Sunday, August 31, 2008

Regional Vox Populi(election edition)

Thursday night, I attended a Barack Obama Acceptance Speech house party here in rural Oregon. While we were there to watch and cheer the speech, which everyone did with gusto, the most interesting thing to me was hearing the attendees explain why they support this ticket. I began by declaring that Barack Obama was the most intelligent, gifted politician of my generation, someone capable of reversing this country’s course and pointing it in the direction of the 21st, rather than the 20th century. Then came other assessments, which went along these lines:

“I back Obama because he called the Iraq war a mistake from the outset. This war is poisoning this society and culture, making it sicker and sicker…Obama is the antidote. I feel confident that he will end the whole sorry adventure because he opposed it from the start."

“I am tired of the entitlement culture of the Bush administration…all his life, Bush felt entitled by his family ties and was indulged and bailed out of all his misadventures. He has behaved in the exact same way in the Oval Office, impervious to the consequences of his actions and/or anyone who doesn’t share his opinions. I served in the Navy at the same time as John McCain, even deployed with him, and he always behaved recklessly, with impunity, secure in the knowledge that nothing would happen to him since his father and family were Navy gentry. I am afraid he would carry that sense of entitlement and freedom from accountability straight into the White House. I don’t feel that way about the Democratic ticket.”

“I back Barack Obama because of my l9-year-old grandson. He’s in the service now and will deploy to Iraq soon. He doesn’t agree with me, he backs McCain because his big issue is anti-abortion, but I will vote for Obama and Biden because they will not waste his or other soldiers’ lives in adventurism and swaggering abroad.”

“I think that if we want to live in the 21th century, we have to vote Obama. McCain’s world view is l945, when the US was a superpower and imposed its will through military force. He still thinks we could’ve “won” the Vietnam war with more bombing, which is madness. Barack Obama seems to realize that you have to have a variety of weapons in your arsenal for dealing with world problems, soft power, carrots as well as sticks and(gasp!)diplomacy. McCain doesn’t seem to understand globalization, whereas Obama talks about portable health care, portable pensions, things that can help you survive a changing workplace. McCain lives in the analog world, doesn’t know how to use the internet, the most powerful knowledge and research tool ever, or understand its implications for the world…Barack Obama is at ease in, and conversant with, the digital world. Is there really any choice if we want to live in the 'new world?'"

“I feel that Barack Obama respects me and values my opinion. Bush and Cheney don’t understand that they represent us, the people…Cheney has contempt for what the American people think, and Bush has a damn-the-torpedoes attitude, too, as if he hears what people are saying but chooses not to listen. I want someone in the White House who takes public opinion into consideration, knows that he or she works for US. “

“I was a Republican until three years ago, a lifelong Republican, but it suddenly occurred to me that this administration had ruined everything it touched, from the war and all its sorry consequences to FEMA to the Justice Department,..there aren’t many agencies in the federal government unaffected by scandal or incompetence. I am voting for Obama because I think he is competent and will lead a competence revolution in Washington DC.”

Some of these people spoke in almost a whisper, as if they were afraid of getting hit with rapid-fire, machine-gun Republican talking points. That’s quite likely to happen if you support Democratic candidates in Red State Oregon(the west side is Bluer than the ocean, and the same is true of Washington just north of us). But these comments moved and heartened me…I was proud to count myself among these entirely ordinary Americans, and I can only hope that there are a whole lot more people out there who share their views.

I know that, in a few short weeks, I will be finally be able to cast a vote for President with joy in my heart, rather than a clothespin on my nose.

International Madness - Not Taking the Summer Off

I'll let Bucky talk about the latest victim of the Russian war on journalists, Magomed Yevloyev, owner of, and loud Putin/Kremlin critic, was shot and killed after being detained by police.

A number of Scots seem to think that they're on the verge of making a break with England, supported, of course, by that still gorgeous example of Scottish manhood - Sean Connery.

Belgians are watching their fruits, vegetables, and dairy goods after an alert that a nuclear research institute had a radioactive leak near Charleroi on Friday. Agency officials of course say that the leak is very small and folks shouldn't worry, just don't eat anything grown nearby.

Thailand's People Alliance for Democracy is leading more and louder protests against Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's government these days, a response to march by government supporters responding to anti-government protesters who were occupying Sundaravej's compound for the week.

Floods are forcing millions (yes, that is millions) of farm families from their homes in northern India. A dam burst in Nepal has led to floods of over 394 square miles, covering and destroying many of the homes of those who fled the area.

And we won't even deal with Zimbabwe today

A Hint From Above?

First when McCain was going to make a "we must drill" speech to rival Obama's international tour, the event was chased off of a rig by the threat of Hurricane Dolly. Now the Republican convention is moving its timetable around with the threat of Hurricane Gustav. It's certainly not fair to all the regular people caught up in this mess, but I can see where God might just feel like tossing a few hurricanes at McCain. Just think what the right wing nuts would have made of this if the timing had been switched against Obama.

Palin and priorities

Overheard at an anniversary party yesterday:

"I get it about Sarah Palin, she's a mom with five young children and a husband and a career, that's great, she's having it all. But i DON'T want her "having it all" in the White House! Where would she find the time to be Ms. Everything, Ms. Commander-in-Chief, Ms. Win-the-War-on-Terror?"

I have to confess, I hadn't thought of that as I mulled over the Palin selection...I thought "gimmick," "insult to my intelligence," and "Harriet Miers," but the time and priorities angle hadn't occurred to me. I think the White House might just be a tad more formidable a responsibility than the Alaska governor's office for a "working mom."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Obama demonology

I've been visiting various websites, mostly of the wingnut variety, to compile a list of characteristics ascribed to Barack Obama by his opponents. Here is a partial list of the things the Republicans would like you to believe about Barack Obama--partial because it mushrooms seemingly hour to hour. In their universe, Barack is(a)...

Traitor to his country
Lightweight/Empty Suit
Communist/Marxist/Socialist(seems to be incompatible with Lightweight/Empty Suit, since you have to read all that turgid political and economic theory)
Dictator-in-Waiting, Great Leader and Teacher, leader of Liberal Fascist(hey, same difference!)totalitarian movement
UnAmerican, insufficiently devoted to the country
Publicity Hound(wouldn’t visit the troops)
Unpatriotic, indifferent to Our Men and Women in uniform(see above)
Radiclib, patron of the Weather Underground(William Ayres connection)
Muslim(what is negative about one of the historic religions of the world, I don’t know, but nevermind)
Seeker of celebrity
Liar(he says his mother had “bedrock values,” whereas she actually was a Radical Marxist…)
Weird foreigner(born in Hawaii, but they hardly wear any clothes over there!)
Ambitious(o good heavens! Not a senator who’s ambitious!!)
Niggardly(hasn’t brought all his benighted Kenyan relatives here and set them up in business)
Classic Black Man, interested only in advancing the interest of Other Black People
__________________Add your own wingnut allegation/observation here

I'm wondering when someone will "prove" he kicks puppies for sport and locks his kids in a any case, this is a dismaying and dreary list, but it does validate something the Russians used to say about the United States. They always used to maintain--they probably still do--that Americans needed an "image of the enemy." I think you can say that at least a good portion of this electorate does, and that this faction likes their enemies very black(literally and figuratively)indeed.

Kinda depressing, really.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Can we rethink this?

Barack Obama named Joe Biden as his running mate yesterday. As an Obama supporter, I'm fine with that...Biden is a good guy, well-spoken, popular with traditional Democratic constituencies, and acquainted with the night, as Robert Frost would say. In other words, Biden has known a lot of adversity in his life, suggesting he can see beyond the minutiae of politics. But I'm puzzled by one thing: Biden's alleged plethora of "foreign policy experience." They say that of McCain, too: he's got great "foreign policy experience." What does this mean, exactly?

As far as I can tell, Congresspeople LEARN a lot about foreign policy through committee appearances by the Secretary of State and various individuals involved in resolving the nation's conflicts. They further have the opportunity to go on fact-finding missions to various countries, some of which are serious and some of which are not, e.g. golfing detours to Scotland and Ireland on the way to the globalization conference in London. They LEARN a lot, but how do these kinds of events render them "experienced" in foreign policy?

If you look at people like Richard Holbrooke and Wesley Clark, they have a first-hand knowledge of contemporary conflicts, like Bosnia and Kosovo. It fell to them to dicker with the butchers of the Balkans, like Radovan Karadzic and Slobo Milosevic, in the negotations attending the end of the Bosnian and Kosovo wars. They had to cajole, threaten, deal and negotiate compromise in order to achieve their ends. Similarly, George Mitchell acquired a lot of direct experience in the Good Friday process in northern Ireland. He and his British colleagues faced a lot of meetings, travel, hearings and crises on the way to hammering out a power-sharing agreement that moved the street war in northern Ireland into the realm of politics. And Senator Dick Lugar has spent a lot of time with Russian counterparts in monitoring the disposal of chemical and biological weapons in the former Soviet Union. These people can be said to have actual "experience" in important foreign policy issues of current interest. But your average Congressperson? Not so much.

So let's make a point of challenging those cliches like "foreign policy experience," and ask for some definitions before we anoint these people "experienced." It's a real stretch for McCain in particular to describe himself in those terms.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

August 21, l9l4

Today is August 21, 2008. It probably hasn't occurred to you that the Great War began 94 years ago today, when a British Expeditionary Force bicycle reconnaissance patrol(as unlikely as that sounds)went looking for Germans near the town of Mons, Belgium. To make a long story short, they found what they were looking for, and in the ensuing skirmish, Private J. Parr of the Middlesex regiment was shot through the head and died instantly.
He was the first casualty of what everyone thought would be a brief war--we'll teach those Germans/Austrians/Serbians/Russians/French some nasty lessons, so the thinking went, and then we'll march jauntily back by Christmas, hopefully with a medal or two. The Kaiser was telling everyone the plan was "Paris for lunch, St. Petersburg for dinner," in other words knock France out of the war first and then swing around and hit the Russians before they could assemble themselves. No one was particularly against this fact, almost everyone welcomed it. How else would nations and individuals know they were brave, that they had the Right Stuff?
Well, as we all know, things didn't work out quite as planned. Private Parr was the first death in what would become an epic slaughter--nine million people were to die in the next four years. You can find his grave, which you see in the accompanying photo, in the St. Symphorien British Military Cemetery outside Mons. You can also find there probably the last man to die in the Great War...a Canadian soldier sniped at about ll minutes before ll on ll/ll/l8. He and Private Parr are the Alpha and Omega casualties of this terrible conflict, which also claimed the life of 4 empires.
There are no end to lessons, but at the risk of sounding like a broken record, you NEVER CHOOSE WAR because the only thing you can control is the first shot. The Great War and its dead are the most eloquent testimonies to this truth. Consequently, you NEVER CHOOSE as your leader someone who CHOOSES WAR. John McCain tells us every day in so many words how effective he believes war is...he's never stopped fighting the Vietnam War, he apparently loves the Iraq conflict, and now he's sabre-rattling in the Georgian situation.
So don't choose McCain!

Friday, August 15, 2008

He really said that?!

...yep, he really said it. Our President, that is...on the subject of the ongoing Russian-Georgian confrontation, GWB delivered himself of the following this morning:

"Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century,"

You should definitely read this in tandem with John McCain's recent statement to the effect that "This is the 21st century. NATIONS DO NOT INVADE OTHER NATIONS IN THE 21st CENTURY!"

I really would like some national leaders with a sense of perspective, if irony is too much to hope for!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Whole World is Watching

This phrase "The Whole World is Watching" was made famous in 1968 when student protesters at the Democratic convention in Chicago shouted this as Mayor Daley's police ran wild over them. That 1968 chant comes to mind to me as I watch Olympics coverage from China. The Whole World is certainly watching. But not saying very much.

The Chinese government has gone to great lengths to camouflage Tienanmen Square's history. What is disturbing and disheartening is how well the US press is playing along. The games' bike competitions sent riders past the square, known now to Chinese students too young to remember the 1989 massacre as a spot of honor to Mao and China's history. I listened to reporters on three different networks talk about how large Tienanmen Square is, and that it is a centerpiece of Beijing. In just one of those reports was there a reference to the massacre, and it was one sentence buried in a long loving postcard to the city.

I lived a block from the Chinese embassy in 1989 and was part of a number of demonstrations at that embassy in protest of the attacks. Of course we were ignored by the embassy, that was to be expected. But that our free press is ignoring or pushing aside the history and story of those atrocities in exchange for a happy Olympics face is just disgusting. The Chinese government and Tienanmen Square are steeped more blood than any Olympics can wash away.

He's kidding, right?

On the subject of Georgia again, I have been wondering whether the democracy advocates in the Bush administration--the regime-changers pushing the "freedom agenda"--made some vague promises to Saakashvili about support for him against Russia? He certainly suggested that in comments this morning on CNN, which went as follows: ""Yesterday, I heard Sen. McCain say, 'We are all Georgians now'...well, very nice, you know, very cheering for us to hear that, but OK, it's time to pass from this. From words to deeds." It's not a stretch in view of Saakashvili's dispatch of troops into south Ossetia--he must've known that the Russians would likely strike back hard. If that's the case, shame on the Bush administration for encouraging false hopes, and shame on Saakashvili for believing them. He must have studied history at Harvard--all you have to know about the likelihood of US intervention in that part of the world is Hungary '56.

Tbilisi's time of trial

Popessa’s right, the Georgian situation is a tough nut. I'm sorry about it, because Georgia is a breathtakingly beautiful country with a lot of upside, even if it does consider itself proud to be the birthplace of Joseph Stalin(I'm now wondering if Russian troops destroyed the Stalin museum when they took Gori, Stalin's home town...) One thing’s for sure, it’s not as simple as Candidate McCain would have us believe, i.e. rotten old Russia trying to re-establish the Tsarist Russian empire. There have been NO troop movements or sabre-rattling diatribes in the direction of Finland or Alaska that I know of…
Here are some things that we DO know at this point:

a) The Georgian/Abkhazian/Ossetian dispute has been a reality since before the breakup of the Soviet Union. The Abkhazians and (south)Ossetians, who now live under direct Georgian rule, have been agitating for change in their relationship with Georgia for a long while, whether in the direction of autonomy or separation altogether. There is nothing unusual or surprising about this, since the Caucasian borders were drawn by the Bolsheviks in order to divide and conquer restive minorities there. Mikhail Gorbachev noted in a recent op-ed that prior to the breakup of the USSR, he had urged the creation of a Caucasian federation, a federal relationship between Georgia, Abkhazia and south Ossetia as an alternative to separatism/fragmentation. The Georgians apparently rejected this proposal, reflecting a preference for zero-sum relations with these minorities.

b) The Russian leadership today has a Cold War approach to its periphery, of all the territories it once ruled either as the Tsarist or Soviet empire. That is, any government that calls itself a democracy, or seeks ties to the western world, is viewed with suspicion and enmity, as a fifth column for western expansionists. Mikhail Saakashvili, the Georgian President, is a Harvard School of Government graduate and a close ally of the Bush administration. He came to power riding a kind of popular movement and wants EU and NATO membership, which are all anathema to the Russian government. I think you could say that the Russian government would like to see him gone and has the means and opportunity now to make that happen.

c) There has been a lot of hostility between these two states in the past couple of years. The Russian government cut off all economic contacts for a time, forbidding the import of Georgian wines, harassing Georgian businesses, even closing up some popular Georgian restaurants in the Moscow(a REAL tragedy, since Georgian food is to die for). There is also plenty of evidence that they have been playing ball with disgruntled Ossetians--they have Ossetians, north Ossetians, within their borders)-- giving them Russian passports so that they would have a rationale for sending troops there in case of “trouble.” For his part, Saakashvili has told everyone who would listen that he planned to rein in “troublemakers” in these regions. That seems to have been his intent was when he sent troops into south Ossetia a few days ago.

So it would seem, in a nutshell, that Saakashvili wanted to follow through on promises to crack down on what he viewed as Moscow-funded separatists/troublemakers, and Moscow saw a perfect opportunity to slap him down and perhaps even remove him from office. They have Ossetians across the border in Russia, thus they just HAD to assist the south Ossetians against the evil Georgians...

As to what we can do about it, it seems to me the answer is: not so much. First, this is a regional dispute—it really does not concern us except insofar as we are committed to “democracy promotion” there. We can express our displeasure, but everyone knows we cannot and will not force the Russians out of Georgia even if they do take down Saakashvili. Even expressions of displeasure or outrage are problematic, since we've done some regime changing of our own recently, and not even on our borders(!). Second, Russia has many cards to play here…it has Europe by the throat, providing them with most of their natural gas and a lot of oil, too, and they’ve shown a willingness to use that leverage to get what they want. We have NO cards to play because we can’t step in and provide those things to our allies. Third, well, see points one and two. Russia has invaded Georgia, whose leader stupidly provoked a crisis, and as Popessa says below, here we all are standing around again. It gets clearer and clearer that the 20th century was our century…certainly the balance of power has shifted dramatically east in the 21st, with oil and gas being the currency of the realm.


I'm going to leave any deeper analysis of this current mess to Bucky, who is far more knowledgeable than I in this area. But there are so many thoughts flying through my brain this morning as I listened to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili reacting on CNN to the latest move further into Georgian territory by Russian troops. Saakashvili insisted that the only thing that could help would be military aid from the west. Doesn't that just raise the fun specters of Russian-US nuclear war in the minds of those of us who grew up in the "duck and cover" age of the cold war. And even if we wanted to go in militarily, our fun Iraq adventure has drained the nation to the point that when something does happen that we both need AND want to move into militarily - does anyone think we can? Just one more benefit of W's bizarro move into Iraq. (A side note on that, check out Ron Suskind's book "The Way of the World" with his reports of the Bush administration's idiotic (not to mention illegal) move to forge a letter that would support the administration's decision to invade Iraq.)

So here we are - watching Russia invade a neighboring nation. It's not the 40s or 60s, it's not the 70s in Afghanistan (an invasion that led to our support of what became Al-Qaeda, talk about the law of unanticipated consequences!). It's the 21st century and we're apparently proving unable to deal with it today any better than we were able to deal with it in the 20th century.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bye Bye Musharraff?

Pakistan may be getting interesting again. And I mean aside from the nation's long-standing limpid response in fighting Al-Quaeda. The leader of the nation's Muslim League-Nawaz party, Siddique-ul-Farooq, was recently quoted as claiming that they had the support of 300 of the 440 members of Pakistan's two houses of Parliament aligned to work for Musharraf's impeachment. Apparently one of the groups supporting Farooq's efforts is the PPP (Pakistan People's Party) and four senators from the Afghan border tribal areas (you know, where bin L is probably safely hidden away).

While Musharraff took power as the head of a military coup, he should be happy to learn that his new army chief, Gen. Kiyani, has said he's not interested in following that example. Which may mean that the next transition of power in Pakistan would come democratically, despite Musharraff's best efforts.

But what would that new power be? And considering that representatives interested in overthrowing Musharraff may be well tied to those helping to hide bin-Laden, would Pakistan's support against Al-Quaeda move from pitiful to nonexistent? And given the current state of affairs in his government, Musharraff must certainly be rethinking any involvement he had (and I believe he did) in last year's assassination of Benazir Bhutto. From the Australian News:

The political turmoil came amid ferocious fighting in Pakistan between the army and al-Qa'ida and Taliban-linked militants. Militants yesterday delivered the bullet-riddled bodies of 20 soldiers to Pakistan army commanders, while Taliban officials warned that anyone who supported Mr Musharraf would be killed.

Mr Musharraf's hope that the army -- particularly army chief Ashfaq Kayani -- would support him have not been realised. . . . Polls show most Pakistanis are convinced the country's ISI intelligence agency and other spy agencies were involved in Bhutto's murder.

Reports yesterday said emissaries from the civilian Government had warned Mr Musharraf that if he did not bow to the inevitable and "quit with honour", he could be put on trial.

Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's widower who now leads the Pakistan People's Party, raised the issue of corruption, telling reporters that when the "charge sheet" against Mr Musharraf was presented it would claim the President misappropriated hundreds of millions of dollars of US money given for supporting the war on terror.

Mr Zardari said: "Our grand old Musharraf has not been passing on all the $1billion a year the Americans have been giving for the armed forces. The army has been getting $250-$300 million reimbursement for what they do, but where's the rest?

"They claim it's been going in budget support, but that's not the answer. We're talking about $700million a year missing. The rest has been taken by Mush for some scheme or other, and we've got to find it."

The impeachment move has sparked panic in London and Washington, where the nuclear-armed Pakistan is increasingly seen as a far greater danger than Iraq or Afghanistan.

How Dumb Are We?

Well, pretty darn dumb. So dumb that we're demanding our candidates lead us in our stupidity. Instead of listening to reasoned debate, we charge lemming-like towards the cliffs demanding offshore oil drilling so we won't pay as much for gas.

No, the problem doesn't seem to be our insatiable desire for giant cars that are little more than funnels for pouring money into oil companies' coffers. Nor our need to drive everywhere, as often as possible alone, car-pooling being inconvenient. We're Americans, damn it. If we want to drive wherever we want, whenever we want, in whatever vehicle we want, it's more than just our right, it's almost our duty!

So when we're stuck with another summer of high fuel prices, we strike at the "easy button" target - offshore drilling. No it doesn't matter that it would take years before any of that oil would get anywhere near our trucks and SUVs. Nor that we could take bigger steps towards faster energy and price relief by looking at ourselves for answers.

So let's just keep pushing our candidates for that easy answer to high fuel prices - offshore drilling. After all, that's another sign of modern Americans. If the answer isn't easy or has to be explained in more than a 10-second sound bite, we're just not interested.

Now THAT'S a "Kick Me" Sign

Well done George. While in China W went to church services at a Chinese Christian church. For the phalanx of cameras following him, W. put his arm around one of the parishioners and proceeded to knock the Chinese government's policy towards that nation's practicing Christians. These are folks who have a hard enough time day to day in a country that harasses them and their churches on a regular basis. Now thanks to W, this poor guy has become an international symbol of Chinese repression.

Remind me again, how well did that work out for the Tibetan monks?

Monday, August 04, 2008

Vintage Solzhenitsyn

Here is one of my favorite passages from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's oeuvre, excerpted from his Nobel prize lecture of l970:

"Our twentieth century has turned out to be more cruel than those preceding it, and all that is terrible in it did not come to an end with the first half. The same old caveman feelings--greed, envy, violence, and mutual hate, which along the way assumed respectable pseudonyms like class struggle, racial struggle, mass struggle, labor-union struggle--are tearing our world to pieces. The caveman refusal to accept compromise has been turned into a theoretical principle and is considered to be a virtue of orthodoxy. It demands millions of victims in endless civil wars; it packs our hearts with the notion that there are no fixed universal human concepts called good and justice, that they are fluid, changing, and that therefore one must always do what will benefit one's part.

Any and every professional group, as soon as it finds a convenient moment TO RIP OFF A PIECE, unearned or not, extra or not, immediately rips it off, let all of society come crashing down if it will. As seen from outside, the mass of waste in Western society is approaching the limit beyond which the system will become metastable and must collapse. Violence, less and less restricted by the framework of age-old legality, brazenly and victoriously strides throughout the world, unconcerned that its futility has been demonstrated and exposed by history many times. It is not simply naked force that triumphs but its trumpeted justification: the whole world overflows with the brazen conviction that force can do everything and justice nothing. Dostoevsky's DEMONS, a provincial nightmare of the last century, one would have thought, are, before our very eyes, crawling over the whole world into countries where they were unimaginable, and by the hijacking of planes, by seizing HOSTAGES, by the bomb explosions, and by the fires of recent years signal their determination to shake civilization apart and to annihilate it! And they may very well succeed. Young people, being at an age when they have no experience except sexual, when they have as yet no years of personal suffering and personal wisdom behind them, enthusiastically repeat our discredited Russian lessons of the nineteenth century and think that they are discovering something new. They take as a splendid example the Chinese Red Guard's degradation of people into nonentities. A superficial lack of understanding of the timeless essence of humanity, a naive smugness on the part of their inexperienced hearts--We'll kick out thosefierce, greedy oppressors, those governors, and the rest (we!), we'll then lay down our grenades and machine guns, and become just and compassionate. Oh, of course! Of those who have lived their lives and have come to understand, who could refute the young, many DO NOT DARE argue against them; on the contrary, they flatter them in order not to seem "conservative," again a Russian phenomenon of the nineteenth century, something which Dostoevsky called SLAVERY TO HALF-COCKED PROGRESSIVE IDEAS."

I've always thought that Osama bin Laden and his caveman allies would've gotten along famously with the Bolshevik and Tsarist Russian true-believers Solzhenitsyn alludes to here...they come from the same mold.

Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn, l9l8-2008

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died in Moscow last night of heart failure. It is hard to imagine the world without him, because he had such a huge and lasting impact on it.

I will leave it to those composing his obituary to give a summary of his life and work. He had a lot of critics and took a lot of criticism in his career, especially for his views on the alleged moral failures and weakness of western countries. He was outraged by what appeared on tv and what passed for "culture" in the United States, where he spent l8 years in exile after being expelled from the Soviet Union. Additionally, he castigated the US and its allies for their lack of will, even cowardice in calling an end to the Vietnam war. I disagreed with him most of the time on these and other issues--I think he had a poor understanding of democracy. But one thing was for sure: he told the truth about the Soviet Union. He definitively proved that it was an evil, meglomaniacal entity from the start, whereas prior to the appearance of his works, many people alleged that it had fundamentally good intentions prior to being hijacked by J.V. Stalin. Particularly in the Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn demonstrates in exhaustive and devastating detail that mass imprisonment without trial, summary executions and other manifestations of lawlessness began not in Stalin's time, but immediately following the October revolution. This was a warning to the world about any group of mortal individuals who declare they "never make mistakes" and rule with unchecked power. Absolute power corrupts absolutely-- no one made this clearer than Solzhenitsyn. He grabbed you by the collar in his books, got in your face and shook you, and kept shouting unpleasant truths at you until you acknowledged them. No writer has ever had quite that effect on me.

He was always controversial, even in the virulently anti-Communist first years of independent Russia. I was there at Iaroslavksii station on July 23, l994 when he finally returned to Moscow with his entourage. You'd have thought thousands would have gathered to welcome him home, but the crowd was sparse and kind of quiet. The people who made the most noise were protesters carrying placards that read, "Solzhenitsyn is a tool of the CIA," and "Solzhenitsyn Go Back to America." In recent years, he managed to alienate the new Russians, by condemning them for their greed and materialism, and his old dissident allies with his praise for Vladimir Putin's restoration of "order" in Russia. I guess an authoritarian personality will always find common cause with authoritarian rulers...he did warn last year that the gap between rich and poor in Russia was approaching that of l9l7. That comment certainly got my attention.

In any event, people should remember that one unassailable fact about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: everything he said about the Soviet Union was true and verifiable. That was his greatest contribution to his country and the world.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

WTG Darryl and Art!

Two great guys, #28 and #81 into the Football Hall of Fame today.

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