Monday, December 22, 2008

Response to "Opportunity in Russia"

A friend sends me these links and comments about the current political atmosphere in Russia. Add to this the recent rubberstamping of the bill to give the Russian president a 6 year term, and we see that the political climate has become very, ahem, strict. However, my point was that the opportunity is economic. So long as there is economic opportunity, then I believe things will eventually work to a better place politically. The worsening economic situation could actually help the ordinary people - by making consideration of them more urgent. It could cause a greater discontinuity of ideas between the leadership and the people. I think they are in for some unstable times. Putin has been compared to Stalin, (just search for Putin - power - Stalin, you'll get plenty of hits) and recently it has been said the he now has the most power of any leader since Stalin. If he wasn't working so hard to suppress dissenting views, I might not be worried. But, as it stands, I am very worried.






This was not the first time. April 21, 2007

Looks the same, only now it is not on TV at all.

The democracy has been buried during the second Putins’ period.

All that is in addition to deepening of economic crisis, creating unemployment and change for the worse of well-being of the people.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

History Lessons

The book is Theodore H. White's "In Search of History, A Personal Adventure". Review written for
Other reviewers have hit the highlights of White's book, but not, to my mind, the potential importance of the thinking, and of the history. White end papers the book with two concepts, and the second may have been unintentional. White opens with the concept that history is driven by ideas. He closes with the impact of a discontinuity of ideas between leaders and those who are led.

However, these concepts are but ideas that illuminate the importance of the history also contained. For most of the book, White illuminates and illustrates the driving forces in four major segments from the middle of the twentieth century. The four segments are the emergence of modern China, the post-war reconstruction in Europe, American presidential political history from FDR through Reagan, and the impact of the changes of technology on the media, including the impact on politics.

White initially does give us a little window into the Boston of his youth, but it is little more than a window-view. Very early on, he mentions his first concept - that the shape of history is driven by ideas. Shortly after, we find ourselves with a war-time view of China, as it struggles with its place in history. What he tells us of China is not what we usually hear. What we usually hear is still colored by the terror, xenophobia, and bigotry that was so clearly revealed by the McCarthy years. Or, if not, then it is equally slanted, but still unrealistic and naive, a victim of misunderstanding the 'why' of what exists today. In telling us what he saw, White reveals many 'why's of today's China, including why Mao and the communists succeeded, when the Nationalists failed. [It wasn't due to the strength of their respective militias.]

White's telling of the post-WW2 European reconstruction is less revealing, but still informative. It does, however, serve as a segue to the next section - American political history in the mid-20th century. He has already set the groundwork for this section, by discussing FDR, Truman, and Ike during the first chapters. Now, he turns, focusing mostly on Kennedy and his assassination, but moving, like a piano player, up and down the keyboard of time, pulling in everything from Lincoln's heroism to Carter, with an unnamed allusion to the optimism of Reagan.

Interspersed with this are vignettes of the media industry. He clarifies a brief history, moving from the impact of getting our news from regular newspapers, through the changes periodicals wrought, and on to the huge impact of the early years of television (pre-cable, pre-internet).

In closing, he off-handedly discusses why ideas had such a large impact at the time of Kennedy's assassination. He shows us that this black swan of an event led to a discontinuity of ideas, which led directly to the dissonance of the years that followed. This concept is his end cap - the impact of a discontinuity of ideas. White uses revolutions and political turmoil as illustrative of events that result from a discontinuity of ideas between leaders and led. What he may not have realized is that this is a remarkable concept in and of itself.

Along the journey through this book, White explains, in simple terms, why America remains a two-party system (because each party is not a single unit, but a conglomeration of many regional and partisan viewpoints), and what concept separates American politics and culture, from the rest of the world (opportunity). His explanations are simple, understandable, and believable.

History since this book was written bears out White's observations. Reading these concepts, I can see that this past presidential campaign was not a fluke - taking two years - but a portent of how the transmission of news, via the internet, has changed politics. The delivery of news via the internet takes us away from the drive-by shootings of television-driven political campaigns, back toward meaningful discussions and observations.

This book is a keeper.


Ironically, what I read in this book gives me hope for the future for my Russian friends. They are now in a nationalist storm, perhaps a pendulum swing back from the last decade. If their government keeps most of its democratic structures, I believe there is reason to be optimistic about the longer term results - say, in another decade or so. My reason for this is because normal Russians now have "Opportunity". Perhaps I am wrong (I hope not), but I believe that still today everyday people can find ways to make money, to start businesses, to create work. This is a good sign.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ice storms, dead trees, and Lady Luck

Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don't. This has been my lucky couple of weeks:

Two weeks ago, at 2 AM, the skies were clear, and there was no wind. A dead tree at the side of our yard decided to fall over. In the process it fell on the electric power lines to the house, breaking one of them. Bad, right? No, good. It woke me up, and as our electricity was failing, and several appliances were in the process of burning themselves out, I was awake and responding. I managed to figure it out that the whole house needed to be shut down, which I did. In the dark now, we got out the flashlights, and found the cause of all the buzzing, popping, and sizzling we had just gone through. Bad, right? Nope, good. The cops showed up in about 15 minutes, the fire marshal within a half hour, and there was nothing for them to worry about. I'd gotten the power shut down in time, and no fires. The electric maintenance truck showed up about 4 or half past, and was willing to fix the damage and get us operating. He didn't have to - the damage was on the house side, and he could have forced me to hire an electrician. Whew.

The next day we realized that every surge suppressor in the house was basically toast. Most were still operating, but they stank from having started to burn up. Only one actually burnt out and popped the circuit breaker. We only lost a microwave, a modem, the furnace controls, and two little radio-alarm clocks. Within a day we were back at 90% operation, by the weekend were back to 99%.

That was the practice run. Last Thursday we had an ice storm you would have heard about. We only got our power back on yesterday. Without power, we had no heat and no water. We were heating the house with propane camp stoves, and we had no place to cook for the first couple of days. Light was kerosens lamps and flashlights. Water was in 5 gallon buckets we filled at our neighbor's house (they had a generator running, so their well pump was working).

Bad, right? Nope, good. For hours the freezing rain was coming down, with major branches breaking and coming down - BOOM! One HUGE branch that we had planned on trimming because it hung directly over the kitchen came down. But it only grazed the roof and deflected, no damage, except to the grill outside. The grill lost the lid handle, which took a direct hit from the branch. Oh, shucks. Another branch from the same tree came down and landed on the kitchen steps - denting the stair rail, and coming to rest against the house siding. No damage. Another one hit the brackets I had put outside the living room window for the A/C unit this past summer, knocking a bracket off the wall, and pulling a foot-long piece of siding with it. No serious damage. Half a tree came down behind our lawnmower shed, and missed it by inches. No damage. Another half of a tree, about seventy feet tall, came down on the deck that used to be part of the above ground pool that the previous owner's had. I had already taken out the pool. The deck was partly crushed, but it is of little consequence. The propane heaters kept the house, and us, warm. No frozen pipes. The fish tank lived thru the ordeal, as we maintained sufficient temp in the tank to keep the fish alive and well.

No damage. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don't.

Monday, December 1, 2008

And now, for something from the lighter side . . .

Whoooaaa. Well, if you don't laugh at this one, just head up to the bestof homepage, and scroll down till you find something. A million laughs!