Friday, August 12, 2005
The Final Factor
David is most hopeful for Russia, and may go so far as to think it will bring salvation to the whole world -- he bases this on the prophecies of Fatima and some of Dovstoevsky's writings.
I will never discount God's actions in the world, but I will also never be so bold as to predict them either. I will however say this...
I witnessed faith alive in Soviet Russia and I firmly believe that faith, more than any other single factor, brought an end to that ugly state.
As I said in my post below on our cathedral visits - Faith lives more vibrantly in the pagan nation of Russia than it has in many years.
This more than the factors I cited yesterday will determine the ultimate future. I hope all my readers will join me in praying from Russia. No other action can accomplish more fo the future of Russia, or the world.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
Russia In The Balance
Essentially, Hugh thinks Russia will be of little concern for the foreseeable future because of the endemic corruption and the lack of equal applicability of the law to all its citizens.
Hugh is correct in his analysis that these things will prevent Russia from becoming a great nation, but I do not think they will keep it from being a nation of gravest concern to the world. Russia has never been a great nation, but it has been a terribly important player in world affairs and will be again. I think Hugh neglects three factors in his analysis.
1) Russia remains the second largest nuclear power on the planet. Despite the decay in its infrastructure to support this capability, and the now widely known unreliability of many of its delivery systems, this is not a factor to be trifled with. They can still lay waste to much of the planet should they wish.
2) Russia contains immense, currently untapped, natural resources. The oil reserves alone could keep the world running for years to come. These resources are very difficult to reach because of geological, infrastructure and in some cases, political concerns, but our ever-hungry world will need these resources at some point ? likely sooner rather than later.
3) Russia?s presence in world affairs has always stemmed not from reformers, but from those in leadership that were willing to harness the corruption ? which generally means they are individuals more corrupt than the nation as a whole. Those willing to do so can drag the nation onto the world stage. Such plays always result only in short-term gain, but such leaders generally care about little else.
The path back to world player for Russia is, to my mind, a fairly straightforward one. The first step would be for the government to crack down and reassert tight controls. This is happening. In recent months we have seen Yukos (the oil company) nationalized. Pravda, never officially, given autonomy by the Kremlin, has steadily shifted its editorial policy from the lurid tabloid to the chest-thumping of the old Soviet state. ? Readers of this blog?s weekly ?Best of Pravda? column are aware of this trend. Just a few weeks ago, this blog chronicled the implementation of ?Putin Youth? camps this summer across Russia.
Once the government has firm control reestablished, which could only take another year or so at the recent pace, I would begin doing contracts with western firms to develop the natural resources. In those contracts, I would go for very little profit in exchange for the western firms 1) developing infrastructure for the harder to reach resources, and 2) making payments to the government to rebuild the military to protect those firms from the political problems that plague many of the resource rich areas.
Within a relatively short time, we would find a world as dependent on Russian oil as it currently is on Middle Eastern reserves. In fact, we might even become more so because of the current problems in the Middle East. At the same time an anti-American whispering campaign throughout the very proud nation of Russia would plant the seeds for the next, more risky move.
Would the US risk, or go to, war with a revitalized Russian military to protect those investments; should Russia decide to nationalize them? Keep in mind we will have a new administration by this time. Depending on the US administration a move like this really might not be so risky for the Russian leader. Think about the ayatollahs in Iran ? it proved no risk at all under Carter.
If you think about it, regardless of the outcome, Russia would be a very important world player again. In some senses that is all they want. Russians are an enormously proud people. Americans generally sacrifice pride for profit; Russians are exactly the opposite ? consider the Russian victory over Napoleon, or the siege of Leningrad by the Nazis, to get an idea of what Russians are capabile of doing and sacrificing for the sake of nationalism.
What I am saying is that I agree and I disagree with Hugh. I do not think Russia has what it takes to be a great nation ? they won?t for several generations, and if what I have laid out here happens, it will take several more generations than that. However, I think they will forever be a nation of considerable concern to the US and the world. We set them to the side at grave risk.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Dilusions Of Grandeur
Then he had himself painted into one of histories most famous paintings as the Apostle Peter:
We need to get him back to Minnesota and quick.
The More Things Change...
As I prepare to leave St. Petersburg in just a few hours, I am forced to reflect on what has not changed. It is overwhelming in both its apparentness and its pervasiveness. That is the bureaucratic mindset and the consequent inefficiency. The motto here is never employ one person when three will do. I presume this to be a holdover from communist days when everyone had to have a job of some sort, but I wonder if there is not a cultural component as well?
Two examples. The first example is clearing immigration. The process is virtually unchanged from the Soviet days, the one difference being the absence of armed guards at ever turn. The inspectors still look you over like a proven smuggler, and the paper work would choke a horse.
The seccond example would be the operation of "State Museums." Every room has a "babushka" -- what we would call a docent -- sitting there. She is invariably female, usually quite aged. Her sole role appears to be to scowl, and appear generally unhappy, as if you had just spilled tea on her recently completed lace doily. She answers no questions, as you have a guide to do that. Your guide does not work for the museum, but rather for a tourist agency. You would think the babushka could at least clean up a little, but no, they have people for that as well.
Then you must exmigrate -- a process entirely reminiscent of immigrating.
These things are undoubtedly dragging down their new capitalist economy, and will likely disappear sooner rather than later, but for me, they cause a smile -- a little bit of the Russia I remember. It peeks through now and then, the occassional hammer and sickle on an abandoned building. The last remaining statue of Lenin looking to a bright socialist future. Yet another of the seemingly endless memorials to the "Great Patriotic War" festooned with USSR symbols. Even if the GPW is now called WWII here as in the rest of the world, since they feel little or no patriotism to the country that fought in that war.
I am glad I returned here, and sad that I am leaving. So much to see and do that remains undone. So much I wish to show my lovely wife, who grows lovlier with each passing day -- perhaps another time -- alas.
Now on to Helsinki, and the "real" seminars with Hugh Hewitt and David Allen White begin. Who knows where Ralphie may show up in the next few days?
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
The question of just who is doppleganger to whom has reared it's ugly head in ways I had not, prior to this cruise, imagined. Today is actually the day Hugh has taken the amazing whirlwind and tiring trip to Moscow. Mrs. Blogotional and I opted instead to stay here in St. Peterburg, not because of any threats Hugh made, but becasue, an invitation arrived at our cabin/suite to attend Hugh's lecture today. Curious, given our knowledge that Hugh would be in Moscow, and what did we find but
We had expected a lecture about the nomination of John Roberts but were instead treated to a lecture on the glories of Minnesota hockey and snowmobiling.
A commenter on my original post about this mystery said
Kinda makes you wonder who actually does the radio show.....hmmmmmmm?This question has indeed become a fascinating one.
The probe continues...
Monday, August 08, 2005
WOW! Has This Place Changed
Today, a dream came true. After 14 years and one of the most shocking changes in modern governmental history, I have returned to a city that I love. After 10 years of a great marriage, I have taken my wife to that city, because I have wanted to bring her here since I met her.
I hardly know where to begin -- this is one of the most lovely cities in the world, and today was a lovely day. We spent extra money so that we could wander the city unescorted. Something I did when I was here in 1991, much to the consternation of the KGB. They ended up assigning someone just to keep tabs on me and a couple of buddies that had a habit of wandering from the crowd. Now all that priviledge costs is money.
This is, in so many ways, not the city I remember from the Soviet days -- it is vibrant and bright and busy, so different from the dull, monotone city I knew those years ago. No longer can I determine who is a Russian simply because they are wearing one of only 10 available clothing ensembles. No longer do the women wear little or no make-up. It could be Paris as easily as St. Petersburg - well sort of.
But with capitalism has come chaos. No longer can I wander Nevsky Propect relatively unencumbered by crowds -- now it is like the mall, I have to fight for every inch of sidewalk. No longer can I approach the Hermitage as if it is my private museum, now I must run the gauntlet of vendors and beggers, signs and directions so common in the rest of the world.
I am extraordinarily happy for the average Russian -- their life is thousands of times better than it was under the Soviet regime, but I am sad as this rich imperial city is overwhelmed by modernity.
Mrs. Blogotional, as if you cannot tell from her contributions to this blog, loves art. I have wanted to bring her here these many years for the Hermitage. We go day after tomorrow. I know she will love it, and it shall make me happy in ways I cannot describe to watch her joy. I do love her so.
But today we walked the cathedrals of St. Petersburg -- Church of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ -- St. Issac's Cathedral -- Kazan Cathedral.
St. Issac's and Resurrection are both, and have been since the Soviet days, "State Museums." They were the first two we visited and they made me a little sad. So beautiful, so marvelous, and so commercial. They were devoid of spiritual content during the Soviet days, but the commercialism rampant within their very halls now seemed almost sacreligious. Rather than build the gift shop outside, they have invaded the halls within and it was a bit disconcerting.
But then we went to Kazan and my heart leaped with joy. Women covered their head as they entered. People walked about the four points of the cross that is the church and circumflexed in the Orthodox style. They lined up to pray to and kiss an icon of the Virgin Mother. Their faith, superstitious as it appears to my protestant eyes, was alive in a way never possible under the Soviets, and tears formed in my eyes as I felt God's presence.
Were the same buildings not in the same places, albeit festooned with neon and signboard, were the streets and canals not running in the same directions, albeit with manifold more traffic, I would not have known this place. It has, for better or worse, absorbed so much of what we are. I rest assured that the faith restored will overwhelm the commericalism amuck as this nation finds its soul once again. God bless the Russians, they are a beautiful people.
Sunday, August 07, 2005
Curiouser And Curiouser
Needless to say, we all have interesting motivations for travels as exotic as a Baltic cruise. There was a serious reason my wife and I stopped in London on the way. Some chap said something to me about "Die Another Day" and simply handed me a ticket. Next thing I knew, I was in London and this happened.
It was not until we boarded the ship and I could get the pictures up on the computer that I noticed Ralphie there. And then this from a dark courtyard in Talinn, Estonia yesterday
We all know Hugh has worked for the government in the past -- could Ralphie be a true "mini-me," created by NSA black ops? Could Hugh have put this whole cruise together in conjunction with MI6 just to infiltrate Ralphie into the former Soviet? Is Lenin really dead? Worse, is Hugh a former Soviet sleeper and Ralphie sent to keep an eye on him? (I must say that I have recently seen Hugh with some most interesting jewelry) If so, why does Ralphie appear to be tailing me? But then I am sworn to secrecy about my role.
The mystery and the investigation continues...