Posted to YouTube by The National, April 18, 2016.
According to the updated forecast of Economic Development Ministry for 2016, the decline of Russia’s GDP will amount to 0.6%. According to the basic forecast for 2017-2019, the economy will start to grow: GDP will grow by 0.2% in 2017 by 0.9% in 2018 and by 1.2% in 2019. According to the “basic plus” forecast, that the ministry considered to be the most realistic, the economy will grow by 1.1%, 1.8% and 2.4% respectively in the next three years.
An average of 19.2 million Russians – or 13.4% of the population – were living last year on less than 9,452 roubles ($139) a month, the minimum subsistence level determined by the Russian government in the fourth quarter.
This figure represents a 20% increase year-on-year, with an average 16.1 million people living below the poverty threshold in 2014.
New numbers may become available for popular web searching at year’s end, but nothing BackChannels has turned up suggests conditions will improve anytime soon. However, one report (listed in this post’s reference) on Russia’s military economy linked a boost in defense sales numbers to the demonstration in Syria of Moscow’s latest war fighting technology.
Where has Russia’s wealth fled?
Over the course of years, “capital flight” from Russia has been disastrous for Moscow.
Empathy with an emphasis on compassion, and here with that as related to casualties and displaced from Syria’s agonizing civil war, signals something good in the general humanity, but it’s not going to be enough to promote band-aids when the war is sustained on the absence of an armed force of a middle and perhaps now modern temperament.
It’s notable also that Russia pledged $10 million to refugee relief in Syria while spending $52 billion, the largest amount ever, for the winter Olympics at Sochi.
My partner in the short conversation then said, “Humanity in the true sense has lost all its values.”
Not really although it sometimes seems to. We’re a wild species suspended in about, oh, 6,900 living languages, each of which represents a cultural invention and technology and conveys from one generation to the next a behavioral program fit to the character of the language community in a given circumstance in place and time.
I believe the variance in that language-driven and language-derived behavior shapes consciousness and conscience and with regard to empathy, may emphasize the cultivation of that ability to meld emotion and imagination on behalf of someone else, or it may harden the heart against the same.
Other qualities may obtain similar support and the tapestry of whole cultures, whether that of, say, a living sun king or that of a god remote and separate from the mortal, becomes made of such threads. With the aforementioned 6,900 differences in cultural cognitive style wrapped in language, it’s amazing we don’t have more conflict on our plates than we do, but, ever optimistic here, if we drift toward a moderate middle together, we can clean up and forestall a lot of this kind of mess.
The modern dictator’s values — any side (one chessboard – same player on both sides, lol) — build on heroic myth to develop power over others for the purpose of obtaining continuous and inexhaustible “narcissistic supply” — the adoration and adulation of the realm: and they often sail themselves and their own to disaster on the wings of a grandiose messianic delusion.
The inspiration for the above portion of threaded conversation appears to be a contrivance but quite pointed:
The best way to save the children is, alas, to save the adults, get enough on to about the same page in their attitudes, ethics, ideals, and values with regard to others, and then get them to challenge, eject, or evolve the kind of deeply narcissistic and lost personalities who have attempted to paint reality for others through what they do in the pursuit of war.
Of the Assad regime and the al-Nusra et al. counterpoints, I’ve remarked “different talk: same walk”: each will use the lives of noncombatants for political chips. Perhaps nowhere in the whole sorry tragedy has that been made more clear than in the approach of each side to the Palestinian Yarmouk Camp, where one side laid siege as part became a rebel base, and the rebels, true to form, used the helpless and unarmed residents as their own human shields.
Is there anyone reading this post that might want to see that obscenity again?
Attitudes and beliefs, including beliefs about Jews, about loyalty, about the west, about the Baath Party and the Soviet Union (or its ghost from 22 years ago) play a role in impeding the development of an effective and true Syrian people’s army. Moreover, but along similar lines, the three sides — Assad; more secular revolutionary forces; and, of course, the al-Qaeda types — have found themselves trapped in the immense shadows cast by the glorious wars of yesteryear, which for each is different: Bashar al-Assad has been trying to fight his father’s war, an armed insurrection against the state; the battles in mind, perhaps literally, for the al-Qaeda affiliates need little introduction and would seem to be expressed in battlefield and political behavior; and the moderates who seem to be carrying around the load of combined internationalist and Islamist hate for Israel, Jews, and “The West” just haven’t found their way to daylight.
I don’t know where to change that “Jew hate” that signals so much else about the three parties sewing Syria with destruction, and I’m not sure it’s my job alone to locate those cognitive switches in the languages alive on the fields of battle, but finding that would be a good place to start.
Syrians needs Syria — I know of no culture free of a relationship with its land and landscape — and they need to own it for themselves in peace.
To obtain that ownership and peace, the defense Syrians may need most of all, the defense most absent in the three years of continuous and brutal fighting, is not defense from Israel, which is treating Syrian wounded today, but defense from those among themselves who would seek their own excessive aggrandizement at the costs now well displayed in death, displacement, and suffering.
Related (updated 3/18/2014) from The Torah, Exodus 31-32:
31The LORD did as Moses asked, and removed the swarms of insects from Pharaoh, from his servants and from his people; not one remained. 32But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and he did not let the people go.
To translate sentiment in real political effect, I apply a banner concept: “Improving Qualities of Living” – physical, psychological, spiritual | matched to cultural expectations and potentials | measured x place x population x area x region.
“Good feeling” may not be all about economics or materials (reference: _Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes_) or perceptions having to do with dominance, but general well being and security for most humans, from rain forest to concrete canyon, is possible and much can be done to obtain some improvements globally.
I’ve wanted to establish and elaborate on a page devoted to “Qualities of Living” but doing so has proven an expanding and unwieldy blob: cultural happiness, alas, is “complex, multidimensional” and I’ve no wish to do social science with it.
Nonetheless, places may be visited in just the manner described — x area x population x culture — and some assessment made as regard to the health of the spirit of the community. As much becomes the subject of inquiry in a blog seemingly devoted to tracking conflicts and the manner in which they live in the mind.
So I will get to work on “qualities of living” as a concept and dimension those with good will may focus on while going about more specific business within the business of making things a little bit better for others on the planet.
That contemptuous phrase “the whims of man” applies well to autocratic societies in which, indeed, the whims of one man control a great swath of humanity, but with those, one knows the methods: to those who humiliate themselves before their regimes: bribery, nepotism, and patronage: i.e., those get fed like dogs; to those who threaten such regimes: blackmail, intimidation, murder.
In contemporary realpolitik, the path ends with the suffocation of the constituent humanity or the overthrow of the regime.
Syria’s a good case in point today: I cannot figure out on whose side God has appeared. From the survey of that unfolding tragedy, He would seem altogether absent.
One more thing: the struggle for truly just systems of law beneficial, invested in, and trusted by all has not come about through whim.
The struggle for decency in human relationships by way of ethical and moral argument that finds expression through the law has a millennial existence, one that would seem to have its roots in the depths of tragedies, small and large, attending the human experience across oceanic time.
The science experiment preceding the comment involved measurements of attitude affected by first introducing participants to short collections of words that might have an impact on subsequent perception of other subjects.
I thought the science silly, actually, but it lent itself to the kernel, which at this point for me seems iterative.
The “priming” referred to in the article attaches to two fundamental concepts in the cultural perception of good and evil: language metonymy and social grammar. To delve into one may involve dipping into linguistics and poetry and the other wants for focus on the processing of cultural and social signals in infancy’s language acquisition period.
In essence, science still gives us a glimpse of what may be known empirically and religion becomes the mirror of cultural expression, imagination, and invention. “Good”, from such a clinical perspective, becomes what culture and language have become together across time for the set of constituent speakers.
Two enjoyable reference in this area: Daniel Everett’s Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes and Language: The Cultural Tool.
I cannot emphasize the idea too much that a romantic combat signals the poetic arrangement of symbols suspended in language and woven around the fighter’s own self-concept and image.
When one has cause to denote the pen mightier than the sword, doing so recognizes that good and evil, beauty and sophistry, guidance and misguidance involve the speech of either healthy or poisonous tongues and then an accurate or inaccurate assessment of states of affairs.
We humans don’t live through our organics: rather, we live with them and at times, this with age especially so, barely tolerate them; where we actually live is within the mouth-ear-mind-heart system that we use to tell ourselves about ourselves and others and the world.
If we’re to find greatness and heroism within ourselves and our ranks, it’s in that vessel woven out of strings of words fashioned like steel; if we’re to be disheartened or humbled, it may be through the deformation or shattering of those same strings, and then perhaps for their being either too rigid to withstand a little pressure or too gimp with receiving a load of confusion to keep their own best form.
A correspondent in Germany wrote to tell me about the bombing of his apartment by parties unhappy with his work in the peace making field.
I couldn’t find a corroborating abundance of small town fire stories in relation to the claim, but the correspondent sent along one online clipping, noting that state security services had sought to squelch coverage of the event while they themselves looked into it.
Another in the United States wrote recently, “At the mosque yesterday when a man ran in and shoved a rolled up wad of bills into the zakat box I wondered about how many of these people run their lives based on an underground economy.”
I would have to say “I don’t know” to that last correspondent.
This is the tale of another Egyptian coup, an account in fiction of the Egyptian Revolution of 1952. Strong in atmosphere and romance, engaging some in the daring of its hero, Dirk Celliers, and in the depiction of angry crowds, wild slaughter in the streets, and the burning of Cairo (“Black Saturday” today in the history books), it is itself more an impression than a parallel history in its own right — in fact, it’s light on the hinges — but it resonates with the latest rounds in Egypt’s political turmoil.
The reader will recognized the Egyptians of 1952 in many facets: the royal state (that Farouk ran and Mubarak would have established had he gotten away with it), the secular nationalist army, the Muslim Brotherhood, the conservative culture, especially constraining for women and also defensive and dangerous with regard to their keeping, and then the roving crowds — out to tear apart the “Englesi” of the earlier age and boot the same out of the state’s affairs — and riots, bullets, fires, and the rending of hapless victims limb from limb, which today one might liken to throwing youth, aligned with one side or the other, off the roofs of buildings.
On a personal note: having inherited this work from a father who had degrees in economics, political science, and law and spent the bulk of his career in civil service, I found the pages uncut, which means the old man had acquired it, kept it on his shelf, smoked his pipe (back then) beneath it, but never read it.
“Post-Soviet Russia” may have morphed the “Evil Empire” out of a few captive states but by no means did the collapse of the Soviet Union spell the end of its most durable internal business, political, and social relationships, much less the external ones that today sustain the Russo-Iranian-Syrian (Assad) arrangements that should have ended yesterday and been in the way to doing so in 1991.
Oh no on all of that.
This excerpt hails from Nick Fielding’s forward:
President Boris Yeltsin’s appointment of Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, to head upt the FSB in 1998 marks the beginnings of a new era. By 2000, as soon as he became president, Putin began to rebuild the intelligence services and to concentrate power in their hands. While the FSB’s predecessor had been a “state within a state,” subservient to the Community Party, the FSB has in many ways become the state itself–its officers now directly responsible to the president, and its former members owning and controlling the commanding heights of the economy.” (ix).
I’ve commented elsewhere myself on President Putin but not quite like this (chapter title: “The Interests of the State Demand It: Spymania”):
In May 1999, Putin was the director of the FSB and also head of the Kremlin’s security council, a group of high-ranking officials who set national security strategy. It was a time of instability in Russia, just months after the country had suffered a major economic crash. President Boris Yeltsin seemed to be drifting. One day Putin went to the offices of Komsomolskaya Pravda, a mass-circulation broadsheet daily. At the newspaper, he gave an interview in which he was asked, “There is a concern that you and your friends might organize a military coup d’etat?” Putin replied, “And why do we need to organize a coup d’etat? We are in power now. And whom would we topple?” Then the newspaper interviewers suggested: perhaps the president?
“The president appointed us,” Putin said, with a half-chuckle.
Instead of an internal threat, Putin pointed to foreign espionage as Russia’s gravest enemy . . . .”
One might imagine what would come of that observation, but with The New Nobility one does not have to imagine anything, the research being well reported, from the refusal to grant visas to Peace Corp volunteers accused of “gathering information of social-political and economical character” and far on to the handling of affairs in the North Caucasus.
As I remain ever a man on a mission without a mission, my easy recall of details from the book seems absent, everything being interesting and nothing being immediately or practically relevant except for one thing: the idea that Russia is again in the hands of autocrats who may be expected to commandeer their media, squelch political criticism and resistance, and generally discourage the development of a more open, robust, and vibrant democracy (for the record: I think Masha Gessen is a gift to mankind, Pussy Riotshould have had the good sense to keep its act out of the church, Khodorkovsky fits the profile of a kind of Putin victim — either too rich to complain [I’m thinking of the “Putin stole my Superbowl ring” thing to which Putin has responded, recently, vociferously, and convincingly] or too remote in plutocratic station to inspire massive (proletarian to middle class) anger over the misdeed, and, at that, an anger strong enough to overcome the fear of the state’s ruling class).
If you think RT has been bending and twisting it some in Syria — and the war of images and words on the World Wide Web over that tragedy seems as real as it was in the paper-based days of NATO-Soviet discord — there’s no need to think “KGB”: Федеральная служба безопасности Российской Федерации (ФСБ)” (Federal’naya sluzhba bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsii) or, in plain English, “Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation” will do.
“FSB”, however old its story — about two decades in the making at the moment — is the buzz for what may be the clouded image of a still new and rapidly evolving Russian intelligence and security state.
It is raining today in western Maryland, and the apartment is dark and cool. The air conditioning’s white shushing noise seems pleasant enough. The dog in the apartment next to mine lets out a lonely howl while at my right elbow there’s a cool drink, Diet Coke and Cruzan white rum on ice with a slice of lime, and at my left elbow David Cornwell’s latest, which for pace fairly requires just the day I have got.
Of course, it picks up, by which I mean the book, if not my day.
And it resonates.
Le Carré’s latest tells the tale of war bureaucratized, privatized, loaned out by governments — here, Her Majesty’s Own — and in the hands of corporate robber barons with numerous hands, rivals among them, gripping the wheels and as many and more dipping into the cookie jar hidden from public view and debate.
Unlike the deckle-edged Schiemer book mentioned above (also “A Novel of Modern Egypt” — the modern one of 1952), my father read Le Carré’s books, so suited to those intellectuals maintained or trapped or both in the great bureaucracies of state and defense. Possibly no other author creates the image of the political office, from bottom to top in relation to power, and its auditoriums, corridors, labyrinths, meeting rooms, hallways, residences, sidewalks, car parks, cafes, bars, and restaurants and the talk and signals of its tête-à-têtes and small groups better — and then tops it by making his heroes above average bunglers but ones with the finest and greatest of patriotic British spirits!
This one is like the Torah: the more close reading the reader and the longer the engagement, the more shutters fly off the windows, the roof disappears, the heavens open, and one sees a little bit of everything more clearly.
Unlike with the Torah, I was not enamored of either the extremity of spymaster Gabriel Alkon’s sadism at time nor the author’s indulgence in practicing random acts of violence through an anomic sidekick as well as the engineering of assorted shoot-em-ups: on the other hand, perhaps all of that will make it easier for a Hollywood writer with highlighters to find the good parts and yank them into something worthy of competing with the Broccoli franchise (more on that in a moment).
Opposite all that: Silva knows his politics and semi-wonks like myself may find ourselves on similar ground as regards with Big Picture Analysis in International Affairs. Here on BackChannels, I hedge with the “may be’s” and the “seems to’s” but in this sprawling jet setter spy epic fiction, Silva pulls no punches. From mafia to oligarch, prized fine art to torture, subtle spy craft to ugly explosion . . . it’s not only pretty good reading, it’s a great mirror in its underlying analysis of a global state of affairs.
Let it surprise you, says I, and damnation to any spoilers out there who may have said too much already.
* * *
I don’t spend all of my time on my bed reading.
Sometimes I get up, go into the living room, and watch a movie.
It has been a while since I’ve watched a Bond film, but I thought Skyfall was terrific but Quantum of Solace remarkably less so. The difference for me: the sophistication of the plot and its cultural interests.
Skyfall tackles the “malignant narcissist” head on, the punch from the shadows — sub-state warfare — also, and updates the mirror on the modern post-modern world, one in which “M” is “Mom”, Ms. Moneypenny’s just about as good an operator in the field as Bond, Bond himself has an almost (maybe not almost) gay moment, and the desire of the dictator to surround himself with himself and control the world rings true to what we know about the real ones.
By comparison, Quantum of Solace seemed to me an extended shoot-em-up over greed with water supply involved.
That method got old and certainly does not work for me five years after the release of the film.
A little conflict of interest here: I own a Barbour too, Mr. Bond. I may not be able to fight like you but I’ll be as dry in a November rainstorm as any hero or villain on the planet.
Finally, in e-books: Hemingway and Gellhorn (for $2.99 how can you go wrong) and Spies for Hire ($10.38 for the Kindle, so perhaps interest should be sincere). I’m enjoying the former; have not started the latter; but it might go down well with the Le Carré book. Indeed, our states are in trouble if and when they compromise their monopoly on the development of military and political intelligence and, worse, when private enterprise comes to “run operations”.
It seems to me that nongovernmental interests may have other interests, including their own survival aided by their own extended relationships, at heart.
As a species, we may not know what we’re going to need by way of new concepts and insights drawing on our inventory in languages across distance and tunneling back through time, so we may wish to be careful about what we would dispose of or, for various reasons, may be losing.
The overarching, broad, and recurrent themes may be — should be — assurance or restoration as regards supporting an inherent dignity and integrity for mankind worldwide, a common enemy being discovered in those who have set out to humiliate others and rise to power or steal it on seas of lies.
Here I have been idealistic, perhaps Jewish with that “inherent dignity and integrity” business, but what other path in human affairs — and international affairs — would serve all across the great arc of Homo sapiens sapiens time yet to come on this planet?
This “assurance and restoration” for ourselves and others is what we need to do, and the key to doing it may lay in the development of a new cross-cultural and integrating poetry.
In his singular work on the character of the Russian people during the Soviet Era, The Russians, journalist Hedrick Smith notes, “Probably the sharpest blow to the spirit of education reform and experimentation in recent years was the emasculation of Phys-Mat School No. 2 in Moscow in 1971-1972.” Phys-Mat 2 had become an attractive and exemplary magnet school for minds both gifted and ambitious and, attracting accomplished lecturers and bright students both, it afforded uncommon freedoms to an elite qualified by intellectual ability (“Applications to the school soared to three or four times the number of places available,” wrote Smith).
In Smith’s words, here is what happened to “Phys-Mat School No. 2 in Moscow”:
As the logical extension of some of the educational reform theories, the intellectual climate at the school obviously troubled Communist Party conservatives. The percentage of Jewish students was very high and so was the proportion of Jewish scholars on the faculty, according to my Moscow friends. When in early 1971, one of the teachers, I. Kh. Sivashinsky, applied to emigrate to Israel, the authorities moved in on the school and began administrative harassments. According to Igor, a tall, lanky recent graduate, the pretext for administrative inspections was that New Year’s Eve 1971 had been celebrated with a roulette game. Another pretext, he said, was that a group of students had visited the Jewish synagogue in Moscow and would have gotten away without trouble for the school except that one boy wrote the school;’s initials on a fence near the synagogue. Purges of the faculty and student body were carried out in spring 1971, and again a year later. In one action the director and three assistants were fired; later, teachers of history and literature were forced out, an indication that the real reasons for the purge were ideological. Several other teachers, I was told, resigned in protest to these firings. Marxist-Leninist indoctrination courses were stiffened and students who did poorly in those fields, no matter how talented in science, were called on the carpet, and outside lectures by university professors dwindled to nothing. By fall, 1972, the previous flood of applicants had fallen off and in in Igor’s words, this once elite school had becomes “a spiritless, gray, sorry spectacle.”
In the left side column of this blog is an epigram by Milan Kundera: “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”
Kundera’s remark suits, and as one reads The Russians, not only the atmosphere of the era returns with many of its continued challenges and quirks but also the shadow of the looming authoritarian fist, the familiar oafs of now other states in this era who may wish others not get too far out ahead of themselves or otherwise dull their glorious presence with something like the expression of their separate God-given talents, benevolent accomplishments, and earned compensation.