From Russia with Love

Nehru and the USSR …

Posted on November 17, 2017. Filed under: Personalities, From Russia with Love |

https://thewire.in/197484/jawaharlal-nehru-russian-revolution/

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Blue Whale Challenge …

Posted on November 11, 2017. Filed under: From Russia with Love |

From The Hindu –

The Blue Whale is neither fish nor fowl but a ‘killer’ online game of inflating proportions that nobody has reliably encountered. It is a sequence of online ‘dares’ that participants must progressively engage in to get ahead. These include etching a blue whale on your skin and jumping off buildings.

There have been at least three reported suicides in India of youths who, according to media reports, were playing or had searched for the game online. Importantly, police officials have so far claimed that there is no evidence that these youths took their lives following instructions from the game.

There is also no report of authorities actually encountering this game online in India. This, however, hasn’t stopped Members of Parliament from demanding that Facebook and Microsoft work to remove all online links to the game. The origins of this game and reportage surrounding it have been in Central Asian countries, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia.

How did it come about?

Fact-checker website, Snopes.com, reports that the claim that the “blue whale” suicide game (named for how whales occasionally beach en masse and die) had resulted in a wave of suicides appears to have originated with a “misinterpretation” of a May 2016 story from the Russian site Novaya Gazeta.

That article linked dozens of suicides of children in Russia during a six-month span, who were all part of a gaming community, on social media network VKontakte (VK.com). But subsequent investigations by other Russian news agencies showed that there were online communities or suicide groups on VK.com, but again nothing that linked an entity called ‘Blue Whale’ and a flurry of suicides.

Why does it matter?

Rina Palenkovoy was a Russian teenager who had posted a picture of herself on VK.com and then committed suicide. However, there were online communities like ‘Sea of Whales’ and f57 — all hosted on VK.com — that promoted role-playing games with tasks to be carried out in the real world. None of these, however, seems to require jumping off buildings but they do veer towards extolling suicide.

Promoters of the website say their aim was to draw visits and advertising numbers and deny wanting to encourage minors to commit suicide. They also used iconography around Palenkovoy as promotional material.

On November 14, 2016, police outside Moscow arrested 21-year-old Filipp Budeikin on suspicion of being an organiser of a Blue Whale “death group.”

Budeikin, according to Radio Liberty, said he was being questioned by the police. He seemed to suggest that he had incited some groups of minors to commit suicide but translations of his Russian interviews, into English, are shifty.

Authorities said Budeikin was suspected of complicity in 15 suicides, but according to his lawyer, nothing has stuck. It is from here on that the Blue Whale phenomenon became truly global. The hype surrounding Blue Whale reveals how disconnected events can be clubbed together to create myths that spawn intriguing narratives and blitz across the globe via social media.

What next?

The popular belief — which has driven parents and legislators in many countries to ask for a ban — that the game induces the player to commit suicide is markedly false.

Suicide-promotion forums predate the Internet and popular music and literature have abounded with artists and writers who have condoned self-harm and suicide. These include William Burroughs, author of The Naked Lunch, heavy metal icons Marilyn Manson and Ozzy Osborne and Kurt Kobain, the ultra-nihilistic frontman of grunge group Nirvana, who fatally shot himself.

Thousands of their living fans walk this earth. Further, Russia and several Central Asian countries top the list of countries of the world with the highest suicide rates.

Why India should be worried is because the rates of undetected depression, especially among teenagers, is high in the country. This stems from a general neglect of mental health for years and unsurprisingly, India too ranks among the top 10 nations with a high, basal suicide rate.

While depression and suicide are complex problems requiring intervention at various stages, it would be false to label the Internet or social media groups as particularly responsible for promoting suicide.

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Tolstoy …

Posted on October 25, 2017. Filed under: Books, From Russia with Love, Personalities |

Tolstoy’s Classics Are Still Fresh a Century and a Half Later -Henry James called ‘War and Peace’ a ‘loose, baggy monster.’ Count me a fan of monsters. By Benjamin Shull

I read Tolstoy this year to plug a literary gap unbefitting a book -review editor. Getting started was no easy task. His two pre-eminent novels, “War and Peace” and “ Anna Karenina, ” clock in at more than 1,200 and 800 pages respectively, the former so massive that Henry James called it a “loose, baggy monster.”
Count me a fan of monsters.

Published in 1869, “War and Peace” nominally centers on Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia, but it more broadly surveys the effects of Europe’s early-19th-century conflicts on several Russian families.

Its scenes shift from the landed estates of Moscow and St. Petersburg to the battlefields of Austerlitz and Borodino. Its main characters include Pierre Bezukhov, by turns an illegitimate son, Freemason and Napoleon’s would-be-slayer; Andrei Bolkonsky, the sardonic and military-minded prince; Natasha Rostova, the young woman who comes to love both; and of course, Bonaparte, le petit caporal himself.

“Anna Karenina” came eight years later. It relates the trials of its title heroine, a strong-willed woman who has an affair with the charming Count Vronsky, bearing his child and the wrath of Russian society in turn.

“Anna Karenina” has its own cast of unforgettable characters — “Stiva” Arkadyich Oblonsky, Anna’s jaunty, epicurean brother; and Konstantin Dmitrich Levin, the idealistic landowner (and Tolstoy’s self-modeled proxy).

Like Bob Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna,” the settings and people that populate these two books have conquered my mind. It’s a common experience for readers of great literature.

In last year’s “Books for Living,” Will Schwalbe recounts how he sobbed after he’d read “David Copperfield” for the first time, distraught that he’d miss the characters so much. Later in life, when asked if writing a book about his late mother would give him closure, Mr. Schwalbe remembered reading Dickens as a teenager and realized that closure wasn’t necessary when you could continue to talk with the deceased and the fictional alike.

“Just because someone is gone,” Mr. Schwalbe observes, “doesn’t mean that person exits your life. I remember vividly the day during that hot summer when I finished David Copperfield. But my engagement with David and Little Emily and Steerforth and Dora . . . had just begun.” So it is with Pierre and Prince Andrei and Anna and Stiva.

Though there’s plenty of heartbreak in “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina,” each is also enormously life-affirming. Before Anna’s tragic fate crescendos, we find Levin and his wife, Kitty, at the bedside of his dying brother, Nikolai. Levin dreads death, but his remarkably poised wife helps him face it with courage.

As Nikolai drifts away, Levin (in Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s translation) manages to keep his gloom at bay:

“In spite of death, he felt the necessity to live and to love. He felt that love saved him from despair and that under the threat of despair this love was becoming still stronger and purer.”

Nary a paragraph later, Nikolai since passed, Kitty learns she is pregnant, as one mystery of life supplants another. Thinking about this scene has been a comfort for me since.

Both works are in every way “books for living,” rife with guiding principles for life. Themes of magnanimity and forgiveness figure prominently in each.

In “War and Peace” there is a remarkable scene toward the end of the book in which Prince Andrei is wounded at Borodino. At the field hospital he finds the also-wounded Anatole Kuragin, whose attempt to seduce Andrei’s fiancée, Natasha, had led her to break off the engagement.

Andrei had wanted revenge, but in the blood-soaked camaraderie wrought by war—Anatole ultimately has his leg amputated — Andrei feels nothing but love for his former enemy and fellow man.

Though Tolstoy colorfully renders the battle scenes of “War and Peace,” he still manages to make war seem insignificant.

The book notably departs from its narrative at times to showcase its author’s meditation on history and the course of human affairs. Tolstoy’s conception of a historical process driven not by great figures but by the interplay of countless interconnected phenomena has influenced my own convictions about the world.

Because the forward march of history is so incomprehensibly beyond our grasp, in Tolstoy’s telling, it seems to throw our own freedom into doubt. He writes in his epilogue (again, courtesy of Mr. Pevear and Ms. Volokhonsky): “For history, freedom is only the expression of the unknown remainder of what we know about the laws of human life.”

That’s a humbling thing to read after spending 1,000 pages living with these iconic literary figures.

These books may well change the way you look at the world. The characters, settings and messages will stay with you for as long as you want them to.

Mr. Schwalbe must have had Tolstoy in mind when he wrote that books “are uniquely suited to helping us change our relationship to the rhythms and habits of daily life.”

It’s on that note that this humble editor recommends you read “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina.”

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Inside Putin’s Russia …

Posted on July 11, 2017. Filed under: From Russia with Love |

From Google News …

In developed capitalist democracies, financial, media and energy companies are private enterprises that don’t report to presidents.

In Russia, things are different. Most of those businesses are majority-state-owned corporations, virtual branches of the government. And that means when you talk to the head of a Russian bank or oil company, you are effectively talking to the Kremlin.

In 2000, when Vladimir Putin assumed the presidency, he consolidated competing power centers — media, business, local government, opposition parties and the Parliament — under his authority.

He called it “a vertical of power.” This system now includes organized crime and cybercriminals. Today the top management of these enterprises are Putin allies, and many, like Mr. Putin himself, have worked in the security services, specifically in the K.G.B. and its successor organization, the F.S.B.

The Russian government owns the major television outlets and, according to Russian journalists, sets the daily news agenda.
The head of Rosneft, the state-owned oil company, is Igor Sechin, a former K.G.B. and F.S.B. security officer who served as a top lieutenant to Mr. Putin.

Gazprom, the state gas company, is run by Alexei Miller, another former St. Petersburg associate of Mr. Putin. With exclusive rights to export gas, Gazprom controls prices, pipelines and energy diplomacy in Russia. It also owns the country’s largest media holding company, Gazprom Media.

The deal Mr. Putin made with these companies, oligarchs and banks was that they would be free to make money with state help (often to the detriment of the Russian people) as long as Mr. Putin and his cronies got their cut of the profits — and the Kremlin and security forces were free to govern without interference.

Failure to comply could lead to loss of one’s company or worse: The oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky challenged Mr. Putin on corruption in 2003 and was stripped of his company and put in jail. Oligarchs once close to Mr. Putin have died under suspicious circumstances.

There was one more part of this arrangement: Since the government facilitated the moneymaking, the Kremlin could also demand in return payments or loans to favored individuals and institutions — no questions asked.

All this is important to understand when considering the case of Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser.

According to news reports, Mr. Kushner held a secret meeting with the chief executive of a Russian bank, Vnesheconombank, or VEB, in December, before the Trump administration took office. The purpose of the meeting remains unclear. Was it related to some diplomatic issue, as the White House has suggested? Or was it about Trump or Kushner family enterprises?

It is possible the meeting was entirely legal (although actually doing business with the bank would not have been). Because of the nature of Russian banks, either scenario raises troubling questions.

In the case of the major Russian state banks, their lending decisions are often politically directed, and when capital is tight — such as after the 2008 recession or the 2014 imposition of sanctions by the United States and the European Union on banks for supporting Moscow’s military adventurism in Crimea and eastern Ukraine — the Russian government has provided cash infusions from the state treasury.

The bank executive Mr. Kushner met with last December, Sergey Gorkov, is a graduate of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service academy. His bank, VEB, is regularly used by the Kremlin to finance politically important projects, including some of the infrastructure for the Sochi Olympics in 2014, which cost the Russian government a total of about $50 billion.

VEB also bailed out Ukrainian banks after the 2008 global financial crisis and purchased two failing steel plants in Ukraine — aid reportedly designed to keep President Yanukovych, a Putin ally, under the Kremlin’s control.

In Chechnya, the bank provided funds for an industrial park to Ramzan Kadyrov, the republic’s ruthless leader and a staunch Putin loyalist. The bank also purchased shares in a Ukrainian steel maker from a Russian-Canadian partner of Mr. Trump in 2010, who built a Trump hotel in Toronto.

VEB employed and financed the defense of a Russian intelligence operative, Evgeny Buryakov, who was deported in April after pleading guilty and being sentenced in 2016 to 30 months in prison for his role in a spy ring.

That ring also attempted in 2013 to recruit Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign who has sought to do business with Gazprom. Another Trump campaign adviser, Michael Caputo, did work for Gazprom Media in the early 2000s.

The United States government is aware of the special role Russian banks play in advancing Moscow’s espionage efforts and foreign policy. That is almost certainly one reason the F.B.I. has been looking into computer communications between Alfa Bank, a private bank with close Kremlin ties, and the Trump Organization, as part of its broader investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Russian banks conduct legitimate business with law-abiding companies around the world, including American banks. But their close ties to the Russian government make Mr. Kushner’s meeting with Mr. Gorkov worthy of deeper scrutiny.

Mr. Gorkov is part of the Putin power vertical. When Mr. Kushner spoke to him, he was also talking to the Kremlin, and we should know what they discussed.

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Marshal Zhukov visits the NDA …

Posted on June 8, 2017. Filed under: From Russia with Love, Personalities |

It was way back in 1956 that we got to see the likes of Georgy Zhukov, Zhou en lai, Edwina Mountbatten, Nehru, Queen Soraya, her replacement and a host of others.

But for the nonce lets just talk of dear old Georgy Zhukov – a bit of whom you can see in that fabulous movie, ‘Enemy at the Gates’

The great General’s visit was notable for a couple of interesting reasons. First we got to see the wonderful RSM Ayling – whose thunderous. “I am your father and I am your mother” to all new Cadets made them think that he was the real Commandant –  do for Zhukov’s benefit  – an Open and Close Order on the Drill Square. Believe me when I say I can still feel the Earth Quake.

The second reason was not altogether a too happy one because it showed what scoundrels cadets really are!

The great man was then taken to a WT class and being the soldier he was, he wanted to see the contents of dear P2s haversack – which should have had 13 items like mess tin, socks, needle and thread and the like. But Cadets are Cadets and out tumbled a whole lot of dirty linen.

Dear P2 sure was on the Shit list for the nonce but he rose in due time to become a General. He was so slick, so gracious, so utterly, so butterly, smooth that he had at least two Army Chiefs eating out of the palm of his hand!

Back to Zhukov. Some say, he was the greatest General to come out of the Second WW – for the sheer number of battles he participated in and influenced positively either as Commander or as one looking over the local Generals shoulder – he was Stalin’s Right Hand Man ie CDS or Dy CinC or what ever.

Before the War in 1938/39 he had hammered a strong Japanese Force on the Manchurian Front by attacking it frontally while encircling it with two armor brigades from both flanks. Then after Hitler’s Barborassa began, there was no battle he did not influence and win.

Indeed why the Germans failed in Russia was that Hitler refused to heed the likes of Guderian and Manstein and became his own CDS. Whereas Stalin heeded Zhukov even though Stalin was a suspicious and jealous man.

On his part Zhukov was clever and noted that when Stalin took long pulls on his pipe, he could be influenced but never when he took short puffs or when his pipe ran out of tobacco. Stalin on his part noted that Zhukov was not a Politician but he was a wee jealous of his competence as a General.

After Stalin’s death, it was Zhukov who arrested Beria after having neutralized his Secret Police. Thus began the collective leadership for the nonce till the arrival of Krushchev, Gorbachev and Putin.

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War of BUGs …

Posted on February 16, 2017. Filed under: From Russia with Love |

Jim Mowreader on Quora

In 1945, the Soviets presented this beautifully hand-carved Great Seal of the United States to Ambassador Averill Harriman as a gesture of goodwill and solidarity upon the opening of a new embassy in Moscow. Ambassador Harriman proceeded to hang it in his study…

In 1952, the new US Ambassador to Moscow decided to move the carving. You guessed it – it was bugged, and in a really ingenious way. If you wanted to make the bug transmit, you had to tune a radio transmitter to the specific frequency the bug was tuned to, illuminate the building with radio waves, and recover the conversations made in front of it from the returned radio signal.

It gets worse: in 1975, the US decided to build an All New Embassy in Moscow. And just for the sake of Better Relations With The Soviets, they bought some of the materials from the USSR.

This was NOT a good idea; the Soviets managed to plant so many bugs in the building materials they sold us, we had to tear half the embassy down and start over using American construction crews and American-made materials hauled to Moscow on US Army-owned tractor-trailers, each of which contained a US Army transportation sergeant, a Russian-speaking US Army military intelligence soldier, a loaded M16 rifle and a full can of ammo!.

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Public Speaking … ‘Dummies’ Guide

Posted on August 24, 2011. Filed under: From Russia with Love, Guide Posts, Personalities |

Public Speaking gives you the gift of the undivided attention of guys stupid enough to want to listen to you. So you had better give them all you got.

First thing is that only a dumb speaker would need distractions. So how has this here wizard ruled, in a recent post, that  a pretty girl on the stage is a big help! The guy probably does not know that –

 “There’s language in her eye, her cheek, her lip. Nay, her foot speaks.”

The aim of any speaker worth the name has to be, to always but always, hold undivided and rivetted attention of his/her audience. There is your voice, your language, your thought and manner to help you do it.

Know this then that Julius Gaius Caesar  –

“ –  was an exceptionally zealous student with a marvelous elegance of language. His force, his penetration, his energy make it abundantly clear that he was as forceful in his speech as in his conduct of war.”

This Post seeks to cover this grand subject under Seven heads.

Smarty Pants speaking in public

First. Preparation.  

Blessed with modest mental acumen, persons like me need to thoroughly prepare what ever they have to speak. Rehearse and Rehearse.  The ‘Masters’ even visit the site and see the stage to help get a feel of things.

Even the Churchills and Mark Twains minutely prepared and practiced their so called ‘extempore’ utterances!

One can never have enough of preparation or under rate its importance. Yet the Lincolns of the world just scrawlled a few points on a piece of paper as they drove to the venue. Then go on to deliver an address relevant for the ages!

But we are just not in that league!

Second. Style

Styles range from the conversational to the vehement. History records instances of near gibberish pronounced with passion and power and eternal truths uttered with disarming humility.

If you are any good you have to have your own personal style. Should you be a virtuoso, you may even have different styles for different occasions and different audiences. You yourself have to decide what suits you best. Here are three extreme examples –

A. This guy faces the audience with a tranquil mien and a beaming aspect.. In the measured cadence of his voice, there is intense feeling but no declamation, no passionate, no superficial or feigned emotion. It is simply colloquy – a gentleman conversing.

B. This chap ranges from one side of the hall to the other barking out short staccato sentences as the thought breaks upon his mind. He looks much like a caged animal, glaring and growling, as he moves to and fro with his hands behind his back.

C. This speaker is the intense sort. He speaks little but when he does, the silence that creeps over the hall is painful in its intensity.  He is not eloquent much less an orator but as he hisses out his sentences of concentrated passion and scorn, he gives a sense of demonic self control and illimitable strength.

Third.  The Start or Exordium

The aim is to establish a ‘connect’ with the audience. Crass humor and jokes are in poor taste. Here are some actual day to day examples –

A. Am a bit diffident. Because it is a bright cheery morning and for you to be sitting cooped up in a hall, having to listen to some foreigner, can hardly be anyone’s idea of a happy morning. Secondly the subject is one with which you are pretty familiar and I am going to have one hell of a time trying to make it interesting.

B. Being the last speaker is tough! By now most  everyone has had enough of   listening and is about ready to go home. Secondly there is the fact that most of the stuff has already been covered and one has to come up with something totally new.

C. No man thinks more highly than I of the motives and abilities of the worthies who have just spoken. But different men see the same subject in different light. So it should not be thought disrespectful if I speak my feelings freely and openly.

Fourth. Voice

Somebody observed that there is no surer index of character than the human voice. And the Hollywood Classic, ‘Singing in the Rain’ depicts the finis of the silent era heroine whose repellent voice bars her when talking movies arrive.

Know that your voice is the reflection of the real you. It is the single most important tool of your emotions. What really counts is not what is said but the way in which it is uttered – in the vital energy that propels its utterance, in the fires burning in the tones of the voice and in the vigor of the mind.

Know that the voice is the most but worst used of all your faculties. So why not obtain power through this most but rather badly used capability? Here  are three tips –

A. To reach the mind of your audience you must put feeling in your voice. Once you are able to do that, then half the battle is won. A thought feelingly spoken with heart and mind behind it, is soon absorbed. It is earnestness in saying a thing.

B. Once you learn to put feeling in your voice, you must master the art of intermittent stress. Meaning that you have to stress what ever you say. Do it with intermittent stress on selected words. This will make your speech flexible and attractive. You will be able to reach the hearts and minds of your hearers.

C. Now this here thing is for giving power to your voice. Adopt this practice and you will obtain something much more than the metallic voice. For this you must practice and learn to say the consonants with the firmest possible contact between the two parts of the mouth. Needs practice but there is nothing grander for giving punch and power to your words.

Fifth. You have to take your audience along as you speak

Eye contact is one thing. Studying the audience moment by moment and ensuring that they are coming along with you is quite another.

There is a law that states that what so ever a speaker sees clearly in his or her mind, the same is photographed on the tones of the speaker’s voice. It is then emphatically conveyed to the minds of those listening to you.

Do this by ensuring that what you are saying is pictured in your own mind. Then the tones of your voice will automatically convey the same mental picture to the minds of those listening to you. They will thus the more easily follow you. And you will hold their attention.

Should you seem to be losing your audience, you need to pause,  remain calm and then bring on intensity.  You have to bring nervous and vocal undulations as you speak. Then the intermittent stress will bring back your audience to you.

One needs to practice speaking with undulations as well as using intermittent stress. Then there is the hammering of the consonants, ie speaking them with the firmest possible contact beween the two parts of the mouth.

Finally, always but always conserve the energies of your body. For this you must make no unintended movement, great or small, unless the idea warrants it. This prevents leakage of power.

Remember that greater the feeling, less should the body express it. The resultant accumulation of power will help you to remain master of your audience.

Sixth. Closing

The closing is as important as the starting.  Light humor, self deprecation, relevance to current stuff always helps empathy. Some speakers recap what they have said. Others request Qs from the audience.

SeventhThe Acid Test

The acid test of how you have spoken is how you yourself feel after your effort. The more powerfully or effectively you speak, the more empowered, invigorated you feel – physically, mentally and emotionally.

Top to toe you will feel energized. Conversely – aimless, drifting, listless, boring performances will leave you drained and feeling exhausted. So, do whatever needed to get that charged up afterwards feeling.

To close, this is how a salty old Sergeant practised this entire art –

 “I first tells them what I is gonna tell them. Then I tells them what I is telling them. Then I tells them what I told them. If the dumb blokes don’t get it, I repeats the whole process. By Jove, if they still don’t get it, then God alone save them from me!”

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