Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Rise of Stalinist Tactics in Russia

Three articles today in The New York Times raises red flags (no pun intended!) about Russia and its "legal system":  enough to raise the hairs on my neck.
The first one is about the friend and colleague Oleg Orlov, of murdered human rights activist Natalia Estimirova.  It has taken sixteen months for the trial to begin..and who is now accused and on trial?  Not the accused murderer.  "The authorities had charged Mr. Orlov with defamation because he had publicly pointed the finger at the man he believed was responsible for the murder: the Kremlin-installed leader of Chechnya. If convicted, Mr. Orlov could face as many as three years in prison."

The second article is about a jury being dismissed by the judge before it could deliver its verdict.  Jurors felt pressure, some were approached by police.  The quote I love the best is:  “Thank God such a juror did not deliver a verdict, a juror who felt he was under pressure,” Ms. Usacheva added. “Decisions involving the fate of another person cannot be made under the influence of fear or any other emotion.” This sounds like the rationals invented by Stalin where black is white if he says so and tortured logic regarding the means justifying the ends..read Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder.

The third article is about the rearrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky upon his release from seven years in prison for opposing Putin.  "[T]he Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement accusing other countries of trying to interfere with a domestic judicial matter."  This is also a tactic used by Stalin:  accuse its own citizens of treason by invoking international conspiracies.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The New Colonialism

Relationships between politicians and their constituents and politicians and other nations get stranger by the day.  On 21 December, there was an article in the New York Times about farmers in Mali  being told by their own politicians that after the rainy season they would no longer be able to farm on their land or live in their villages.  And why?  The Malian government has leased out this land to.......Colonel Qadaffi!  So, now we have, not only resource rape by the Chinese, but actual land being taken by foreign governments...by agreement, not force; these are:   "neocolonial land grabs that destroy villages, uproot tens of thousands of farmers and create a volatile mass of landless poor. Making matters worse, they contend, much of the food is bound for wealthier nations." What a way to take over a nation without doing battle.  This is not the first instance of its kind, check out the article to see what land is being taken, by whom, and for what purpose.  What a sorry state of affairs.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Words, words, and more words!

Interesting story on NPR about "Google's book-scanning project. The company has converted approximately 15 million books so far into electronic documents. That's about 15 percent of all books ever published. It includes books published in English, Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Russian and Hebrew."  The authors of the project found they are able to track word usage through time and note cultural changes as words decline or increase in usage.  They are hoping others will derive pleasure and usefulness as they browse the data base:  apparently, it is a real time "waster".

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Journalists under attack again in Russia

A proposed highway through one of the last oak forests in the Moscow region has met with resistance by environmentalists.  Medvedev actually postponed a decision on the project last August because of public outcry.  He has now authorised the building of this highway.  According to an AP and NYT article in the Seattle Times, highway projects are a major source of bribery and corruption. Evidence of this comes in the form of violence against journalists merely reporting "on the topic [who] have been brutally beaten, their skulls cracked and limbs broken. Kommersant reporter Oleg Kashin was the most recent victim — hit some 50 times by two thugs in a stomach-turning attack last month that was caught on a security camera and outraged the nation."
Amnesty International is urging protection for Russian journalists. United Nations Human Rights committee urges more protection for journalists in areas of armed conflict: given the number of journalists killed in Russia, they might as well be working in an area of armed conflict and seek help under the International Covenant for the Protection of Journalists.

Monday, December 13, 2010

To the End of the LandTo the End of the Land by David Grossman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a book!  Just the sheer writing and planning of it must have required the writing of five stories of the three main characters and two smaller characters.  Beautiful writing; I think a reviewer mentioned that Grossman has written the best insight into a female character (by a male writer) since Reynolds Price wrote Kate Vaiden....and I would add Wallace Stegner's women in Crossing to Safety.
Such a poignant story of people and place: Israel.

Monday, December 6, 2010


some good news about the Roma

Gifts of Knowledge

There are many gifts that last a lifetime and more.  Gifts of education.  Gifts of reading.  Gifts of leisure time in which to read.  Gifts to support readers and writers.  Make a gift, small or large, to an educational institution you care about, in your area or elsewhere. Give the gift of a loan to a parent working to educate her child.  Buy a subscription to a journal or newspaper whose mission is to provide information responsibly to people who think and care.  Buy a book:  support a small publisher, a writer, a bookshop.

Look in your own 'backyard', check out the places and people in the world you care about.   Here is my list of favourite places to offer some support:
KIVA.....one of my criteria for who I make a loan to is if they are needing to support their children's education.  And, you can do this with a loan of $25!
American Indian College Fund (AICF).......they do a fabulous job of providing scholarships and educational support to Native American Indians heading to college or university.
Whit Press...a wonderful small non-profit press devoted to providing an
"oasis to nurture and promote the rich diversity of literary work from women writers, writers from ethnic, social, and economic minorities, young writers, and first-time authors."
Elliot Bay Book Company..and independent book store devoted to readers and writers
London Review of Books and The New York Review of Books
University of Washington.....the home of active minds.  The University makes a great effort to provide scholarships to those in need: " Each year the University of Washington awards over $240 million in financial aid to over 60% of our undergraduate students"; alumni and donors go to great lengths to support these scholarship funds.
Umuzi Photo Club....their mission is "To empower learners from developing communities in South Africa with the skill of photography while promoting artistic self-expression and critical thinking as means for raising social awareness"
Seattle Public Library Foundation...publicly funded institutions also rely on private donations

So, these are a few of my favourite things, please support yours.