nostalgia.” But, as Strangleman points out, nostalgia tells us more about our attitude toward the present than any understanding we may have (or think we have) of the past.

On the other hand, as Emma Green finds out in the Atlantic Monthly, there are currently some liberals who do not believe outreach toward religious conservatives will be rewarding:

I [Michael Wear, a former Obama White House staffer] think Democrats felt like their outreach [to religious conservatives] wouldn’t be rewarded. For example: The president went to Notre Dame in May of 2009 and gave a speech about reducing the number of women seeking abortions. It was literally met by protests from the pro-life community. Now, there are reasons for this—I don’t mean to say that Obama gave a great speech and the pro-life community should have [acknowledged that]. But I think there was an expectation by Obama and the White House team that there would be more eagerness to find common ground.

Cornel West, who is in some ways a religious conservative, wrote in the Guardian this week a severe critique of the Obama Presidency. More than Obama himself, West focuses his criticism on Obama’s “cheerleaders” who refuse to bear the blame for Hillary Clinton’s defeat as well as the neoliberal economic failures of the Obama administration. On this latter issue West poses the question of whether commercial brands compel their consumers to shun integrity, and he suggests commonwealth of American society in the name of pure profit-seeking. On this last point, it is interesting to compare a passage from Benjamin Nathans’ “The Real Power of Putin” from back in the September New York Review of Books:

The Soviet Union from which Russia emerged in 1991 was the most purpose-driven society the world has ever seen. Yet Laqueur struggles to put his finger on what he calls “the emerging ‘Russian idea,’” partly because so many doctrines are competing for influence (Russian Orthodoxy, Eurasianism, antiglobalism, nationalism), and partly because, as he concedes, the vast majority of ordinary Russians “are not motivated by ideology; their psychology and ambitions are primarily those of members of a consumer society.”

As Alistair Roberts points out on his blog Alastair Adversaria, whether in Russia or America or elsewhere people hunger for truth, not only in purely rational terms, but hunger for truth in other people. We hunger for truth from the doctor when we ask what’s wrong and we hunger for the perceived truth in our leaders (whether or not the truth is actually there). This doubt of whether the truth is or isn’t there in that particular moment is like the wavering, lingering, roving sense of exile. And as Kate Harrison Brennan has recently written of the Western Christianity’s alleged perception of exile from rest of the participants in secular democracy, she reminds her flock that exile is a temporary condition; it should never be something one is comfortable with; on the other hand, as she expounds on Jeremiah:

The Israelites in exile were not just to tithe their cash crops, or to seek the good of their Babylonian oppressors as neighbours. Instead, they were to pray actively that the city would prosper, even before they did as a community in exile.