Russia Today

Russia: The world's largest country.

“‘We believe Russia is a great empire that other powers want to tear away parts from.  We need to restore our power, occupy our lost lands, grab Crimea from the Ukrainians,’ the football supporters say, then in the same breath: ‘We want a Russia for Russians, all these darkies from the Caucasus and Central Asia need to go home.’

This has always been the paradox of the new Russian nationalism: on the one hand wanting to conquer all regions around, on the other wanting an ethnically pure great power,” says Peter Pomerantsev,  Soviet-born British journalist, author and TV producer who lived and worked recently in Russia for nine years (195-196).  His book Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia provides many glimpses into modern Russia.

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“Nothing is True and Everything is Possible”

“[T]he great drama of Russia is not the ‘transition’ between communism and capitalism, between one fervently held set of beliefs and another, but that during the final decades of the USSR no one believed in communism and yet carried on living as if they did, and now they can only create a society of simulations.  For this remains the common, everyday psychology: the Ostankino [the Russian government T.V.] producers who make news worshiping the President in the day and then switch on an opposition radio as soon as they get off work; the political technologists who morph from role to role with liquid ease–a nationalist autocrat one moment and a liberal aesthete the next; the ‘orthodox’ oligarchs who sing hymns to Russian religious conservatism–and keep their money and families in London.  All cultures have differences between ‘public’ and ‘private’ selves, but in Russia the contradictions can be quite extreme” (199).

“A PR man with a deep tan and the nasty smile common to upper-end foreign-service KGB men told us that all the corruption scandals related to Skolkovo [Moscow’s high technology business area] had been solved.  . . . I asked whether the ‘modernization’ project had failed; every week there were more arrests of businessmen and -women, and more than 50percent of people were now employed by state companies.  Pools showed that young people no longer wanted to be entrepreneurs but bureaucrats.  The PR man shrugged and answered that the President was fully behind Skolkovo.  . . .

[W]e were accompanied by a young man named Sergey Kalenik, a member of the Kremlin youth group, Nasi. . . Sergey wore a hoodie, goatee, and skinny jeans and looked like any hipster youth you find in Brooklyn or Hackney–then he opened his mouth and began to sing paeans to the President and how the West is out to get Russia.  Sergey was from a humble background in Minsk, Belarus.  He first made his name by drawing a really rather good manga cartoon that showed the President as superhero doing battle against zombie protesters and evil monster anticorruption bloggers . . .

The cartoon was so successful Kalenik was introduced to senior government officials, and his career as a young spin doctor was launched. ‘Politics is the ability to use any situation to advance your own status,’ Sergey told me with a smile that seemed to mimic . . .KGB men.

‘How do you define your political views?’ I asked him.

He looked at me like I was a fool to ask, then smiled: ‘I’m a liberal . . . it can mean anything!'” (76).

What about the women in Russia? How some Russian girls “get ahead” is to find a sugar daddy.

“The one thing Oliona will never, ever think of herself as is a prostitute.  There’s a clear distinction: prostitutes have to have sex with whomever a pimp tells them to.  She does her own hunting.  . . .

‘But what about love?’ I ask Oliona.

Oliona says, ‘My first boyfriend.  Back home in Donbas [a coal-mining area of Ukraine, taken over by mafia bosses in the 1990s, now controlled by Russia].  That was love.  He was a local authority.’

Authority is a nice word for gangster.

‘Why didn’t you stay together?’

‘He was at war with another gang–they used me to get to him . . . They took turns.  Over a week. . .But then he made peace with the other gang.  And that was that. . . I left town’ (17). . .

Usually Oliona wouldn’t even think of talking to me [Pomerantsev; she’s] one of those impossible-to-acccess girls who would bat me away with a flick of her eyelashes.  But I’m going to put her on television, and that changes everything. . . she can’t wait to tell the world; the way of the gold digger has become one of the country’s favorite myths. . . .

‘Business theory teaches us one important lesson,’ says the instructress [in the documentary How to Marry a Millionaire (A Gold Digger’s Guide)].  Always thoroughly research the desires of the consumer.  Apply this principle when you search for a rich man.  On a first date there’s one key rule: never talk about yourself.  Listen to him.  Find him fascinating.  Find out his desires.  Study his hobbies; then change yourself accordingly.’

Gold Digger Academy. A pool of serious blonde girls taking careful notes.  Finding a sugar daddy is a craft, a profession.  . . . ‘Never wear jewelry on a first date, the man should think you’re poor.  Make him want to buy you jewelry. Arrive in a broken-down car: make him want to buy you a smarter one.’

The students take notes in neat writing.  They have paid a thousand dollars for each week of the course.  There are dozens of such ‘academies’ in Moscow and St. Petersburg . . .

‘Go to an expensive area of town,’ continues the instructress. ‘Stand with a map and pretend you are lost.  A wealthy man might approach to help.’   . . .

Oliona lives in a small, sparkly new apartment with her nervous little dog.  The apartment is on one of the main roads that leads to billionaire’s row,  Rublevka.  Rich men put their mistresses there so they can nip in and visit them on the way home.  . . . Oliona came to Moscow with next to nothing when she was twenty and started as a stripper at one of the casinos, Golden Girls.  She danced well, which is how she met her sugar daddy.  Now she earns the basic Moscow mistress rate: the apartment, $4,000 a month, a car, and a week-long holiday in Turkey or Egypt twice a year.  In return the sugar daddy gets her supple and tanned body any time he wants, day or night, always rainbow happy, always ready to perform.

‘You should see the eyes of the girls back home.  They’re deadly jealous,’ says Oliona. . .  But her sugar daddy promised her a new car three months ago, and he still hasn’t delivered; she’s worried he’s going off her” (8 -10).

But there is also another kind of new Russian woman: self-made, independent, rich.  Yana Yakovleva “was tall and strong and flame-haired. . . She had been running the company since she was twenty with one other partner.  Now she was thirty-four, they had dozens of employees, and she could afford to turn up late wearing high heels.  It was the sort of company the general public rarely notices but that makes good money: importing and reselling industrial cleaning fluids to factories and army bases.  Yana came from a family of academic scientists; her father had taught chemistry, and now she made her money in the chemicals industry.  Soviet knowledge transmuting smoothly to post-Soviet economics.

[But the Drug Enforcement Agency showed up at Yana’s  expensive gym — and took her to prison.] ‘You think prison is something bad that happens to other people.  And then you wake up and my God you’re a convict. ‘ . . .

‘We are charging you with a particularly serious crime, said Vaselkov [the Russian Drug Enforcement Agency detective]. . . . ‘You have been trading in diethyl ether,’ said Vaselkov.

Diethyl ether was a chemical cleaning agent.  Yakovleva’s company had built its business around it, importing it from France and selling it on.

‘Yes.’

‘It’s an illegal narcotic substance.  You are being charged with the distribution of illegal narcotics.’

Some misunderstanding, thought Yana, just some misunderstanding.

‘But we have a license for it,’ answered Yana, almost laughing.  She was being charged with trading what she traded.  Since when was a cleaning agent used in every factory a narcotic substance?  It didn’t make any sense.  She had been trading in diethyl ether for over a decade.  it was like telling a chocolate bar factory that chocolate was illegal.  Or a jeans factory that jeans were illegal (79-83). . . .

Her cell was for first-time offenders.  Half were twenty-something girls, virtually all in for drugs. . . The other half of the women were in their forties and accountants; they were in for white collar crimes like Yana.  The elder women would fuss around the twenty-year-olds: ‘Make sure you wash the cups’ and ‘don’t swear.’ Most of the older women had worked in small businesses: estate agents, travel companies.  . . . after a while a couple of them told Yana what had happened.  The companies had been fiddling taxers, but the male bosses fled the country in time to avoid getting caught, and it was the female accountants who went to prison.  After all, their signatures were on everything.  The women had been doing nothing more illegal than any other business in the country, the same double bookkeeping every small company needed to do if it wanted to survive.  But either the tax police needed to fill some arrest quotas, or they wanted to scare someone else, someone bigger, and needed to make an example, so they had gone after these companies.  Still other women were sure the hits on their companies had been ordered by rivals or bureaucrats who wanted to bankrupt them and then take over their companies.  This was called ‘reiding’ and was the most common form of corporate takeover in Russia, with more than a hundred recorded cases a year.  Business rivals or bureaucrats–they have long become the same thing–pay the security services to have the head of a company arrested; while they are in prison their documents and registrations are seized, the company is re-registered under different owners, and by the time the original owners are released, the company has been bought and sold and split up by new owners.  These raids happened at every level, from the very top–where the Kremlin would arrest the owner of an oil company like Mikhail Khodorkovsky, then hand the company over to friends of the President–right down to local police chiefs taking over furniture stores.  It was the right to do this that glued together the great ‘power vertical’ that stretched from the President down to the lowliest traffic cop” (90-91). . . .

“Of those charged in Russia, 99 percent receive guilty verdicts.  The women in Yana’s cell would return after their trials broken, all found guilty.  Their sentences were worse than anyone could have imagined; five years for possession of one gram of cocaine; four years for faking a prescription; eleven years for working as a cashier at one of the country’s top construction companies whose owner had fallen out with someone in the Kremlin” (98).

Pomerantsev notes, “[A]ll that comes out of this confusion is an ever-growing anger.  There are more of them, hooligans and skinheads, lighting up the square opposite the Kremlin with their flares in marches of hundreds of thousands, chanting ‘jump if you’re not a darkie.’ And when they jump together, the pavement trembles” (195-196).

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Author Peter Pomerantsev

Pomerantsev adds, “Putin is a media fiction.  He is the first president entirely created through the media”

Image and quotation from http://mymedia.org.ua/en/articles/media/pomerantsev_presentatsiya_knigi.html

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Russia: The world’s largest country.

Russia Facts  –  from Google:
“Russia, the world’s largest nation, borders European and Asian countries as well as the Pacific and Arctic oceans. Its landscape ranges from tundra and forests to subtropical beaches. It’s famous for Moscow’s Bolshoi and St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky ballet companies. St. Petersburg, founded by Russian leader Peter the Great, has the baroque Winter Palace, now housing part of the State Hermitage Museum’s art collection.
Population: 143.5 million (2013) World Bank
Currency: Russian ruble
GDP per capita: 14,611.70 USD (2013) World Bank
Government: Federal republic, Semi-presidential system, Federation, Constitutional republic”

 Pomerantsev’s book gives a good overview of life in Russia today. Aloha, Renée

Holiday Messages

Nalu and Kailani - looking ahead to a new year. :)

One of the pleasures of the year-end holidays is catching up with friends who live near  and far, some even continents  away.

Here are great messages from a few of those friends:

Rebecca, Kundalini teacher in Bali, says, “Open your heart.  Bow to beauty, bow to truth, bow to love.  Whatever doesn’t serve you, shake it off.”

Harvey, 80+ year-old  Servas and Quaker Friend from rural Minnesota, sent along these two quotations that seem particularly apt for 2017:

“Power concedes nothing without demand.  It never has and never will.”

– Fredrick Douglass

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Frederick Douglass: African-American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman; died 1895.

And,

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

– Benjamin Franklin

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Benjamin Franklin: American scientist and politician, Founding Father;  b. 1706 d. 1790.

Kristine from Chicago reports, “So–things are good here . . . in fact, I have moments of unbelievable happiness . . . I bet you do too!”

May 2017 bring many blessings to you and your family and community – wherever you are.  May you feel unbelievable happiness, work for justice, and open your heart in 2017 and beyond.

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There is room for everyone under the branches of justice and love. Photo by RR.

Aloha, Renée

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Nalu and Kailani – looking forward to 2017. Photo by Sigrid

 

Douglass image: http://www.biography.com/people/frederick-douglass-9278324#synopsis

Franklin image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Franklin#/media/File:BenFranklinDuplessis.jpg

 

More Havel: Helping Khadaffi (and such leaders), Hope for the World, and Doing Something

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Although he won re-election once by only a single vote – so those of you who say voting doesn’t matter, think again, Václav Havel, the  writer, dissident, three time Czech president has right-on views in his book Disturbing the Peace.  Although first published in 1986, much of what he says still rings true.

Havel says, “I know that people in the West in general tend not to admit that humanity is in a state of crisis and that therefore their own humanity is in a state of crisis too.  . . .

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Former Prime Minister of Libya, Colonel  Khadaffi (1942 –  2011)

About the U.S. at first supporting Khadaffi (aka Muammar  Gaddafi), – and it could be said of our relationships with other brutal governments –

“For years  . . .[remember this was published in 1986] the entire West has known that Khadaffi is a terrorist, and for years the West has bought oil from him and helped him extract it from the ground.  So, in fact, the West has cultivated him and continues to support him.  To this day, they haven’t been able to put together a decent embargo against him.  In other words, Westerners are risking their security and their basic moral principles for the sake of a few barrels of crude oil.  Particular interests take precedence over general interests.  Everyone hopes the bomb will not fall on him.  And then, when the situation becomes untenable, the only thing anyone can think of doing is bombing Libya.  It is a truncated and primitive reaction” (168).

And that is what happened:  “A particularly hostile relationship developed with the United States and United Kingdom, resulting in the 1986 U.S. bombing of Libya and the United Nations imposed economic sanction.”  The U.S. bombed again in 2011 to overthrow Khadaffi.  In 2016, we’ve started officially bombing the country again – this time against alleged Isis terrorist strongholds that cropped up in the power vacuum created by the last bombings.

From:https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/02/us-bombing-libya-isis-strongholds-vicious-cycle

Libya isn’t the only terrible government the West makes deals with.  Everything does matter.

And what about hope for the world?  Havel says,

“I should probably say first that the kind of hope I often think about (especially in situations that are particularly hopeless, such as prison) I understand above all as a state of mind, not a state of the world.  Either we have hope within us or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation.  Hope is not prognostication.  It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.  I don’t think you can explain it as a mere derivative of something here, of some movement, or of some favorable signs in the world.  I feel that its deepest roots are in the transcendental, just as the roots of human responsibility are, though of course I can’t –unlike Christians, for instance–say anything concrete about the transcendental.  An individual may affirm or deny that his hope is so rooted, but this does nothing to change my conviction (which is more than just a conviction; it’s an inner experience).  The most convinced materialist and atheist may have more of this genuine, transcendentally rooted inner hope (this is my view, not his) than ten metaphysicians together.

Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.  The more unpropitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper that hope is.  Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism.  It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.  In short, I think that the deepest and most important form of hope, the only one that can keep us above water and urge us to good works, and the only true source of the breathtaking dimension of the human spirit and its efforts is something we get, as it were, from ‘elsewhere.’  It is also this hope, above all, which gives us the strength to live and continually to try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as our do, here and now.

That was by way of introduction; not to answer your question about the state of the world and the kind of hopeful phenomena I see in it.  Here too, I think, you can find modest grounds for hope.  I leave it to those more qualified to decide what can be expected from Gorbachev and, in general, ‘from above’–that is, from what is happening in the sphere of power.  I have never fixed my hopes there; I’ve always been more interested in what was happening ‘below,’ in what could be expected from ‘below,’ what could be won there, and what defended.  All power is power over someone, and it is always somehow responds, usually unwittingly rather than deliberately, to the state of mind and the behaviour of those it rules over.  One can always find in the behavior of power a reflection of what is going on ‘below.’  No one can govern in a vacuum.  The exercise of power is determined by thousands of interactions between the world of the powerful and that of the powerless, all the more so because these worlds are never divided by a sharp line; everyone has a small part of himself in both.

Having said that, if I try to look unbiasedly at what is going on ‘below,’ I must say that here too I find a slow, imperceptible, yet undoubted and undoubtedly hopeful movement.  After seventeen years of apparent stagnation and moribundity, the situation is rather different now.  If we compare how society behaves now, how it expresses itself, what it dares to do–or, rather, what a significant minority dares to do–with how it was in the early seventies, those differences must be obvious.  People seem to be recovering gradually, walking straighter, taking a renewed interest in things they had so energetically denied themselves before.  New islands of self-awareness and self-liberation are appearing, and the connections between them, which were once so brutally disrupted, are multiplying.  A new generation, not traumatized by the shock of the Soviet occupation is maturing; for them, the invasion is history and Alexander Dubček [He led Czechoslovakia during the  Prague Spring of 1968. A communist, Dubček wanted reform; Moscow didn’t like it as they feared the break-up of the Warsaw Pact.

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Alexander Dubček wanted “Socialism with a human face” for Czechoslovakia

Dubček’s fall from grace and power was swift.  Dubček]  is what Kramár [Czech politician,  representative in the Austrian-Hungarian Reichstag from 1891 to 1915], for example , was to my generation.

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Karel Kramář, Czech politician

Something [Havel declares in 1986]  is happening in the social awareness, though it is still an undercurrent as yet, rather than something visible.

And all of this brings subtle pressure to bear on the powers that govern society.  I’m not thinking now of the obvious pressure of public criticism coming from dissidents, but of the invisible kinds of pressure brought on by this general state of mind and its various forms of expression, to which power unintentionally adapts, even in the act of opposing it.  One is made aware of these things with special clarity when one returns from prison and experiences the sharp contrast between the situation as he had fixed it in his mind before his arrest, and the new situation at the moment of his return.  I have observed this in my own case, and others have had the same experience.  Again and again, we were astonished at all the new things that were going on, the greater risks people were taking, how much more freely they were behaving, how much greater and less hidden was their hunger for truth, for a truthful word, for genuine values.  Just take the unstoppable development of independent culture; ten years ago there were no samizdat [self-published] periodicals, and the idea of starting one would have been considered suicidal; today there are dozens of them, and people who were, until recently, famous for their caution are now contributing to them.  Think of all the new samizdat books and publishing ventures; think of how many anonymous and improbable people are copying them out and distributing them; think of all the attention this is enjoying with the public!  It bears no comparison whatever with the early seventies.  But, then, think of all the new things in the sphere of public or permissible culture, or, rather, on its margins, in that vital gray belt or gray zone between official and independent cultures, where these spheres, which until very recently were so sharply divided, are now beginning to mix and mingle.  If you were to find yourself at a concert of some young singer and songwriter or a nonconformist band, or in the audience of one of those new small theatres that are springing up everywhere, you would feel that the young people you see there live in their own world, a world very different from the one that breathes on us from the newspapers, from TV and the Prague radio.  These two worlds simply fail to connect, and in a way that is far more basic and radical than analogous activity in the sixties which failed to connect with the ideology then.  Whenever they say something about me on foreign radio, it is noticed by a far broader public than would ever notice an attack on me in Tvorba, the party cultural weekly.  . . .

To outside observers, these changes may seem insignificant.  Where are our ten-million-strong trade unions? they may ask.  Where are your members of parliament?  Why does Husák not negotiate with you?  Why is the government not considering your proposals and acting on them?  But for someone from here who is not completely indifferent, these are far from insignificant changes; they are the main promise of the future, since he has long ago learned not to expect it from anywhere else.

I can’t resist concluding with a question of my own.  Isn’t the reward of all those small but hopeful signs of movement this deep, inner hope that is not dependent on prognoses, and which was the primordial point of departure in this unequal struggle? Would so many of those small hopes have ‘come out’ if there had not been this great hope ‘within,’ this hope without which it is impossible to live in dignity and meaning, much less find the will for the ‘hopeless enterprise’ which stands at the beginning of most good things?” (181-186).   Havel wrote this about hope in 1986.

In 1989, “The Velvet Revolution ended 41 years of authoritarian Communist rule in Czechoslovakia.  The actual overthrow started a week after the Berlin Wall fell when Czechoslovak riot police brutally suppressed a student-led pro-democracy protest in Bratislava, causing massive public outrage. The people of Czechoslovakia came out in droves to call for democracy.

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Prague on Nov. 25, 1989, at the height of the protests that brought down the Communist regime. Photo: via Wikimedia Commons

A week later, after the number of protesters grew to an unprecedented half a million and 75 percent of the country’s entire population went on a two-hour general strike, the Communist leadership stepped down. Two weeks after that, the first non-Communist government was sworn in and a dissident leader, the playwright Vaclav Havel, was made president just in time for New Years 1990. Remarkably, no one was killed, especially considering Warsaw Pact nations had invaded Czechoslovakia to suppress a popular reform movement just 21 years before.

Four years later the country split, also peacefully, into the Czech and Slovak republics.

The Velvet Revolution has since become the model of the well-executed peaceful revolution, one that hopeful revolutionaries have sought to emulate ever since.”

Text and photos from http://www.ibtimes.com/what-velvet-revolution-peaceful-movement-overthrew-communist-czechoslovakia-lives-25-1724963

When enough people want something – and are willing to act, even powerful governments must change.

So, what does Havel say about the need for  doing something?

“Each of us must find real, fundamental hope within him[her]/self.  You can’t delegate that to anyone else.  . . .

[For his plays, Havel says that] My ambition is not to soothe the viewer with a merciful lie or cheer him up with a false offer to sort things out for him. . . . I’m trying to propel him, in the most drastic possible way, into the depths of a question he should not, and cannot, avoid asking; to stick his nose into his own misery, into my misery, into our common misery, by way of reminding him that the time has come to do something about it.  The only ways out, the only solutions, the only hopes that are worth anything are the ones we discover ourselves, within ourselves, and for ourselves.  Perhaps with God’s help.  . . .

[Theater] can help people by] reminding them that the time is getting late, that the situation is grave, that it can’t be ignored” (199).

What can you no longer ignore?  What really does need to be settled?  What can you do?

Aloha, Renée

Khadaffi image from https://www.google.com/search?q=Khadaffi&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8

Book image from: https://www.amazon.com/Disturbing-Peace-Conversation-Karel-Huizdala/dp/06797340

Dubcek’s image & text : http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/modern-world-history-1918-to-1980/the-cold-war/alexander-dubcek/

Kamár’s image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karel_Kram%C3%A1%C5%99#/media/File:Karel_Kram%C3%A1%C5%99.jpg

Communism vs. Capitalism

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Václav Havel was “the Czech writer and dissident whose eloquent dissections of Communist rule helped to destroy it in revolutions that brought down the Berlin Wall and swept Mr. Havel himself into power.”

The New York Times described him as “A shy yet resilient, unfailingly polite but dogged man who articulated the power of the powerless, Mr. Havel spent five years in and out of Communist prisons, lived for two decades under close secret-police surveillance and endured the suppression of his plays and essays. He served 14 years as president, wrote 19 plays, inspired a film and a rap song and remained one of his generation’s most seductively nonconformist writers.

All the while, Mr. Havel came to personify the soul of the Czech nation.

His moral authority and his moving use of the Czech language cast him as the dominant figure during Prague street demonstrations in 1989 and as the chief behind-the-scenes negotiator who brought about the end of more than 40 years of Communist rule and the peaceful transfer of power known as the Velvet Revolution, a revolt so smooth that it took just weeks to complete, without a single shot fired. . .

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Václav Havel at a 1988 street rally in Prague

He continued to worry about what he called “the old European disease” — “the tendency to make compromises with evil, to close one’s eyes to dictatorship, to practice a politics of appeasement.”

from: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/19/world/europe/vaclav-havel-dissident-playwright-who-led-czechoslovakia-dead-at-75.html

In his book, Disturbing The Peace, Havel notes, “The traditional political debate between the right and the left revolves around the ownership of the means of production, to put it in Marxist terms: that is, around the question of whether business enterprises should be privately run or made public property.  Frankly, I don’t see that that is the main problem.  I would put it this way: The most important thing is that man should be the measure of all structures, including economic structures.  The most important thing is not to lose sight of personal relationships –i.e. the relationships between man and his co-workers, between subordinates and their superiors, between man and his work, between this work and its consequences, and so on.

An economy that is totally nationalized and centralized (i.e., run by the command system) such as we’re familiar with in our country [Czechoslovakia], has a catastrophic effect on all such relationships.  An ever-deepening chasm opens up between man and the economic system, which is why this type of economy works so badly.  Having lost his personal relationship to his work, his company, to the many decisions about the substance and the purpose of his work and its consequences, he loses interest in the work itself. The company allegedly  belongs to everyone, but in reality it belongs to no one.  A worker’s activity is dissipated in the anonymous, automatic functioning of the system for which no one is responsible and which no one understands.  All the natural motive forces of economic life, such as human inventiveness and enterprise, just payment for work done, market relations, competition, and so on, are scrapped.  No one is properly paid, or properly punished, for the results of his work.  People lose–and this is the worst of all–any contact whatsoever with the meaning of their work.  Everything falls into the enormous pit of impersonal, anonymous, automatic economic functioning, from work done by the least hired hand right up to decisions made by the bureaucrats in the office of central planning.

All this is notoriously familiar. . . The point is that capitalism, albeit on another level and not in such trivial forms, is struggling with the same problems (alienation, after all, was first described under capitalism): it is well known, for instance, that enormous private multinational corporations are curiously like socialist states; with industrialization, centralization, specialization, monopolization, and finally with automation and computerization, the elements of depersonalization  and the loss of meaning in work become more and more profound everywhere.  Along with that goes the general manipulation of people’s lives by the system (no matter how inconspicuous such manipulation may be, compared with that of the totalitarian state). IBM certainly works better than the Škoda plant, but that doesn’t alter the fact that both companies have long since lost their human dimension and have turned man into a little cog in their machinery, utterly separated from what, and for whom, that machinery is working, and what the impact of its product is on the world.  I would even say that, from a certain point of view, IBM is worse than Škoda.  Whereas Škoda merely grinds out the occasional obsolete nuclear reactor to meet the needs of backward COMECON [Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, which  dates from a 1949 communique agreed upon by the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania], IBM is flooding the world with ever more advance computers, while its employees have no influence over what their product does to the human soul and to human society.  They have no say in whether it enslaves or liberates mankind, whether it will save us from the apocalypse or simply bring the apocalypse closer.  Such ‘megamachinery’ is not constructed to the measure of man, and the fact that IBM is capitalist, profit-oriented, and efficient while Škoda is socialist, money-losing, and inefficient, seems secondary to me.

Perhaps it is clearer now what kind of ‘systemic notions’ I favor.  The most important thing today is for economic units to maintain–or, rather, renew–their relationship with individuals, so that the work those people perform has human substance and meaning, so that people can see into how the enterprise they work for works, have a say in that, and assume responsibility for it. Such enterprises must have–I repeat–a human dimension; people must be able to work in them as people, as beings with a soul and a sense of responsibility, not as robots, regardless of how primitive or highly intelligent they may be.  . . .

But it’s not just man as worker that we’re concerned about; it’s the general meaning of his work.  And to my mind the criterion for that should be, again, the human quality of that work in the broadest sense of the work, not just production quantity, or an abstract ‘quality per se.’. . . For example, it’s important that man have a home on this earth, not just a dwelling place; it’s important that his world have an order, a culture, a style; it’s important that the landscape be respected and cultivated with sensitivity, even at the expense of growth in productivity; it’s important that the secret inventiveness of nature, its infinite variety, the inscrutable complexity of its interconnections, be honored;it’s important that cities and streets have their own face, their own atmosphere, their own style,; it’s important that human life not be reduced to stereotypes of production and consumption, that that it be open to all possibilities; it’s important that people not be a herd, manipulated and standardized by the choice of consumer goods and consumer television culture, whether this culture is offered to him by three giant competing capitalist networks or a single giant noncompetitive socialist network.  It is important,, is short, that the superficial variety of one system, or the repulsive grayness of the other, not hide the same deep emptiness of life devoid of meaning” ( 13-16).

How’s the human quality of your work?  Are you just a cog in a wheel for  the company where you work?  If so, what could you do to help change that work to be meaningful for yourself and your co-workers, and, of course, the company?  Maybe the best action would be to find a company that appreciates its employees.

How are the workers treated where you shop?  Are workers recognized for the many contributions they make?   Or are they judged on if they wear the correct collared shirt and don’t take all their vacation days?  Be aware of quality of life.   It’s important.

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Václav Havel (1936-2011), dissident, writer, president of Czechoslovakia and later of the Czech Republic

Aloha, Renée

Map image from https://www.google.com/search?q=map+of+Czech+Republic&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8

Thought for the Day: Do Something Green

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“Tip #142:  There are billions of aluminum cans in use today, and it’s important that we recycle every single one.  Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to run a TV for three hours.”

Thanks to Bob & H – From:  PositivelyGreenCards.com

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Images from: https://www.google.com/search?q=free+images+aluminum+cans&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiPhM6CjpPRAhWkjlQKHaW2DEgQ7AkIRQ&biw=1129&bih=748

Let’s get all those aluminum cans in the recycle bins.  Aloha, Renée

 

 

Christmas Poem

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In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
Merry Christmas to you and yours.  May there be peace on Earth and joy in your heart.
Aloha, Renée
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Sarah Riley Kristel: August 2014 – December 14, 2016

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Adoption day: April 12, 2015

Our independent Maui Humane Society rescue girl, a beautiful, fierce and effective ratter, who never scratched or bit us, died this morning.

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Sarah pretending to be a knick knack.

Three days ago, Johnny took Sarah to our vet to get antibiotics for her after she came home with a bloody cut on her lip.   She seemed to be getting better: eating and drinking a bit and wanting to go outside.  However, I could tell early this morning that she didn’t look chipper.  But I went off to paddle; the veterinarian’s office would be open by the time I returned.  But when I got home, I found Sarah beside our bed – still warm, but dead.  😦

We are  shocked and sad.  Sarah was independent and strong.

But a puncture wound in a tropical place can be deadly.

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Johnny and Sarah at sunset.

As we buried her in our yard where she liked to hang out, John asked us what we had learned from Sarah.

For me, Sarah showed  that you don’t need to be big to get your way.  She did not want to be an indoor cat.  And she was persistent in that demand until she got her way.  She did not want our big dogs to boss her around – and they didn’t.  She knew what snacks she wanted and would complain until I gave them to her.  🙂

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Kailani knew to be alert and careful around Sarah although Sarah was much smaller than Kai. 🙂

In fact, Sarah liked to hide in the bushes and leap out at Kailani, a pointer mix who weighs about 43 pounds (19.5 kilos) .  Sarah weighed about 10 pounds (4.5 kilos).  She scared Kailani each time.  And we would laugh.

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Kailani and Sarah hanging out on the couch. Sarah is not the least bit concerned about Kai bothering her.

John said that Sarah showed that you need to give affection to get affection.  She had been a feral cat.  When we got her, she was about 10 months old – and did not like to be held at all. But for the last several months, she’d let us – especially Barry – hold and pet her for about five seconds – and then she wanted to go off to do her Sarah things.

Barry says Sarah showed him what it’s like to have a cat since she is the first one he has had his whole life.  He liked that she would go after mice and rats – and get them – but wished she hadn’t brought them in as presents.

Mango, Johnny’s rescue Myna bird that was blown out of a tree during Hurricane Darby this summer, doesn’t know how lucky she is.  Johnny nurtured Mango until she could eat and fly on her own.

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Sigrid and fledgling, Mango.

However, every day, we expected Sarah to eat Mango.

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Mango

But somehow Sarah knew that Mango is part of our family.  So what Mango might have learned is not to expect a being to be its reputation (at least sometimes).

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Sarah keeping watch.

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Sarah out exploring

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Mango – our Myna rescue bird

We feel blessed to have had Sarah in our lives.

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Our girl – Sarah

Life is fragile.  Love and cherish the beings around you.

Many blessings to you and yours.

Aloha, Renée, Barry, Johnny, Sigrid, Nalu, Kailani, Mango, & O’Rignar

Barry’s Gleanings: U.S. 2016 Election – Thoughts

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While some people in the U.S. are celebrating the recent presidential election, many are not.  In the most recent edition of Utne magazine, Eric Utne provides good links to a variety of American voices in his article “Now What?”:

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Photo by Fotolia/photolink

“Let’s start with Ronnie Bennett timegoesby.net) who puts out a must-read blog on aging called Time Goes By. She writes:

…It is not so long ago that when someone in the family died, people mourned for a long time. Custom dictated that mirrors in the home be covered, social life curtailed and that the mourners wear black (widow’s weeds) for up to a year and even more in certain cases.

Everything is faster now and today that kind of mourning is obsolete, even considered morbid. Not me. Given what has just happened, I do not believe it is unreasonable at all.

Two things for sure. Like some people in the comments on Wednesday’s post told us, I am wearing black. Complete black, even earrings. Maybe not all the time, but a lot of the time to remind me every day what a terrible thing we as a country have done.

My attire will probably lighten up in time but I own a lot of black clothing so I’m giving it all a new kind of symbolism and meaning.

Second, never again will I say or write that man’s name.

Neither of these silly, little protests will change anything. But they will keep what has happened in the forefront of my mind and that will inform choices I make from now on.

Mostly, right now, I want to be quiet and to learn to breathe again. I don’t know when I will be done with that and unlike the go-getters, I think it is a good thing to do – to be quiet and reflect.

The there’s the Canadian journalist Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine and, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate. She writes (naomiklein.org):

They will blame James Comey and the FBI. They will blame voter suppression and racism. They will blame Bernie or bust and misogyny. They will blame third parties and independent candidates. They will blame the corporate media for giving him the platform, social media for being a bullhorn, and WikiLeaks for airing the laundry. But this leaves out the force most responsible for creating the nightmare in which we now find ourselves: neoliberalism, fully embodied by Hillary Clinton and her machine… Trump’s message was: “All is hell.” Clinton answered: “All is well.” But it’s not well – far from it.

Charles Eisenstein, author of The More Beautiful World We Know in Our Hearts is Possible, (newandancientstory.net) writes:

For the last eight years it has been possible for most people (at least in the relatively privileged classes) to believe that the system, though creaky, basically works, and that the progressive deterioration of everything from ecology to economy is a temporary deviation from the evolutionary imperative of progress… The prison-industrial complex, the endless wars, the surveillance state, the pipelines, the nuclear weapons expansion were easier for liberals to swallow when they came with a dose of LGBTQ rights under an African-American President… As we enter a period of intensifying disorder, it is important to introduce a different kind of force… I would call it love if it weren’t for the risk of triggering your New Age bullshit detector… So let’s start with empathy. Politically, empathy is akin to solidarity, born of the understanding that we are all in the uncertainty together…

Rebecca Solnit, (rebeccasolnit.net) writes:

Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes—you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others.

Ricken Patel, Avaaz.org) writes:

The darkness of Trumpism could help us build the most inspiring movement for human unity and progress the world has EVER seen, with a new, people-centered, high-integrity, inspiring politics that brings massive improvement to the status quo.

Michael Meade, (mosaicvoices.org) writes:

Solstice means “sun stands still.” At mid-winter it means the sun stopping amidst a darkening world. We stop as the sun stops, the way one’s heart can stop in a crucial moment of fear or beauty; then begins again, but in an altered way… There may be no better time than the dark times we find ourselves in to rekindle the instinct for uniting together and expressing love, care and community.

Bill McKibben (350.org) never fails to inform and inspire. He writes:

I wish I had some magic words to make the gobsmacked feeling go away. But I can tell you from experience that taking action, joining with others to protest, heals some of the sting. And throughout history, movements like ours have been the ones to create lasting change—not a single individual or president. That’s the work we’ll get back to, together.

And then there’s Dougald Hine (Crossed Lines, dougald.nu), co-founder of my favorite collapsarian website, Dark Mountain:

It’s not the apocalypse, of course, but if you thought the shape of history was meant to be an upward curve of progress, then this feels like the apocalypse… It reminds me of the conversations that sometimes happen in the last days of life, or on the evening of a funeral… There’s a chance of getting real… Donald Trump is a shadowy parody of a trickster, a toxic mimic of Loki. We don’t know the shape of the war that could be coming, nor how that war will end, and not only because we cannot see the future, but because it hasn’t happened yet: there is still more than one way all this could play out, though the possibilities likely range from bad to worse. Among the things that might be worth doing is to read some books from Germany in the 1920s and 30s, to get a better understanding of what Nazism looked like, before anyone could say for sure how the story would end… If someone were to ask me what kind of cause is sufficient to live for in dark times, the best answer I could give would be: to take responsibility for the survival of something that matters deeply. Whatever that is, your best action might then be to get it out of harm’s way, or to put yourself in harm’s way on its behalf, or anything else your sense of responsibility tells you. Some of those actions will be loud and public, others quiet, invisible, never to be known. They are beginning already. And though it is not the bravest form of action, and often takes place far from the frontline, I believe the work of sense-making is among the actions that are called for… This is where I intend to put a good part of my energy in the next while, to the question of what it means if the future is not coming back. How do we disentangle our thinking and our hopes from the cultural logic of progress? For that logic does not have enough room for loss, nor for the kind of deep rethinking that is called for when a culture is in crisis… I want to say that this is also history, though it doesn’t get written down so much: the small joys and gentlenesses, the fragments of peace, time spent caring for our children, or our parents, or our neighbours. These tasks alone are not enough to hold off the darkness, but they are one of the starting points, one of the models for what it means to take responsibility for the survival of things that matter deeply…. We’ll get through because we have to, the way we always have, one foot in front of another. Hold those you love tight. Be kind to strangers… There is work to be done.

Each of these thinkers and visionaries has a finger on the pulse of our times. If you’re not reading them, I urge you to do so. You won’t regret it.

Eric Utne is the founder of Utne Reader. He is writing a memoir, to be published by Random House.

http://www.utne.com/politics/eric-utne-2016-election-zbtz1611zsau

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Eric Utne from –

Image from – http://www.meaningfulwork.com/books/bio_utne.html

You’ll find interesting readings – and ideas.  Aloha, Barry (and Renée)

Barry’s Gleanings: Planets, Planets . . .

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“Science-fiction writers have been dreaming up alien planets for decades . . . [S]cience had to wait until 1992 for proof that such planets did exist .. . Thanks to a combination of ground-based telescopes and planet-hunting satellites, particularly one called Kepler, which was launched in 2009, more than 3,500 such worlds are known.

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Image from: https://www.nasa.gov/press/2014/december/nasa-s-kepler-reborn-makes-first-exoplanet-find-of-new-mission

Unlike their depiction in fiction, reasonably few are much like Earth . .. And almost all are far, far away . . . .

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By April 2016, Kepler was about 100 million miles from Earth.

Image  from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kepler_(spacecraft)

From 2017, though, that will change.  In December a successor to Kepler, called TESS (for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), will be launched into orbit.  It is designed to survey the entire sky, looking for the sorts of exoplanets that are of most interest to humans – ones that are small (like Earth), rocky (like Earth), and relatively close by . . . . The new satellite should spot about 3,000 planets.

In August 2016, scientists announced the discovery of an Earth-like planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, which, at 4.25 light-years away, is the closest star to the Sun.

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Proxima-Centauri star – our closest star

Yuri Milner, a Russian billionaire and physicist . . . is already working with Stephen Hawking, a British theoretical physicist, on plans for a tiny, laser-propelled probe that could cover the distance in about 20 years”  (139).

From “Planets, planets everywhere” by Tim Cross in The Economist: The World in 2017. 

Our fiction and our scientific facts are changing  — and all most interesting.

Aloha, Barry (and Renée)

Thought for the Day: “If . . .”

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If you think you are too small to make a difference,

try sleeping with a mosquito,”   says the

Dali Lama

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Dali Lama

Do what you can do to make the world better.

Aloha, Renée

Dali Lama image from:  http://www.tibetanreview.net/candidates-for-village-committee-elections-in-tibets-ngari-to-be-free-of-dalai-links/

Mosquito image from: https://pixabay.com/en/tiger-mosquito-mosquito-49141/

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