Tag Archives: Russia

So far behind the curve. . .

There is a Russian scientist who believes, or says he believes, that the United States is developing a variety of human being low in intelligence, capable of living on next to nothing, working all hours, and reproducing only when wanted. The scientist heads a nuclear research institute and his brother, a banker, is close to the leadership of the country.

While he is beetling away on nuke projects US President-elect Donald Trump – for yes it is he! – says it is ridiculous that Russian government hackers could  have swayed the election that is heading him to the leadership of the world’s most powerful country. He disputes a CIA report to that effect and has pooh-poohed Congressional concerns, including from his own party.

He says he isn’t too interested in intelligence briefings anyway because he is a “smart guy”.

It is true that he is a smart guy, and if he says it follows that being a smart guy means he doesn’t need to be told things every day, who am I to doubt him? A nobody, that’s who.

Meanwhile, in Balkania – actually it is Macedonia, but it’s probably going on elsewhere in that mercurial region – people are riding around in fine cars on the proceeds of “fake news”. “Fake news” makers cut and paste from whatever sources seem useful into plausible if sensational stories and then put the results on Facebook pages made up to look like news sites. If these generate hits, the hits generate advertising, and the advertising generates income, and the income generates BMWs, flash motorbikes, designer everything, and girlfriends or boyfriends or pet sheep depending on one’s proclivities.

Facebook’s founder, a Mr Zuckerberg, says this is actually no big deal. If a man worth billions, who is handing out zillions to fake news producers says it is no big deal, who am I? etc. Nobody, that’s who.

And the great stories! During the election in the US, people in Macedonia left no stone unturned to find and publish the secrets of the campaign, especially the devilish Clinton plans to usurp the democratic process and destroy freedom everywhere. If there wasn’t a story saying the devil incarnate had entered Ms Clinton’s body and feasted each morning on live babies, it was purely accidental.

Some of these sensational accounts found their way, as they would naturally do, being “truthful” though untrue, into the mainstream press via other websites. Flick, flick, flick – and then shazam!

A man from North Carolina was arrested in Washington DC in a fast food parlour, come to investigate to see if a cabal involving Hillary Clinton – yes, the same former presidential candidate – was going on there. Fortunately no one was injured. However, a man part of President-elect Trump’s “transition team” and the son of a general picked to be his national security adviser, lost his job over this incident as he sent a “tweet” about it to the world. The cabal hadn’t been categorically disproved, his message said.

The poor fellow’s father had assisted his state of mind by repeating other unrelated fake news stories during the campaign.

A question in my mind, insofar as I have one, is whether this is evidence that “Project American sub-human”  revealed to the world by the Russian nuclear scientist is actually much more advanced than even he realises.

Many years ago the British magazine Private Eye used to satirise the work of a man named McKay, referred to as “McHacky” by having “him” write, “Isn’t life grandy and dandy” as he celebrated the wonders of modern times. As indeed it is truly is – especially if you are a smart guy, like Donald Trump!

Well, it is troubling to this poor hack. Reality as revealed by the existence of the Russian nuke master and the illusion of reality as portrayed in “fake news” have so inflamed our imaginations that works intended to be seen as of the imagination, fiction to me and fiction to you, don’t stand a chance.  Anything a spiritually impoverished writer such as myself can dream up is made trivial when a man hits a pizza stand to see if Hillary Clinton is in the toilet or wherever she was meant to be, conspiring mightily, and a judicious and principled member of a victorious Presidential candidate’s entourage, who simply wants proof of her absence, loses his job! How can I write a novel about anything at all and expect it to be disbelieved?

If the displaced Trumpster is crowd-funding a campaign to get his job back, should I contribute?

Well, you very well may not know me, but if you did know me, you would know that I am reaching into my e-pocket as soon as I can to help the poor man out, even as I lose yet more readers to Facebook illusion. It’s unjust, but help we must.

Thanks for reading.

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Posted by on December 11, 2016 in Uncategorized


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First they came for the potty-mouthed…

Actually, they didn’t. If we take “potty-mouthed” as a marker for art and in particular avant-garde art, “they” came after they had dealt with many of their other perceived enemies. The Soviet style of repression left artists and writers pretty much alone till well into the 1920s. The change can be gauged by the life of the writer and artist Vladimir Mayakovsky, who was an enthusiastic supporter of the revolution at first, but who shot himself in 1930.

Now Vladimir Putin’s Russia is at it again with a new law against swearing in literature and the arts alongside a “swearingbot” computer programme to intercept online profanity before it reaches the delicate, so easily wounded eyes of Russian citizens. Of course any programme that can intercept four-letter words can intercept longer ones, for example “freedom”, or “corruption”.

A few years ago I wrote a thriller, The Russian Idea, set in Moscow and Berlin. Its main purpose was to draw attention to the work of Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev. So far as I am aware, after being forgotten for a while, Berdyaev has enjoyed posthumous popularity of a sort, with all his books in print in English and a large number of articles by him available free online. Even so, most  people have never heard of him, or if they have, read his work.

The book I wrote concerns an oligarch’s plan to set up a global network of Russian cultural centres – like the Alliance Francaise and the Goethe Institut – independent of the Russian government. The oligarch’s professed aim was to bring the pressure of enlightened Russian culture as typified and symbolised by Berdyaev to bear on the all too unenlightened power brokers inside Russia itself.*

I am not entirely happy with my book and wish it was better than it is.  It is not terrible – just not great.  I wish more people would read it, and go on to read and find out about Berdyaev and his own  inspiration, Fyodor Dostoevsky.**

But what is happening in Russia now also makes me wish some one with pots of dosh would decide to take up the idea of “Berdyaevian” non-governmental Russian cultural centres that could show that Russian culture is not simply the property of those who believe in censorship, in thought control and its many correlatives, especially propaganda, who intimidate as they expropriate their fellow citizens and others, and who harass, imprison, exile and murder their opponents. It would be, after all, very easy to conclude from what is happening now, that not much has changed from the Tsarism that seemed  to flow so naturally into Sovietism, and that has gone on to corrupt and all but end the democratic transformation of Russian society that began so hopefully with Mikhail Gorbachev.

Berdyaev’s book The Russian Idea, whose title I “borrowed”, was a history of Russian religious thought from the early 19th century to the Bolshevik Revolution. It is a serious and striking book. Berdyaev believed strongly in a Russian concept that is untranslatable as a word, “sobornost”, but which might be rendered, “unity in diversity”: that differences can strengthen rather than enfeeble society. As a Christian, he was suspicious of the organised Christian church anywhere but especially in Russia, and pointed out that few if any serious religious thinkers in Russia were functionaries – for example priests – in the Russian Orthodox church. For a religious philosophical tradition as remarkable as the one charted by Berdyaev, this can hardly be an accident.

Of course, it takes moral fibre to stand up for “sobornost” and the open society it is about. Some artists and writers and thinkers can go out of their way to insult those who disagree with them, and to express themselves vulgarly out of rage or frustration or ignorant silliness.. Yet the famous dictum attributed to Voltaire of disagreeing with a view someone may hold but defending (to the death!) their right to hold and express it, is an important plank of humane culture that when missing self-evidently leads to awful crimes, and Russia’s history has shown just how horrible these can be.

One can never quite tell for certain what the aims and motivations of Russia’s leaders really are. In Soviet times the Machiavellian manoeuvrings of Stalin and his henchmen (always men) were astonishingly opaque. The worst “excesses”, costing the lives of millions of people, could be put down to “mistakes”. The henchmen  could find themselves in front of a firing squad (one, according to Anne Applebaum, swearing to die with Stalin’s name on his lips).*** The line between “mere” censorship and more severe punishment today similarly weaves and wavers according to the whim of some autocrat or other.

The title of this post comes from a famous saying by German theologian Martin Niemoller and relates to the Nazis’ means of repression, not the Soviets’, much less today’s Russian techniques. These last are however more sophisticated than those of the 20th century’s most notorious monsters. Bizarrely, Putin instructed Russia’s regional governors to read a work by Berdyaev, The philosophy of inequality, as if the ideas of this great exponent of freedom and creativity could somehow be reconciled with the twisted rationales of the present regime. They can’t.

*Non-spoiler alert. **Berdyaev called himself a “sprout” of Dostoevsky and wrote a book about his relationship to his hero. For those who consider Dostoevsky as a novelist only, see the treatment of him as one of Three Russian prophets by Nicolas Zernov. ***See her Gulag, a history, readily available from public libraries

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Posted by on May 11, 2014 in Uncategorized


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