Saturday, February 27, 2010

Chapter Six

As Emin left the square, the fighter planes were practicing their aerial maneuvers, swooping through the air with a roar that rattled windows. The pilots were among the elite soldiers in Azanistan, chosen from families close to the core supporters of the New Azanistan Party. The president himself was known to enjoy flying, piloting his own jet and sometimes even participating in the air shows. Emin watched the sleek jets trace patterns in the air, releasing smoke tinted with the national colors of yellow, red and black.

The jets were just one sign of the coming holiday. As he continued on his walk home, Emin saw the crowds who lined the parade route. The main parade would be on June 23, still two days away. But already the army was practicing, rolling out its tanks and personnel carriers. The people whistled and clapped as the equipment rumbled down the street. The troops were preparing, but the commanders also knew that displaying their military might was always useful, making the people proud of their military, proud of themselves.

While most of the spectators were unaware of the subtleties of the display, the more educated among them knew that the forces on parade had distinctly different roles. The soldiers in camouflage were intended for battlefield conflict. These soldiers were recruited from the poorest of families. They received minimal training in the use of rifles, but their main role to was to perform unpaid labor such as digging ditches and harvesting potatoes. They rode in the parade, seated in rows in large personnel carriers.

The soldiers in the sleek black uniforms, however, rode on black motorcycles behind the carriers. Each of the motorcycles was specially fitted with an automatic weapon in front, a technical innovation for which the president himself claimed credit. These soldiers, wearing black helmets and black masks, were the troops of the Interior Ministry. This was the division dedicated to maintaining order at home. These soldiers were not trained in battlefield tactics and did not practice ordinary maneuvers. Rather, they received education in surveillance techniques, crowd control, and highly effective interrogation techniques.

While the ordinary soldiers were poorly fed and simply clothed, the soldiers of the Interior Ministry received the best training. Selection into this elite corps was highly coveted, and the Interior Minister built one entire mansion purely with the bribes he received from parents seeking to place their sons in the division. As these sleek warriors roared down the avenue on their armed motorcycles, the crowd whistled and shouted their approval. These soldiers presented the most handsome and fearsome image. They also made the citizens proud to be Azani.

As Emin pushed through the crowd, merely trying to make his way back home, he recognized the back of Gunar’s head, with its short-cropped hair and folds of fat on his neck. He began to edge away in the opposite direction, but unfortunately Gunar turned at that moment, and saw Emin.

After he gave Emin the tree-pruning assignment , Gunar had visited his restaurant and arranged for more effective collections of party donations from his team. He had decided to close the small grocery owned by Cavid Malikov who used to own a bookstore. The government had closed his bookstore 10 years earlier, but Gunar still suspected Cavid was a disloyal character. In fact, one of his informants had heard him complaining about the high cost of food products in the country. If he thought food was too expensive, then perhaps he shouldn’t sell it, Gunar reasoned.

Cavid at this moment was still working in his small store, unaware of the fate that loomed. Within the week, the tax police would find an irregularity, which would require that the entire store be liquidated to pay off the past due taxes. In itself, the liquidation of the store wouldn’t bring a large amount of cash to the party coffers, but it would serve to spur greater generosity among the remaining elements of the business community.

“Emin! Where are you going?” Gunar yelled, as Emin tried to avoid his glance.

“I’m just trying to get to a little opening in the crowd here. I can’t see the parade from here.”

“Come with me. I’ve got the place for us.”

Gunar was feeling generous, because he had solved this problem with the party donations. He wanted to share his good feeling with Emin, who always seemed unnaturally morose. The problem with some people is that they just don’t know how to enjoy themselves. Such a mood discourages other people around them, and Gunar tried to make sure that the people around him did not display such depressing attitudes. A depressed view of the world inhibited inspiration, Gunar believed, and as he saw Emin, he received a flash on inspiration. He would take Emin to visit his friends Gulinda and Lula.

“Come on, Emin. Let’s get away from these peasants. I have the place for us,” he said, grabbing the hapless painter’s shoulder with his ham-sized hand.

Emin was looking forward to returning to his small kitchen, making a cup of tea and then perhaps reading a book. He had already resolved that Buna and he were through. This made him sad, but he also had worried about her so much in the past that his feelings were less sharp, leaving just a dull ache inside. But as soon as Gunar grasped his shoulder, Emin knew that his chance for escape at that moment were nearly impossible. To argue with Gunar in the crowd would be unthinkable. Perhaps he could wriggle out of of Gunar’s plans when the two of them were alone. In the meantime, Emin followed Gunar as the crowd parted in waves as the large man elbowed his way forward.

Veering off from the main street, Gunar turned down a small alley, and Emin thought this was his chance.

“Gunar, I really should be going home. I have a big day tomorrow. You know. The birthday posters. Three new ones in Mikorvskaya district. Really big ones. It’s not going to be easy to put them up.”

Gunar snorted, but otherwise did not reply. He prided himself on his commitment, once he had decided on a course of action. Gunar had decided that Emin deserved a little fun, and he was not going to be distracted from his goal of entertaining him. He stopped at a plain gray metal door and rang the buzzer. A woman answered through the intercom with a rough “Who is it?” and Gunar answered simply “Me.” The automatic lock on the door clicked open, and Gunar pushed Emin in.

They entered a short dark hallway that smelled of disinfectant and cat urine. A black elevator cage at the end of the hall yawned open. Emin saw no escape. Gunar followed him onto the elevator, pushed the button for the third floor, and the elevator rattled upward.

When the elevator door opened onto the third floor, Gulinda already had opened the door the apartment. Dressed in a green silk gown, the large woman leaned against the doorway in a manner that to Emin communicated complete boredom. The gown covered her thighs, but it was only loosely tied at her waist, exposing most of Gulinda’s large breasts.

“Hello stranger!” Gulinda said. “Who’s your friend?”

Gunar laid his heavy arm on Emin’s shoulder.

“This is Emin. He’s an artist. And you know artists! He said he was looking a good time, and I told him I knew just the place.”

Gunar gave Emin a little push toward Gulinda, and the woman put her arms around his neck.

“Oh, a naughty little artist, eh? What does Emin want to do today?”

Emin very much wanted to have a cup of tea, but he was feeling quite unable to communicate this desire. Instead, he said nothing, and allowed Gulinda to run her hands up and down his chest, before her hands finally ended on his crotch. Despite his discomfort, Emin felt his penis begin to get hard under Gulinda’s touch.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Don't look for justice in the courts of Chechnya

The New York Times has this sad article today. Sad because it is seems so obvious and inevitable. One of the late activist's colleagues notes: “There are good grounds to believe that people in high official positions could be involved. No matter how high-level the client is, he has to be held accountable, otherwise it’s not going to mean anything.”

Certainly a high-ranking official was involved. If it is a high-ranking official, however, he will never be brought to justice.

To be fair, this is not unique to Chechnya or Russia, where the justice system is - to be charitable - not fully developed. In the United States, the people at the top who were responsible for the multiple crimes that led to the war in Iraq will never be held responsible.

Justice exists, but this justice is not administered by courts.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Chapter Five

Gunar was sleeping soundly on the sofa when the phone rang. After his large lunch of pork stew at the Pines Café, washed down with a couple of pints of beer, taking a nap was entirely natural. Gunar was a great believer in the natural order of things. Certain people were created to rule over others. Certain behavior was expected by subordinates. An afternoon nap after lunch was part of the natural order of things.

So Gunar was annoyed to have this natural order disturbed, and he let his annoyance show as he answered the phone gruffly.


“Timur Rodenko speaking.”

Gunar straightened up.

“Yes, Chairman Rodenko. How can I help you?”

Indeed, Chairman Rodenko had a clear idea of how Gunar could help him. Chairman Rodenko would not have otherwise called. He considered Gunar a lazy and greedy man, an opportunist. But, like many opportunists, he was extremely useful.

“Your friend Emin. He is still working as a national artist, correct?”

“Yes, he is. I saw him this morning. Is there a problem with his work? I will talk to him directly about it. We are not really close friends, by the way.”

“No, there is no problem that I know of. Not with his work. But something else has come up. The committee noticed that the portrait of Our Leader at the Star of the Motherland Metro is hardly visible.”

Rodenko was quiet a moment. He tended to speak softly and slowly, using uncomfortably long pauses for dramatic effect.

“This situation must be remedied,” he continued.

“Of course. Yes. I will contact Emin immediately. The tree will be removed before the end of the day.”

“Gunar,” Rodenko said slowly. “I didn’t say to remove the tree. Our Leader revered this particular species. It too is regarded as a national symbol among some of the peasantry. The tree should remain – but its branches must be substantially trimmed so that the portrait is completely visible. This requires some degree of artistry, so I thought your friend’s assistance might be appropriate.”

“I’m sure that Emin will be happy to assist in this task. I will contact him immediately.”

“Thank you. Oh, by the way. I noticed that the neighborhood donations to the party have been stagnant now for the last three months. Is there a problem?”

The donations to the party came from the businesses in the Sahil District, which Gunar managed. Once a month, a government official and a party official would visit every business – from the car repair shops to the restaurants. The discussions were almost always polite, unless the necessary donation had not been received in the previous month. In those unfortunate cases, some sort of problem was inevitably found. The bathrooms might be deemed unsanitary, which would require the immediate closure of the restaurant. Even car repair shops had been closed because their bathrooms were unclean. The severity of the problem found directly related to the attitude of the business owner. In the worst cases, serious discrepancies in financial accounts would be discovered. This meant that not only would the business be closed, but the owner of the business could be subject to immediate criminal prosecution.

The rules were well understood by everyone and only rarely were such measures necessary. But the economic stagnation in the country had begun to affect the local businesses. The local business owners simply were unable to bear the ever increasing level of donations requested by the party. It had been a long time since Gunar personally had made these fund-raising visits, but he knew the people who collected for the party and he knew the local business owners. After all, they were his customers. Gunar could be callous about people’s feelings, but he was perceptive about how they spent money. And he noticed how even the successful businessmen were spending less.

“There is no problem that cannot be solved with greater discipline,” Gunar said, quoting President Alidev.

“Very well. I am glad you will take care of this,” the chairman said, and hung up.

Gunar, in fact, knew that he could take care of the problem, but it would not be easy. Although he had a slight headache from the beer he drank earlier in the day, he actually relished the challenge that Chairman Rodenko had given him. He sat on the sofa, listened to the traffic below, and considered the alternatives. It might be easiest to completely liquidate one business, rather than require an equal amount of funds from all the businesses who regularly donated to the party. If done correctly, this very liquidation could be used to spur the other businesses into greater generosity. The remaining businesses in the district would understand this fate could await them too, if they were stingy in their support for the party. But which business should be liquidated? Gunar picked out a piece of pork from between his teeth with his index finger and pondered his dilemma.

Taking care of the Chairman Rodenko’s other request was easier. Emin was finishing a lunch of rice soup in his tiny kitchen when Gunar called. Although Emin was looking forward to an afternoon nap, he understood that a request from the Chairman had to be honored immediately. Within five minutes, he had donned his work uniform again and was running down the dark stairwell of his apartment building.

Emin knew the tree in question. The oak towered over the small groups of men who often played dominoes in its shadow. Ten years earlier, all the other trees in the square had been removed in order to create a flat tiled surface better suited for parades and assemblies. But this oak by some strange oversight had been spared. As he approached the Star of the Motherland Metro Station, Emin observed that the poster was nearly completely obscured by the tree. Only large forehead and the eyes of the dead president were visible, peering above the thick crown of the tree. Emin well understood the outrage of the party committee, although he was reluctant to cut the oak. All too few of the trees remained in the city, he thought. Over time, they had been cut to create space for grand tiled expanses. Such places were perfect for athletic displays and parades, but were of little other use. People enjoyed sitting under trees, and the benches erected in these newly created tiled and unsheltered squares were usually vacant for most of the day.

But Emin was glad at this point that no one was playing dominoes under the tree at this hour. He didn’t want an audience for this job. After a moment to contemplate his task, Emin swung a rope over the lowest branch, and quickly clambered up to the lowest set of branches. He had climbed trees since he was a boy in the north of the country, and the climbing skill remained with him like a second nature. Oaks were fine for climbing, with strong, evenly-spaced branches. He stood on the thick lower branch and looked up, feeling the coolness of the tree, its rough dirty bark. He looked at the ants crawling on the trunk, and looking up, he noticed a large bird nest in the top branches. This was unfortunate. Emin liked birds, but he had a job to do.

A few more minutes, and he had reached the branches that covered the poster. In the crook of one of these branches, he noticed the bird nest. It was empty now, but he guessed that it belonged to a couple of crows that sat on a nearby lamp post, angrily cawing at him. Twice they flew up, circling above him. But the nest was empty, and Emin knew the birds would just make noise. He began sawing at the necessary branches, but work was slow. The ants crawled on his pants and his shirt, biting him occasionally. The birds continued their outraged commentary. As the saw blade cut deeper, it got bound up in the green wood, slowing his task even more. First, he was sorry for the tree he cut, for the birds whose nest he destroyed. But as his work continued, he became annoyed, irritated that he was here at work still, irritated at the birds, at the tree that required such trimming. He cut one branch off and watched with satisfaction as it tumbled to the ground. The second branch was narrower and easier. Finally, he cut the branch that held the crows’ nest. The wood crashed noisily down through the lower branches, upsetting the table under the tree and scattering the nest across the pavement. The birds flew up again, angry, circling above the tree. Emin looked over to the poster. Yes, now the dead president could be easily seen from the square. This was good.

Innovation requires freedom

This observation about the necessity of freedom seems obvious - and yet it is remarkable how often this truth is overlooked. I believe the connection between freedom and innovation is ignored in both capitalist and communist economies. Innovation can be squelched by the demand for short-term profits, or it can be smothered by central planners.

I think of this connection after reading an excellent column by Georgy Satarov. He picks apart a recent interview by a high government official, a government official describing in detail how the Putin-Medvedev administration is going to create some sort of engine for economic development and innovation. It won't happen. I have no idea about what is the future for Russia at this point, but it does not look very bright. The people running the country seem determined to close any possible space for democratic opposition. Without democratic opposition, there can be no peaceful change. And Russia vitally needs change. It plods on, its extractive industries subsidizing its maddening and oppressive inefficiencies.

The best and the brightest will always crave freedom. This is the nature of intelligent people. They seek the opportunity to exercise their intelligence. They do not want to be stifled.

Russia can continue on its current path indefinitely, but it will become increasingly uncompetitive in a global market that will not be restrained by Russia's police, bureaucrats and their criminal allies.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Boot licking

Ah, the wonderful Azerbaijan Parliament. Bastion of free and honest debate on important issues.

Like International Women's Day on March 8.

The Soviet version of Valentine's Day is now outdated. It's a vestige of the discredited past.
Far better to celebrate the birthday of the president's late mother, according to one lawmaker.

Very sensible proposal, really.

Even if the holiday is not created, Elmira Akhundova has proven her servility to the ruler of the land.

Servility, not common sense or honesty, is rewarded in Baku.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Chapter Four

While Buna slept for the next 12 hours, the psychiatric ward hummed with unusual activity. The ward, of course, was always active with patients in varying stages of inebriation or detoxification. They smoked, yelled, and paced. The more healthy ones played cards or checkers in the lounge. This week, however, marked the beginning of preparations for a special visit from the First Lady to the hospital. It was unlikely that she would visit this ward, where the patients were much less photogenic than in the wing where sick children were housed. Nonetheless, the hospital administration felt it advisable to thoroughly clean the hospital wards, removing broken furniture and applying fresh paint to the smoke-stained walls.

In the process of these renovations, a glaring omission came to light. The psychiatric ward contained not a single representation of the Father of the Country! The ward, which was not spacious, obviously could not contain one of the larger-than-life portraits that adorned city parks. But the portraits of Heymar Alidev were available in infinite gradations of size, so it was hard to understand how this error had occurred.

So while a crew of four men painted the smoking room, Burgar Hadiler, the hospital director made his first visit to the psychiatric ward to talk with Dr. Semonova. Burgar , who was impeccably dressed in a gray suit, carried a small catalog that listed the various representations of Heymar Alidev that were available through the government information agency. These portraits and statues, it should be noted, were not free. The agencies that purchased these items paid a fee to the information agency, a sum subsequently paid to the New Azanistan Party, which owned the publishing rights to all images and words of Heymar Alidev and his son.

To his credit, Burgar was more active than many party loyalists placed in positions that afforded them a large and secure income for only the most token labor. Burgar was easily bored and distracted, so he made a point to personally visit some of the doctors from time to time, ascertaining their political beliefs while bolstering a certain reputation for a direct management style. On these visits, which many a bureaucrat would have regarded as demeaning, Burgar frequently went without an assistant, itself a practice that was almost dangerously strange. As he strode through the hall to the office of the head doctor, the nursing staff blushed and hurried ahead of him. Burgar, a handsome man with wonderful teeth, smiled at the nurse standing by the door as he knocked once and entered upon detecting a nearly inaudible reply.

“Hello, Dr. Semonova,” he said.

Dr. Semonova was seated at her desk when he knocked and entered. She did not rise. While Burgar had the best political connections, connections to which he owed his current position, he had only held the job for two years. Previously, he had been managing a company that imported cars into the country, until this profitable monopoly was taken over by a drinking buddy of the president. In the eyes of Dr. Semonova, Burgar was an unqualified political hack. In fact, he was not especially suited to the job, and as a consequence was generally bored and dissatisfied. Administering a hospital was generally dull, although Burgar was responsible for several innovations. Under his leadership, a high quality and highly profitable plastic surgery clinic had been created.

Burgar stood with the door open, waiting for Dr. Semonova to politely stand and greet him. Burgar knew her opinion of him, but he was equally hostile toward the doctor. She was a vestige of a previous world, a world built on the illusion of equality and idealism. The doctor had no idea about the laws of economics that now ruled the world in general and the functioning of this hospital in particular. Burgar did not want to dismiss her, but neither did he feel resigned to accept contempt from her.

Reluctantly, Dr. Semonova put down the medial journal she was reading, standing up to shake Burgar’s hand.

“Please, sit down, Mr. Hadiler,” she said, motioning to a hard wooden chair by her desk. But Burgar realized now how cramped and uncomfortable this office was. It was crowded with book shelves. The desk itself was covered with neat piles of papers and journals. The only decoration in the room was a small photograph on the wall of a house in the mountains, a house where Dr. Semonova had spent her summers when she was a girl, before the war. The house had long since been destroyed, and the land was now occupied by Argania, but the memories still lived, albeit dimly, with Dr. Semonova. The faded photo caught the eye of Burgar, who walked over to the photo, examining the picture closely.

“Beautiful. Very beautiful. Are you from that region?” he asked.

“My family had a small cottage there. It was my grandparents’ place originally.” Dr. Semonova realized that having family from that area could mean that she also had Arganian blood flowing in her veins. Even Dr. Semonova, who disdained all forms of politics, realized this could create unpleasant consequences for her. And yet, she had an instinctual and awkward habit of honesty.

“Interesting. Well, I really can’t stay. I am interested, as you know, to better understand all the departments of this hospital. I think I can better understand your situation here, after actually seeing this department. It seems, in fact, that your facilities are in very good shape. You have some new furniture out there in the hall. Freshly painted walls. All you need is several of these portraits. Art, I think, should inspire people to do their best. It should offer positive examples. How can your patients reach their potential, if they do not have such positive examples before them?”

Dr. Semonova felt her insides shake as she restrained herself from an angry response. In fact, the new furniture and fresh paint was fine, but in fact the operating budget was inadequate and would continue to be inadequate. For the most part, the staff depended on the payments from the families of the patients. If a patient had no family, then the diet for that patient would likely be a thin potato gruel three times a day, supplemented with bread. The availability of necessary drugs was uneven, and a drunk that happened to land in the ward at an unfortunate time when the drug supply was exhausted might suffer painful and dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

“Yes, it’s very nice of you to paint the lobby. We appreciate that. And I appreciate you taking the time to bring me this catalog. I will immediately determine where would be the most appropriate place for a portrait of our president.”

Burgar smiled broadly. He was pleased, like the dog who has forced a rival to roll over into a submissive pose. He felt no animosity toward this pitiful old woman now.

“Good. I think you can find several places for portraits. It would be better if you did. I think, in fact, we have a nice portrait that would fit right there,” he said, pointing to the spot where the photo of Dr. Semonova’s childhood refuge hung.

His eyes met hers, searching for any faltering in her submission. But she nodded, after a moment of silence.

“Yes, I think you are probably right. I will see if I can find something that would fit.”

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

At least he listens to his mother!

This article seems a little bit absurd, but that does not mean that it isn't true. The president of Chechnya - who has been implicated on some very strong evidence of repeated and savage violations of human rights - sued officials from human rights groups who had the temerity to imply his involvement in crimes of torture, rape, and murder.

(One of these murders was that of a human rights activist last year, as discussed in earlier postings.)

Now - he is dropping his lawsuits. Why? Because his mother asked him to. So - the fellow - who runs his fief with an iron fist & is implicated in all these crimes - still listens to his mother.

It's kind of sweet.

Kind of weird.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I still think learning foreign languages is a good idea

The Times has a piece about new translation software being developed by Google. The software could be used to in mobile phones to transform them into translators. Google already has a system to translate text on computers. (I use it - and it's not great but no mechanical translator is. Most of the time, it gives you a quick & dirty translation that gives you the gist of the text.) The company also has a voice recognition system that allows people to speak commands into phones rather than typing them in. Combining the technologies could allow Google to create software to understand a caller and then translate it into a synthetic version of a foreign language.

Fortunately, it will probably be a few years before the software is ready for market. So, one of my remaining marketable skills still has some value.

For now.

Kremlin's friend wins in Ukraine, but democratic process could cause problems

The author of this article makes a very good point. Yes, Russia's preferred candidate won the election in Ukraine, yet the election he won stands in sharp contrast to recent heavily-managed elections in Russia. Will Russian's care that their Slavic cousins to the west have experienced a democratic presidential election? Some Russians tell me- "But we do have democracy at the local level." This local-level democracy, however, is inevitably limited by the fact that processes by which national leaders have been chosen in national years is anything but democratic. (It reminds me, in fact, of the apologists for autocracy of the tsar, when people could point to the local level zemstvo or the mir as examples of local democratic processes and autonomy. In reality, however, the autonomy was not grounded in law and was subject to the caprices of the tsar and his administration.)

One of the statistically significant factors in predicting whether a nation will be democratic is its contiguity to other democracies. So, if Ukraine is successful in holding its tenuous grip on democratic institutions, Russia's oligarchs and their patrons might just have reason to worry.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Chapter Three

Buna was angry. Her head was not clear enough to know much more than that – but she was angry. She didn’t really know where she was. She didn’t know who this woman was. She didn’t know why she was talking to this woman, or why she was dressed in this absurd, thin dressing gown, but she knew she was angry. She was angry, and her head hurt.

Buna was not aware of the large bandage on her head, or the dried blood that clotted in her hair. She was arguing with main doctor in the hospital that she should leave immediately, because her children needed her at home. She was aware that she had no children, but she had thought about these non-existent children, and the one young daughter who died so soon after birth, that they had achieved some measure of reality.

“Who is going to feed them? Answer me that!” she snapped at the doctor, her voice hoarse and unsteady, despite her anger.

Tatiana Semonova, an angular woman with hair dyed an unnatural shade of red, was the chief doctor at the psychiatric ward. She had worked at the hospital for 30 years. She never liked alcoholics or drug addicts, and at this point in her career she felt a positive revulsion toward them. This woman with an ugly head wound was about 24 hours away from her last drink. The only reason she was not now shaking with the delirium tremens was because of the strong tranquilizers that had been injected into her with the greatest of difficulty two hours ago. From the way Buna was acting, Tatiana considered that another dose of tranquilizers was necessary.

“If you tell me where you live, we will make sure that your children are cared for. But you are in no condition to go out on the street. We simply can’t allow it. Do you know where you were when we found you?”

This question baffled Buna. It did not make her less angry, but it distracted her. No, she didn’t know where they had found her. As in all blackouts, she really had not the slightest memory of where she had been prior to this very unpleasant current moment, sitting here, with an aching head, a terrible thirst, arguing with this stupid woman.

“I was at home. I was minding my business, when you took me here. You had no business taking me here. I was not bothering anyone. You took me away from my children! Who is going to care for them? They will be calling me. Yes, they need me.”

In fact, Dr. Semonova was uncertain of the children’s existence. They might, in fact, need this poor specimen of humanity. The thought depressed her. That a woman could abandon her children to drink in such low places, with such vile companions. The hospital workers had collected Buna from the city jail in Baku. It was some sort of miracle, really, that the workers at the jail had cared enough to call the hospital because they were concerned about the gash in Buna’s head. In fact, the wound bled a lot, but it was not very deep. As far as the people in the jail could determine, her head was cut when she fell on the floor, fighting with another prostitute in the bar.

Fortunately, the two hospital orderlies that Dr. Semonova had summoned finally knocked once on the door and entered. One of them had the syringe loaded with diazepam.

“Now, I really need to get some work done. You will go back to your bed and rest until you feel better. Then we can talk about getting your children some care. But – at this moment, we simply cannot release you. You are a danger to yourself and to the public in your condition.”

Buna felt two firm hands grab her shoulders and lift her from her chair. Her anger had been spent, and she allowed herself to be guided back to a rickety metal bed with rubber sheets. The hands grasped her arms, holding her tightly as a needle pierced her skin, shooting her with another tranquilizing dose. It hurt, but not much. Her head hurt.

“Water?” she asked.

Someone handed her a thick plastic cup, and then took it from her when she had drunk. She put her bandaged head back on the pillow case that was stained from blood that had seeped from her wound. She began to breathe more deeply, and soon fell into a dreamless sleep.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Let's not be offensive!

As we learn from a recent RFE article, the journalists from Yeni Musavat are the latest members of the press to come under pressure in Azerbaijan. While the journalists aren't under fire from the government, the source of their problems is damn close. The president's brother - Jalal Aliyev - said he was offended by an article an article that claimed some unfinished buildings in the capital belong to him. The article also maintained that no one complains about their incomplete status because they're owned by the president's brother.

Makes sense to me - but Jalal is offended by this assertion.

I'm reminded of a few things.

1. The many construction sites all over Baku - sites that grew like mushrooms, in defiance of any understanding of the law of supply and demand. Who was going to live in these luxury apartments? Everyone just assumed that construction was some not so secret way of money laundering.

2. The conversation I had with a newspaper editor in the country, not long after I moved there. In our conversations, at a certain point he referred to another newspaper being owned by the family. I asked "what family?" "The family," he informed me, was the term referring to the president's family. It's not like the president himself owned all that much - but rather the holdings were like some sort of large & extended business.

So - his brother is in the family & he owns a bunch of buildings.

Surprised? I'm not.