Category Archives: Russia

Are the Three Bearded Men Still on Their Pedestals?

Three men dominated the intellectual world of the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries. They were not scientists. Not one of them spent any time in a research lab or conducted any scientific experiments; yet each in his own way altered the existing cultural landscape.

I also think that each one of them was noticeably wrong about some of the things he believed.

 

Karl Marx

Karl Marx (1818-1883) believed in the existence of a class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and thought this struggle was intrinsic to the capitalist industrial world. One group controlled the means of economic production and profit, the other provided the labor. The conflict between them was that of oppressor against oppressed and revolution was the only means by which this situation could be reversed.

This was to be a communist revolution on the model of the French Commune uprising of 1871 in which the Paris commune rose against the French Government after the French defeat by the Germans in the Franco Prussian War.

The Revolution did occur, but it happened not in the capitalist industrial world but in an agrarian Russia in 1917. It quickly lost its focus and created a new set of oppressors. The labor theory of value has since been discredited. The idea of an inevitable overthrow of the dominant class turned out to be too rigid and somewhat naïve.

 

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud (1856-1039) was the inventor of psychoanalysis and the interpretation of dreams and delved into the unconscious for an explanation of human behavior. Freud said: “Human beings can keep no secrets. They reveal their innermost selves with their unconscious mannerisms. Whatever we do we are expressing things about ourselves to people who have ears and eyes to see.”

Freud coined the concepts of the id, ego and superego and explained their working within the human being. His concepts are still hotly discussed though they have fallen out of favor in the scientific community. But popular culture appropriated many of his insights. “Freudian slips”, “the subconscious”, “cathartic release”, and “defense mechanisms” are now part of our vocabulary.

Freud, like Marx, stimulated others to think about new topics even though both men were often not entirely correct in how they viewed these topics.

 

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin (1809-1882).
In “On the Origin of Species” in 1851 Darwin outlined his theory of natural selection, which states that all species of organisms arise and develop through the natural selection of small variations that increase their ability to compete, survive and reproduce. He believed that species changed and mutated over time and gave rise to new species that shared a common ancestor. Each mutation created a more complex and efficient organism.
Here are some of the arguments that critics advance to question some of his thinking:

Darwin does not explain how life originated in the first place.

There is a lack of fossil evidence to support the ideas of a “tree of life”

Natural selection is too slow to spread traits.

Some also question whether evolution is directional and has a specific aim or is blind and random.

Earth is much older than Darwin states.

Some new traits do not increase survival chances.

These interesting criticisms do not delve into religion and “creationism” which is a separate controversy.
It is interesting how some thinkers can be so wrong in important ways and yet stimulate so much change, influence so many thinkers, and propel us towards new ideas.



Classical Arts Showcase

If, like me, you have reached a stage in life when you are not as mobile as you used to be and are no longer able to go to concerts, operas or other performances regularly, there is no reason to mourn. You can still enjoy these shows at home. There is a channel on your television called Classical Arts Showcase. It is the brainchild of the Lloyd E. Rigler and Lawrence E. Deutsch Foundation and can give you up to  three hours a day of high-quality, commercial-free entertainment.

 

Luciano Pavarotti

 

There is no announced program, so you are just as likely to see a clip of the Red Army Chorus belting out “Moscow Nights” or “Ochy Chernye” as a puppet show of Peter and the Wolf complete with duck, cat and grumpy grandfather marching to the zoo with a captured wolf.

 

Charlie Chaplin

Everything comes as a surprise. Perhaps it will be Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times struggling with boxes on a conveyor belt  or a parade of  dominoes strutting to the music of George Bizet. Or it is just as likely to be a musical conversation with a singing Kathleen Battle resplendent in a gorgeous red dress and Wynton Marsalis and his glorious trumpet.

 

Wynton Marsalis

Sometimes you will watch interviews with obscure German actresses you have never heard of  or discover a rest home for retired Italian opera singers.

 

Herbert von Karajan

Symphony orchestras and their various conductors offer many insights. Some conductors like Bruno Walter or Herbert von Karajan are very formal; others like Zubin Mehta or Leonard Bernstein dance and sway exuberantly. All conduct with their whole bodies and facial expressions.

It is also fascinating to watch soloists’ fingers running on the piano or flute, or harp, or to observe violin bows rising and falling in unison.  Because some of the performances go way back in time, you can note in passing that many orchestras like the Berlin and Vienna Philarmonics did not  include women until recently.

You can also admire the dexterity and improvisation of the Modern Jazz Quarter or enjoy a rendition of “Bess, you is my woman now,” from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.

This is not to say that every clip will always please you. You could happen on a boring “Pas de Deux” where the male dancer does nothing but twirl  the ballerina or hold up her leg and want to tell him: “Let her hold up her own leg and start running, pirouetting and doing entrechats.”

I also get tired of Russian classical ballet with stiff tutus  and of Pavlova and the dying swan.

And I turn off  or mute Richard Wagner or Richard Strauss’ Ariadne. Everyone has favorite tiresome performances

Renee Flemming

But where else are you likely to see artists who are no longer with us like Pavarotti or a close up of Renee Flemming’s face  singing Ave Maria or Vladimir Horowitz being given a standing ovation in Moscow?

All you need is  a television with a sharp image and good sound and a comfortable chair  to savor and enjoy.

 



RUSSIA’S AUTOCRATS (part 1 of 4)

Catherine II of Russia

Catherine The Great

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin

Editor’s note: We’re proud to present Simone’s history and comments about autocracy in Russian history.
This will come in four parts over the coming month. Simone will build the story for us in her
unique fashion. Here, it begins.

The Absolutist Czars

Russia’s natural equilibrium rests on a solid autocratic base, embedded in the title of the Czar: Absolute Emperor of all the Russias. Throughout its history whenever schisms seemed to undermine this base, Russia employed a self-correcting mechanism to return to the status quo ante. Regimes and names change, but the pendulum always swings back to autocracy. No Czar or any other ruler ever shared power. It was his alone. The Czar was affectionately known as “batiushka” (little father). His “children” understood that he had to be severe.

Here is a condensed history:

Ivan the Terrible 1530-1584

Prince of Moscow, he conquered surrounding provinces and was the first czar and autocrat. His name became synonymous with torture and cruelty .He changed Russia from a medieval state to an emerging regional power and he set out to destroy any who dared oppose him. The massacre of Novgorod, which lasted five weeks and killed uncounted thousands, is regarded as a demonstration of his mental instability and brutality. He was Terrible. Other Czars were “Great.”

Peter the Great 1672-1725

He inherited a backward state and instituted gigantic reforms. Singlehandedly he propelled Russia to the rank of a major power. He is known as a Westernizer. St. Petersburg began as an island at the mouth of the Neva River and was a “blank sheet” on which he could build a new city from scratch and construct a microcosm of the New Russia. Because he was an autocrat he could use slave labor, work people to death, and not worry about the peasants’ welfare. But he did create a “window on the West.”

Catherine the Great 1729-1796

Born a German Princess, she transformed Russia into a powerful, modern wealthy country. During her reign Crimea and part of Poland were acquired. Her empire extended from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Catherine was a patron of the arts and founded many institutions of learning such as the Hermitage Museum of Art. Both Peter and Catherine were absolute monarchs.

Alexander the Third 1881-1894

He witnessed the murder of his father Alexander II, killed in St. Petersburg by an anarchist. He promoted the Trans-Siberian Railroad which made the port of Vladivostok more accessible, thus integrating East and West.

Nicolas II 1868-1918 (the last Czar)

During his reign Russia suffered a major defeat following the Russo-Japanese War. He authorized the violent repression of “Bloody Sunday,” a peaceful march of protest during which men, women and children were shot and killed indiscriminately.
He also suppressed the 1905 Revolution. In addition his reign was marred by the interference of the “mad monk” Rasputin in court decisions. Finally there was the rout of the Russian army during World War I. It was the last blow. Nicolas was forced to resign. His cousin George V of Britain, who looks remarkably like him, was unable or unwilling to offer him sanctuary. Finally, after several years of exile, he and his whole family were cold-bloodedly shot. They died never understanding why they had to die.

Next time:Part 2: The Czar is dead. Is autocracy dead?



The Tale of Two Tyrants

Erdogan

Erdogan

blackheart

Putin

Putin

Birds of a feather, Recep Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, at some time flocked together. Both rule over authoritarian regimes with a one-party system. Both dominate their respective countries’ politics. Both are opportunists, and responsible for rampant human rights violations. Putin leans heavily on the Russian Orthodox Church and Erdogan is becoming increasingly more Islamist. Both have strong anti-western tendencies. In addition, both their countries have “great power” dreams. Turkey yearns for the days of the Ottoman Empire and Russia cannot forget the glories of the Soviet Union.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Moscow and Ankara developed good trade relations. Russia was Turkey’s energy provider, and Russian tourists visited Turkey in great masses. Putin’s supporters see him as a challenge to the U.S. hegemony and influence in the world. Erdogan is perceived as a strong Muslim Sunni leader and the only one who can put an end to Iran’s Shia ambitions in the Middle East.

This mutually advantageous alliance held for a while. Then came an abrupt halt when, in November 2015 a Turkish combat aircraft shot down a Russian Su-24 close to the Turkish Syrian border. After the shooting Russian foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it would seriously reevaluate its relationship with Turkey and matters deteriorated rapidly. Erdogan’s trip to Russia was cancelled. Ankara claimed that Russia had repeatedly violated its airspace. At the height of the crisis Putin said: “Allah decided to punish the ruling clique in Turkey by depriving them of reason and common sense. They will regret again and again what they have done.”
Trade relations broke down and Russian guided tours to Turkey were cancelled. Russia banned import of Turkish fruit, vegetables and poultry. Each side accused the other of backing terrorism.

The two leaders were snarling at each other and behaved like two angry football fans arguing about whose team was better. Erdogan blinked. In June he apologized for the downing of the Russian warplane and offered compensation to the dead pilot’s family.

Why the sudden reversal? This spat was not advantageous to either side. Turkey was losing the struggle against Russia which is gaining more ground in Syria. Turkey felt increasingly isolated and needed to build bridges; its economy is weakening. Turkey is also suffering from the flow of migrants into its territory and from increasing terrorist attacks.

The Turks realize they need to get over their obsession with the Kurdish minority and their brooding over the reluctance of the European Union to accept Turkey into the European family. Russia, meanwhile, is hoping to use Turkey again as its conduit for gas into Europe.

Interestingly at the same time, Russia and Turkey are now repairing their relations with Israel and Egypt because they both feel vulnerable and both have ambitions in the Middle East. The increase of Jihadist attacks also requires more cooperation by everyone concerned.



ISIS and Soup

bowlofsoup

Our problem in tackling ISIS is that it is not just a piece of land inhabited by enemies of the Western World but an ideology willing to die for its belief that the West must be annihilated.

Recently Avigdor Lieberman, (former Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs) called for a full scale rooting out of ISIS…by NATO. Well, Turkey might not be so keen to help.

And as our military experts remind us, taking territory is so much easier than holding it. As Americans well know, it is very hard to know when it is “mission accomplished.” Is it ever? Lieberman’s Trumpian proposal has very real problems.

But how do we deal with a large scale ideological conflict? Didn’t we do that already when we defeated the Communist World? True it took a very long time to achieve and exacted a high price. In addition, although Communism started as an ideal it was quickly transformed into a “pretend” ideology. Its leaders stopped believing in it and used it principally to consolidate their power.

But Communism, though it stirred many people, did not generate the fervor that ISIS has achieved. Did anyone hear of any young communists blowing themselves up shouting “Marx is Great?”

ISIS, in contrast, is attracting and brainwashing young, ignorant, disaffected recruits with promises of a better life in Paradise where they will be greeted and wooed by 72 beautiful virgins. (Young women who become martyrs are not offered an equivalent benefit.)

It seems that we are dealing with a mutation to a new species of humanoids devoid of many of the traits of empathy, generosity and tolerance that mankind has slowly developed.

And so it is difficult not to be pessimistic about our ability to deal with this scourge. What can we offer in response? The imperfections of democratic rule? The greed of capitalism? Nobody has yet invented an anti-jihadist vaccine, and some of these addicts are too far gone for us to reach.

We can only start at the bottom with the very young. See to it that we give them the proper environment to thrive, a good basic education, role models to emulate, opportunities for jobs and social integration. We must make sure that they do not inhabit a parallel world, and live in enclaves where they nurse grievances that evolve into hatred.

We also need to keep stirring the melting pot of the world. It makes a pretty good soup.

Editor’s Note: Simone thrives on your comments. We encourage you to contribute your thoughts.



One Gets Away with it. Others may not.

moneyintopocketputinpanamacameronpanama

The Panamanian law firm of Mossack Fonseca, with 600 employees in 42 countries, is devoted to helping its wealthy clients hide their income. They have facilitated money-laundering, the defeat of protective regulations and ultimately, the evasion of taxes. Until recently, this has all taken place away from the prying eyes of the curious.

Then, just ten days ago, a group of 4oo journalists, after a year of work in secret, made public over 9 million Mossack Fonseca documents, lifting the lid on these nefarious and unsavory transactions. Now the game is on to see who has been caught in the trap. The resulting scandal is called the Panama Papers. Some world leaders are suddenly appearing in the nude. They include Chinese, Arab, Ukrainians and a long list of others. Some have already resigned including the Prime Minister of Iceland.

This huge net has also reeled in the name of Vladimir Putin. Rumors about his vast hidden fortune have been circulating for years, but his financial dealings are well disguised. His name is not on any paper. Many of his associates are named but no spotlight shines on him. Officially the Kremlin is waging a war against corruption and money laundering.

A few days ago Vladimir Vladimirovich staged his mammoth annual Press Conference. Enthroned in his comfortable swiveling chair, a beatific smile on his face, he chatted amiably with the press surrounding him. He had no notes. He does not need them. This event has been well prepared, rehearsed and staged. Putin answers pre-screened and vetted questions. What he has to say about the Mossack Fonseca “revelations” is that they are a vast smear campaign led and orchestrated by non-other than the United States, which wants to discredit him, alienate him from his people and undermine the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Many Russian people swallow this fairy tale. Many others cynically believe that even if Putin has stashed a fortune somewhere, well, every leader does it, so it is fine with them.

Heads may be rolling around him, but Putin may yet emerge from this with a halo.

Things are different in England where the Panama Papers revealed that the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, inherited from his father some interests in Mossack Fonseca. Cameron now admits that he did indeed own shares, but that he and his wife liquidated them when he came to power. He also promises to disclose documents showing that they payed taxes on the dividends. Even if nothing illegal took place, there is an aura of sleaziness and Cameron is facing serious challenges to his leadership.

What explains the discrepancy in the reactions in Britain and in Russia? We are tempted to say that the British have a long history of honorable political conduct and
an ethical political code to fall back on. Even more true is the they have a rival political party, the “loyal opposition,” which will exploit any apparent weakness on the other side.

This news is in rapid motion and it is only 10 days old. How many other shoes will be dropping? We await with interest.

editor’s note: You are strongly encouraged to enter a comment below. Simone greatly appreciates your responses.



Me and J.P. (Sartre)

J.P. Sartre when he refused the Nobel Prize

J.P. Sartre when he refused
the Nobel Prize

In 1946, when we were still living in France, I came upon a publication called “Existentialism is a Humanism” by Jean Paul Sartre. It captivated me. Sartre wrote of choice, personal responsibility and discipline. He advocated a philosophy of free will, of man being the architect of his own destiny, with no help from religion or other diktats. Sartre rejected other-directed moral imperatives and received values. I liked the idea of man being defined by his actions and their consequences, without a prescribed way of life. To Sartre, life was a succession of free choices. Jean Paul Sartre was a philosopher, a political activist and a novelist. I read No Exit, Nausea, The Flies and others and enjoyed them all.

But Sartre’s views led him to strange engagements. Like many other intellectuals of the day he had become a Communist during World War II. To him communism was an antidote to fascism. Wasn’t Stalin fighting and defeating the Nazis? After the war, Sartre traveled to Russia and wrote a favorable report, unable to see forced collectivization, and the mass executions of political “enemies” that did not fit his preconceived views.

Sartre met Simone de Beauvoir when they were both studying philosophy. De Beauvoir was a novelist and a feminist. She wrote: The Second Sex and Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter which I read and found to be a little heavy. She had no sense of humor.

De Beauvoir and Sartre had the same philosophy of life and thus a very strange relationship. They were a couple but led totally independent lives. Sartre loved women and both he and de Beauvoir had many affairs. She even introduced him to other women. They both affected to despise conventions and to reject bourgeois morality. Though she was a feminist, de Beauvoir was totally subjugated by Sartre.

In May 1968 they both joined the student revolt in Paris and marched with placards glorifying Mao Zedong. They had chosen a path that I could not follow and I lost my respect for them. It was incomprehensible to me how such intelligent people could so willfully blind themselves to what was happening around them.

Many of their peers had also fallen prey to this bizarre fascination for Mao and his little red book. How they could overlook the 36 million or more dead in the artificial famine of the “Great Leap Forward” and the tortures, massacres, and imprisonments of anyone not in favor with the ruling powers was incomprehensible to me. Why did they ally themselves with the executioners rather than the victims? I saw a yawning trench between their ideals and the path they had chosen to follow.

French intellectuals in those days also worshiped Stalin and Castro and exhibited a virulent anti-Americanism. It was their way of “epater le bourgeois,” (to shock the middle class). They seemed to enjoy this role. They had followers in the United States including Leonard Bernstein who affected this form of “radical chic” also.

Protected from reprisals because they lived in a democracy, they became “revolutionaries” from the safety of their armchairs. To me, it was blatant hypocrisy. The French author Jean Francois Revel called Sartre an impostor with his Marxist acrobatics. He wrote that Sartre was a philosopher of liberty who hated liberty and wondered why this intelligent thinker chose the intellectual night of Communism.

Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964, but turned it down stating that writers should not affiliate themselves with institutions.



Terror Stalks Paris, Beirut, Bamako

copenhagen-denmark-shootings-memorial-AP-640x480

There were three terrorist attacks in in the world in one week carried out by ISIS and Boko Haram: They were in Beirut (Lebanon), Paris and Bamako (Mali). The magnitude, character and location of the Paris attacks captured all the media attention and managed to suck the air out of anything else that happened that same week.

In Paris, the planning by at least four groups had been meticulous. Much of the preparation originated in Brussels, Belgium. Many of the terrorists have now either died, been captured or killed but some are still not accounted for as of this writing. Saleh Abdelsalam, thought to be the brains of the operation is still at large. As a result, for much of last week, Brussels was a “dead” city. Everything was shut down, streets were deserted as people were encouraged to stay home because large gatherings were likely to be targeted. Life did not “go on.”

President Hollande of France whose job performance ratings had been very low, rose to the occasion and took a De Gaullesque stance. He announced: We are in a state of war and ISIS must be destroyed. Well, Monsieur Hollande, we have been in a state of war for some time already. The attackers were not “strangers.” Many of them are disenchanted locals, second and third generation immigrants who reached the citizen stage without ever going through the “melting pot” stage. They did not grow roots or learn how to fashion their own destiny. As a result, they fell prey to the jihadists’ siren songs. These West-haters are only too happy to do the thinking for them. They lure them with promises, give them a sense of belonging and a group identity not to mention a salary. The French have been lax in detecting the signs of this mounting discontent. They have closed their eyes to these youth’s increasing restiveness and have not been able to gain their allegiance.

Another contributing factor to this new vulnerability is that Europe does not have a common defense system. There is no coordination in information sharing and precautionary measures. So now the violence is no longer peripheral to Europe. Contamination has set in. We know now that this sort of attack does not happen only in destabilized societies. Europe is not used to living in a context of violence, suspicion and paranoia. It is also helpful to remember that France is one of the countries that has been selling arms to Qatar which finances revolutionary mosques in which much terrorist recruiting occurs.

In Beirut, forty people were killed and 200 injured at the American University of Beirut. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. Beirut once known as the Paris of the Orient has had many upheavals and a bloody civil war. It now has an absent government and many Syrian refugees. In spite of this, life had been relatively “normal” recently. However, because the country is associated with upheavals and conflict, hardly anyone took notice of this terrorist attack even though the killings were as random and deadly as the ones in Paris. They happened in crowded areas and affected young and old, Christian and Muslim alike. But in the aftermath, no monuments were illuminated, no flags flown. No outpouring of sympathy and grief were visible. There were no signs of support, solidarity or compassion and no one called it “an attack against humanity.” Was Beirut’s grief less important?

The third attack took place in Bamako, Mali at the Radisson Blu Hotel where many Westerners congregated mainly for business. They were all having breakfast when the assailants burst in and started shooting indiscriminately, randomly and repetitively. Most of the dead were Westerners including six Russians.

Mali had not quite yet recovered from an attempt a few years ago by Tuareg rebels to split the country in two. Fighting raged for months and was only stopped by an infusion of French forces which succeeded in reestablishing a fragile order. It was during this war that the shrines of Sufi Saints, those historic monuments that had stood in Timbuktu for centuries, were blown up.

Motivated probably by the terrorist attack on a Russian airliner which killed 224 people and the Bamako attack, the Russians have decided to join, at some level, the Western anti-terrorist coalition. Suddenly Vladimir Putin is a persona grata and not a pariah . He says he is quite eager to help. But so long as Russia supports Syria’s President Assad, the Syrian Sunnis will not take up arms to expel Isis. We don’t know what Russia will do and can only watch and wait.



Fanfare For The Common Man?

Editor’s note: Simone suggested some music to accompany this post. It is Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare For The Common Man.” (there are big drums for the first 30 seconds and then will come music many will recognize)

“Anti-Intellectualism in American Life” is the title of a book by Richard Hofstadter which won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. It was written shortly after Adlai Stevenson had lost the Presidential election to Dwight Eisenhower partly because Stevenson was said to be the “egghead” who read books but did not know much about real life.

Hofstadter argues that this kind of anti-intellectualism is deeply ingrained in American culture. He sees it as the fusion of evangelical religion and the business ethos which suggests that practical training should take precedence over book learning. Intellectuals form an elite and Americans are deeply suspicious of elites because they see them as a threat to democratic aspirations. You have to be average to be liked, thus the lowering of culture to the lowest common denominator. Publications like Readers’ Digest and the trivialization of Walt Disney adaptations come to mind. (I am thinking in particular of Winnie the Pooh and Mary Poppins.)

Our founders did not subscribe to this anti-intellectualism. In fact they were suspicious of the masses. They were the heirs of the Enlightenment and very well educated. They loved books and were keenly interested in scientific discovery. But their values were threatened by the Puritan strain exemplified by John Cotton who wrote in 1642:”The more learned and witty you be the more fit to act for Satan you be”. Andrew Jackson was the first president who styled himself as “a man of the people.” I guess they did not use the term “folks” at that time.

Two other books that treat this same theme are Susan Jacoby’s “The Age of American Unreason” and Isaac Asimov’s “The Cult of Ignorance.” Both report an unfortunate belief shared by many people who don’t have any respect for knowledge and who then say “Democracy means that my ignorance is as good as your knowledge.” Thus the dumbing down of America. We call intellectuals eggheads, nerds, geeks and dorks. About half of Americans between 18 and 24 do not think it necessary to know the location of other countries. More than one third consider it “not important” to speak a foreign language. Many think that one’s education needs to lead primarily to immediate financial benefits. One can see this anti-intellectualism still alive in the Republican party and in the utterances of the Tea Party. When they don’t like what science has discovered, they deny it. Rick Santorum called Barack Obama a snob for wanting everybody in America to go to college.

In pre-revolutionary Russia the intelligentsia was the educated, professionally active population. It consisted of spiritual leaders, artists, writers and scientists. The tsars repeatedly tried to clip their wings because they challenged their absolute power. The Russians are very proud of this cultural heritage. The worst insult you can hurl at a Russian is to call him/her “nekulturny” (Not cultured).
Russians cherish their rich history of art, literature, music and ballet. They revere the Bolshoi and Marinsky theaters and the vast collections of history and art in the Hermitage Museum. They are also deeply in love with poetry. Their national hero is Aleksander Pushkin who wrote Eugene Onegin, a novel entirely in verse. I suspect that even Vladimir Putin is proud of this heritage as long as it does not threaten his power.

According to Hofstadter, intellectualism consists not so much in accumulating knowledge and feeling superior about it but rather as a habit of mind. It is being sensitive to nuances and seeing things in degrees rather than in absolutes. It is essentially relativist and skeptical but also circumspect and humane. It also means constantly exploring and widening one’s horizon.



Charlie Rose Interviews Vladimir Putin

roseputin

Vladimir Putin was recently interviewed by Charlie Rose at the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg. Putin was in his home town, amid the splendors of Tsarist Russia, very much at ease and in an expansive mood. He, Charlie Rose and other invited guests were seated on an elevated platform facing an audience ready to applaud his every utterance. He was speaking directly to them. Charlie Rose, on the other hand, had to turn sideways to ask his questions. He was not comfortably ensconced at his usual round table.

Putin used this forum to talk about Ukraine at great length. He put his own spin on the situation there and to anyone who had not followed the events as they happened, he might have sounded totally believable. Putin prefaced his remarks by explaining that Russian ad Ukraine were one people speaking the same language, sharing the same origins, ethnicity and history. According to him, Ukraine was directly responsible for creating the current situation by refusing to honor a treaty with Russia. According to him, the Maidan popular revolt, which he called a revolution, was to blame because it lead to the coup d’état which ousted President Yanukovych and resulted in the discontent in Donetsk and Lugansk. (Applause!).

Regarding U.S.-Russia relations he noted that the U.S. likes to impose its own standards everywhere. He also cited the American unilateral withdrawal from the ABM treaty. Putin likes to use the phrase “our partners” when speaking of the US and the West, but he obviously has no interest in partnership. Regarding sanctions, Putin explained that they have made Russia adjust to the new realities and rethink some of its policies. He cited the 108 foreign countries attending the economic forum and the 200 investment agreements signed.

Asked what Russia intended to do about Syria , he quickly seized the ball and ran with it. What a superb occasion to explain that Russia does not interfere in the affairs of sovereign states and that the fate of Syria was in Syrian hands. He lost no opportunity in pointing out that the current disaster in the Middle East was the direct result of the American invasion of Iraq and the West’s destabilizing of Libya. There were no jihadists there before the so-called Arab Spring. (Alas true! Thank you George W.)

Putin has a black belt in Judo. I am awarding him a black belt in verbal combat. He is so glib and plausible that I have to remind myself that this amiable man who does not shout or pound the table (he did not have one) is actually all the more dangerous because of it. I had a hard time withholding my admiration at this performance.
Putin is not afraid to say anything he pleases and Charlie Rose was entirely too polite in letting him get away with it.
He did not do his usual pouncing and pointing out how events contradicted his statements. Someone like the late pugnacious Mike Wallace might have done a better job.

When Rose used the word aggression, Putin retorted that Russia was not aggressive, it was persistent.
Charlie Rose was visibly impressed with Vladimir Putin.

So am I, though for different reasons.