Friday, October 31, 2014

From October to Brest Litovsk, by Leon Trotsky

And suddenly we jump from the Crimean War (1855) to the Communist takeover of Russia (1917).  I pulled out the 1910 Encyclopedia Britannica (EB) to help fill in missing details.  After the Crimean War, there was a brief period of reform, which was quashed under Alexander II, Alexander III and Nicolas II.  A policy of Russianization was promoted across the empire, while conquests of new territories continued.  The Revolution of 1905 came along in which another attempt was forced onto Nicolas II to establish a constitutional republic.  Efforts to establish a legislature (the Duma), however, failed due to the fact that every bonkers opinion of Western Europe was being promoted and nothing sensible could possibly result.  What isn't in the EB article due to when it was written is a description of World War I and its consequences on the economy and morale of Russia.

With that as a context, Trotsky provides an analysis of events from 1917 to 1918.  Being a communist, the article is full of techno-babble worthy of a Star Trek script, which makes this a little challenging to follow and will always leave me somewhat in doubt as to whether or not I understand what it is that he thinks he understands, or at least that I understand the message that he intends for me to understand.  Or maybe it is his intent that I misunderstand what it is that he understands.  One can never quite be sure with communists.

In the beginning of this book, Trotsky discusses how the collapse of the czarist regime is accompanied by various middle class educated types being looked to for guidance by army units and soviets.  The EB article, however, maintains that there was no real "middle class".  Trotsky portrays his movement as being against that of "Bourgeois Liberalism", which I understand to be classic Liberalism, which is what we would label Reactionary Tea Party Conservatism today.  As is clear from EB article, this never really ever got a foothold in Russia, so we have the classic leftist reaction against a fictitious hegemony that is supposedly ruling, but in fact never existed.  The czarist regime's bureaucracy is denounced, while the educated middle class is deemed incompetent, and thus the only hope Trotsky sees remaining is leadership and authority coming from the oppressed serfs.  As if the uneducated serfs might spontaneously produce a profound and workable concept of empire governance out of a vacuum.  

So this work is just starting on my play list.  I doubt that I can begin to grasp this period sensibly from one book.  It remains a great wonder that a people who were utterly exasperated at universal slavery under a hereditary nobility should have embraced a promise of freedom, only to find themselves under a new system of universal slavery under a communist thugocracy.  This thugocracy remained until recently when Russia finally embraced "Bourgeois Liberalism", not as BL was intended, but as the communist intellectuals misrepresented it.  So let's listen to more of Trotsky's blathering.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sevastopol, by Tolstoy

Since I haven't gotten enough of Russia yet, I thought this work by Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) would be a good follow on.  It is a story of the Siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War told through the eyes of soldiers.  Since Tolstoy was an officer during this war, he is perhaps one of the best to tell this kind of story.  My main sense is how the thoughts and feelings have some resemblance to what I would expect.  On the other hand, the Christian view of death is everywhere along with a fear of cowardice, which I would not consider to be so universal today.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Empire Of Russia: Peter The Great through the Crimean War

I had to drive for many hours on a trip, and the story of the Empire of Russia was too gripping to let go.  So Poland had a great empire, followed by Sweden, but Peter the Great brought this to an end.  Catherine II was the next truly outstanding leader, but there were also czars who nearly did as much damage as these greater ones achieved.  The fear of anarchy was always in the back of the mind.

Something that stood out to me was the diplomacy of the Napoleonic wars given primarily from the Russian and French perspectives.  Then there was the back and forth wavering of Russia between the various European powers.  In spite of all the persistent efforts of some of the czars to modernize, however, we see that the Russian military is still quite backwards compared to the rest of Europe, which persists from the time of Peter the Great through the Battle of Jena.  The weaponry advanced while the Russian soldier is brave, but training and tactics seem always on the side of Western Europeans.

This book finishes with the Crimean War where the British and French unite with the Turks in an effort to humiliate Russia.  Russia was justifying their actions based on the goal of freeing the Greek Orthodox church, although the expansionist tendencies of Russia were also prominently on display.  Of course the British and French weren't exactly any better, while the Ottomans refrained from conquering only because they were too weak.

I should probably come up with a rating scheme.  If I had one, then this book would likely get a four and a half loons out of five.  The main deficiency being that I can't really know where the original sources were.  But then again, I am not sure I would want to hear large quantities of footnotes read out loud in my audio book.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Got Water?

Today I was driving from Northern California to the Mojave Desert and decided to take a peek at the San Luis Reservoir water level.  You can see my picture below.  We are nearing the end of our annual dry season and the level is 20% of capacity according to the state statistics.  I would have guessed that it was less than 10% from viewing the lake.  This lake controls the flow of irrigation water to much of the central valley and the water is used for agriculture.  San Luis reservoir mostly gets its water pumped in from elsewhere by the California Aqueduct.


Friday, October 24, 2014

The Empire of Russia: From Ivan III

My previous observation that Russia had not had a single constructive interaction with the West changes with the Pope sending the Greek princess Sophia to marry Ivan III.  What happens over the next several decades is a gradual transformation of Russia into a united kingdom with laws.  Under Ivan IV, siege is given to the Mohammedan Tatars of Kazan who are defeated (1552).  According to Dr. Wiki, the Tatars were immediately slaughtered.  According to this history, Ivan tried hard to make peace, but the spiritual need to commit terror caused the population to continually engage in war, thus, he was eventually compelled to convert them, expel them, or let them fight to the death.  Further terror raids would continue for more than a century from other Tatar hordes, thus, leaving much of the adjacent regions of Russia as depopulated wastelands for hundreds of miles.  The success against Kazan, however, allows Russia to expand all the way to the Pacific Ocean, since there wasn't any significant population in Siberia.

For a time it appeared that the Mongols were settling (early 1,300's), becoming civilized, and embracing Christianity.  But then they converted to Islam en masse, and renewed the practice of seeking out any settlement to burn, kill and capture victims for the slave market, which continued into the 18th century.  Eventually Russia gets enough strength to slaughter much of the horde by the Caucasus.  Shortly afterwards, this horde together with the Turks manages to take Moscow, which they pillage, burn and then kill 150,000 or so civilians.  This last episode they termed "revenge", as if this had been some sort of tit for tat fight all along.  The Cossacks make their appearance during this phase as militarized bands who wander the unsettled areas of Russia that were periodically swept by the Tatars.  Their allegiance to the Eastern Orthodox Church would make them a natural enemy of the Tatars.

During this period, Russia is anxious to bring in learning from the West and various craftsmen and artisans were enticed to come to Russia to further this aim.  Trade and friendly relations begin with England and Holland, although clashes with Poland and Sweden are the norm.  Considering the propaganda I was taught growing up, the distinctive here is that all the learning that arrives in Russia is from the West, and it is to the West that Russia turns when it seeks learning.  Another contrasting item is the relatively constructive role of the Russian church.  I suspect that one of the reasons is the rules regarding married clergy in the Russian church.  Whatever the cause, it seems that the Russian clergy were constructively leading their flocks during periods where the Roman clergy were sexually abusing and robbing those who were put into their care.  This is likely the reason that the Reformation was a Western European phenomenon.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Diwali 2014

My wife and I like to take a walk each night.  The lights and candles scattered throughout the neighborhood reminded me of this annual celebration, and checking the net, I see that today is the day.  At least one in ten houses in my neighborhood celebrate this, although it seems to have merged with Halloween decorations in a few cases.  My wife was wondering why the Indian neighbors were so enthusiastic to get Christmas lights going so early.  All is clear now.

The only question in my mind:  Is the arrival of the goddess of wealth and prosperity a blessing or curse in this wealthy land?


Sunday, October 19, 2014

California: Number One For Poverty?

Clearly we are not looking at the world wide rankings.  Only the US ones.  Keeping that in mind, the poverty rate per the census bureau's "supplemental measure" is 23.8%, which is the highest in the nation.  We also have about 12% of the population, given that California is the largest state, meaning that we are a major contributor to the overall US poverty rate.

The reason for the supplemental measure is that the original method for measuring poverty focussed on food only, while the new measure takes into account additional costs.  Medical marijuana?  Anyway, the initial reaction is to wonder how the most pure social justice government in America could manage this.  And even more puzzling, this is a complete non-issue in the upcoming election.  To make things even more fun, the gap between rich and poor as ranked by the Gini index has California at the 7th largest gap, beating out Texas.  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Getting back into the Swim

Sickness was my normal state for 6 weeks beginning about September 1st.  The last two weeks have allowed me to get back to a "normal" swim distance, which now is a bit less than 3 kilometers, but will increase to 4.5 kilometers next week.  The park opens at 6:30AM, which allows for a fairly dark start using the stars as guides.  The lake temperature has dropped to 67 degrees, which unfortunately is a level where something is happening in the water that makes me itchy.  This should go away once the lake gets a little cooler, giving me an incentive to look forward to the winter lake with its cleaner water.  My warm weather partners all tell me they will stop mid-week swimming on November 1st.  Thus, I may switch my swims to Lake Del Valle since I can swim where I want with no restrictions there, except that I need to respect the limits of hypothermia.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Empire of Russia: Facing the Horde

The period of two and a half centuries that the Russians faced the Tatars and Mongolians is something that I vaguely know happened, but there are few details.  Listening to the story in more detail is something that makes for a transformation in thinking.  It is a bit like growing up in America and learning only about Patton, D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge, thinking that these were the key events of World War II in Europe, only to learn that more Russians died in the Battle of Moscow than all the American casualties during the entire war.

So there were these trivial skirmishes called the Crusades, but they were as nothing compared to what the Russians experienced from the Horde.  Even the 30 Years War seems tame compared to what Russia went through.  During this time, the Papists were as helpful as could be expected:

"The grand duchy of Lithuania, bordering on Poland, was spread over a region of sixty thousand square miles.  The grand duke, Jaghellon, a burly pagan, had married Hedwige, Queen of Poland, promising, as one of the conditions of this marriage which would unite Lithuania and Poland, to embrace Christianity.  He was married and baptized at Cracow, receiving the Christian name of Ladislaus.  He then ordered the adoption of Christianity throughout Lithuania, and the universal baptism of his subjects.   ...   These converts were received, not into the Greek church, which was dominant in Russia, but to the Romish church, which prevailed in Poland.  Jaghellon became immediately the inveterate foe of the Russians whom he called heretics, ..."  - The Empire of Russia, by John Abbott

Dr. Wiki says that Jaghellon introduced Christianity gradually, which is not what this history says.  Perhaps it would be good to read first sources, but this will need to wait.  After reading listening through 5 centuries of Russian history, it seems that the only constructive dealing with a foreign country was with the Greeks in Constantinople, but Constantinople was conquered by the Turks in 1453, so they are all alone now.  The reign of Ivan III (Ivan the Great) is next.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Empire of Russia: Greek Christianity

The history tells of a ruler named Vlademer (958-1015AD) who invites Christianity into his empire by the strangest stratagem.  As a pagan, he sends his army to send an army to threaten Constantinople.  In the suing for peace, a Christian princess is reluctantly sent to marry Vlademer, who then announces his acceptance of Christianity while receiving a gift of distinguished clergy.  "The ceremony of baptism was immediately performed in the church of St. Basil, in the city of Cherson, and then, at the same hour, the marriage rites with the princess were solemnized.  Vlademer ordered a large church to be built at Cherson in memory of his visit.  He then returned to Kief, taking with him some preachers of distinction ..."  Christians are so easy to fool.

The Greek influence is thus what started Christianity in Russia, but things were not to remain so simple:  "Nearly all the pastors of the churches were Greeks from Constantinople, and Yaroslaf, apprehensive that the Greeks might acquire too much influence in the empire, made great efforts to raise up Russian ecclesiastics, and to place them in the most important posts."  It looks like the Russian Orthodox church is having its foundations laid.

At this point the Russians are twice removed from the Popery of Rome, but Rome finds a pretext through the woes of a ambition crazed prince whose schemes have backfired:  "The banished prince thus disappointed, turned his steps to Rome, and implored the aid of Gregory VII, that renowned pontiff, who was ambitious of universal sovereignty, and who had assumed the title of King of kings.  Ysiaslaf, in his humiliation, was ready to renounce his fidelity to the Greek church, and also the dignity of an independent prince.  He promised, in consideration of the support of the pope, to recognize not only the spiritual power of Rome, but also the temporal authority of the pontiff".  Ysiaslaf (1024-1078) raises another army and gets himself killed.

Having spurned Papism for the moment, I was struck by the Mariolatry, as another genocidal madman, Mstislaf, attacks the city of Novgorod (113x?AD) which was in no mood to surrender themselves to a brutal execution.  To aid in the coming battle, the following event is recorded: "The clergy in procession, bearing the image of the Virgin in their arms, traversed the fortifications of the city, and with prayers, hymns and the most imposing Christian rites, inspired the soldiers with religious enthusiasm".  God granted victory to the city, and the attacking horde perished as it retreated 200 miles back through the desert wasteland they had created.  Which leaves me wondering what image we would carry about our modern fortifications if The Army of Doom were at our borders.  And who would be our honored clergy?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Empire of Russia: Exploring my Russian Roots.

Yes, Russia is part of me.  It is all due to being in the band in high school.  We had to practice Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture until it became part of our genetic makeup.  Thus, I have long had a need to read a history of Russia and this was provided with Librivox's recording of The Empire of Russia from the Remotest Periods to the Present Time, by John Abbott (1805-1877).  I am only about 10% of the way into this work.

What I have learned so far is that my path to becoming Russian is much less brutal than what the Russian people experienced.  The challenge for the ruler of this nation was to be both cunning and ruthless in dealing with the threats that were constantly falling onto the nation, yet tender and wise in managing the people through good Christian leadership.  A short coming in the first area would result in a short reign, while a short coming in the second would be a catastrophe for the people.  Sadly few leaders were able to accomplish this impossible mix.  But it perhaps reflects a bit on Putin and his position as a Russian leader, which is considerably less severe than his ancestors.

And so we have a ruler early on named Sviatoslaf whose mother encouraged him to be a Christian, but he refused until later in life.  His goal was to conquer.  Thus, it says of him:  "He accustomed his body, Spartan-like, to all the fatigues and exposures of war.  He indulged in no luxury of tents or carriages, and ate the flesh of horses and wild beats, which he roasted himself, over the coals.  In his campaigns the ground was his bed, the sky his curtain, his horse blanket his covering, and the saddle his pillow; and he seemed equally regardless of both heat and cold."  Ah, the good old days, when leaders led by example.

For amusement, here is a link to a youth band doing Marche Slave.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Beowulf: Something Light?

Admittedly it is a bit of a struggle for me to listen to poetry.  Add in the older English constructions, and Beowulf is quite a challenge, especially since I am listening to the audio version while I am driving and can't really slow down listening or re-read a few lines.  It is a story of warriors and heroes of old fighting monsters and comes down to us as the oldest work of English literature from a mysterious older time.  Then there is a reference to Middle Earth.  Tolkien wrote an essay on the work and it seems that Beowulf was very much influential for his Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, especially in the naming conventions.  

There isn't much remarkable for me to comment on in this work.  It is a fantasy from an earlier time, with some of the language reflecting Christian themes regarding the Creator and Hell, yet the story is set in a pre-Christian era.  There is an honoring of heroes, along with the funeral rites that provide some peculiar imagery for us today.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Economics: Learning from Etymology

Something I learned from Greek is that Economics is a compound words made of of Oikos = House, and Nomika = Rule.  Thus, Aristotle in his Economics begins his study by considering the house, and from there how it builds into a nation.  An orderly management of the home is presumed to be a foundation for the orderly management of the state.

This reminds me of Paul's instruction on elders:

"But if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?" - 1 Timothy 3:5

Thus, the elder must be able to manage the oikos, although the Greek word for manage is not nomika here.

For our local situation, the latest news is that the local school board was forced to abandon an introduction to pornographic lifestyles textbook, otherwise known as "sex education", which was to be given to all high school freshmen.  The irony here is that the opposition of the conservative Christians was rejected, but the noise from the Indian and Muslim immigrants seems to have forced a reversal.

In terms of the upcoming election, I am still primarily screening those who I vote for as to whether or not they have any regard for the oikos, or whether or not they think an oikos to be less valuable to society than an immoral tryst.  For the Democrats, this question is automatically answered.  Republicans should be clear on this matter, but for whatever reason they are quick to abandon their principals.  

So for California Controller, we have Ashley Swearengin running.  Checking around at her positions, it seems that she views that the oikos is completely and utterly worthless.  This makes the choice easy.

Lieutenant Governor candidate Ron Nehring looks more promising and he is up against Gavin Newsom who has quite a reputation in these matters.  The Secretary of State position has Pete Peterson, who seems somewhat promising to me on many areas.  He is also he only Republican that seems to have a chance of winning in the statewide elections.