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“It gets people killed”: Osip Mandelstam and the perils of writing poetry under Stalin

Nadezhda Mandelstam – the poet’s wife and invaluable support throughout his, and their, many years of persecution and exile – wrote in her powerful memoir of both the poet and the era, Hope Against Hope, about the many instances when, confronted with the desperation of their situation, they had asked each other if this was the moment when they, too, could no longer bear to go forward. The final occasion was to be the last night they spent in their Moscow apartment before being banished, without means of providing for themselves, to a succession of rural towns situated beyond a hundred-kilometre perimeter of all major cities. She awoke to find Mandelstam standing at the open window. “Isn’t it time?” he said. “Let’s do it while we’re still together.” “Not yet,” she replied. Mandelstam didn’t argue but she later reflected, “If we had been able to foresee all the alternatives, we would not have missed that last chance of a ‘normal’ death offered by the open window of our apartment in Furmanov Street.” Opting, in that moment, for a little more life changed nothing and Mandelstam soon found himself being moved inexorably towards Stalin’s endgame in the camps.

When Nigel Farage met Julian Assange | Politics | The Guardian

A highly placed contact with links to US intelligence told the Observer: “When the heat is turned up and all electronic communication, you have to assume, is being intensely monitored, then those are the times when intelligence communication falls back on human couriers. Where you have individuals passing information in ways and places that cannot be monitored.” When asked about the meeting in the embassy, Farage said: “I never discuss where I go or who I see.” In October, Roger Stone, a Republican strategist whose links to Russia are currently under investigation by the FBI, told a local CBS reporter about “a back-channel communication with Assange, because we have a good mutual friend … that friend travels back and forth from the United States to London and we talk”. Asked directly by the Observer if Nigel Farage was that friend, his spokesman said: “Definitely not.”

Dostoyevsky and Russia's soul

Dostoevsky, who traveled widely in Europe but was suspicious of it, despised passionately the revolutionaries and their desired revolution. He spent the 1860s and 1870s obsessing over Russia’s looming confrontation with itself. His four most important works (Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, Devils, and The Brothers Karamazov) are not simply novels, but rather dystopian warnings about what would happen if Russia did not return to its pre-Petrine origins.

DailyKos: "Donald Trump was bailed out of bankruptcy by Russia crime bosses"

“You could say I was their exclusive broker,” he told Ria. “Then, in 2007-2008, dozens of Russians bought apartments in Trump properties in the US.” He later told ABC television that the Trump Organisation had received “hundreds of millions of dollars” through deals with Russian businessmen.

Garry Kasparov on why Vladimir Putin hates chess.

Putin, as with every dictator, hates chess because chess is a strategic game which is 100 percent transparent. I know what are available resources for me and what kind of resources could be mobilized by my opponent. Of course, I don’t know what my opponent thinks about strategy and tactics, but at least I know what kind of resources available to you cause damage to me. Dictators hate transparency and Putin feels much more comfortable playing a game that I would rather call geopolitical poker. In poker, you know, you can win having a very weak hand, provided you have enough cash to raise the stakes—and also, if you have a strong nerve, to bluff. Putin kept bluffing. He could see his geopolitical opponents—the leaders of the free world—folding cards, one after another. For me, the crucial moment where Putin decided that he could do whatever was Obama’s decision not to enforce the infamous red line in Syria.

Autocracy: Rules for Survival

One of the falsehoods in the Clinton speech was the implied equivalency between civil resistance and insurgency. This is an autocrat’s favorite con, the explanation for the violent suppression of peaceful protests the world over.

Trump in hock to Putin and his comrades

Trump's financial empire is heavily leveraged and has a deep reliance on capital infusions from oligarchs and other sources of wealth aligned with Putin.

More perverse laundering in Russia

“Let’s say an F.S.B. officer commits a murder somewhere,” Soldatov said. “The police on the scene are required to call the F.S.B.’s internal-security department, which will dispatch its own officer to the scene—not to investigate the crime or take the guy into custody but to show up with a resignation letter that’s backdated by a day, and force the suspect to sign, so that as of the time he allegedly committed a crime he’s no longer an F.S.B. officer.”

Russia's reverse money laundering

Essentially, obnal is a way for a business to take a portion of cash off the books. The shadow economy’s demand for obnal is likely tens of billions of dollars a year—driven by the incentive to avoid high taxes on business operations and profits, and the need to pay bribes and kickbacks. Maxim Osadchiy, the head of the analytical department at Moscow’s C.F.B. bank, explained the underlying logic of obnal: “Normally, money laundering is about making dirty money clean. But this market, you could say, takes clean money and makes it dirty.” The basic idea is that a firm, operating officially and legally, purchases some service—it could be consulting advice, or roof cleaning—from a company that exists only on paper and doesn’t, in fact, deliver anything. The firm transfers money to a bank, ostensibly to process the transaction for this service, and the money returns as obnal, minus a fee.

Is the birth of Novorossiya the death of Central Europe?

In the past few days, Russian troops bearing the flag of a previously unknown country, Novorossiya, have marched across the border of southeastern Ukraine. The Russian Academy of Sciences recently announced it will publish a history of Novorossiya this autumn, presumably tracing its origins back to Catherine the Great. Various maps of Novorossiya are said to be circulating in Moscow. Some include Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk, cities that are still hundreds of miles away from the fighting. Some place Novorossiya along the coast, so that it connects Russia to Crimea and eventually to Transnistria, the Russian-occupied province of Moldova. […] Russian soldiers will have to create this state — how many of them depends upon how hard Ukraine fights, and who helps them — but eventually Russia will need more than soldiers to hold this territory. […]A few days ago, Alexander Dugin, an extreme nationalist whose views have helped shape those of the Russian president, issued an extraordinary statement. “Ukraine must be cleansed of idiots,” he wrote — and then called for the “genocide” of the “race of bastards.”

Among the Alconauts « LRB blog

The Kremlin has ordered a million bottles of European wine so far this year, a 26 per cent rise on the same period last year. Could they be putting together a stash before imposing sanctions? It isn’t hard to imagine the Kremlin blocking European booze and lauding the patriotic qualities of Crimean and Krasnodar reds. Most of them are terrible but the other week in Moscow I drank my first pretty good Southern Russian white. It had been created with the help of French experts, who spent years on the job. If the wine wars begin in earnest, the West will have to ban vintners and oenologists from working in Russia.

What Putin giveth...

Mr. Yevtushenkov has now joined a list that includes not only Putin critics like the exiled former oil executive Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, who spent 10 years in prison before being freed by Mr. Putin, and Aleksei A. Navalny, […]They also include others who, like Mr. Yevtushenkov, once expected that outward loyalty and close ties to the Kremlin afforded them a measure of protection.A prominent businessman who knows Mr. Yevtushenkov said that Mr. Putin had eroded the very notion of property rights in Russia, even for those who displayed fealty. He said that Mr. Putin himself had described private ownership of strategic industries with the Russian word to roost. “A chicken can exercise ownership of eggs, and it can get fed while it’s sitting on the egg,” he said, “but it’s not really their egg.”

Common knowledge

Discussion between two prison inmates:    – What are you in for? – I created a comic strip, where I wrote that our president is a moron. – So, what article of the criminal code did they use to convict you: for slander or for extremism? – Neither of those. It was for the disclosure of state secrets!

Driver's education

"This week the Russian government gave all 44 of its Olympic medalists a new Mercedes. When asked what happened to the athletes who didn't medal, Putin said, 'Do not open trunk.'" –Jimmy Fallon

Planning for all contingencies

At a meeting in a factory, a lecturer from the district Party committee tells the workers about their bright future in the USSR. "See, comrades, after this five-year plan is completed, every family will have a separate apartment. After the next five-year plan is completed, every worker will have a car! And after one more five-year plan is completed, every family will own an airplane!" From the audience, somebody asks, "What the hell one may need an airplane for?" "Don't you see comrades? Let's say, there are shortages in potatoes supplies in your city. No problem! You take your own plane, fly to Moscow and buy potatoes!"

Between a rock and a hard place

A Jew applied for a visa to leave for Israel. During an interview at the passport office, the official asked, "Why do you want to leave the best country in the world?" "I have two reasons," the Jew answered. "One is that my neighbor is an anti-Semite, and when he's drunk, he knocks at my door and shouts, 'Just wait, as soon as the Soviet regime is over with, we kill you, Jews!" "But you shouldn't worry," the official said. "The Soviet state is forever." "That is my second reason," the Jew said.

The pen is mightier

Napoleon was resurrected and came to Moscow on November 7, when a military parade is held to commemorate the 1917 Bolsheviks' upheaval. Brezhnev invited Napoleon to watch the parade. Napoleon, instead of watching the tanks and rockets, read the Pravda(4) newspaper with a great interest. The Minister of Defense whispered, "Your Majesty, look at this military technique. If you had such tanks, you would've won at Waterloo." To that, Napoleon answered, "If I had such press as yours is, nobody would ever know I lost at Waterloo."

Back in the USSR

Comrade Ivanov applied to the communist party. The Party committee asked him, "Have you ever vacillated in following the Party line?" "No, I always vacillated together with the line.(2)"

The Russian soul

Joseph Brodsky wrote that Russia combined “the complexes of a superior nation” with “the great inferiority complex of a small country.” In a nation so tardily arrived at the banquet of European civilization, its mentality makes the world’s biggest country strangely provincial. But its smallness and its bigness offer an obvious metaphor for the extremes of the human psyche. “I can be led only by contrast,” Tsvetayeva wrote. In the eight time zones sprawling between the galleries of the Hermitage and the frozen pits of Magadan, there is contrast enough. Awareness of this unbridgeable distance makes Russian books, at their greatest, reflections of all human life — and suggests that the old cliché, the “Russian soul,” could lose the adjective.

The economics behind 432 Park Avenue

Keep in mind that these are pied-a-terres that begin at $7 million each and include several full-floor parcels in the $75 million range. More than anything else, this speaks to the insatiable appetite of the world’s greatly expanded billionaire class. Middle Eastern oil magnates, Chinese billionaires, Russian oligarchs, and the Latin American aristocracy all have one thing in common: More money than they know what to do with and a desperation to get as much of it out of their home countries as possible. New York real estate works very well as both a facilitator of this as well as a store of value.

Solzhenitsyn and the censors

Solzhenitsyn’s narrative turns into a kind of sociology. He describes all the editors at the review, their rivalries, self-protective maneuvers, and struggles to stifle the bomb that he has planted in their midst. Aleksandr Dementyev, the intelligent, duplicitous agent of the Central Committee of the Party, sets traps and erects barriers during editorial conferences, but Tvardovsky is torn. As a genuine poet with roots in the peasantry, “his first loyalty was to Russian literature, with its devout belief in the moral duty of the writer.” Yet he also felt compelled by “the Party’s truth.” In the end, he prevails over his own doubts and the doubters on the staff, and he goes over the manuscript line by line with Solzhenitsyn, negotiating changes. Solzhenitsyn is willing to make them, up to a point, because he understands that the text must be modified enough to pass through the obstacle course that constitutes literary reality.
“It’s noticeable that the Kremlin is much more tempered than Russian TV but can’t change it,” Pavlovsky says. “It’s fallen into a trap, so it's now trying to function within the strictures of this picture.” He cites the example of the PR contortions the Kremlin had to use just to announce that it would not send troops into eastern Ukraine. “In this seemingly controlled media, any rational political arguments of the state have to be hidden and packaged in idiotic, jingoistic rhetoric,” Pavlovsky says.
A new kind of conversational shorthand has appeared in Moscow: “What’s your month?” people ask one another. They mean the month for which you are signed up for an interview at the Israeli embassy to receive initial immigration documents. The nearest available slot for people booking an appointment now reportedly is in November, but most of my friends have appointments in August or September. Even getting an appointment is an ordeal: The embassy’s phone lines are so overburdened that getting through to the right department can take hours. And according to a recent, leaked picture, inside the embassy, it is a mob scene reminiscent of 1990-91, the peak years of the Soviet Jewish exodus.
The best boast that Gazprom boss Alexei Miller could muster at St. Petersburg was that the price would be more than $350 per thousand cubic meters, which converts to $9.75 per mmbtu. That is to say, better than what China had been hoping for and even less than Gazprom gets from current European customers, which averages a little less than $11 per mmbtu. Then too Gazprom will have to spend maybe $30 billion building new pipelines from its West Siberian heartland and/or drilling for new supplies closer to China in East Siberia. "New capex will likely cause free cash flow to turn negative in the medium term," an analyst from Renaissance Capital in Moscow told Bloomberg, financial wonk language for Gazprom got taken to the cleaners. Gazprom shares stayed more or less flat on the news, while those of Chinese gas distributors like China Gas Holdings (HKG:0384) and Beijing Enterprise Holdings (HKG:0392) took a jump.
In 1999 it was not a small, symbolic tripwire of U.S. troops that Putin was willing to risk confronting, but a NATO peacekeeping force of five brigades and more than 10,000 soldiers. NATO’s 79-day Kosovo air war had just wrapped up, and defeated Serbian troops were withdrawing from the region. Putin, then the Kremlin's intelligence chief and national security adviser, assured U.S. officials of Russia’s full cooperation in stabilizing the situation. Instead, he knew a convoy of Russian peacekeepers in Bosnia was deploying to Kosovo in advance of NATO forces to seize the Slatina airfield, where they would soon be reinforced by air transports carrying hundreds of Russian paratroopers. General Wesley Clark, the supreme allied commander, wanted to block the runways with Apache helicopters, and he sought authorization to turn back the Russian planes by force. British General Michael Jackson, who was the commander on the ground, famously rejected the orders, stating, “Sir, I’m not starting World War III for you.”
RUDY GIULIANI (3/3/2014): Putin decides what he wants to do, and he does it in half a day. ... He makes a decision, and he executes it, quickly.  Then everybody reacts.  That's what you call a leader. THAT'S NOT WHAT YOU CALL A LEADER!!!  Makes a quick decision and everybody reacts?  That's what you call a toddler!