Friday, January 29, 2010

Good book, but I can't get it.

While looking around Open Democracy tonight, I came across a post about a new book: Small Change: Why business won't change the world. It's by a former executive at the Ford Foundation, and it presents his case that the belief that a business- oriented approach by non-profit enterprises is seriously misguided. He makes a good case, and the book looks interesting.

Unfortunately, I see in the book details that it's not available in USA. Perhaps because Edwards' point of view isn't what the Yanks want to hear.

Chapter Two

The conversation with Gunar had sapped some of Emin’s enthusiasm for his work, but the poster at March 20 Square was much smaller and less enthusiasm was required. Emin had finished his task by mid-afternoon, and he was ready for a nap. But the thought of going back to his empty apartment depressed him, so rather than catching the bus to his neighborhood, Emin walked to the apartment of an English couple near March 20 Square. Julia and Robert Atherton ran a small charity that served indigent children in Berde. Not all the indigent children, but the indigent children of the Azeris who came to the weekly church services, held in a nearby factory.

Emin first visited the services about a year earlier, after finding one of the church’s brightly-colored advertising brochures. “Find a new life!” the brochure exhorted. As it happened, he found the brochure not long after Buna had begun a drinking spree, so he was worried and sad, ready to consider some suggestions for a new life. The church service was like a musical show, with singers and a small band. The preacher spoke for about 15 minutes about the need to follow God’s law, but the service was dominated by relentlessly cheery anthems about God’s law. Emin felt strangely warmed by the atmosphere, and he continued to go, even after Buna returned. He had made a few friends in the congregation, and even sold a few of his paintings to a member of the church.

Buna didn’t like the church much, but she went with him a few times, chatting with the cheery Athertons. Her English was much better than his, but she did not make friends with the church members.

“It’s easy for them to be so cheerful,” she remarked after one church service. “Here they are – with a nice apartment paid for by that church. They’ve got a maid. They’re rich here. So, of course, they are happy, clapping their hands and singing. But I don’t feel cheerful and I’m not going to lie about it.”

Emin saw her point. But he also liked being around people who were cheerful, who believed that the future held something wonderful, even if that future was very distant. And Julia Atherton seemed to be genuinely concerned for him, offering to pray for Buna and him. Emin wasn’t sure exactly what her praying meant and how it would help, but he understood that she was concerned for him. This in itself made visiting the weekly services worthwhile.

The Athertons lived on a quiet street, close enough to walk to the downtown, but far enough that the neighborhood was quiet. Even the air seemed cleaner here. Emin rang the doorbell, and while he waited for an answer, he looked at two birds eating cherries in a nearby tree. The birds had it easy, he thought. Eating what was in the trees or on the ground. Not worrying about politics or romance or jobs.

While he was contemplating this fact, the Atherton’s housekeeper, Liza, opened the door. A thin, gray-haired woman, Liza looked older than her 47 years, especially since she had her teeth pulled earlier in the year. She was still waiting for a set of false teeth, and had been assured they would come before the Heymar Alidev’s birthday party. In the meantime, she had mastered the art of eating without teeth, although her speech was still not very clear.

“Hello, Emin,” she said. “What brings you here?” “I was working on a job in the square,” he answered. “So I thought I’d stop in to see if Robert still needed that room painted.”

Liza told him Robert was at the children’s center, but Julia was home. Emin followed Liza back to the courtyard, where Julia was brushing her teeth with an electric toothbrush by an outdoor sink. She was wearing shapeless sweat pants and a loose smock, and her wet hair hung around her shoulders. Yet, she seemed completely unembarrassed to see Emin, even happy to see him.

“Oh, hi. Just a minute,” she said, over the whirr of the electric toothbrush.

Emin felt awkward looking at her while she performed what he considered a private matter of personal hygiene, so he walked over to the small rose garden in the courtyard. The Atherton’s also had a gardener who to take care of the flowers twice weekly, and the touch of an experienced gardener was evident. The old flower blossoms had been nipped, the bushes had been expertly pruned. Only a few weeks ago, Julia had allowed him to take a few blossoms from this garden, and he had taken them home to Buna, pleased to give her something beautiful. Of course, she knew that he had not bought them, however, and she considered the flowers to be a gift from the Athertons, people she disliked. She had thrown the roses out the following day, when Emin was at work.

Julia approached him as he was observing a pollen-dusty bee fumble within the petals of an open rose blossom.

“Liza says you are here about the room?” she asked.

“Yes. I told Robert that I would do it, but we never agreed about when. I was in the neighborhood, so I thought I’d stop by to talk to him about it.”
“He’s at work,” she said.


“You knew that.”

“I forgot.”

“It’s Buna, isn’t it?”

Emin had to turn away, because he feared her look of pity, feared to express the emotions that were so close and raw. She took his hand, and pulled him toward her, holding him in a wordless embrace. He did not cry, but he began to breathe again.

“Emin, let’s pray.”

He let her guide him to a spot in the garden that English couple evidently used for this purpose. A small cross stood in a circle of daisies. Julia took two cushions for the chair in the garden nook, handed one to Emin and kneeled in front of the cross.

“Dear Father. Please bless us with your heavenly love. In the name of Jesus Christ, who died for our sins, please guide us in your divine wisdom. We are nothing without you. We need your rod and staff to comfort and guide us. Please, guide Buna back into the light of your love. Please, show her the way home and apply the healing balm of your love unto the bleeding heart of your servant Emin. Please forgive them for their sins. They have doubted your love. They have wandered far from your path. Take them back, relieve them of the bondage of faithless ways. Bless them with the blood of your son Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Emin softly repeated “amen” after her, and they remained there on their knees for a few minutes, listening to the birds and the wind in the trees. As they remained there, silent in the garden, Emin realized that he really didn’t believe in God.

This was not a bleak realization for him. The late spring air still smelled sweet. The birds didn’t stop singing. But he couldn’t believe that Julia’s prayers had any significance beyond some sort psychological meaning for her. And he felt no need to share his realization with Julia. So, after they had sat quietly together in the garden, he politely excused himself. Julia said she would keep praying for Buna, and Emin thanked her. She hugged him again, and Emin enjoyed that, just feeling some of her closeness. He no longer felt like crying.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Последнее интервью Натальи Эстемировой

The interview is in Russian and the sound quality is not so hot - but it is valuable to hear this Natalya Khusainovna Estemirova explicitly describe what she has found in her investigations, how the authorities running Chechnya were implicated in horrible human rights abuses. Looking into these matters is dangerous, as was proven when this courageous woman was abducted and murdered on July 15, 2009.

As far as I know, the investigation into her murder has completely stalled - if indeed there were ever any effort to find her killers. Everyone really knows who pulled the strings. Ramzan Kadyrov, the president of Chechnya, had earlier threatened Ms. Estemirova. The Kremlin is quite content to let him rule his fief as he sees fit - even if his rule means murder, rape, and brutal oppression for the inhabitants of Chechnya.

You can find other material like this at Кавказкий Узел.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Chapter One

About a year ago, I wrote a long story - as opposed to a short story. It reflected various thoughts and impressions - material that was not appropriate for the formal reports I wrote during that time. It is copyright protected material - and it is all my own. There are definitely resemblances between the characters in the story & people who are living. In fact, sometimes I would describe a character - and then meet that actual person not long after. Very strange. And there are resemblances between real places and the fictional places in the story. But I did not want to sacrifice a larger truth for the sake of trying to make every detail strictly accurate. Hence - names of places and people have been changed. I hope in some ways the story is amusing or illustrative or at the very least interesting.

Here is Chapter One. Chapter Two will follow - in about a week.


Chapter One

Emin Husadzev took a moment from his job to enjoy the sunrise. He was perched on a 20-foot ladder, pasting a large poster of the president’s father onto a billboard that towered above the central square of Berme, a small provincial city of Azanistan.

On June 21, the sun was rising early, and an orange light suffused the square, reflected from the pavement still wet from last night’s rain. At this hour, few people were driving, and the only sound was the scrape of straw brooms on the sidewalks. Three women wearing saffron-colored smocks and bright headscarves swept the pavement clean. This was the ideal time for Emin’s work, with enough light to let him apply the posters neatly, but before the streets were busy. Ideally, people should have the impression that the images on the billboards naturally stayed fresh and new, that they were somehow self-replicating, not dependent on human hands. This morning, even the poster of Heymar Alidev seemed to glow in the light of the orange dawn, adding life to an image that had grown flat from repetition. All the residents of Azanistan long ago had become inured to his visage, because posters of him and of his son decorated every public space in the country. But Emin took a professional pride in his work, and while he knew the posters were not art, he tried to apply them with professional care. He was certainly not ignorant of the repetitious nature of posters, plastered on walls, posted by highways, hung in schools and offices. Emin had held this job for the last year, so he knew every small feature of the father and son – the squinting eyes and thick eyebrows of the father, the indolent gaze and slight smile of the son.

The poster of Heymar Alidev now smiled into the sunrise, and Emin smiled too, admiring his work. He had applied the poster smoothly, with no wrinkles marring the surface. The presentation of the posters be especially important now, because birthday celebrations for the president, who died five years earlier, were planned for the next week.

“Hello, Heymar,” Emin addressed the dead president. “You are looking fine this morning.” All that remained was to paste the inspirational quote from the Heymar Alidev at the bottom of the poster, and this billboard would be complete.

“The Azani people draw strength from unity!”

Emin unraveled these words and applied them at the bottom of the poster, climbed down the ladder, gathered his tools and walked down the still empty streets to the main square for some tea.

Few people were drinking tea in the Pines Café at this hour. Other than tea, the café served small soda cakes, but they were usually stale. The regulars just drank tea. Emin took a table by the window, and in a few moments Pavel, one of the waiters, came over with a small pot of tea and a cup. He put them on the table in front of Emin, and then sat down opposite him.

“Has she come back yet?” he asked.


The question was direct and uncomfortable, but the two men were friends, and Emin knew that Pavel’s intent was always good, even though his style was usually rough.

Pavel, one of Emin’s few friends, was one of the handful of Russians who remained in this city after the country declared its independence from the Soviet Union, A former newspaper editor, Pavel now waited on tables because his newspaper had been closed by the government, and no other newspaper would hire him now. He was a good editor, but a terrible waiter, always forgetting orders and spending too much time chatting with customers. But Gunar, the owner of the café, kept him employed, because long ago he had a schoolboy’s crush on Pavel’s mother.

“She didn’t call?” Pavel asked.


“She’s not at Zamine’s?”

“No, I’m pretty sure about that.”

“What are you going to do?”

Emin took his cup of tea, blew on it softly, and watched a taxi impatiently race by a soot-spewing city bus.

“I don’t know.”

Emin’s wife, Buna, had disappeared, again, two weeks ago. Buna hadn’t disappeared for at least six months, and in any case it was unusual for her to stay away for two weeks. When Emin married Buna 10 years earlier, she had been strikingly beautiful, with piercing dark eyes, and the body of gymnast. Her years of drinking had since taken their toll. Her eyes were now not so bright, and her forehead bore the scars of her falls. But she still had a certain magnetism, so once she started drinking, Buna would start to act as if she were again the young courtesan, charming her male admirers. Of course, she was no young courtesan, and her male admirers were more likely to be rough middle-aged truck drivers than charming young men. And, once she started drinking, she completely lost control, finding herself in dangerous and compromising positions. Once, she had awoken from a blackout and found herself in a small hotel in Russia. That had been six months ago, and Emin had nearly divorced her at that point.

After that experience, Buna had agreed to stop drinking for awhile, and even went to a new church in Berme, where the kind members of the congregation prayed for her soul. Emin began to hope that they could begin to love again, and in fact they had sex not long before she disappeared. But one day, he came home from his job, and he knew right away, she had gone. There was no note, no physical sign. She could have been at her job in the laundry, but he knew the truth. She had gone.

Emin tried not to worry about her, but of course he did. When the church members had learned that she was gone again, they told Emin they would pray for her, and Emin prayed for her too, but it felt mechanical and empty. And when he prayed for her, he found himself imagining her in the arms of some strange man, and he felt dirty. It was less painful just to not think of her.

Pavel and Emin sat in silence, looking at the city square as the streets began to fill with morning traffic. A small gang of beggar children was bothering the people who wanted to use the nearby money exchange booths. Women were already carrying large bags loaded with fruits and vegetables back from the bazaar, located a few blocks south of the café. They were old friends, and could sit indefinitely in silence together. Their contemplation was interrupted, however, as Gunar entered the café, slamming the door. He sat down noisily beside Emin. Pavel hurriedly got up, avoiding Gunar’s angry eyes, and bustled back to the kitchen.

Gunar had pulled strings to get Emin his job, and ever since then considered that Emin was indebted to him. Gunar was, in fact, annoyed that Emin seemed to have forgotten his debt to the café owner. Emin, who was trained as a painter, had been unemployed for more than year, depending on his wife’s meager salary as a seamstress when Gunar’s friends in the New Freedom Party told them that they needed someone to put up posters of the president and his father. Every town and city already had posters that graced every public space, but these posters naturally needed to be replaced periodically. It would be disrespectful to depict the Presidents Alidev with tattered or dirty posters. Furthermore, the party leaders were certain that further opportunities for publicizing the President and his father existed. They would always exist. New places could always be found for new billboards. So Emin was hired as part of a small regional team that was assigned the task of replacing the old or decaying posters and finding places for new posters. He was given the title of “national artist,” although very little art was required in the application of adhesive to flat surfaces.

“I saw the new one this morning,” Gunar said. “Very nice. Very nice. You are a true artist.”

“Thank you. Yes, I like it too. It’s bright and cheery. The flag in the background is inspiring. And the quote too. I’m putting up another one up in March 20 Square, later this morning.”

“Good, good. I like your work. You should be proud of yourself, turning your life around. Doing something useful.”

“Thank you,” Emin said. “And thank you for helping me.”

Gunar grinned.

“I am happy to help. Our nation needs everyone. It needs everyone united, working together,” he said.

Emin turned to look at Gunar’s fat and satisfied face, but he could think of no reply. When he was working, Emin was able to separate himself from the goal of his job – the indoctrination of the population. But here in the presence of Gunar, that objective was all too palpable. Everything about Gunar - his meticulous thin moustache, his sour cabbage odor, and thick rings on his fat fingers – disgusted Emin.

“Yes, speaking of work, my next task awaits me,” Emin said. “I want to finish the installation at March 20 Square before noon.”

“Of course. Of course,” said Gunar. “By all means.”

The heavy man rose to his feet, and turned to the kitchen, where Pavel was chatting with the cook.

“Pavel, you worthless socialist! There is a dirty table here! Come here!” Gunar shouted.

Pavel was cleaning that table when Emin left the café, but he looked up to smile and wave goodbye.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Clouds on the domestic front

A considerable quantity of liberal and progressive teeth are being gnashed in the USA this week. First - the results of the Massachusetts special election on Tuesday night - which gave the victory to Republican candidate Scott Brown. Nothing particularly remarkable about the man, from what I have heard, but the victory is particularly disturbing for progressives because:

1. It's seen as a repudiation of Obama's domestic policies.
2. Brown's victory makes passage of health care reform legislation much more difficult.
3. This happened in Massachusetts, in a special election to fill the position formerly held by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. And Massachusetts is supposed to be liberal!

But - quite a few people didn't get that memo. Brown won the election decisively.

Tuesday's news was bad enough. Today's news, if anything, was worse. The Supreme Court effectively struck down a law that had limited the amount of corporate cash that could flow into elections. The US election system is already awash in corporate cash. This will just open the flood gates.

Our government was essentially owned by corporations already. I suppose this will just remove whatever fiction remains about our democracy. "The Pledge of Allegiance .... sponsored by Coca Cola and Wal-Mart."

I am an optimist, so I am hoping that an effective response will be mounted to this destructive decision by the US Supreme Court. This group is starting a petition drive to devise a legislative remedy to this very real threat to what remains of our democracy.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Don't forget imprisoned bloggers!

There is a tendency for the attention given to travesties of justice to peak at the time of a trial, and then to decline after a court has apparently decided to level an unjust verdict. Naturally, when a trial is ongoing, the hope is that the world community can somehow influence the people pulling strings to show mercy and commonsense. This did not happen, of course, in the case of Adnan and Emin, convicted last year on trumped up charges. But just because the two bloggers and activists are sitting in a jail in Azerbaijan is no reason to forget about them. To the contrary. So, I was heartened to read here about demonstrations planned at Azerbaijani embassies in London and Paris next week. Great! The Azerbaijan government must know that they cannot quash dissent with impunity. There are consequences. The government sits comfortably on oil revenues but they should know that they will never have the respect of the world community as long as they repress their own people!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Good suggestion from Craig

I don't think that Rush will donate a cent - but it's a nice thought.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Not holding my breath on this suggestion

So, the head of the Moscow Electoral Commission is suggesting to re-make Russia's electoral system. To "start over from scratch,” according to Ekho Moskvy.

I completely agree that the entire electoral system needs to be re-made. Just like the judiciary system in Russia needs to be completely reconstructed. Is it realistic, however, to expect that the foxes will voluntarily leave their position at the door of the hen house?

Any bets on how long Valentin Gorbunov holds his current post?

Monday, January 11, 2010

US conservatives hate Europe

This seems like a blanket statement - and OK - it's meant to be provocative. But I think it's true as a rule. US conservatives look at Europe as an example of the social democracy that they abhor. It's worse - because it seems to work pretty well in many places of Europe.

Jim Manzi recent column about the comparative growth rates of Europe & the US is one example of the attitude espoused by conservatives here. It's a piece rife with factual inaccuracies - a perfect example of attempting to make data fit pre-determined conclusions. He would receive an "F" in any economics class.

Paul Krugman's column fortunately explains why Manzi's argument is completely flawed. Nonetheless, one can count on the US press - owned by conservatives, by and large - to give broad publicity to a completely fallacious argument.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Victory on the chessboard

Militarily, the stalemate between Azerbaijan may Armenia continues, but Azerbaijan was yesterday celebrating a victory over Armenia in the World Chess Championships.

Congratulations to Vugar Heshimov (2759), Teymur Recebov (2733), Shehriyar Memmedov (2741), Rauf Memmedov (2640), Qedir Huseynov (2614) and Nicat Memmedov (2610), members of the Azerbaijani chess team.

The games are being played in Bursa, Turkey.

Monday, January 4, 2010

What does history say about vodka price hikes?

Beginning Jan. 1, the minimum price for vodka in Russia is nearly doubling. What will this mean? If history is any guide, it means that the regime in the Kremlin will become less popular. More people will die or be sickened by home-brew, usually called samogon. The government probably will collect more tax revenues from the sale of booze.

But will the price increase diminish the level of alcoholism? That's doubtful. The treatment of alcoholism requires a spiritual aspect. I believe that one reason that alcoholism afflicts Russia so is that the country is still recovering from the Soviet legacy, which insisted on a materialistic perspective. Most people familiar with recovery from addiction or alcoholism recognize that the individual unaided cannot recover from his dependence. A group or a therapist can help - but real recovery results from reorienting the individual, encouraging the growth of a spiritual life within that individual.

I doubt that this is part of the Kremlin plan.